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A counselor may be simply defined as an adviser in whatever context. A counselor works in a diverse setting to provide support services such as counseling and rehabilitation. The profession is divided into many specialties; however, the ultimate goal is to offer support to the client. Most of these clients are usually facing personal, social, and behavioral challenges. Through interaction with the victim, the counselor can identify the problem and offer the appropriate support to help alleviate or solve the problem. However, the counselor cannot offer a comprehensive solution to a client but only provides the necessary support to help the client regain standard status and confidence. A certain code of conduct to govern the profession is required due to the intimate nature of the relationship between a counselor and the client. In reference to the above statement, “a good counselor is a counselor with a highly developed ethical sense”, I will critically discuss this statement to ascertain if it is true, possible and whether it is probable to live up to it. All aspects of an ethical nature cannot be comprehensively discussed in this essay. Therefore, I will concentrate on the following: Contracting, Confidentiality, Dual relationships, and finally, the ethical importance of self-care (avoiding Burnout Responsibility to the client). The paper will also discuss the legal, ethical and personal issues arising.
Besides the code of practice, work station guidelines, and law, a good counselor is first guided by personal ethics. Ethics is a system or code of rules governing the conduct of an individual or community of people. In layman’s terms, it can be described as the moral authority to discern what is right and wrong. As a trainee counselor, I believe that for one to gain success in this profession, I must cultivate an ethical sense. This would mean conceptualizing the idea of observing ethics in all areas regarding this profession. Having the ethical sense goes beyond following set guidelines by professional or societal authorities. It entails having a strong desire to help those in need without focusing on achieving personal gratification but aiming to inspire respect, confidence, and trust among the clientele. To succeed as a counselor, I believe in pursuing the wellness of those I handle and thus would make it my own responsibility to seek both emotional and physical energy to ensure that I am always at my best in addressing the myriad challenges brought to my desk by the clients. My ethical sense should push me to treat the clients just in the same manner I would like to be treated when in a similar situation. I would also endeavor to treat the clients as they would want to be treated (Corey, Corey & Callanan, 2011). Along this line, I will, in the context of an ethical sense, analyze the ethical elements surrounding contracting, confidentiality, dual relationships, and self-care.
Any commitment between two parties requires consent from each. In this profession, while dealing with my potential clients, I have to engage them in contracting. Based on ethical and legal implications involved in such a profession, it is important to make the client understand beforehand what it entails to sign a contract with me as the counselor. It is only ethical to let the client make an informed decision by availing all the necessary information to clients. This is to ensure they completely understand the engagement they are indulging in from the onset. I find the contract a very vital concept as it ethically defines the relationship between me, the counselor, and my client. Among the details that I perceive important when engaging a client for the first time include outlining the terms of confidentiality. This is aimed at ensuring the client can fully trust me as I offer the necessary support.
The client must be informed on what conditions what they consider sensitive or confidential information can be revealed to a third party. Informing the client about the goals of the counseling sessions is also what I would consider as essential in creating rapport with my client and achieving ethical consent. This would be important in helping the client and me and to benchmark the progress made during the counseling process. Along with this, I would feel ethically indebted to inform them of the services to expect. This will allow them to make a decision on whether to withdraw or go ahead with the contracting. At the same time, this would give the client an idea of the worth of going through the process. This means if the client feels from the outset that the whole session may not achieve their aim, I would be willing to help them understand the input they may require to succeed. If the case is above my ability as a professional, it would be ethically wrong to try to offer such services as this would compromise on the client’s demands as well as affect my professional image (Zunker, 2012).
Another integral part of the contract is the fee charged. As a professional counselor, I should at all times ethically charge reasonable fees. It would be ethically corrupt to charge exorbitant client fees, yet they are probably seeking life-saving solutions. Before a client signs the contract, they must be aware of the cost, and any other additional charges that may be imposed must be clearly communicated beforehand. This is to discourage clients from initiating unsustainable programs since dropping midway due to financial constraints could jeopardize their recovery progress or even leave them in a worse situation than at the beginning. From an ethical perspective, many counselors charge clients who skip sessions without adequate notice, but most do not refund if they miss or postpone sessions. I find this totally unacceptable both from legal and moral perspectives. In my professional pursuit, I endeavor to observe this as a personal ethic principle and encourage my fellow professionals in counseling to embrace the same spirit (Zunker, 2012).
The contract is a binding law document, and both the counselor and the client need to observe all clauses as agreed upon during contracting. If any of the parties fail on their part, the legal systems of the land can be referred to to settle the dispute. Any reviews or revisions that may be included in the contract should be incorporated effectively and within the provisions of the law of the land or as agreed between the counselor and the client. I would personally be willing to engage my client fully into the setting of these agreements to ensure that all of our inputs favor both of us. As a counselor, I must update myself with the existing legislation governing contracting to ensure that the terms of contracting between the client and me do not go against the law. I value the contract as in ethical terms; it clearly outlines the boundaries and the nature of the connection between the counselor and the client.
