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Counseling Ethics in 5-Step Decision-Making Model Case Study

The purpose of the study is the evaluation of ethical problems in psychological practice through the application of the five-step decision-making model. The decision-making system helps to identify and evaluate the ethical dilemmas found in the case studies which are related to the domains of assessment, technology use, research conduction, etc. The study explores the applicable ethical standards for each of the mentioned situations to provide a comprehensive basis for efficient decision-making.

Counselors assist the clients in their personal growth and development through the provision of the necessary information about psychological health (ACA, 2014). The success of counseling largely depends on the specialist’s competence and ability to consider clients’ interests and needs, including their privacy and confidentiality, in addressing the delicate psychological issues. The failure to meet various needs of clients and the inability to perform according to the level of professional expertise interferes with the course of assessment and treatment. Moreover, it raises several ethical issues.

In Case 1, the therapist faced many ethical barriers to the provision of high-quality service. First of all, the client was his former classmate from high school. According to the ACA Code of Ethics, a counselor is prohibited from involvement in the counseling relationships with friends and family members because, in this case, it is difficult to remain objective and unprejudiced (ACA, 2014). The therapist could refer the client to another professional who was not familiar with him. But the case took place in the rural district where the mental health resources are scarce, the therapist thus decided to assess the client by himself because they have “grown apart” and did not have a strong emotional attachment to each other.

Secondly, the therapist recommended the client to be tested for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and decided to conduct the assessment by himself even though he did not pass training in this area of knowledge. Practitioners in psychology need to perform and make decisions only within the boundaries of their competence (APA, 2010). In rural communities, where alternative health services are not available, the therapists need to make efforts to obtain the necessary knowledge for the provision of assessment and treatment.

For example, it is suggested to establish the professional relationships with the organizations that would allow “telesupervision” of the remote areas and would guide the rural specialists in the decision-making process (Riding-Malon & Werth, 2014). Since such an alternative was not accessible in Case 1, the therapist preferred to use the PTSD scale he found on the Internet. Although the test appeared to require no formal training to use, such a decision creates the risks for the misinterpretation of assessment results and the establishment of a wrong diagnosis.

The issue of technology use is interrelated with the issue of professional competence. The assessment procedures can be conducted only in the area of the specialist’s professional practice, and the psychologists must be qualified and trained for the conduction of testing (APA, 2013).

Therefore, the therapist’s decision to assess the client via the test located on the Internet may be regarded as unethical and inadequate. The provision of information about the sources where the client could receive professional help in this area would be a better decision in this case. The therapists in rural areas should know all the available health care resources in the region to refer the clients to the most proximate ones. The implementation of telepsychology is one of the alternative methods for the provision of treatment in the districts with limited accessibility to practice providers (Riding-Malon & Werth, 2014).

Another unethical decision made by the therapist is the disclosure of test results to the client’s wife. First of all, the diagnosis made by the psychologist could be wrong because of the lack of sufficient expertise in PTSD assessment conduction that could lead to biasing and misinterpretation. Secondly, the disclosure of information may take place only with the client’s consent. Family is one of the essential support networks in treatment, and it can be useful to keep the family members informed about the course of treatment, diagnosis, and other related issues. However, the family may be involved in counseling relationships only when it is appropriate and only with the consent of a client (ACA, 2014). However, the excess level of the wife’s anxiety and the noncompliance with the principle of informed consent makes the therapist’s decision unethical.

Ethical Issues in Supervision and Teaching

High-quality supervision and teaching are associated with extensive competence and profound knowledge in the area of professional and instructional practice. Teachers and supervisors are responsible for the development of knowledge in students or subordinates, and their positions are characterized by an advantage of power which requires skillful and ethical management (Harrar, VandeCreek, & Knapp, 1990).

The ethical issues in Case 2 are related to the lack of sufficient expertise in supervising and teaching in the field of psychological assessment. The professor who was asked to teach the psychological assessment courses and assume the practicum supervision responsibilities is a specialist in the psychological counseling, and he did not have formal training in the area of assessment or experience in supervising. According to APA Standard 2, “Psychologists provide services, teach and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study or professional experience” (APA, 2010).

It means that competence is vital for adequate supervision performance, and the lack of experience in the domain of practice may result in misleading of subordinates and even abuse of authority and power.

