Read and post comments

Ethical Decision-Making in Your Counseling Practice


Posted on July 21, 2014 by Faculty.

For counseling psychology professionals, fully understanding the importance of ethics and values is one of the most crucial aspects of a counseling practice. Rarely do straightforward ethical dilemmas arise with simple answers. That’s why it’s essential to utilize clinical supervision and have a solid foundation and understanding of the ethical decision-making process advocated by your professional association. 

Psychology Counseling

1. Identify the Problem

Because ethical issues are not always easy to identify, it is important to utilize your clinical supervision. Be sure to take sufficient time to thoroughly explore and identify the problem. Go to your supervisor as soon as you have a concern because time is of the essence. Additional insight will expand your understanding and help you see the situation as clearly as possible. This will also allow you to separate out your own subjectivity and values that may be influencing the situation. Working with a supervisor is critical to understanding the dimensions and policies that may apply.

2. Consult Your Professional Organization’s Code of Ethics

Be sure to consult your agency’s and professional association’s code of ethics. Finding a standard that applies to your situation can give you a more definitive course of action. Consult a trusted colleague or supervisor for advice on how to interpret and apply your findings.

3. Be Clear About the Dimensions of the Issue

Be sure you have considered the issue from all perspectives. Find current professional literature, talk with your supervisor, and consult organizations to see how the issue has been handled in recent situations; and do so in a timely fashion. Discuss your problem with trusted, professional colleagues, but be sure to maintain confidentiality and limit the details you share.

4. Consider Potential Consequences of All Options and Decide on a Course of Action

Carefully evaluate each option and potential consequences of your actions. Consider all parties involved, even if theirs is only a peripheral role in the situation. Don’t forget to include yourself in the equation since there are implications that will possibly affect you in the outcome. Be sure you discuss each step with your supervisor and listen to their advice!

5. Thoroughly Evaluate Your Course of Action

By this step, you’ve made good progress in the decision-making process, but it’s critical to stop and assess whether there are any new ethical issues that have arisen due to your selected course of action. The ACA recommends using three tests to see if your selection is appropriate:

  • Justice – Does the solution fit your own sense of fairness?
  • Publicity – Would you want your actions reported in the press?
  • Universality – Would you suggest the same course of action to a fellow counselor in a similar situation?

Psychology professionals have a responsibility to act and report in certain ways. Remember that you are bound by professional ethics, confidentiality regulations, and your agency’s policies.

6. Implement Your Course of Action

With the help of your supervisor, take action according to your plan. As with any difficult activity that requires skill and knowledge, identifying, confronting, and resolving ethical dilemmas takes consultation, confidence, and experience. You need to be thoroughly familiar with all confidentiality and reporting regulations for your profession. Acquiring a solid foundation of education and practice-based learning, and using a network of other professionals and supervisors will help you attain that goal.