Bertrand Russell once
said "without civic morality communities perish and without
personal morality, their survival has no value" (Russell, Egner, &
Denonn, 1961, p. 146). Likewise, the counseling profession must bind
itself to ethics and the law, or it will not thrive as a viable,
trustworthy profession. Counselors, too, must bind themselves to the
same parameters, or the value of the profession becomes null. Embracing
the tremendous responsibility the profession has to humankind
necessitates an overt, yet personal pact between the profession and each
counselor, that they engage in growth and development that will
contribute to their ability to follow legal guidelines as well as make
moral judgments and ethical choices.
Moral and Ethical Influences in Early Development
had the good fortune of being raised in an environment in which my
parents' profession dictated their compliance with the Hippocratic oath.
The greater fortune was that they did not simply follow this oath as
one follows the rules of a game, but with a passion and fervor that
filled my childhood home with thoughtful conversation and an evolving awareness of conscience and choice.
We were taught the value of making appropriate choices, not simply
choosing the prescribed right or wrong of ordinary decision making.
Even as children, we became aware that decisions can bring benefit as
well as harm, and embracing the multiple aspects of circumstances
provided a foundation for the best outcome.
Mine was a
democratic household in which conversations about war, poverty, and
personal choice were dinner table discussions. My brother and sisters
and I were not afraid of making mistakes, but dreaded the thought of
making unconscious choices that merely accommodated personal ease or
agendas. Worse was the thought of decision making without taking others
into account or understanding in my heart of hearts (as my father used
to say) that what I was about to do was the best course of action. My
father told me that nations can be judged on how they treat their
animals. At a young age, this stood out to me as the ultimate meaning
of ethical behavior. The significance of caring for a dumb animal who
could never tell on me was the precise essence of ethical behavior. It
meant doing what is right, or, at least the most right, because that was
what had to be done.
Counseling Issues and Related Legal and Ethical Guidelines
mental health counselors must contend with the issues of humans, rather
than animals, they are, nevertheless, called upon to make choices that
are right, or perhaps appropriate, given the unique circumstances of the
situation. Several legal and ethical issues are common to the
counseling profession: confidentiality and the duty to warn or protect,
boundaries, transference and countertransference, and dual
relationships. Although each is a common theme in the therapeutic
process, the situations in which these issues manifest are as different
as the clients themselves, and each one requires an ethical decision or a
legal action specific to the circumstance.
Confidentiality and the Duty to Warn
and the duty to warn are critical issues in counseling (Remley &
Herlihy, 2001). The American Counseling Association (ACA) (2005) Code
of Ethics Standard B.1.c. and Standard I.A.2.a. in the American Mental
Health Counseling Association (AMHCA) (2010) obligates counselors to
keep client information confidential. Counselors must make exceptions
for protecting clients from foreseeable harm (ACA, Standard B.2.a.), and
when clients admit to having a communicable and life threatening
illness (ACA, Standard B.2.b.). As advocates and protectors, mental
health counselors must preserve privacy and simultaneously implement
duty to warn or protect when there is foreseeable danger. Understanding
the ethical and legal ramifications of duty to warn and protect in
conjunction with preserving confidentiality is critical for the safety
of the client, for the protection of the counselor's livelihood and the
profession. As evident in the Tarasoff case (Simone & Fulero,
2005), the duty to warn is a critical decision that must be made by
In the state of Hawaii, Rule 503(d)(2)
Tarasoff exception (Hawaii State Legislature, 2011) allows
psychotherapists to break confidentiality in cases where duty to warn is
necessary. Although a counselor has a legal obligation to warn in such
cases, it is an ethical obligation to gather as much information as
possible, notify the client of your ethical and legal obligations, and
notify authorities in any case when the counselor is reasonably sure of
impending harm by the client to self or others. The issue of the
ethical obligation to gather information is personally significant to
A close friend of mine has been in therapy for
chronic depression for over 20 years. Once, when she re-entered
therapy, she had to use an alternative therapist. During the session,
the counselor asked her if she ever considered suicide. She said she
had, but she would never carry it out. It was simply thoughts, nothing
more. After the session, she returned home to find the police waiting
to take her to a facility for a 48-hour involuntary committal. This was
extremely embarrassing for her, her family, and the therapist. The
therapist later apologized and admitted she did not have enough
information to support her decision to notify authorities. My friend
maintains she will forever moderate what she says to a therapist.
