As state registered and licensed professionals, counselors are protected. They are governed by scientific theories, practices, and processes as well as professional standards and ethics. They are responsible for the practice of their profession in accordance with their mandates and professional guidelines and ethics. They are accountable to their clients, the professional body, and the government. It is critical that the counselor and the client fully understand the nature of the concerns, which leads to a contract to take action on a mutually agreed upon problem (Peterson & Nisenholz 1987).
Code of Ethics of Counselors
As in all professional practices in applied social sciences, counselors must observe confidentiality at all times. Without confidentiality, clients cannot trust the counselors and therefore make the profession impossible to practice. Counselors must not expose anything they hear from their clients in the process of caring for them. The code of ethics also states that counselors live and work in accordance with the professional standards of conduct set forth for the practice of guidance and counseling. They should not do harm to their clients. They should be people of high moral standing.
One of the oldest professional organizations in guidance and counseling is the Institute of Guidance Counselors, established in 1968, and now a professional body representing over 1,200 practitioners in secondary schools, colleges, adult guidance services, and private practice and in other settings. Its preamble provides that guidance counselors work with clients. They come as individuals and in groups. They supply professional services concerning educational, vocational, and personal/social development. Guidance counselors must respect the dignity, integrity, and welfare of these clients. They must work in ways that promote clients’ control over their own lives. They must respect clients’ ability to make decisions and engage in a personal change in the light of clients’ own beliefs and values.
To protect the clients’ interests, the body produced a Code of Ethics for its members’ compliance.
The Code makes explicit the values underlying their practice. The values include an assertion that the work of the guidance counselor involves a special relationship of trust. That trust is safeguarded and promoted by setting and monitoring appropriate boundaries in the relationship and making this action explicit to the client and relevant others. While the relationship with the client is the primary concern, it does not exist in a social vacuum. For this reason, guidance counselors have sensible regard for the social context of their work, which includes the wider community, the law, and professional colleagues.
Ethical Standards of Counselors
The Institute of Guidance Counselors’ Code consists of four overall ethical principles that subsume a number of specific ethical standards:
Principle 1. Respect for the rights and dignity of the client
Guidance counselors honor and promote the fundamental rights, moral and cultural values, dignity, and worth of clients. They respect clients’ rights to privacy, confidentiality, self-determination and autonomy, consistent with the law. As far as possible, they ensure that the client understands and consents to whatever professional action they propose.
Principle 2: Competence
Guidance counselors maintain and update their professional skills. They recognize the limits of their expertise, engage in self-care, and seek support and supervision to maintain the standard of their work. They offer only those services for which they are qualified by education, training, and experience.
Principle 3: Responsibility
Guidance counselors are aware of their professional responsibility to act in a trustworthy, reputable, and accountable manner toward clients, colleagues, and the community in which they work and live. They avoid doing harm, take responsibility for their professional actions, and adopt a systematic approach to resolving ethical dilemmas.
Principle 4: Integrity
Guidance counselors seek to promote integrity in their practice. They represent themselves accurately and treat others with honesty, straightforwardness, and fairness. They deal actively with conflicts of interest, avoid exploiting others, and are alert to inappropriate behavior on the part of colleagues.
Many other similar codes exist with the same expectations for ethical conduct. The fundamental principles include the following:
- Respecting human rights and dignity
- Respect for the client’s right to be self-governing
- A commitment to promoting the client’s well-being
- Fostering responsible caring
- Fair treatment of all clients and the provision of adequate services
- Equal opportunity to clients availing counseling services
- Ensuring the integrity of a practitioner-client relationship
- Fostering the practitioner’s self-knowledge and care for self
- Enhancing the quality of professional knowledge and its application
- Responsibility to the society
The Code of Ethics goes into specifics to detail professional behavior from respect for fundamental rights, moral and cultural values, dignity and worth of clients to respect for rights to privacy, confidentiality, self-determination and autonomy, consistent with the law, and ensuring that the client understands and consents to whatever professional action they propose. Hence, Codes define parameters for general respect, privacy and confidentiality, informed consent and freedom of consent, and recognition of limits of competence.