The beliefs and values of an individual are formed from birth to adulthood through personal, cultural, and social experiences. Determining what is right from wrong depends on our own personal value system and what we choose to let influence our attitudes and behaviors. Without values we would be incapable of identifying areas in our lives that need changing. Change can come easy to some, while others can’t easily identify their destructive behaviors and need the guidance of a professional to discover their thought patterns. A Professional Counselor is someone who can assist with the therapeutic process of change and self-discovery. During training counselors also self-discover and have to be willing to promote growth in their own lives. When counselors are aware of their own personal values, beliefs, and unresolved conflicts they can effectively treat their clients without losing focus on the needs of the client. They also should be sure to stay within their scope of practice, be aware of the boundaries of their professional competence, attend necessary trainings/continue education, seek qualified supervision, use their own judgment, and recognize when referrals should be made. Very often counselors are faced with difficulty remaining value neutral when controversial issues arise. What are the appropriate actions counselors can take when ethical dilemmas arise, can they remain value neutral about controversial issues presented by a client and when is it appropriate for a counselor to express moral judgment?
The ACA Code of Ethics (2005) section A.4.b. Personal Values states, “Counselors are aware of their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors and avoid imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals.” During the course of the therapeutic process counselors may not be able to avoid presenting their values to some degree. Value imposition can occur actively or passively and may stem from the strategies used in therapy that
provide a sense of the counselor’s values to the client. Body language and non-verbal communication is also a way that values may be communicated at times (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011).
Corey et al. (2011) indicates that the therapeutic process does not involve a counselor teaching the client how to behave or what values and morals they should adopt. It is a professional counselor’s ethical obligation to work with the client towards a positive outcome that fit the needs of the client. At times, it is inevitable that counselors will communicate their values and beliefs during the therapeutic process. Remaining value neutral consists of maintaining a balance between the extreme of deliberately attempting to influence the client to adopt certain values and the extreme of concealing your values and beliefs altogether. A professional counselor should always be aware of how the role of their values may influence the client’s decision making.
A Practitioner’s Guide to Ethical Decision Making (1996) identifies Autonomy, Non-maleficence, Beneficence, Justice, and Fidelity as the Five Moral Principles used as a guideline by professionals when faced with an ethical dilemma. If clarification is not gained once the principles are related to a particular case, professional counselors, should consider working through the seven steps of the Ethical Decision Making Model for more complicated cases. These seven steps consist of: 1.Identifying the problem.
2.Applying the ACA Code of Ethics.
3.Determining the nature and dimensions of the dilemma.
4.Generating potential courses of action.
5.Considering the potential consequences of all options, choose a course of action. 6.Evaluating the selected course of action.
7.Implementing the course of action.
Once these steps have been reviewed, identifying what may be in conflict may become obvious and lead to a resolution of the dilemma. NADDAC Code of Ethics (2013) suggests using Autonomy; to allow others the freedom to choose their own destiny, as a consideration when making ethical decisions. As long
as the counselor remains focused on the counseling goals and maintains respect for the beliefs and values of the client, conflict can be avoided. Implicating universal values can also be an effective way to avoid conflict. A counselor should always consider the client’s ability to make sound decisions and know when to interfere if their decision making could cause harm to themselves and/or others. When conflict of values do arise ethical counselors should attempt to resolve the conflict and avoid harming the client. (Corey et al., 2011). Counselors also have the option of seeking consultation from their supervisors or colleagues. A Practitioners Guide to Ethical Decision Making (1996) suggests that, “As they review with you the information you have gathered, they may see other issues that are relevant or provide a perspective you have not considered. They may also be able to identify aspects of the dilemma that you are not viewing objectively”. Seeking consultation does not mean that one is incompetent in their professional standing and in contrast shows signs of maturity. Corey et al. (2011) states that referring a client to another counselor should be the last resort taken when all other possibilities have been exhausted. When values begin to clash to extent that makes the counselor believe they are no longer being helpful they may need to consider a referral. Referrals should be done in such a way that does not make the client feel as if they are being rejected. Appropriate disclosures should be made before reaching a final decision on whether or not a referral will be made or continue with the original course of treatment.
A referral should also be considered when the client’s needs are outside the counselor’s scope of competence. When referral is not an option the ethical counselor should continue to work within the value system of the client while focusing on the Five Moral Principles of the Ethical Decision Making Model. Respecting your client’s autonomous decision, gaining their trust, and communicating openly results in reliable assessments and effective treatment plans. Set objectives are also most likely to be achieved when the counselor focuses on the best interest of the client and avoids reflecting their values on their clients. Value systems vary among individuals, cultures, and decades. As professionals we must keep in mind that the needs, wants, and well-being of our clients will also vary enormously. An ethical counselor would know when they have reached their limit and should take the appropriate actions in assessing the possible risks and benefits of a referral (Barnes & Murdin, 2001).
American Counseling Association (2005). ACA Code of Ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from: http://www.counseling.org/Resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf Barnes, F.P., Murdin, L. (2001) Values and Ethics in the Practice of Psychotherapy and Counseling. Buckingham, PA: Open University Press. Corey, G, Corey, M, & Callanan, P. (2011). Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professional (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cenage Learning. Foster-Miller, H, Davis, T. (1996) American Counseling Association: A Practitioner’s Guide to Ethical Decision Making. Retrieved from: http://alabamacounseling.org/pdf/ACAguide.pdf
National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (2013). NAADAC Code of Ethics. Retrieved from: http://www.naadac.org/membership/code-of-ethics