In the practice of counseling ethics are very critical and vital as they guide one’s interaction with the client determining his decisions. The American Counseling Association (ACA) represents professional counselors and enhances the profession through provision of professional development, leadership training, advocacy services, continuing education opportunities and publications.
ACA defines professional and ethical standards for the counseling job through the ACA Code of Ethics. Counselors are required to uphold this code which serves as an ethical guide promoting the values of the counselling profession.
Personal values are what one appreciates in life, his preferences and prejudices as well as support and beliefs. They provide a “road map” for the kind of choices people make. In the practice of counseling an individual has the risk of falling in an ethical dilemma concerning personal values and upholding the ethical code. Ethics do not define values, they guide people. As far as one may strongly uphold ethics, the idea of values may be rejected. In the practice of good counseling ethics and values exist in harmony.
As a counselor, one has the risk of imposing his personal values on a client. As a person, he intends to consider his values to the right ones, and they may differ from the values of the person he is counselling, thus being lulled to change them to fit own values. There is need to respect the autonomy of a client and desist from imposing personal values on those one is counselling, according to the ACA Code of Ethics. Counselors know their own attitudes, values, beliefs, as well as behaviors and try to avoid values inconsistent with counseling purposes. Counselors appreciate the trainees, clients, and research participants diversity. In this views, it is appropriate to explore five important values, namely substance abuse, spousal abuse, child neglect/abuse, suicide and sexual identity.
Whilst a counselor faces various ethical dilemmas, substance abuse is worse due to the problems that arise consequently. The counselor’s task is to evaluate the benefits and inherent risks of the various options available to make a proper and upright decision. The ACA Code of Ethics deeply ingrained in the counselor and developed personal dedication, rather than the mandatory requirement of an external organization.’ In the face of dilemma presented by substance abuse situation, there is need to be guided by certain ethical principles.
Justice should be impartial and fair. But some individuals might need to be treated differently depending on their needs. Counselors need to recognize the case when it is necessary to apply such bias, clearly justifying their actions and preventing personality conflicts and personal issues disturbing the work with clients.
The client-counselor relationship should not be interfered by personal prejudices ensuring the absence of a client discrimination. As a counsellor, one needs to have the understanding that this is part of the counseling process, and he will face such problems as frustration by a client, being repulsed by his desires, arguments with a client, and the necessity to care about his needs. By realizing this, the counselor is able to understand the kind of reaction the client induces in others (Exley, 2002).
Autonomy addresses the need of individual’s freedom of choice and the willingness of the client to commit to counseling sessions. In the case of substance abuse, there arise cases of counseling being a requirement of the court order or probationary condition.
Counselors have to ensure that their clients understand values which may not be in accordance with their own or that of the community they reside in, and decisions taken do not interfere with the rights of others. They also have to determine if the client has the necessary information to make a sound decision and their completeness to make rational conclusions.
The information the counselor provides the client with influence, for example, the type of therapy the client will prefer. Therefore, if the counselor puts much emphasize on one aspect of treatment, it could influence the decision of the client in favor of the counselor’s preference. The counselor is obligated to provide the information, but not to make any attempt to manipulate the decision of the client.
Spousal abuse occurs when a person is abused by hisr partner in one or a number of ways which may include physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, and economic mistreatment. When dealing with such a case, the counselor has to be aware of his personal values on the issue, and his obligation in upholding the code of conduct.
As any other person, a counselor may find himself angry when he hears about a person getting abused by their spouse. The reason may be the counselor’s personal and religious values. He may also have been a victim of abuse by the spouses in the past Therefore, when he is confronted with such a case, it invokes the past experience (Pittis, 1984).
The counselor may have had someone close got abused in the past. As a consequence, such counselors may experience feelings that impair with their efforts to efficiently with victims of such abuse. The counselor has to be aware that a client may have feeling of mistrust or trustworthiness due to his experience; therefore, the counselor needs to maintain a balance of support and distance.
Whether it is the victim or the perpetrator, one needs to be careful not to let the personal feeling on such issue hinder one’s way of working with the clients. There is need to adequately understand the client’s situation, as spousal can be traumatizing experience. The kind of experience the client may have undergone may impair their ability to make sound decision.
This requires from the counselor to know the psychology of the environment and the client in order to understand their predicament. This enables the counselor to define the needs and state of the client. It allows to overcome his prejudices and be able to handle the issues of the client declining the kind of solution offered or facing uncooperative clients (Nazareth, 1988).
Child abuse reflects the ultimate violation of trust. The counselor has to be trustworthy and provide a safe relational context that presents a different opportunity for healing despite the client’s past experience. The counselor has to create non-exploitive counselor-client relationship in order to provide the client with necessary support to address the issues related to abuse.
The client may bring feelings from the past experience of neglect or abuse to the current relationship with the counselor. He may feel ashamed or have low self-esteem due to abuse. Moreover, he may attempt to distract the counselor from neglect/abuse related issues in order not to replicate the past. This may lead the counselor being overly taking towards him losing the objectivity of the client-counselor relationship (Siecus, 1974).
A counselor has to be careful and pay attention to the feelings and personal values of the people, in order to protect their clients and uphold an ethical approach to the issue. Having heara the client’s story, a counselor may react angrily or bereft. These reactions may be as a result of the counselor’s own background and personal issues as well as past experience with a client.
Working with a client, the counselor may project own unresolved issues onto the client. Thus, the counselor needs to be firm with their boundary in order not to remain objective (Gray, 1999).
