A counsellor may be simply defined as an adviser in whatever context. A counsellor works in a diverse setting to provide support services such as counselling and rehabilitation. The profession is divided into many specialties, however the ultimate goal is to offer support to the client. Most of these clients are usually facing personal, social and behavioural challenges. Through interaction with the victim, the counsellor is able to identify the problem and offer the appropriate support help to alleviate or solve the problem. The counsellor however can not offer a comprehensive solution to a client but only provides the necessary support to help the client regain standard status and confidence. Due to the intimate nature of the relationship between a counsellor and the client, a certain code of conduct to govern the profession is required. In reference to the above statement, “a good counsellor is a counsellor with a highly developed ethical sense”, I will critically discuss this statement to ascertain if it is true, possible and whether it is probable to live up to it. It is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss all aspects of an ethical nature. I will therefore concentrate on the following: Contracting, Confidentiality, Dual relationships and finally the ethical importance of self care (avoiding Burnout Responsibility to the client). The paper will also discuss the legal, ethical and personal issues arising.
Besides the code of practice, work station guidelines and law, a good counsellor is first guided by personal ethics. Ethics are a system or code of rules governing the conduct of an individual or community of people. In lay man terms, it is described as the moral authority to discern what is right and wrong. As a trainee counsellor, I believe that to be successful in this profession, I must cultivate an ethical sense. This would mean conceptualizing the idea of observing ethics in all areas regarding this profession. Having the ethical sense goes beyond following set guidelines by professional or societal authorities. It entails having the strong desire to genuinely help those in need without focusing on achieving personal gratification but aiming to inspire respect confidence and trust among the clientele. To succeed as counsellor, I believe in pursuing wellness of those I handle and thus would make it my own responsibility to seek both emotional and physical energy to ensure that am always at my best in addressing the myriad challenges brought to my desk by the clients. My ethical sense should push me to take the clients and treat them as I would want to be treated if in a similar situation. I would also endeavour to treat the clients as they would want to be treated (Corey, Corey & Callanan, 2011). Along this line, I will in the context of ethical sense, analyse the ethical elements surrounding contracting, confidentiality, dual relationships and self care.
Any commitment between two parties requires consent from each. In this profession, while dealing with my potential clients, I have to engage them into contracting. Based on ethical and legal implications involved in such a profession, I find it important to make the client understand beforehand what it entails to sign a contract with me as the counsellor. It is only ethical to let the client make an informed decision by availing all the necessary information to them to ensure they completely understand the type of engagement they are indulging in from the onset. I find the contract, a very vital concept as it ethically defines the relationship between me, the counsellor and my client. Among the details that I perceive important when engaging a client for the first time include outlining the terms of confidentiality. This is aimed at ensuring the client can fully trust me as I offer the necessary support. The client must be informed on what conditions what they consider sensitive or confidential information can be revealed to a third party. Other areas of the contract that I would personally consider essential in creating a rapport with my client based on mutual and ethical consent is informing them about the goals of the counselling sessions. This would be important in helping the client and I benchmark on the progress made during the counselling process. Along with this I would feel ethically indebted to inform them on the type of services to expect so as to allow them make a decision on whether to withdraw or go ahead with the contracting. At the same time, this would give the client an idea of the worth of going through the process. This means if the client feels from the outset that the whole session may not achieve their aim, I would be willing to help them understand the input they may require to succeed. If the case is above my ability as a professional, it would be ethically wrong to try to offer such services as this would compromise on the client’s demands as well as affect my professional image (Zunker, 2012).
Another integral part of the contract is the fee charged. As a professional counsellor, I should at all times ethically charge reasonable fees. It would be ethically corrupt to charge a client exorbitant fees, yet they are probably seeking life saving solutions. Before a client signs the contract, they must know how much it will cost and any other additional charges that may be imposed must be clearly communicated beforehand. This is to discourage clients from initiating unsustainable programs, since dropping midway due to financial constraints could jeopardize their recovery progress or even leave them in worse situation than at the beginning. From an ethical perspective, many counsellors charge clients who miss sessions without adequate notice but most do not refund if they themselves miss or postpone sessions. I find this totally unacceptable both in legal and moral perspectives. In my professional pursuit, I endeavour to observe this as a personal ethic principle and encourage my fellow professionals in counselling to embrace the same spirit (Zunker, 2012).