Though the law recognizes oral agreements as contracts, I would prefer a written agreement as this would eliminate the challenges associated with misinterpretation of terms and conditions as well as the negative impact of forgetfulness. It is also important to allow the client as much time as possible to digest all the information and terms included in the contract. This ensures that the clients sign the agreement out of the clear conviction of what they are engaging in. Overall, the ethical principles as explained in the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) framework greatly influence my ethical sense as a counselor. These principles include the following: fidelity, which emphasizes clarity on the boundary between the counselor and the client; autonomy, which empowers the client to be free and independent in decision making; non-maleficence, which entails shunning any tendency that would harm the client; self-respect, which emphasizes on engaging in a contract that favors all parties and brings satisfaction to all; beneficence, a principle that calls for aiming at doing what is reasonably good for clients; and justice, which entails being fair and open-minded when dealing with all clients irrespective of personal prejudice. This is easily achievable by setting standards, particularly in contracting (Milner & Palmer, 2001).
Through my course work training and the little experience in the counseling profession, I have learned that the element of confidentiality constitutes a large portion of the work. Confidentiality may refer to the differences between success and failure in counseling. Most of the clients I have interacted with struggle with confidentiality issues. A client may not be readily willing to reveal what they consider personal information. This is unfortunate since the revelations they make form the basis of the counseling sessions. As a professional counselor, I must make the clients realize that the information given is only to assist me in my counseling program and finding the most workable solutions to help them. It would be unethical for me as a professional to breach the element of confidentiality.
Furthermore, the law regarding this profession demands that counselors keep all details given to them by the clients confidential unless in special circumstances. For example, when the counselor is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the client is likely to cause personal harm or harm others, he/she can inform other stakeholders such as family, close friends, or security agencies. I make this clear to all my clients when discussing confidentiality matters. Before entering into any contract with a potential client, I ensure that they understand the concept of confidentiality and its limitations. Allowing clients to express their views on what they take to be confidential is very critical. This helps me to use my professional knowledge to dispel any fears they may harbor. This helps to put them at ease to ensure that they freely interact with me without feeling as if their privacy is infringed upon (Bond, 2000).
The law in different countries may interfere with the concept of confidentiality. In England, for instance, the law demands that therapists such as psychotherapists and priests whose professions are governed by confidentiality element, report cases availed to them that they deem to go against the law of the land. If, for example, a rapist seeks counseling or a victim of rape reveals the identity of the rapist, it would be wrong for the counselor not to report such a case even if the client is opposed to it. Ethically, I feel that the demand of the client should be respected on any matter.
However, in the case whereas a counselor, I perceive that a perpetrator deserves punishment in accordance with the law of the land; I would have to engage the victim to reach an agreement on whether to forward the case to the relevant authorities or not in a careful manner. However, I feel that a perpetrator who seeks counseling services with an aim to stop their acts should be given a chance and the necessary help to avoid re-offending. Therefore, all their revelations should be treated with the utmost confidentiality. Personally, I feel that the contract between such a client and me should include such a clause. This would allow the client to be comfortable in revealing important information that could essentially help the counselor provide an appropriate solution. All confidential information would also require storing, handling, protecting, or carefully disposing to ensure a client’s privacy is safeguarded (Mcleod & Mcleod, 2010).
Cultivating trust is a highly essential ingredient in the counseling profession. Only when a client is assured of the integrity of the counselor and their ability to keep confidential information can they genuinely engage in fruitful sessions. The ethical demand of the profession may conflict with the law or other forces outside the profession. In such a case, the counselor should make an informed judgment or consult a more experienced colleague. In reference to the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP), for instance, a professional counselor may employ the following steps in decision making while upholding ethics.
Analyze the issue professionally at hand in detail and consider all relevant parties involved. Then, refer to the code governing the counseling profession in relation to the law of the land and other relevant recommendations from professional authorities. Afterward, it is important to consider the utmost rights and welfare of involved stakeholders. Finally, one should make a professional judgment devoid of any emotional or personal attitude towards a party or situation. You should be ready to take responsibility for any consequences arising from a decision taken. These guidelines conform to what I believe in as an emerging professional counselor. Therefore, I will endeavor to be guided by the above-mentioned concepts and other relevant ideas to ensure I succeed in my career and for the benefit of my clientele (Bond, 2000).
