Ethical Issues

Because counselors are faced with ethical and legal decisions on a daily basis, there are standards that guide the practice of counselors to ensure clients’ welfare. Ethical codes refer to the minimum standards of ethical behaviors. Your specialty area and location determine the particular code of ethics you follow because each state and license has its own code of ethics. According to the ACA Director of Ethics and Professional Standards, 17 states have officially incorporated the ACA Code of Ethics (2014) into their licensure board’s Rules and Regulations, and four states subscribe to the ACA Code of Ethics by using it to resolve problems that may result in the interpretation of their board’s rules of professional conduct (E. T. Shifflett, personal communication, May 13, 2015). Students may follow a different code of ethics than their respective state’s rules and regulations. For example, even if your respective state licensure board Rules and Regulations do not officially follow the ACA Code of Ethics, if you are a student in a CACREP-accredited program, you would follow the ACA Code of Ethics (ACA, 2014). According to the ACA Code of Ethics (2014), counselors who are affiliated with ACA must adhere to the guiding principles for ethical decision making:

  • • Autonomy, or fostering the right to control the direction of one’s life;
  • • Nonmaleficence, or avoiding actions that cause harm;
  • • Beneficence, or working for the good of the individual and society by promoting mental health and well-being;
  • • Justice, or treating individuals equitably and fostering fairness and equality;
  • • Fidelity, or honoring commitments and keeping promises, including fulfilling one’s responsibilities of trust in professional relationships; and
  • • Veracity, or dealing truthfully with individuals with whom counselors come into professional contact. (p. 3)

Once you begin your graduate studies you will learn much more about professional counseling association memberships and the ethical guidelines you are expected to follow as a student and professional counselor. You will also learn more about legal issues that affect counseling, such as confidentiality and working with minor clients. For now, it is most important for you to be aware of the existence of a professional code of ethics and that there may be specific requirements based on your area of practice and credential. Adherence to ethical guidelines and legal practice is just a part of what makes counseling its own profession.

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