The contract is a law binding document and both the counsellor and the client need to observe all clauses as agreed upon during contracting. If any of the parties fails in their part, the legal systems of the land can be referred to settle the dispute. Any reviews or revisions that may be included in the contract should be incorporated in a systematic way in accordance with the law of the land or as agreed between the counsellor and the client. I would personally be willing to engage my client fully into the setting of these agreements to ensure that each of our inputs favours both of us. As a counsellor, I must update myself with the existing legislation governing contracting to ensure that the terms of contracting between I and the client do not go against the law. I value the contract as in ethical terms; it clearly outlines the boundaries and the nature of the connection between the counsellor and the client. Much as the law recognizes oral agreements as contracts, I would prefer a written agreement as this would eliminate the challenges associated with mis-interpretation of terms and conditions as well as the negative impact of forgetfulness. I find it also important to allow the client as much time as possible to digest all the information and terms included in the contract. This is to ensure that they sign the agreement out of clear conviction of what they are engaging in. Overall, the ethical principles as outlined in the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) framework greatly influence my ethical sense as a counsellor. These principles are; fidelity which emphasizes clarity on the boundary between I, the counsellor, autonomy which empowers the client to be free and independent in decision making, non-maleficence that entails shunning any tendency that would harm the client, self-respect which emphasizes on engaging in a contract that favours all parties and brings satisfaction to all, beneficence, a principle that calls for aiming at doing what is reasonably good for the clients and justice which entails being fair and open minded when dealing with all clients irrespective of personal prejudice. This is easily achievable by setting standards particularly in contracting (Milner & Palmer, 2001).
Through my course work training and the little experience I have regarding the counselling profession, I have learnt that the element of confidentiality constitutes a large portion of the work. Confidentiality may actually mean the difference between success and failure in counselling. Most of the clients I have interacted with struggle with confidentiality issues. A client may not be readily willing to reveal what they consider personal. This is unfortunate since, the revelations they make form the basis of the counselling sessions. As a professional counsellor, I must therefore make the client realize that the information given to me is only to guide my counselling program and finding the most workable solutions to help them. It would be unethical for me as a professional to breach the element of confidentiality. Furthermore, the law regarding this profession demands that counsellors keep all details given to them by the clients confidential unless in special circumstances. For example, when the counsellor is convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the client is likely to cause personal harm or harm others, he/she can inform other stakeholders such as family, close friends or security agencies. I make this clear to all my clients when discussing confidentiality matters. Before entering into any contract with a potential client, I ensure that they understand the concept of confidentiality and its limitations. Allowing the client to express their views on what they consider confidential helps me to use my professional knowledge to dispel any fears they may harbour. This helps to put them at ease to ensure that they freely interact with me without feeling as if their privacy is infringed upon (Bond, 2000).
The law in different countries may interfere with the concept of confidentiality. In England for instance, the law demands that therapists such as psychotherapists and priests whose professions are governed by confidentiality element, report cases availed to them that they deem to go against the law of the land. If for example a rapist seeks counselling or a victim of rape reveals the identity of the rapist, it would be wrong for the counsellor not to report such a case even if the client is opposed to it. Ethically, I feel that, the demand of the client should be respected on any matter. However, in the case where as a counsellor, I perceive that a perpetrator deserves punishment in accordance with the law of the land, I would have to carefully engage the victim to reach an agreement on whether to forward the case to the relevant authorities or not. I however feel that a perpetrator who seeks counselling services with an aim to stop their acts should be given a chance and the necessary help to avoid re-offending. All their revelations should therefore be treated with utmost confidentiality. Personally, I feel that the contract between me and such a client should include such a clause. This would allow the client to be at ease to reveal important information that could essentially help the counsellor provide the appropriate solution. All confidential information would also require storing, handling, protecting or carefully disposing to ensure a client’s privacy is safeguarded (Mcleod & Mcleod, 2010).
Cultivating trust is a highly essential ingredient in the counselling profession. Only when a client is assured of the integrity of the counsellor and their ability to keep confidential information, can they genuinely engage in fruitful sessions. The ethical demand of the profession may conflict with the law or other forces outside the profession. In such a case, the counsellor should make an informed judgment or consult a more experienced colleague. In reference to the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP), for instance, a professional counsellor may employ the following steps in decision making while upholding ethics. Analyse professionally the issue at hand in detail and consider all relevant parties involved, refer to the code governing the counselling profession in relation to law of the land and other relevant recommendations from professional authorities, consider the utmost rights and welfare of involved stakeholders, make only professional judgment devoid of any emotional or personal attitude towards a party or situation and be ready to take responsibility over any consequences arising from a decision taken. These guidelines conform to what I believe in as an emerging professional counsellor and I will endeavour to be guided by such and other relevant ideas to ensure I succeed in my career and for the benefit of my clientele (Bond, 2000).
