Everyone has a primary obligation to maintain the privacy of both current and former clients, whether living or deceased, and to maintain the confidentiality of material that has been transmitted to them in any of their professional roles. Reasonable differences of opinion can and do exist among counselors with respect to the ways in which values, ethical principles, and ethical standards should be rank ordered when they conflict.
Ethical decision making in a given situation must apply the informed judgment of the individual counselor and should also consider how the issues would be judged in a peer review process where the ethical standards of the profession would be applied. This paper adopts the main thesis that the clients’ confidentiality ranks number one in this ethical issue. By developing an oath of confidentiality, ethical considerations are not relegated to a secondary status, after business matters nor are they noted as afterthoughts.
Without a clear directive, ethical oversight of the actions chosen through the strategic planning process lack this input. Counseling Values Values are enduring. They motivate behavior. Judgments about right and wrong or good and bad are moral judgments based on values. In the course of human interactions, there are many situations in which it is difficult to make a decision because values come into conflict. Values must be clarified if moral decisions are to be reached.
These values are easily seen during the counseling activity. While clients may reveal significant personal materials in their non-verbal behavior, the primary medium for counseling communication is verbal. Clients reveal their thoughts and feelings to a perceptive counselor by what they say, the affect with which they say it and by what they choose to obscure in their verbal material. The more fully self-disclosure takes place, the more fully the counselor can serve to help the client discover new ways of coping.
Ethical practice may be defined as providing a helping service, for which one has been appropriately trained, with care and conscientious effort, Unethical practice occurs under three conditions: when the professional helper becomes involved with clients whose problems are beyond the scope of his or training; when the helper exploits his or her position to collect fees or salary for incompetent service; and when the helper fails to understand his or her obligation to respect a client’s rights to privacy and to free choice. It is fundamental for counselors to provide competent counseling service to clients.
It is this trust that allows the client to share his or her personal concerns in a way that goes beyond casual conversation and which makes effective helping possible. As with all professions, it is a violation of trust to offer a service wherein one is incompetent to deliver or to exploit the public by offering less than the service one knows the children need. Some of the more practical solutions in maintaining confidentiality of the client’s background by the counselor are the following: I. ) Limiting Personal Information from Client’s Files
Respecting a client’s rights to privacy includes the maintenance of a confidential relationship within which the client is free to reveal important personal information as he or she is ready to do so. The client who hears his or her private thoughts revealed to another by his or her counselor has been betrayed, unless the nature of the words suggests a credible threat to life or limb. A child or the parents who is manipulated by a counselor to reveal information he or she is not yet ready to reveal has also been the victim of an invasion of privacy.
The line between facilitative leading by the counselor and prying into personal matters can be a fine one, and the distinction is often in terms of timelines and context. Respecting a client’s right to choose freely is also troublesome to some counselors. If one begins with the assumption that rational persons will ultimately arrive at the same set of conclusions about a given problem or circumstance, it is easy to conclude that the client who does not arrive at an answer that the counselor values is thinking irrationally.
At times that may be true, and the disagreement serves as evidence that help has not yet been carried to an appropriate termination. In other instances, the disagreement may signify that the client has values that differ from the counselor’s own set of values, and perhaps from those of the society at large. In such instances, the counselor can help the client to understand the logical consequences of the view he holds to be certain. In the case of information that is readily available, there must also be a limit to the information about the client that would be made available to counselors.
There is a need to enforce an oath of confidentiality. At the Children’s Aid Society in Canada, there is not always a committee to decide on matters regarding ethics. Therefore, the middle ground approach must be taken. This involves the requirement that a counselor signs an oath of confidentiality. The organization’s philosophy statement may not be specific enough to guide the day-to-day making processes. The use of a combined mission-philosophy statement can lead to this problem. Alternatively, a written oath of confidentiality could be very specific but cover a limited scope of potential circumstances.
Indeed, every profession consists of human beings or individuals with objectives or goals for the attainment of specific purposes. These purposes may either be personal, profit oriented, or imbued with some public interest. In the attainment of every profession’s objectives, certain standards are observed, to ensure that the individuals play fairly and act with honest and sound independent judgment. Standards are also observed to make sure that the people within a profession observe proper ethics in terms of behavior, both in doing their work and in dealing with other people, in the course of the performance of their job.
However, despite the rigid standards, set by law or regulations of the organizations where these professions are practiced, certain unethical behaviors are shown by various counselors. In an article entitled Clergy’s Image Recovering since Scandals, published last December 4, 2003, a survey reveals that in 23 different professions, the nurses were ranked high or very high as to honesty and ethical standards. Doctors, veterinarians and pharmacists were next to the nurses, in said order, as the professionals who exemplified ethical behavior in the practice of profession.
Those who were ranked lowest were the car salesmen, HMO managers insurance salesmen and advertising practitioners. The members of the clergy ranked higher than the previous years, but still behind policemen and engineers, though ahead of psychiatrists and bankers. What could be the reason behind the results of the surveys? It is the type of ethical or unethical behavior, which the professionals exemplify in their practice that leads to the results of the surveys (Denenberg, T. et al. ). Problem-solving process
As the conditions for therapy are established, a cooperative problem-solving process is conducted which results in more self-enhancing attitudes and behavior patterns and the development of the basic social competencies needed to build and maintain cooperative relationships (Johnson and Matross, 1977). Objectivity refers to one’s ability to assess a situation based on its own merit and not based on personal biases or other influences external to the situation. Thinking and acting objectively pose challenges because preconceived notions influence a person’s judgment.