experience taught me that the ethical obligation to gather pertinent
and accurate information for decision making may not be as critical as
upholding the duty to warn, but it is crucial to have reasonable and
reliable information. Without articulate orientation to the issue, I
can neither act in clients' best interest, nor can I adequately respect
and promote their dignity, privacy, and welfare (ACA, 2005, Standard
A.1.a.). Standard B.1.c. states "counselors do not share confidential
information without client consent or without sound legal or ethical
justification" (ACA, 2005, p. 7) and further states in Standard B.1.d.
counselors must use informed consent to notify clients of
confidentiality's limitations and exceptions. The ACA (2005) Standard
B.2.a. addresses the need for counselors to consult with other
professionals when in doubt about exceptions to confidentiality. When
counselors face ambiguous circumstances regarding the duty to warn or
protect, implementing an appropriate decision-making model and
consultation with peers and supervisors contributes to best case
outcomes (Cottone & Claus, 2000).
prescribed boundaries of a therapeutic relationship are not always well
defined. Some boundaries are easier to cross than others, and some
must be crossed because of a lack of alternate options (Remley &
Herlihy, 2010). When boundary crossings are unavoidable, care should be
taken because in a therapeutic relationship they can be detrimental to
the client (Remley & Herlihy, 2010). Sonne (1994) explains when a
counselor enters into a secondary relationship with a client, the
therapist's needs in that relationship may affect the power differential
of the therapeutic relationship as well as the conscious and
unconscious thoughts and actions of both individuals. Secondary or dual
relationships and boundary crossings with former clients are as
potentially harmful as with existing clients. Any boundary crossing may
result in ethical and legal infractions that have the potential to end
in ethical hearings or criminal court (Remley & Herlihy, 2010).
and Keith-Speigel (2008) suggest when counselors find themselves
crossing non-sexual boundaries, taking various circumstantial factors
into account prior to making an assessment, can help determine the
crossing's usefulness. Additionally, the author's believe fostering
one's ethical awareness, as well as a maintaining a cognizance of
ethical codes and legal standards is crucial to ethical decision making.
Aside from the prescribed parameters of making such decisions, it is
wise for the counselor to consider internally conflicting feelings about
boundary issues as well as intuitive experiences (Pope &
The ACA (2005) Standard A.5.c.
recommends avoidance of non-professional relationships with clients and
others associated with clients, except as in Standard A.5.d. when such
relationships may be potentially beneficial to the client. In this
case, counselors must document the justification for entering into the
relationship prior to its initiation (ACA, 2005). As mentioned in
Comparing Codes of Ethics (Stone, 2012), I worked in end-of-life care in
a hospice environment. In this capacity, I provided services for a
woman and her family until her passing. Within a week after her death,
the woman's husband called to ask me out to dinner. Although the man's
motives were most likely driven by loneliness and a desire to return to
familiar camaraderie, I recognized the gravity of his vulnerability and
declined his offer. I did, however, recommend a counselor for him. In
this case, developing a personal relationship with him would have been a
violation of ACA (2005) Standard A.5.c. and AMHCA (2010) Standard
A.3.a. Although my friendship could have been a potentially beneficial
relationship to the man, his greater need was for a consistent and
structured therapeutic relationship.
