Term Paper: School Counseling Ethics

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School Counseling

Ethics has been very much on the public mind for the past few years, beginning with stunning revelations of corporate ethical lapses, some of them consuming pensions (Enron), and others consuming lives (Bhopal, India). These are devastating lapses, but it might be argued that even more devastating are ethical lapses in counseling, and, more particularly, school counseling. Children and adolescents who seek or are forced into school counseling are arguably among the students most at risk for unethical -- not to say illegal -- behavior themselves. Therefore, it would seem essential on that basis alone to solve ethical dilemma issues for school counselors working with that population.

School counselors obtain their own training in dealing with ethical dilemmas during their education; therefore, it would seem essential to investigate not only what sorts of ethical dilemmas are currently being faced by school counselors, but also what sort of approaches to solving them they have been trained to use. Fortunately, there is abundant information on the latter, and some on the former; the current study will provide more concrete information concerning what ethical dilemmas school counselors currently face.

Work by Downs (2003) made the connection between the school counselors' own training, and their reactions to attraction to students, a major ethical dilemma in many cases. Downs' research revealed abundant documentation regarding the importance of guidelines for relationships between faculty and students. Downs' own literature review found widespread recognition that "there had been a lack of ethics education for counselors and counselor educators (Stadler & Paul, 1986), [although] substantial contributions have been made toward the development of ethical standards and standards for teaching ethics (CACREP, 2001; Kitchener, 1986)...." (Downs, 2003, p. 2+). The pitfall, he also noted, was that the standards are not universally endorsed or accepted by either professional counselors or counselor educators. Moreover, regions of the nation fall short in terms of ethics education. Perhaps most interesting was a finding of Bransteter & Handelsman (2000) that noted that one study of counselor education graduate assistants stated high ethical ideas, but when it came to making real-time, real-life decisions in ethical dilemma situations, their decision-making was based on significantly lower ideals.

Although sexual activity is by no means the only opportunity for ethical dilemmas to creep into counseling relationships, it is not surprising that they do. Downs notes that "Three studies (Butler, 1975; Fitzgerald et al., 1988; Pope et al., 1979) found that instructors and supervisors were frequently sexually involved with students" (2003, p. 2+). Indeed, the Pope et al. study had revealed that 17% of female psychologist reported having had sexual contact with faculty during the pursuit of their degree; just thirteen male educators claimed sexual contact with students. A disturbingly high as the numbers are by themselves, the fact that Pope et al. fund that women who had had sexual contact with faculty during their training also demonstrated significantly higher sexual contact with clients after graduation and entering the profession. Proving, at least to a small degree, that ethical lapses are a 'top down' activity, "Glaser and Thorpe (1986) also reported finding that 17% of psychologist trainees had experienced sexual contact with psychology educators. Most students reported later feeling that they had been coerced and that the contact had hindered their professional development" (Downs, 2003, p. 2+). The American Counseling Association, Downs reported, had recognized the need for ethical practice for counselor educators and faculty to prevent this cascading problem of ethical lapse.

Of course, sexual contact is not the only point at which an ethical dilemma can arise. Another significant area of concern is confidentiality. Especially when minors are involved, the ramifications of telling or not telling parents and government agencies material and information gleaned from those being counseled is of prime importance. Just as with adults, the issue of the person in counseling doing harm to himself/herself or others arises. But with minors, other issues -- health issues short of public health concerns, academic honesty and so on -- might also arise.

Purpose of the study

The purpose of the current study is twofold: to determine the most prevalent ethical dilemmas faced by school counselors, and to ascertain what approach they use to deal with those dilemmas.

Research questions

The research questions were basic to ethical dilemmas in school settings and involve the degree to which sexuality is at the base of ethical dilemmas, and the degree to which other issues pose problems for school counselors. What is the 'snapshot' of the ethical dilemma environment for school counselors now? Has it changed in the past few years? And what is the preferred method of reaching a workable method of dealing with it vis-a-vis ethical practice of the profession, needs of the person in counseling, and legal requirements if they apply.

Hypotheses

Hypothesis One: Current ethical dilemmas in school counseling are approximately equally divided between sexuality issues and other issues.

Hypothesis Two: The major issue, besides sexuality, being seen as an ethical dilemma by school counselors concerns confidentiality.

Hypothesis Three: School counselors rely more heavily on the 'standard of care' approach to dealing with ethical dilemmas than on any other single paradigm or any combination of paradigms.

Rationale of study

The rationale of the study is that there is currently no single, reliable approach to dealing with the ethical dilemmas presented to school counselors. By conducting a study of the current most frequent ethical dilemmas and by ascertaining what other approaches have been attempted, a blueprint for further research into ways to surmount ethical dilemmas will be constructed.

Limitations of study

The current study might be considered a preliminary investigation of the current environment surrounding ethical dilemmas faced by school counselors. IT should not be taken as an investigation of ethical dilemmas in the total counseling environment. Nor should it be taken as a definitive definition of the current school counseling environment. Rather, it should be regarded as providing insight into current issues in school counseling, and current approaches to them a practiced in the field; it does not provide information about every possibly approach to dealing with ethical dilemmas and is therefore very much an empirical and not a theoretical work.

Definitions

School counselor shall mean any individual possessing at least a B.A. degree and employed by the school district for the virtually exclusive work of providing counseling services as needed to a school's student population; it does not refer to independent professionals who may be consulted outside the school setting by private appointment even when those professionals are recommended by school personnel.

Ethical dilemma refers to any situation that contains significant ambiguity or, in other words, in which the counselor can proceed along various courses of action. One might attempt to exclude sexual contact from this definition because it is generally conceived of as wrong by society. However, because sexually-based ethical dilemmas may involve considerable subtlety (such as pre-teens accusing a counselor of wrongdoing because he rejected their advances), it will be included in the definition.

Chapter Two -- Literature review

Definitions of ethics and morals

One of the fundamental problems that arises when ethical dilemmas are being discussed is that of the definition of ethics as opposed to morals. Hill 2004 (2000) note that the term carried so many different meanings, it is difficult to see how the problem would not be confusing to students, teachers and counselors/practitioners alike.

Often, these authors note, it is unclear whether someone speaking of ethic is referring to a code of ethics per se, or to moral values, legal strictures or community expectations, or to a sort of umbrella term meant to embrace all these possibilities.

Even the American Counseling Association (ACA) doe note provide an explicit definition, write Evans and Foster (2000), although that body does possess a Code of Ethics and tackles the definition dilemma in its preamble, noting that "the specification of a code of ethics enables the association to clarify... The nature of the ethical responsibilities held in common by its members" (ACA Code of Ethics, quoted by Hill, 2004). That suggests a very practical approach, but one that is consistent with other definitions such as that developed by Levy (1972). Levy described ethics as "standards of behavior or action in relation to others" (p. 96).

Practicality is also the basis for Welfel's definition; Welfel (1998) believed that ethical behavior (without defining ethics itself) must meet four criteria, which Welfel gave as:

The counselor having sufficient knowledge, skill and judgment to use interventions efficaciously

The counselor respecting human dignity and the client's freedom of choice and action

The counselor respecting and responsibly using the power Welfel says is inherent in the counselor's role

The counselor having the ability to work in ways that promote public confidence in the counselor (Welfel, 1998).

In order to behave in these ways, several other researchers defined the psychological criteria that must be met by the counselor. These criteria included, according to Hill 2004 (2000):

Moral sensitivity, that is, ability to interpret a situation correctly

Moral judgment, that is,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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