Ethical and Legal Aspects in Counseling
May 15, 2012
Ethical decision making while necessary, can at times be challenging. This is particularly true when working with clients that have different values and worldviews. Ethical issues seldom have an easy answer, and often counselors must seek help from more experienced and knowledgeable professionals, but this is not a guarantee that the desired outcome will be achieved. The ethical aspects of counseling are based on a system of rules which have been created for a specific group of people or field of work, and were developed for the purpose of setting the standards of conduct and behavior that is to be used by these professionals. Moral principles and virtue are the root foundations on which the ethics codes were formed, and they are for the protection of both the counselor and the client. The legal aspects in counseling are usually the result of unethical behavior, or a perceived misconduct, and counselors can find themselves on trial for malpractice, or unethical behavior practice. There may be times when there are legal issues between the ethics codes and federal and/or state statutes, and even with one’s employer’s policies; and counselors are sometimes required to appear in court as witnesses in litigation cases. This paper will examine both ethical and legal issues that can affect both counselors and their clients, both in general and specialized areas of counseling. Ethical and Legal Aspects in Counseling
The first standard in the ACA's (1995) Code of Ethics reads "the primary responsibility of counselors is to respect the dignity and promote the welfare of clients [italics added]" (p. 2). This is also the same in the current and revised version of the ACA code of ethics (2005). The AACC code of ethics first standard ES1-100 reads “First, Do No Harm [italics added]” (p. 6). This is the first ethical standard in each code of ethics because it is the principle framework around which all others are built, valuing and respecting the client(s) at all times. When facing ethical dilemmas, counselors should utilize a carefully developed decision-making process, in order to maintain the highest professional standards for the client and for the counseling profession.
Because there are boundaries and limitations to a counselor’s expertise and knowledge, it is often necessary to seek the help and/or advice of other professionals with experience and competence in areas of ethical dilemma and challenge. Counselors are however, individually accountable for their actions, as they relate to their ethical, moral, legal, and professional responsibility to their clients. This being said, it never hurts to bring several opinions and/or outcome options to the decision making process in a dilemma. Christian counselors can face challenges in ethical matters when they impose their personal views and beliefs on their clients, or are unable to accept certain behaviors in them. Homosexuality, promiscuity, abortion, extra-marital affairs, spirituality and theological or denominational differences are a few areas that can present challenges for the counselor.
Spirituality in Counseling
Research indicates that approximately 75% of Americans claim that religion and spirituality are important to them (University of Pennsylvania, 2003), and that 95% believe in God or a Higher Power (Gallup & Lindsay, 1999). So there can be no surprise that clients are seeking to address spiritual concerns and issues in their counseling; and clients expect their counselor to address and treat their spiritual concerns (Sperry, 2003). Spirituality is the inward activity of growth and maturation that happens in each of us (Artress, 1995. p.15).
However, many counselors avoid the area of spirituality because of the ethics risks and considerations. Stifoss-Hanssen (1999) argued that counselors and psychotherapists risk violating the limits of their professional competence when...
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