Transference and Countertransference
client/counselor relationship plays a significant role in counseling,
and contributes to the overall effectiveness of counseling, so
understanding transference and countertransference is critical for the
therapist (Burwell-Pender & Halinski, 2008). Transference occurs
when clients redirect feelings from a significant person in their lives
to the therapist. On the contrary, countertransference takes place when
the counselor becomes emotionally intertwined with the client or when
the counselor inappropriately redirects unresolved emotional issues onto
the client. In therapeutic relationships, the client's transference is
an expected part of therapy that when appropriately addressed, can
benefit the relationship and provide insight into the client
(Burwell-Pender & Halinski, 2008). With self-reflection and
self-awareness, Burwell-Pender and Halinski (2008) suggest
countertransference can provide counselors with insight into their
personal unresolved emotional issues.
health counselors have unresolved personal issues, and if left
unattended, can result in ethical infractions and other adverse
counselor behaviors. It is important for counselors to understand that
countertransference is a natural part of counseling. Pope &
Tabachnik (1993) discovered over 87% of therapists had sexual feelings
for one or more clients. Some countertransference is a natural part of
developing a relationship, and it is not always detrimental to the
counseling relationship. For best outcomes with clients, however, Gelso
and Hayes (2001) state counselors must be aware of reactions to
clients, especially when the reactions result from the counselor's
unresolved issues. Although counselors cannot eliminate conscious and
unconscious reactions to their clients, they must be aware of them.
and Hayes (2001) suggest countertransference can be managed with
self-insight, self-integration, anxiety management, empathy, and
conceptualizing ability. Counselors must develop an interrelated
understanding of these factors as well as learning how to implement them
into their personal and professional lives (Gelso & Hayes, 2001).
Managing these aspects is part of counselors' self care that may include
participating in counselor support groups, inspiring spiritual
awareness in themselves and their peers, and encouraging appropriate
rest and respite for themselves and other mental health counselors
(Trippany, White Cress, and Wilcoxon, 2004).
distinct personal experience of transference was when the company I
worked for hired a new manager with whom I had to collaborate. His
personality distinctly reminded me of my ex-husband, and it became
difficult to separate my feelings about my ex-husband from those of the
new coworker. I found myself thoroughly aggravated by the way he would
respond to me or when he took too long to return a phone call. At one
point, I thought it was likely my coworker, like my ex-husband, disliked
animals. Eventually I realized the genesis of my feelings toward my
coworker, which led me to reflect on my anger toward my ex-husband.
of the AMHCA (2010) Standard I.3.a and the ACA (2005) Standard A.5.a
and A.5.b. recognize the unethical nature of developing sexual or
romantic relationships with clients, former clients, or with anyone
associated with clients or former clients. The ACA (2005) prohibits
counselors from entering into an intimate relationship for five years
after their termination as a client, or according to state regulations.
Standard A.5.c. recommends avoiding nonprofessional interactions or
relationships with clients or former clients. Both codes do, however,
recognize that some nonsexual dual relationships are unavoidable and
have a potentially positive effect on the client/counselor relationship.
Standard A.5.d. states if the counselor determines entering into such a
relationship will not be harmful to the client, the counselor must
document the rationale for the relationship, its potential benefit, and
any foreseeable consequences. The client's consent should be obtained
prior to entering into the relationship when feasible. The ACA (2005)
Standard A.5.d. further obligates counselors to prove an attempt to
reconcile any unintentional harm to the client from a nonprofessional
Section I.A.3.a. of the American Mental
Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) (2010) directs counselors to "make
every effort to avoid dual/multiple relationships with clients that
could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of harm" (p. 3).
Standard I.A.3.b. directs counselors to seek consultation and use a
reasonable decision-making model prior to acting on a decision to enter
into a dual relationship. Section I.A.3.c. suggests when dual
relationships cannot be avoided, counselors should "take appropriate
professional precautions such as informed consent, consultation,
supervision, and documentation to ensure that judgment is not impaired
and no exploitation has occurred" (AMHCA, 2010, p. 3).
Personal Meaning in this Assignment
assignment has been more meaningful than I anticipated. Observing my
journey through the gray areas of ethics has helped me perceive it more
objectively. From childhood experiences through early and later
adulthood, I was compelled to make decisions that made sense within the
scope of the circumstance, even when there was no right or wrong. My
choices were made, not solely from the purity of my intention, but
sometimes out of fear of future repercussions for myself or others.