The relationship between a counsellor and the client ought to remain professional at all times. I find it challenging to cope with strong emotional attachment that arises during counselling sessions. The ethical sense I have cultivated in this profession has however played a great role in handling clients in a most professional way. The likelihood of a dual relationship arising is very high and it simply means the counsellor assumes more roles than the profession demands. Dual relationships easily creep in when the counsellor and the client engage in contacts outside the therapeutic boundaries. The contacts may be emotional or physical. I presume it unethical to be involved in any form of relationship with my clients that fall outside my professional scope and try as much as possible to clarify that upon the first contact with a potential client. This I do to avoid creating conflicts later in the counselling sessions. The overlapping relationships may be initiated by the client even before the therapy sessions begin, during or after the therapy. At whatever stage, I notice a tendency by the client to engage in such a behaviour, I make it clear in a professional way that the relationship between me and them, however much it may be emotionally connecting, my role remains that of a helper and not the remedy itself. It is human nature to form friendship with the clients, but guided by my ethics sense, I exploit this friendship to create a very effective rapport with the client with an aim to helping them recover faster (Syme, 2003).
I perceive it ethically immoral to involve my clients on any terms outside what we agreed in the contract unless I feel that my engaging in such a crush program would be highly beneficial to my client. Though some schools of thought describe acts such as home visits, increased session frequency, telephone contacts and mild physical contacts as over-indulgence with the client, I would eagerly pursue the same if it guarantees success in therapy. One of the most damaging forms of dual relationship is sexual. From my training, work experience and ethical sensibility, I sincerely feel that it is wrong. It does not matter who initiates such a relationship. The law regards sexual relationship between a professional and a client in almost all fields as exploitative. Sexual relationships of whatever nature also highly compromise the quality of service and image of the profession. The most common forms of sexual contacts in this field include sexual assault, abuse and harassment (Feltham, 1999).
An old adage goes “if we do not take of ourselves, who will?” I find this very relevant in the counselling profession. Most of us psychotherapists suffer from psychological, emotional and physical exhaustion due to the nature of our work. It would be impossible to successfully help others if we are not whole. The IACP code governing the counselling profession outlines the aspect of self care. It states in part that the professional should constantly engage in self driven activities that aim to reduce chances of situations such as burnout and addictions that could negatively affect their performance as this could impact negatively on the clients too. A professional counsellor must always monitor their overall body functioning and be willing to get help whenever necessary. Supervision of the amount of work done by the counsellor by an experienced counsellor is vital to gauge progress and avoid overworking. Getting intellectual input from colleagues in the profession also helps the counsellor avoid trying to solve problems beyond their ability which could yield disastrous results (Bond, 2000).
Ethics governing this profession require that the counsellor be in a good status of mind, body and soul to be able to perform optimally. To avoid burnout, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) survey could act as a reference. The scales addressed in the survey include emotional exhaustion. This is explained as the sensation of emotional drainage by the amount and type of work. The second scale is the depersonalization concept whereby one experiences an impersonal response towards the services he/she offers. The third scale- personal accomplishment determines the feeling of achievement and registering of success in one’s work. In order for me to succeed in the counselling profession without suffering a burnout, I am careful to identify the warning signs of burnout. This helps me to seek help or avoid any situations that may deteriorate my condition. This involves taking care of the physical, psychological and emotional components of my health. My way of avoiding burnout entails planning my daily activities to include healthy diets, adequate exercise and sleep, adhering to set deadlines and operational standards, engaging in other roles outside the profession, sharing experiences with colleagues to gain more knowledge and managing stress through strategies such as avoiding emotional attachments to my clients’ problems some of which may be heart wrecking (Poghosyan, Aiken & Sloane, 2009).
From my discussion of the statement “A good counsellor is a counsellor with a highly developed ethical sense”, I have incorporated personal experiences gained in my limited experience and coursework training to support the statement with reference to the concepts of contracting, confidentiality, dual relationships and self care. From my analysis, I have emphasized the importance of a highly developed ethical sense in the counselling profession. On whether this statement is true is clearly displayed through my entire discussion. I totally agree with the statement and believe it is possible to embrace ethics in totality as a guiding principle in working as a professional psychotherapist. I will make it a personal goal to pursue the spirit of the statement and live up to it in my entire career. From the little experience I have gained, I am strongly convinced that by continually developing my ethical sense, I will most certainly make a “good counsellor”
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