Suicide is a topic which can stir anger and controversy. People have various values and beliefs when dealing with suicide, and this defines their context to their view of suicide. Though the personal values of a counselor are undoubtedly important in almost all therapeutic situations, there is potential conflict between the counselor and client in the situations involving suicide.
Though it is considered unethical for a counselor to impose his personal values on the client, it is different when a situation involves suicide. A counselor may endeavor to inflict his values on the client and disregard his view. However, it will be totally improper and disrespectful to the client’s personal view for the counselor to dismiss the client’s decision to suicide, because it conflicts with counselor’s beliefs.
Suicidal clients generally confront the counselor with existential questions concerning life’s value and meaning. These questions challenge the counselor’s rationality of life value revealing his need more than the client’s one (Lowry, 1978).
The physicians and suicidologists have a strong compulsion to interfere with people’s lives, in effort to save them, to assist them in answering the questions how to live (and die) –it even makes them miserable. Suicide prevention often tells more about the needs of the helper than about those of the suicidal individual.
The counselor has to consider the best interest of the client when reviewing the rational suicide. This enables the counselor to prevent the suicide for the sake of the client instead of for the sake of prevention.
Counselors are often put in a difficult situation when dealing with potentially rational client, because they have to rely on his intuitive judgment regarding the rationality of the decision as well as to hold the judgment of proper balance of values.
Sexual identity/orientation may be referred to as the prevailing pattern of emotional, sexual attraction to the opposite of the same gender, and romantic. Sexual orientation may also refer to the person’s responses. But sense to the identity is based on the emotional attraction, that is related to the conducts, and sense of belonging to a society of other individual who may share similar attractions. For several decades, sexual study of the topic have indicated that sexual identic ranges along the continuum, right from exclusive attraction to the opposite gender to the exclusive to the same gender. However, sexual identity is usually discussed at three distinct categories: gay/lesbian (emotional attraction, romantic, and sexual attractions to the person of the same gender), heterosexual (having emotional attraction, romantic and sexual attractions to the member of the opposite gender), and bisexual (having sexual emotion attraction to both genders) (Carter, 2005).
These ranges of behavioral patterns and attraction have been defined in different cultures and states of the the world. Most cultures have used the sexual identity labels in describing people who possesse those attraction patterns. In the United States, the commonly used labels are gay men attracted to other men, lesbian refers to the women who are sexually attracted to the other women, and bisexual concerns those who are attracted to both men and women equally. However, there are some people who use different labels while others do not use any. Sexual identity is significantly different from the other elements of sex and gender, which include the anatomical, genetic, and physiology traits that are associated with a given gender, gender identity-the psychological sense of belonging to a certain gender, and social gender for the cultural norms that describe masculine and feminine.
Sexual identity is usually discussed as a single characteristic of the person, such as biological sex, gender orientation, and age. This perspective of sexual orientation is not complete since sexual identity is described in terms of relationships among individuals. Different people have different ways of expressing their sexual identity through patterns of behavior with others, including some simple actions such as kissing or holding hand. Therefore, sexual identities are tied to the intimate individual relationships that meet deeply felt desire for intimacy, love, and attraction (Exyley, 2002).
In addition to the sexual behavioral patterns, these attractions include non-sexual affections between the members of a society, shared values and goals, commitment, and mutual support. Thus, sexual identity is not just a personal trait within a person. Rather, one’s sexual identity describes the group of individuals in which a person is likely to be satisfied by fulfilling romantic relationships that are significant element of personal identity.
The values and beliefs that a counsellor holds may be predominantly different from that of a client (suffering from sexual orientation disorders). The counselor has to respect the choices and path the client wishes to pursue, but, at the same time, maintain a duty of care to the client.
Sexual orientation and personal values are recognized by professional bodies such as the American Counseling Association (ACA) as significant domains of personal experience. These bodies also provide guidelines which guide the counselors.
However, they do not offer such rules for situations where personal values and attitudes collide. The counselor should not undermine, stigmatize or degrade a client due to his values of sexual identity. His function is to assist clients in determining their own valuations concerning sexual identity, and not to persuade them based on his (counselor’s) personal values.
In recognition of this, The Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC) developed a set of competencies for counselors in order to help them examine their personal values, pertaining sexual orientation and identities. These competencies lead to development of proper intervention strategies in counseling (Blanchard, 1997).
Among the specific competencies of the counseling profession are the following:
a) Competent counselors recognize the societal prejudice and discrimination experienced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals and help them in overcoming negative attitude toward their gender and sexual identities.
b) Counselors strive to understand how their own sexual orientation and gender identity influences the counselling process.
c) Counselors seek consultation or supervision to ensure that their own biases or knowledge deficit do not negatively influence their relationships with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender clients.
d) Counselors understand that attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender clients may be detrimental, and further, such a practice is not supported by research, and, therefore, should not be undertaken.
In conclusion, as a counselor one needs to have a clear understanding of his own sexual identity value, assumptions and attitudes as well as develop a conscious way of dealing with the client’s values, without compromising the client-counsellor relationship.
In the profession of counseling, one needs to remain objective in order not to influence the client and his decision making persuaded by the counselor. A counselor must remain neutral concerning all issues referring to the client, so that he (client) can make own self-determination. It will be unethical for the counselor to impose own values on a client, which may cause harm through violation of the client’s rights, eventually violating the Code of Ethics.