Sometimes I made the decision believing someone was watching, even only
if in spirit, encouraging my proper choice, like the proverbial image of
conscience - the angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other!
this assignment has helped me realize being ethical takes determination
and a deliberate effort that must be developed over time. In any
helping profession, individuals must make an ongoing attempt to
implement moral judgment and ethical decision-making. I have reflected
on information gained from an undergraduate class in ethics that claimed
the American Psychological Association contends with thousands of
ethical and moral infractions every year (Plante, 2011). Most of the
offending individuals understood ethical behavior by its rules, not by
its essence. Without personal ethics, an individual has only
rule-following to guide them in professional and ethical conduct.
Ethics must be understood deeply, like a secondary enculturation,
similar to childhood experiences that remain foundational in one's
Adherence to Ethical and Legal Practice as an Influence of Social Change
associating with one individual or many, people act according to
intrinsic values and beliefs, and behavior changes with evolving ethical
understanding. It seems far more beneficial to assist others in
strengthening their ability to grasp wisdom and integrity rather than
passing judgment on their ignorance. Wisdom and ethical character in
humanly diverse situations create interactions based on integrity,
honesty, benevolence, and justice. Personal ethical and moral
interactions encourage similar interactions in others. In support of
the pay-it-forward theory, as one individual navigates ethically and
morally throughout life, others learn by imitation and by consciously
choosing to act similarly. By doing for someone else what someone has
done for them, people have the ability to teach grand lessons. In the
human social context, kindness, tolerance, and consciousness seem to be
as infectious as chaos, hatred, and ignorance. Inspiring the former
encourages positive social change.
Adhering to a legal
counseling practice protects counselors, clients, and society, and
promotes a sense of trust in a relatively new profession that has
founded itself upon ethics and the law. Legal statutes create a
standard for the profession as well as a foundation for a safe
experience for those who rely upon the psychological professions (Remley
& Herlihy, 2010). Furthermore, such a practice contributes to a
profession that will continue to offer a viable service and the profound
ability to care for the well-being of the human spirit. This, I think,
is the true meaning of social change.
Revisiting Personal, Ethical, and Social-Political Values
class has been both thought- and anxiety-provoking, although an
extremely valuable learning experience. Incorrect assumptions and
unreasonable resolutions I made at various times disturbed my sense of
self-efficacy. I am confident, however, in my introduction to the ACA
(2005) and AMHCA (2010) ethical codes as a foundation with which I will
navigate future ethical dilemmas. I have long been a proponent of
collaboration - to help others as well as to gain knowledge. I will not
hesitate to consult on any issues that defy my ability to find
resolution and clarification. In most ethical decision-making models,
consultation is a key component (Cottone & Claus, 2000).
Additionally, I have a new and keen awareness that I cannot neglect the
growth of my character and that growth must be an ongoing and deliberate
undertaking. Certainly this class has shown me that quick fixes are
neither realistic nor are they a plausible solution in ethical decision
My closest friends would say I tend to see the
grayer areas of life rather than the simplistic perspective of black
and white, especially when determining right and wrong. I think of
myself as a spiritual diplomat, of sorts, always taking into account the
various aspects in any situation. Ethical decision making is difficult
because the situations are neither linear nor superficial. They are
multidimensional and broad, so much so that it can become difficult to
embrace the whole and perceive its entirety without subjective
interference. In my estimation, although many ethical decisions will be
made easily according to the prescribed ethical guidelines, some will
be far more difficult and perplexing.
Overall, I take
pride in what I have learned from this class. I have a renewed
perspective of how I affect others, and how I might modify and refine
those influences to the benefit of my future clients and colleagues. In
addition to applying reason to circumstance, or perhaps ethics to
circumstance, I have a retooled goal to develop a keen intrinsic ability
to understand ethics, not only by the profession's guidelines, but by
its essence. Considering the abundance of gray area in the full range
of ethical decision making, understanding the essence of ethics as well
as the ethical codes of the profession should enable my resolve of
challenging decisions and ethically ambiguous situations.
