Pursuing a career in counseling involves facing a number of ethical issues that may make it difficult for a counselor to do their job effectively. The situation can get tricky for a counselor who is just starting out in the profession. It is therefore significant for all aspiring counselors to be aware of some of these ethical issues and to know how best to approach them. The America Counseling Association has come up with an ethical code that counselors are supposed to follow during their sessions with clients. Despite the existence of this ethical code, ethical issues continue to be prevalent among counselors. This paper explicates issues of confidentiality, prohibited roles and relations, and the imposition of personal values that counselors face during their sessions with clients. More so, the paper highlights best strategies that a counselor can use to deal with them as provided by the ACA.
The first issues that counselors may find difficult dealing with in the course of their counseling practice is difficulty in maintaining client’s confidentiality. According to Wilcoxon, Remley, and Gladding, confidentiality is an important concept in the process of counseling. It is regarded as one of the main ways that gets people to share their problems with counselors since it guarantees that the information shared will not be revealed to any other person without their consent. The American Counseling Association emphasizes the significance of confidentiality in the process of counseling and requires counselors to recognize that trust between them and their client is the cornerstone of the process of counseling. Wilcoxon, Remley, and Gladding go on to observe that the difficulty to maintain confidentiality is heightened by a number of factors. For instance, Wilcoxon, Remley, and Gladding affirm that,” a counselor may face an ethical dilemma in having to break confidentiality to alert the parents of a risk taking adolescent about the dangerous behavior of their child. In another instance the counselor may find it difficult to treat patients considered to be high risk”. This is because it becomes difficult for the counselor to explain to them about informed consent thus maintaining confidentiality of what they share in their sessions becomes complicated.
Another significant issue that counselors may face while counseling clients is entering into prohibited roles and relationships with clients. Wilcoxon, Remley, and Gladding note that during the process of counseling, a counselor may find that he is growing closer to their client in a manner that is not professional. Wilcoxon, Remley, and Gladding point to the explanation of these relationships by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), as those including close personal relationships with the person or his/her family members, business relationships. More so, AAMFT values prohibit individuals from developing a romantic or sexual relationship with current or previous clients. In the same way a counselor is prohibited from providing counseling services to individuals with whom they have had a romantic or sexual relationship. The same rule extends to the family of the client.
The third ethical issue that a counselor may face in the course of their counseling practice is discrimination and imposition of personal values to clients. In this case, the counselor may find it difficult to perceive the problems of their clients in an impersonal manner. Wilcoxon, Remley, and Gladding note that the ACA code of ethics says the following in relation to counselors imposing their values, "Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature”. In tandem with this issue, the counselor may become judgmental towards the client and may treat them indifferently. The situation is worsened in the case where the client’s behavior or beliefs conflict with that of the counselor. Some counselor may even insist on imposing their own beliefs and values onto their clients. For instance, a counselor may discriminate against a client who may confess of being gay while this sexual orientation of the client contradicts the religious beliefs of the counselor.
It is imperative that a counselor anticipates these ethical problems they may encounter in the course of their work and try to develop strategies that they may use to overcome them. Failure to do so will lead to the counselor to lose their ability to remain objective in their capacity as care givers and as a consequence impair their clinical judgment. It will also be critical to overcome these ethical issues so as to ensure that clients receive the psychological relief and care they came for. The American Counseling Association is a sufficient source of information on overcoming ethical issues in counseling as it provides a code of ethics for counselors. Thus in the case of the above discussed issues, the following are some of the strategies that can be used to overcome them.
Firstly, with regards to the issue of difficulty in maintain the confidentiality of the client the counselor can apply the following strategies to overcome this. Wilcoxon, Remley, and Gladding suggest setting in place ways of protecting the records of their clients by storing in a place that can only be accessed by them. In case they are sharing a residence or office space with someone, they should set in place appropriate confidentiality procedures with the person they are sharing the space with. In addition, when the counselor is consulting with colleagues in order to receive advice on how to treat their clients, they should provide only basic information. This is essential in protecting the client’s identity. In the same manner when the counselor has been subpoenaed by a court of law to provide information on their client, they should provide only information that is relevant to the case. These strategies will be essential in assisting the counselor overcome ethical issues with regards to confidentiality.
Secondly, the following strategies can be applied by a counselor to overcome the ethical issue of forming inappropriate relationships and roles with clients. According to Wilcoxon, Remley, and Gladding, the ACA code of ethics with regards to prohibited non counseling roles and relationships holds that, “Sexual and/or romantic counselor– client interactions or relationships with current clients, their romantic partners, or their family members are prohibited. This prohibition applies to both in person and electronic interactions or relationships”. Therefore, the counselor should avoid making contact with a client outside their counseling sessions. This includes going out to dinner or any event together or receiving non counseling communication with the client. The counselor should also avoid receiving gifts from their clients or their families. This will be essential in preventing them from crossing boundaries with each other. It is also critical for a counselor not to engage in business dealing s with their clients including purchasing a services or product from them. This will be significant in preventing personal contact between him and his client, thus prevent any development of inappropriate role or relationship.
Finally, in order to avoid discriminating and imposing one’s views as a counselor onto the client it is critical to apply the following strategies. The counselor should strive to remain impersonal with regards to the client and their problems. This will be essential in preventing them from forming an opinion on their client which will lead to them discriminating against them. The counselor can also develop a sense of self awareness. Wilcoxon, Remley, and Gladding opine this can be done by taking a comprehensive inventory of one’s feelings towards a client’s statements and behavior. Developing a sense of self-awareness will be significant in helping the counselor to avoid unconsciously imposing their values and beliefs to their clients. Another strategy that a counselor can use is seeking supervision during their sessions with clients. A supervisor can be helpful in helping a counselor recognize if they are discriminating or imposing their values onto their clients.
In conclusion, ethical issues are an inevitable part of the counseling process and a counselor will face them at one point of their career. It is therefore imperative to be aware of some of these issues so as to develop the most appropriate strategies that can be used to overcome them. Ethical issues with regards to confidentiality, development of inappropriate relationships and roles with clients and discrimination and imposition of personal values are some of the common issues a counselor will face during the course of their practice.