Protecting Clients from Harm through Ethical Codes,
Informed Consent and Confidentiality
Cydne-Ann A. Grobri
One of the primary reasons for the creation and use of ethical codes within helping professions is to educate the professional about acceptable ethical behavior and to protect the well-being of clients. The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (2008) illuminates that the code “sets forth values, ethical principles, and ethical standards to which professionals are to aspire and by which their actions can be judged.” (Purpose of the NASW Code of Ethics). A helping professional is required to be ethically, clinically and ...view middle of the document...
Counselor Jane has started a group on a community college campus that focuses on what she identifies as relationship skills. She understandably advertises, however, only provides minimal information, lists no prerequisites for participation and quickly accepts anyone who expresses interest. Without ever meeting or even speaking with interested group participants, Jane holds her first meeting, including seven women and two men. Daryl, a group attendee, opens up during the first meeting and shares details about his release from jail due to domestic violence and his continual struggle with anger towards women. At the next meeting, five of the women do not return. The ethical violations in this case are numerous and stem from the counselor’s irresponsibility to her profession as well as to the public in the manner in which she recklessly started this relationship group.
Experts in the field, such as Kitchener (1986), have demonstrated that there are several identifiable moral principles that are the foundation of the counseling profession’s ethical guidelines. One of these foundational principles is non-maleficence which is the concept of doing no harm to others, especially clients. This includes avoiding intentional harm as well as not participating in actions that could pose a potential risk of harm to others. Jane’s behavior, as early as advertising in the paper, did not exemplify ideal behavior to avoid harm to members of her group. And as a working professional in her field, she could not claim ignorance to the basic principles and ethical codes that are in place for the helping professional to follow.
Kitchener also agrees with the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) Code of Ethics, (2005), that beneficence is also a clear, foundational principle in which the profession’s primary responsibility is:
to respect the dignity and to promote the welfare of clients. (A.1.a)
After carefully reviewing the facts, I strongly believe that Counselor Jane violated the overall spirit behind these foundational principles and violated direct ACA ethical codes that point out that counselors are to act in a manner that avoids harming their clients, not inviting them into a harmful environment. By starting a group, accepting participants in haste without proper investigation of their needs and challenges, and permitting them to disclose information in front of strangers, Jane bypassed the entire premise of protecting the client.
ACA Code of Ethics and Dimensions of Dilemma
From the beginning, Jane did not perform due diligence to ensure that her actions in forming this group were legally healthy and ethically sound. She violated numerous ACA Codes including Section A.8 that requires:
that counselors screen prospective group counseling/therapy participants. To the extent possible, counselors select members whose needs and goals are compatible with the goals of the group, who will not impede the group process, and whose...