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Group counseling is a type of therapy that involves a small group of people sharing a similar experience or similar problems. Individuals who are experiencing difficulties that they wish to resolve usually involve the use of counseling to help them deal with these difficulties. Group counseling sessions are usually designed to deal with specific problems that the individual is usually aware of prior to joining the group.
The members of the group establish their own individual goals which they use during the group counseling sessions so that they can empathize and support one another (Jacobs et al, 2009).
Christian group counseling is a type of counseling that is conducted by a Christian group counselor where the group therapy is mostly focused on Christ and biblical teachings. The role of the Holy Trinity plays an important part in Christian counseling as members are offered a theological perspective on how to deal with their problems (Tan, 2011).
During Christian counseling sessions, the teachings of the Bible act as a source of support and inspiration for the members, helping them to change their self defeating behavior which caused them to be admitted into the group counseling program. This form of therapy therefore offers a fundamentally different experience from that of normal group counseling.
Christianity based group therapy offers the various members of the group with a sense of belonging as biblical teachings are used to help the members deal with their psychological problems. The use of Christianity and Christian based principles enables the members of the group to have a sense of self discovery to the group members where they accept parts of themselves that they did not like before.
It also enables people to express themselves and relay their feelings to others during the group counseling session. This form of therapy has been effective in treating people who suffer from certain social vices such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and obsessive compulsive behavior and sexual addiction.
The purpose of this study will be to discuss the aspect of ethics in group counseling with particular focus on Christian counseling as well as the techniques or measures that are used to uphold ethics during group counseling sessions (Corey, 2008).
Codes of Ethics in Counseling
Ethical dilemmas during Christian group counseling just as with any other form of counseling are a common occurrence in every stage of the therapy sessions. Christian group leaders usually face ethical issues when they try to cater for the therapeutic needs of the group members while at the same time navigating through various ethical issues.
Codes of ethics therefore become an important asset when managing the various issues that might arise during group counseling. Codes of ethics help the work of the group facilitator so that he can be able to concentrate on the therapeutic treatment of the group members.
As with any other profession around the world, group counselors are obligated to follow certain codes of ethics as they perform their duties. A code of ethics basically provides the guidelines that will prohibit behavior a professional’s behavior during the performance of their work (Waack, 2004).
In the field of counseling, any membership to professional associations such as the American Psychological Association (APA), American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) or the American Counseling Association (ACA) requires the counseling professional to adhere to the ethical codes of ethics and conduct when performing their work duties.
Group counselors have professional obligations to observe the code of ethics set out by these organizations which will guide their duties and responsibilities during group counseling. All counselors are subject to the code of ethics that governs their profession and they have to follow the various ordinances while performing their work.
The ethical dilemma however arises when the laid down codes of ethics are unable to address or anticipate emerging ethical issues which always arise during group counseling sessions. While codes of ethics are updated once in a while, they fail to reflect the current state of affairs in the counseling profession.
Provisions that are rarely changed once they have been written make it difficult for them to be applied in various group counseling contexts. This makes the job of the group counselor difficult as they try to meet the therapeutic needs of their patients (Waack, 2004).
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While the professional codes of ethics that govern the work of group counselors are general in nature, they contain vital provisions that address the needs of a group’s members.
For example the ACA 1997 Code of Ethics and Standards has several provisions that relate to the therapeutic treatment of groups undergoing counseling where Section A9 of the code of ethics deals with the counseling relationship that exists within the group as well as the protection of the member’s therapeutic needs.
This provision requires the group facilitator to exercise ethics when administering treatment for his/her patients. Ethics in group counseling is therefore important to ensure the barriers in reducing or eliminating behavioral problems in patients are reduced (ACA, 2005).
The APA Code of Conduct 2002 also has provisions that will govern the ethical responsibility of group counselors during the counseling sessions. It also provides stipulations that the counselor will use when managing the treatment of the various people who have been placed in the group. The code incorporated a specific reference that would be used to explain ethical standards in group therapy.
Section 10 of the Code of Conduct stipulates that when psychologists or group counselors provide therapeutic services to members in a group counseling session, they have to explain the roles and responsibilities of all the members in the group to ensure that there is cohesion during the counseling sessions and that group members are aware of the therapeutic needs of others.
All therapists, psychologists and group counselors are subject to the requirements that are placed on their roles and responsibilities by the codes of ethics. The ethical codes stipulated by both the ACA and APA specify the limits on confidentiality that have to be followed when administering treatment to group members during the counseling sessions (Borders & Brown, 2005).