It is possible to presume that the professor of psychological counseling may instruct the students in psychological assessment quite well in case he has available professional resources, and in case he undertook all measures to raise awareness in the field of interest and build sufficient knowledge base to address the cognitive and academic needs of the students. The teachers need to make sure that their competence is enough to follow the principle of Accuracy in Teaching that requires an accurate reading and complete coverage of subject matter (APA, 2010).

In this way, it is possible to say that ability to teach in different professional areas largely depends on the personal qualities, and the ethical issue in teaching primarily depends on the individual level of competence and skills of knowledge application. But the high quality of supervision is interrelated with the comprehensive experience, and requires much more than merely a theoretical knowledge – it comprises reading, didactic instruction, and training in supervision (Harrar et al., 1990).

According to the standard of Multiple Relationships, a psychologist needs to avoid the establishment of relations that would violate the principles of objectivity and competent performance and would involve the risk of exploitation and harm to other individuals (APA, 2010). It is possible to say that the professor abuses his power as a supervisor when placing the practicum students to the agency with which he has established relationships. Moreover, as a supervisor, he is responsible for the evaluation of students’ performance, tutoring, and provision of information. When the professor asked other mental health service providers to assess the students and provide reports, he disclaimed the responsibility for the students’ achievements and improvement of performance. The supervisors are liable for the actions of their supervisees (Harrar et al., 1990).

Therefore, a competent supervisor will attempt to establish professional interrelationships with the students without any intermediaries and will strive to guide the interns in the process of their professional development.

Ethical Issues in Research

The major ethical standards of research conduction are the principles of Informed Consent, Voluntary Participation, and Avoiding Harm (APA, 2010). In Case 3, the professor violates the principle of voluntary participation by proclaiming the participation in the study as a requirement of the course. Moreover, he did not inform the study participants about the purpose of the study so the students lacked the necessary information that could lead them to consent for participation in the research.

The researchers always need to obtain the informed consent through the disclosure of information about nature and purposes of the study, duration of the assessment, rights to withdraw from the participation in research, potential consequences of participation, as well as possible discomfort or negative effects (APA, 2010).

The professor did not provide the students with the opportunity to decline to participate in the assessment, and he thus manipulated the students’ consent and ignored the participants’ rights. Therefore, his decision may be considered unethical. In the case when the disclosure of study purpose and detailed information about the nature of research may influence the results, it would be possible to give at least a general description to ensure the participants would feel comfortable. The professor needed to comply with the principle of voluntary participation by allowing the students to obtain some additional bonuses in the course rather than threatening them with the inevitable failure.

Although the instruments of data collection and analysis implemented by the professor in the case may be regarded as efficient, his methods, such as the administration of the exam which the participants could not pass, created significant discomfort in participants. Provoked discomfort and stress may be considered the consequences of the disregard of APA Standard 3.04 because the researcher did not take reasonable measures to minimize the harm (APA, 2010). To achieve better results in the post-exam questionnaire data collection, the professor could reveal the purpose of the conducted assessments because it is possible to presume that a high level of stress in students after the failed examination could result in the biasing of responses to the questions.


The study employed the five-step ethical decision-making model, also known as IDEAL. The five steps of the model include identification of the problem, development of alternatives, evaluation of options, action or performance of the best option, and looking back at the results (Knapp & VandeCreek, 2006).

The ethical issues in the cases were analyzed according to the model, and each of the steps of the decision-making process proved to be important for the development and realization of the best decision in each particular case. The identification and exploration of the problems facilitate the comprehension of their origins and causes, and, in this way, help to develop better alternatives for problem-resolving. The evaluation of distinct options and factors assists in the selection of the most appropriate decision and the performance of the best decision results in the efficient treatment that includes the ethical considerations.


American Counseling Association (2014). . Web.

American Psychological Association. (2010). . Web.

American Psychological Association. (2013). Guidelines for the practice of telepsychology. Web.

Harrar, W. R., Vandecreek, L., & Knapp, S. (1990). Ethical and legal aspects of clinical supervision. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 21(1), 37-41. Web.

Knapp, S., & VandeCreek, L. (2006). Practical ethics for psychologists: A positive approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Web.

Riding-Malon, R., & Werth, J. L. (2014). Psychological practice in rural settings: At the cutting edge. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(2), 85-91. Web.

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