State University (2010) supplies a personal code of ethics for its
students: be honest, courteous, and responsible. Have integrity, give
credit where credit is due, be respectful, trustful, and live
harmoniously. Additionally, do not change the wonder of who you are to
please others. Be happy (Pennsylvania State University, 2010). In
retrospect, this class has compelled me to re-evaluate each of these
standards in a more meaningful way, not simply as a conclusive way of
life, but as a starting point on a grander curve of learning that will
foster a profound understanding of ethical values. As a counselor,
these standards take on professional meaning as well, and an
understanding that ethical decisions have a tremendous effect on
mental health counselors, the depth and quality of ethical decision
making and the development of fundamental values and beliefs upon which
these decisions rely, must reflect the foundational aspects of
counseling ethics and the law. Developing a sense of justice,
beneficence, non-maleficence, fidelity, autonomy, respectfulness, and
self-reflection and awareness must be a deliberate and lifelong process.
In the first week of this class I wrote, "It is not simply according
to law and ethical codes that counselors practice ethical behavior; such
behavior emanates from personal and professional values". Mental
health counselors have a tremendous responsibility to humankind,
offering resolve, reconciliation, reorganization, and the renewed
ability to pursue happiness. Laws and ethical codes are references that
ensure counselor's decisions and actions are based on sound legal,
professional, and moral judgment rather than prejudice, bias,
rationalization and self-interest. Without these foundations, the
profession could neither inspire nor contribute to the crucial need for
positive social change.
Counseling Association (ACA). (2005). 2005 ACA code of ethics [White
Paper]. Retrieved from the ACA website: http://www.counseling.org/Files/FD.ashx?guid=ab7c1272-71c4-46cf-848c- f98489937dda
Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA). (2010). 2010 AMHCA code
of ethics [White Paper]. Retrieved from the AMHCA website:
Burwell-Pender, L., & Halinski, K. H. (2008).
Enhanced awareness of countertransference. Journal of
Professional Counseling: Practice, Theory & Research, 36(2), 38–51.
R. R., & Claus, R. E. (2000). Ethical decision-making models: A
review of the literature. Journal of Counseling & Development,
Erickson, S. H. (2001, July). Multiple relationships in rural counseling. The Family Journal, 9(3), 302–304.
C. J., & Hayes, J. A. (2001). Countertransference management.
Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38(4), 418-422.
Legislature. (2011). Rule 504.1 Psychologist-client privilege. Hawaii
State Legislature. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from
Herlihy, B., & Corey, G.
(2006). ACA ethical standards casebook (6th ed.). Alexandria, VA:
American Counseling Association.
University. (2010). Personal Code of Ethics. Penn State Student Website.
Retrieved March 1, 2012, from
Plante, T. G. (2011). Contemporary clinical psychology (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
K. S., & Keith-Spiegel, P. (2008, May). A practical approach to
boundaries in psychotherapy: Making decisions, bypassing
blunders, and mending fences. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64(5),
Pope, K.S. & Tabachnick, B.G. (1993).
Therapists' anger, hate, fear, and sexual feelings: national survey of
therapist responses, client characteristics, critical events, formal
complaints, and training. Professional psychology, research and
practice. 24(2), 142-152.
Remley, T. P., &
Herlihy, B. (2010). Ethical, legal, and professional issues in
counseling. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Russell, B., Egner, R. E., & Denonn, L. E. (1961). Basic writings of Bertrand Russell, 1903-1959. New York: Simon and Schuster.
S. & Fulero, S. M. (2005). Tarasoff and the duty to protect.
Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 11(1/2),
Sonne, J. L. (1994). Multiple relationships:
Does the new ethics code answer the right questions? Professional
Psychology: Research and Practice, 25(4), 336-343. doi: 10.1037/0735-
Stone, D. (2012). Comparing codes of ethics (Week 2 application). Walden University.
R. L., White Cress, V. E., & Wilcoxon, S. A. (2004). Preventing
vicarious trauma: What counselors should know when working with
trauma survivors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 82, 31-37.
In your quest for authentic scholarship, please feel free to use portions of my work with proper citations.
This blogsite comes up in plagiarism checkers such as Turnitin, so, please don't plagiarize!