The relationship between a counselor and the client ought to remain professional at all times. I find it challenging to cope with the strong emotional attachment that arises during counseling sessions. The ethical sense I have cultivated in this profession a great role in handling clients in a most professional way. The likelihood of a dual relationship arising is very high. This simply means that the counselor assumes more roles than the profession demands. Dual relationships easily creep in when the counselor and the client engage in contacts outside the therapeutic boundaries. The contacts may be emotional or physical. I think it is unethical to be involved in any form of relationship with my clients that fall outside my professional scope. Therefore, I try as much as possible to clarify my relationship with the client upon the first contact with a potential client. This I do to avoid creating conflicts later in the counseling sessions. The overlapping relationships may be initiated by the client even before the therapy sessions begin, during, or after the therapy. Any time I notice a tendency by the client to engage in such behavior, I emphasize, in a professional way, regarding the relationship boundaries between us. I reiterate that my role is that of a helper and not the remedy itself. It is human nature to forge a friendship with the clients; however, guided by my ethical sense, I exploit this friendship to create a very effective rapport with the client. This is aimed at helping them recover faster (Syme, 2003).
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I believe that it is unethical to involve my clients on any terms outside what we agreed in the contract. This can only be allowed if I feel that engaging in such a crush program would be highly beneficial to my client. Though some schools of thought describe acts such as home visits, increased session frequency, telephone contacts, and mild physical contacts as over-indulgence with the client, I would eagerly pursue the same if it guarantees success in therapy. One of the most damaging forms of dual relationship is sexual. From my training, work experience, and ethical sensibility, I sincerely feel that it is wrong. It does not matter who initiates such a relationship. The law regards the sexual relationship between a professional and a client in almost all fields as exploitative. Sexual relationships of whatever nature also highly compromise the quality of service and image of the profession. The most common forms of sexual contact in this field include sexual assault, abuse, and harassment (Feltham, 1999).
An old adage goes, “if we do not take of ourselves, who will?” I find this very relevant in the counseling profession. Most of us psychotherapists suffer from psychological, emotional, and physical exhaustion due to the nature of our work. It would be impossible to help others effectively if we are not whole. The IACP code governing the counseling profession outlines the aspect of self-care. It states in part that the professional should constantly engage in self-driven activities that aim to reduce the chances of situations such as burnout and addictions. Such situations could negatively affect their performance, and this could impact negatively on the clients too. A professional counselor must always monitor their overall body functioning and be willing to get help whenever necessary. Supervision of the amount of work done by the counselor by an experienced counselor is vital to gauge progress and avoid doing a lot of work. Getting intellectual input from colleagues in the profession also helps the counselor avoid trying to solve problems beyond their ability, which could yield disastrous results (Bond, 2000).
Ethics governing this profession require the counselor to be in a good status of mind, body, and soul so as to perform optimally. To avoid burnout, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) survey could act as a reference. The scales addressed in the survey include emotional exhaustion. This is explained as the sensation of emotional drainage by the amount and type of work. The second scale is the depersonalization concept, whereby one experiences an impersonal response towards the services he/she offers. The third scale- personal accomplishment determines the feeling of achievement and registering of success in one’s work. In order for me to succeed in the counseling profession without suffering burnout, I am careful to identify the warning signs of burnout. This helps me to seek help or avoid any situations that may deteriorate my condition. This involves taking care of the physical, psychological, and emotional components of my health. My way of avoiding burnout entails planning my daily activities to include healthy diets; adequate exercise and sleep; adhering to set deadlines and operational standards; engaging in other roles outside the profession; sharing experiences with colleagues to gain more knowledge; and managing stress through strategies such as avoiding emotional attachments to my clients’ problems some of which may be heart wrecking (Poghosyan, Aiken & Sloane, 2009).
From my discussion of the statement: “A good counselor is a counselor with a highly developed ethical sense,” I have incorporated personal experiences gained through my limited experience and coursework training. These experiences are aimed at supporting the statement with reference to the concepts of contracting, confidentiality, dual relationships, and self-care. From my analysis, I have emphasized the importance of a highly developed ethical sense in the counseling profession. On whether this statement is true, it has clearly been displayed throughout my entire discussion. I totally agree with the statement and believe it is possible to embrace ethics in totality as a guiding principle in working as a professional psychotherapist. I will make it a personal goal to pursue the spirit of the statement and live up to it in my entire career. From the little experience that I have gained, I am strongly convinced that by continually developing my ethical sense, I will most certainly make a “good counselor.”
Bond, T 2000, Standards and ethics for counselling in action, Sage Publications, London.
Corey, G, Corey, MS & Callanan, P 2011, Issues and ethics in the helping professions. Brooks/Cole, Belmont, Calif.
Milner, P & Palmer, S 2001, Counselling: the BACP counselling reader, Vol. 2. Sage, London.
Poghosyan, L, Aiken, L & Sloane D 2009, Factor structure of the Maslach Burnout Inventory: An analysis of data from large scale cross-sectional surveys of nurses from eight countries, PubMed. 46 (7): 894-902.
Syme, G 2003, Dual relationships in counselling and psychotherapy: exploring the limits, Sage Publications, London.
Zunker, VG 2012, Career counselling: a holistic approach, Brooks/Cole, Belmont, CA.