The AACC Codes of Ethics are different from those of ACA and APA as they are mostly founded on the seven biblical-ethical foundations the first of which bases ethical practices in counseling on Jesus Christ and his revelations in both the Old and New Testaments.
The second foundation on Christian counseling is based on maintaining committed relationships with a body of believers while the third foundation requires the Christian counselor to be more spiritual and psychosocial so as to lead the group members in a spiritual process of change and transformation.
The fourth foundation requires all Christian counselors to demonstrate both ethical and spiritual integrity in the course of performing their work while the fifth foundation requires Christian counselors to respect the biblical revelations based on human life.
The sixth foundation of the AACC Codes of Ethics deals with the protection of the Christian counselor’s identity while the seventh foundation requires counselors to be mindful of how they represent Jesus during the counseling sessions (Tan, 2011).
The role of a Christian counselor is different from that of a normal counselor where the unique characteristics that distinguish their role from that of others includes unique assumptions which are mostly based on the Bible where their counseling activities are based on the authority of the Bible, unique goals that are mostly directed towards facilitating spiritual growth, unique methods where the Christian counselor goes beyond the general techniques of counseling by using spiritual interventions and the unique giftedness which comes from Christian spirituality and prayers (Tan, 2011).
Key Ethical Concepts
Ethics and ethical practice in any profession goes beyond the execution of laid down mandates or requirements that come with performing the profession. As the practice of health care and mental health continues to become more complex in today’s dynamic world, therapists and counselors face various challenges in the execution of their jobs which makes it difficult to practice ethics.
Ethical issues in group counseling become more complicated as diverse individuals with diverse problems converge to share their problems in a group setting. In such complex situations, group leaders have to demonstrate to all the members of the group that they are honest and respectful in their activities as they lead the group members during the therapy sessions (Borders & Brown, 2005).
While the body of literature that exists on counseling and ethical practices has increased over the years, very limited research exists on Christian counseling and ethics with particular focus on group therapy. The general research on counseling has mostly focused on understanding the various complex issues that arise as a result of ethics in the course of administering therapeutic treatment.
Various research works have discussed about the ethical and moral practices that exist in counseling and psychology as well as the role of integrity, values and beliefs in ethical practices.
Other aspects that have been covered include the ethical decision making models that are used by professional counselors and psychologists as they conduct group sessions where ethical decision making has created a lot of debate in the field of counseling and mental health psychology (Waack, 2004). For the purposes of addressing the question understudy properly, the ethical concepts in general counseling will be used.
Various researchers and experts in the field have called for ethical practice while making decisions which has proven difficult for some group counselors who cannot make a compromise between ethics and therapy. This has presented a major challenge for group facilitators who under the code of ethics are required to demonstrate ethical thinking and measure the presence of ethical behavior during group counseling sessions (Baker, 2001).
Group facilitators have been challenged to exercise moral principles when effecting their ethical decisions where they have to consider the individual needs of the members in the group to ensure that their therapeutic treatments are effective in dealing with the individual problems of members in the group.
The application of moral principles within group counseling has to be considered carefully by the group facilitator where principles such as beneficence, autonomy and fidelity have to be practiced to ensure group therapy is effective.
Autonomy in group counseling allows the members within the group to exercise freedom of choice and participation in group counseling where the general assumption is that the individual has that capability to make sound decisions (Waack, 2004).
Ethics in client autonomy involves the group facilitator accepting that an individual group member is able to exercise their decision to participate or not participate in the group counseling session and not doing anything that goes against the individual member’s autonomy.
Ethical issues in client autonomy usually arise as a result of the various aspects of participation and choices that members have to make when participating in group therapy.
A silent member might decide to exercise autonomy by not contributing or offering to share about their problems or psychological experiences that led them to group counseling. The silence of the member might be taken as resistance or refusal to participate in group matters and the challenge for the group counselor lies in getting the member to share (Waack, 2004).
A skillful group facilitator can be able to get the member to participate in the group through active assistance and educating the members of the group on the various styles of participation in group counseling. The principle of beneficence requires that people should do good to others and the ethics that underlines this principle reflects harm prevention (Waack, 2004).
In a group setting, group counselors could demonstrate beneficence by responding to discussions focused on psychological symptoms that lead to depression, stress or other psychological problems. The group facilitator could help the members in the group to identify common experiences they have had with depression which will eventually help them develop suitable coping strategies for their symptoms (Baker, 2001).
