Conflicts between ethical obligations or moral precepts often result in ethical dilemmas. The clashes between moral responsibilities or principles create situations in which potential solutions to a problem are unbearable. Thus, ethical dilemmas are circumstances in which principles that guide morals cannot establish the necessary actions appropriate to resolve situations. They are circumstances in which the appropriate actions are not instantly apparent. In the case of an ethical impasse, an individual cannot determine what is right or wrong. Many experts in different professions face ethical dilemmas. The major causes of ethical dilemmas among professionals relate to the confidentiality of information provided by clients (Lazovsky, 2008). This article describes confidentiality as an ethical dilemma and provides steps in the ethical decision process in psychotherapy. Finally, it provides the importance of ethics in decision processes in professional psychology.
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Confidentiality in Psychotherapy as an Ethical Dilemma
Maintenance of the client’s confidentiality is a core principle in psychotherapy. The protection of clients’ confidentiality ensures the confidence of clients in psychotherapists. Establishment of trust between the client and the psychotherapist is essential as it ensures the success of the whole psychotherapy session. However, control of confidentiality by counselors often meets ethical dilemmas. In many cases, the information provided by clients put psychotherapists in a dilemma. Psychotherapists have to balance the privileges of the clients’ discretion and the legitimate concerns of stakeholders involved in various situations. Additionally, the psychotherapists have to balance the concerns of clients and stakeholders with their obligations to act in their clients’ best interests (Lazovsky, 2008).
Furthermore, the ethical codes that guide counselors create ethical dilemmas for psychotherapists. Ethical codes require counselors to maintain clients’ confidentiality. In fact, the principal compulsion of confidentiality is to the client. However, psychotherapists have to balance this obligation of confidentiality with legal requirements. Psychotherapists can breach confidentiality in extreme cases. However, the codes that guide psychotherapists do not define what constitutes an extreme case. Moreover, ethical codes do not define what forms clients’ best interests (Lazovsky, 2008). Thus, some of the ethical codes create an ethical dilemma for counselors.
Fourteen Steps in Ethical Decision Assembly Process that Assist in Maintenance of Confidentiality
Nonetheless, there exist steps that counselors can follow to address ethical dilemmas that arise due to confidentiality requirements. These steps assist counselors to develop methods that help them deal with ethical dilemmas. First, a counselor must identify the dilemma that a situation presents (Pope & Vasquez, 2011). He has to identify the moral issue that is related to the situation and facts about the situation. In a psychotherapy session, a school counselor may find out that a student smokes tobacco. This causes a dilemma for the counselor. However, he may seek more information from the student to establish more facts about the behavior.
The next step is for the counselor to predict the parties that are affected by the situation. Situations that create ethical dilemmas involve many people. In the case of the student who smokes tobacco, the likely parties to be involved are the parents of the student, and the school’s administration. The counselor cannot disclose the information to these parties simply because the situation affects them.
The third step is for the counselor to determine who the client is. In the example provided above, the counselor must determine whether the student or the parent is the client. However, the student is the one who attends the psychotherapy sessions. Thus, the counselor has to be loyal to the learner. The next step requires the counselor to determine whether he can solve the matter. He has to determine whether he has the requisite expertise (Burkemper, 2002). The counselor has to determine whether he can keep the information from the parents of the student.
The fifth step requires the counselor to review the directions provided by the ethical codes of operations. He has to check if the situation conflicts with the ethical codes that guide psychotherapists. This step is followed by an assessment of germane legal standards. Thus, the counselor has to determine whether the law prohibits the student from smoking tobacco. The seventh step requires the counselor to seek information from studies done on the topic. He may learn approaches that he can use to assist the student. Through the studies, he can determine whether to involve the family of the student in the psychotherapy sessions. The next step requires the counselor to examine whether the situation makes him be biased. It is crucial for the counselor to determine his personal thoughts about a minor who smokes tobacco. This step is followed by an examination of social and religious perceptions of the situation under consideration. In many societies, students are not expected to smoke tobacco (Pope & Vasquez, 2011).
The tenth step requires the counselor to consult other professionals. He may consult the teachers of the student. However, he must not disclose who the student is. Consequently, he has to develop alternative methods that he may use to assist the client. He has to examine the implications of the alternative methods of assistance. Subsequently, the counselor has to adopt the perception that the other stakeholders in the situation have. Therefore, he has to consider the plight of the parents of the student who smokes tobacco. Finally, the counselor should determine what to do with the information that he has obtained from the client without difficulty (Pope & Vasquez, 2011).
Importance of Ethical Decision Assembly in Professional Psychology
Ethical decision assembly is vital in professional psychology. It enables clients to have confidence in psychologists. Additionally, it assists psychologists in solving the dilemmas that are brought by the requirement that clients’ confidentiality is maintained. Ethical decision assembly provides psychologists with steps that assist them in handling the dilemmas in a professional manner (Burkemper, 2002).
Burkemper, E. M. (2002). Family Therapists’ Ethical Decision-Making Processes in Two Duty-To-Warn Situations. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 28(2), 203-211.
Lazovsky, R. (2008). Maintaining Confidentiality with Minors: Dilemmas of School Counselors. Professional School Counseling, 11(5), 335-346.
Pope, K. S., & Vasquez, T. (2011). Ethics in psychotherapy and counseling: A practical guide. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.