In addition, humans are more emotional than they are rational in acting upon any given situation. All the more, a balanced outlook of confidentiality needs to be done by the counselor. What is confidentiality? Confidentiality involves the protection of sensitive information given by one person to another. It is based upon mutual trust between the giver and receiver of information. Protecting information about a person is important because its disclosure can make that person vulnerable.
Because of this sensitive responsibility on the part of counselors, they must make sure that sensitive data is not recklessly divulge unless the patient allows the disclosure or if there is a need that this data be revealed for the benefit of the client (Code of Ethics). Accountability means being answerable to consequences of one’s action or inaction. This is not limited to big responsibilities but a daily occurrence that happens in day-to-day situations whenever one is given duties to perform. Counselors must take this view as they undertake counseling sessions, whether menial or complicated.
These tasks are important components of a larger process. Counselors must take ownership of what they do and do not pass on to others this relevant but confidential information (Code of Ethics). Empowerment in counseling situations Empowerment, as a counseling concept, is considered an important tool to make an individual or group adapt to social change. It involves the principles of interaction with people and their right to self-determination. Empowerment requires that helper identify an individual’s strengths, share power and control with him, and motivate him to learn and to participate in a group.
Both the counselor and the client must work together by allowing each other to contribute to the counseling process. Empowerment means acknowledging an individual’s capacity to face his problems and to make decisions on his own. The counselor’s role is to help an individual identify his strengths that he can use to help himself and make him feel that he is in control. Counselors also need to be of their clients (Empowerment). Empowered individuals can stand and decide on their own even after the supervision of the counselor is done.
Empowerment is real because an individual draws his strength from within him, his uniqueness, his personal experiences, his values and beliefs. Counseling is not comparable to charity because of the concept of empowerment. Counseling does not only feed an individual but empowers him so that he may be able to feed himself. Purposes of Helping Most adult clients are self-referred, that is, they arrive at the helper’s office with the hope that they may somehow improve their lives through involving themselves in counseling.
More often than not, they have tried to sort out why they do not feel satisfied with their lives, but they have found themselves unable to control those things that create distress for them. Schlossberg (1976) stated succinctly that the purpose of counseling with adults is to return to them the locus of control over their own lives. It is true, of course, that many clients arrive at the counselor’s office convinced that their lives will be improved only if significant others or specific sets of circumstances are changed.
It is important to remember that it is the client himself or herself who must change if counseling is to succeed. External circumstances may indeed be difficult, but if they are to change, it is most often the client who is in the best position to engender those changes. The adult who does not like his or her job can decide how to improve it or how to seek a different job. The adult who is burdened with the care of an aging parent can seek help in bearing that burden. An adult who is angry at his or her children can learn to understand this anger and find more productive ways of accomplishing his or her goals with the children.
A part of being in control involves not only being able to hold information in confidentiality but also in knowing what one wants and needs and being able to be satisfied with what one can reasonably attain. Being in control is being motivated by what is meaningful, not being driven toward undefined goals. Interactive Process Counseling with any individual will involve an interactive process based on certain fundamental principles of counseling. The content of counseling with adults will differ in certain respects from the content of counseling with children or adolescents.
The adult client has more experience and typically is in a life position where there is greater pressure to assume responsibility for decisions, actions and interpersonal behavior. He or she would also be more cautious about the information given out for fear of being judged. The interactive process with adults can be based on a genetic model of helping such as that of Egan (1975). His model for counseling includes three stages wherein the client is expected to begin with self-exploration, move to deeper levels of self-understanding, and finally to develop a plan of action.
Emphasis in the helping process will be related to the client issues identified and classified in the diagnostic process. A client who is experiencing a concern that is primarily situational will move fairly rapidly through Stages I and Stages II and will devote the majority of counseling time to considering the workability of various alternative ways of coping with the situation. Counseling is usually short term. The client whose coping skills are adequate for normal living may still experience stagnation in his or her development.
In that instance, counseling will focus very heavily on Stage II, so that reachable new goals may be identified, and Stages I and III serve their usual functions of getting the problem defined and the development of strategies for implementing the new goals. Trust in a counseling environment Trust is not given but earned. In recognition of this, I strive to be worthy of other people’s trust by behaving in a proper manner and exhibiting good conduct at all times. I try to honor my commitments at all times and refrain from making promises that I cannot actually deliver.
Trustworthiness is consistent with the principles of social work. One of the core values of social work is integrity. Integrity lies in the ethical and responsible conduct of a social worker in dealing with clients and in representing his organization to society. Counseling is a professional undertaking that requires discipline and a broad understanding of human relations and social dynamics. Counselors must be passionate about helping others. Counselors find strength in the areas of problem solving and human relations. Precepts of the American Counseling Association (ACA)
According to the American Counseling Association, counselors need to respect the right of the client to privacy. It is important that they do not indulge in unwarranted disclosures of confidential data. The Section B1 of this right to privacy states that the only exception is when there is danger posed in the life of the client such as information that confirms that a client has a communicable disease and thus, the information needs to be relayed to a third party, who because of his close relationship with the client, may be at risk of getting that disease. (ACA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, American Counseling Association).