Ethics in Group Counseling and Importance
The requirements for being a Christian counselor require a person to observe Christianity and biblical teachings as well as follow the AACC Codes of Ethics which are based on biblical teachings. People who intend to be Christian counselors need to first evaluate their ethical standards and level of competence before they take over the leadership of a group.
This will require them to observe the codes of ethics that govern the counseling profession for both the Christian Counselor and general counselors. As mentioned earlier, in the course of their work group counselors experience various ethical issues that are presented by the various members of the group during the counseling sessions.
Some of the ethical issues that affect Christian group counselors include the psychological risks of the various members of the group, the personal relationship that the facilitator has with the group members, informed consent, the impact of the facilitator’s personal values (Christian values) on the group, working with diverse clients and the competence of the leader to handle the various issues presented by the group members (Corey, 2008).
In relation to the rights of group members, the Christian Counselor has the ethical responsibility to inform the various members of the group about their right when it comes to group counseling. One of these rights is informed consent where the group leader offers basic information to the clients before they join the group.
This is meant to prepare them on what to expect during the counseling sessions so that they do not become too overwhelmed. It is therefore the ethical responsibility of the group leader to provide a description of the group as well as the ground rules and procedures that will be followed during group counseling sessions.
The rights of members during group counseling involve receiving guidance from the group counselor on what is expected from them during the counseling sessions, receiving assistance from the group leader in implementing coping strategies for their everyday use and receiving consultation from the group leader in the event a crisis occurs (Corey et al, 2007).
With regards to client confidentiality, group facilitators need to realize that confidentiality is a central ethical issue when managing a group. Confidentiality is an important component meant to ensure that there is effective group work during counseling sessions. The American Counseling Association provides a section in the ACA Code of Ethics that deals with client confidentiality during group counseling.
The code of ethics stipulates that during group therapy, counselors have to explain to their group members the importance of confidentiality during the group sessions. Facilitators therefore have to maintain the confidence of group members and also impress on the other members of the group to maintain the confidential nature of information that is revealed within the group.
A good ethical practice of the group leader will be to remind the participants of the group time to time on the dangers of revealing confidential information to other people who are not members of the group (Corey, 2008).
The ethical issue of psychological risks in groups is another important issue that group facilitators need to bear in mind as they conduct group counseling activities.
Groups can be powerful catalysts when it comes to necessitating change in individual members but this comes with some psychological risks on members which could be drastic life changes that cause a disruption on the individual’s daily routine, destructive confrontations that might further exacerbate the psychological well being of the individual and harmful socialization processes between the various members of the group which might cause an individual’s personality to change.
The group leader has to realize that groups in group counseling present certain risks once the initial stage of the counseling has been completed (Waack, 2004).
The group leader therefore has to protect the members from all the negative outcomes that occur from participating in group therapy. The facilitator of the group has the ethical responsibility to ensure that group members are aware of the potential negative outcomes that might arise from taking part in group activities.
The ACA Code of Ethics provides a specification for all psychologists and group counselors to deal with psychological risks where it stipulates that counselors need to take considerable precautions to protect the members of the group from any physical, emotional or psychologically damaging experiences that might ruin their group counseling experience (Hodges, 2010).
The minimal ethical expectation is that group facilitators should at least discuss the advantages and disadvantages of groups when it comes to participations and sharing experiences that are meant to help the group member change. Group facilitators should prepare their clients to deal with any problems that might arise during the group counseling experience to ensure they do not suffer from any psychological problems.
Group facilitators should also be alert to any changes in the group’s members where they demonstrate completely different behavior from what would be expected after they completed their therapeutic treatment (Corliss & Corliss, 2009).
When it comes to the ethical issue of the facilitator client relationship, group facilitators need to realize that they have an obligation to the client to administer suitable treatments while at the same time maintaining a professional relationship with the client. Facilitators need to ensure they do not misuse their role when meeting their personal needs at the expense of the group members.
In the event they do so, they commit an ethical violation which goes against the code of ethics that governs their profession. The role of group counselors is to ensure group members achieve their therapy goals while at the same time maintaining ethical practices (Cottone & Tarvydas, 2003).
This discussion has dealt with the ethics a Christian counselor in group counseling and how group counselors are subject to the codes of ethics that govern the counseling profession.
The discussion has dealt with the codes of ethics that exist in counseling as well as the key concepts and issues that arise in group counseling. It has also dealt with ethics in counseling where various ethical issues have been discussed as well as the ethical obligation of the group facilitator in group counseling.
American Counseling Association (ACA) (2005). ACA code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association. Retrieved from
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