Many of us may know the basic ethical boundaries in counseling such as confidentiality - a therapist won’t disclose personal details except in cases where they are required such as when the client has serious intent to harm themself or others. However, due to the nature of the relationship as very personal, powerful, and impactful, there are many more things to be concerned about like if and when to use diagnoses, what type of therapy to use or recommend, etc.
The Code of Ethics given by the American Counseling Association (ACA) is one of the more in-depth codes of ethics I have seen, boasting nine sections that cover topics from the therapist’s relationship with other professionals to the process of making ethical decisions. In addition to these topics, the core ethical principles are outlined from the outset such as autonomy, nonmaleficence, fidelity, and others. In fact, under the teaching and training section, counselors are instructed to continually educate their students in ethics because it is so crucial in this field.
From this code, the importance of continual self-improvement is also shown; therapists are encouraged to keep professional relationships with others in order to improve their own counseling services. They are required to educate themselves with current standards in the field to best serve the client. Finally, if their client can benefit from therapies they are not experienced in, they should inform their client so they are able to make the informed decision whether to pursue that option further.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s (BACP) Ethical Framework is similar in structure and length to the ACA’s code. It first gives principles and values of counseling as a whole and then gives specifics for topics such as quality of care, trust, training, research, etc. One difference between the two codes is that the BACP also lists the aspirational and personal moral qualities for counselors such as empathy, sincerity, and courage. Each of these qualities relates to giving the best services they can to a client. Curiously, the BACP does not touch on the use of diagnoses.
Given the era of technology we now live in, some counselors offer services over the internet instead of in-person if for whatever reason an in-person meeting is unfeasible or undesirable. The National Board for Certified Counselors released a code in 2005 called The Practice of Internet Counseling. Forms of internet counseling may be email, chat, or video. There are specific things to keep in mind when giving counseling through the internet rather than in-person: maintaining secure interactions, making sure you are conversing with the right person and not someone else using their account, and talking about the possibility of misunderstandings due to lack of visual and/or tonal cues.
Are there areas of counseling you were surprised these codes of ethics did or did not include? If they weren’t, they may be in other codes not mentioned from the Ethics Codes Collection.
The Ethics Code Collection is managed by the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions. Look forward to a new and improved website come September!
Written by Alice Amell