Ethical Principles of Counselling

Counseling is founded on values and guiding views about what is desirable and how that good should be reached. It is not a value-free or neutral activity. Counselors and clients make judgments and follow recommendations in the therapy process based on their values. Moral principles, personal and professional ethics, and law rule guide counselors in their decisions and deeds. Despite having the best intentions, counselors who need to be made aware of their principles, ethics, and legal obligations, as well as those of their clients, may endanger their clients. Therefore, counselors must be familiar with the standards for professional therapy. Counselors who uphold ethics conduct their business with care and insight.

Ethics of Counselling

Ethics of Counselling are sometimes clearly defined but suggest moral standards of conduct, values, and wise decision-making. Ethics are mostly established by organizations such as the American Psychological Association, American Counselling Association, and RCI. Ethics in Counselling are concerned with what psychologists do that help safeguard both the client and the therapist. Some personal moral qualities that are a part of Counselling are −

  • Empathy refers to the ability to understand the client's feelings from the client's viewpoint.

  • Integrity refers to being honest and having strong moral values.

  • Humility is the ability to acknowledge the weakness and limitations oneself.

  • Resilience refers to the ability to be being able to bounce back from stressful situations.

  • Competence is defined as the ability to perform one's duties efficiently.

Ethical Principles of Counselling

There are five main principles of ethics in Counselling that help resolve the issues involved in a therapeutic alliance.


It involves the ideas of fidelity, loyalty, and keeping promises. The ability to trust is viewed as essential to comprehending and resolving ethical dilemmas. Adhering to this principle requires practitioners to act by the trust that has been placed in them; work to ensure that clients' expectations have a reasonable chance of being met; honor their agreements and promises; view confidentiality as a duty arising from the client's trust; and limit any disclosure of confidential information about clients to furthering the purposes for which it was originally disclosed.


Giving a person the freedom to decide what to do and how to accomplish it is the heart of this idea. The importance of fostering a client's capacity for self-direction in treatment and throughout life is emphasized by this idea. The obligation of the counselor to support clients in acting on their ideals and making their own decisions is discussed.

When promoting customer autonomy, there are two key factors to consider. First, assist the client in comprehending how their choices and values may or may not be seen in the light of the society in which they live and how those choices and values may affect the rights of others. The client's capacity to make wise and logical judgments is the second factor to consider. Even when done for the sake of society, manipulating customers against their will is against the autonomy principle.


According to the beneficence principle, you should always act in your client's best interests after conducting a thorough evaluation. Beneficence reflects the counselor's obligation to promote the client's well-being. Said it is to act morally, to take the initiative, and to guard against damage wherever feasible.

It emphasizes operating firmly within one's expertise and rendering services under suitable education or experience. It must utilize ongoing, frequent monitoring to raise the service's caliber and commit to updating practice through CPD. When working with clients whose capacity for autonomy is impaired due to immaturity, a lack of knowledge, acute distress, substantial disruption, or other significant personal limits, the duty to act in the client's best interests may become important.


The idea of non-maleficence states that we should not damage other people. This principle, which is sometimes stated as "above all, do no damage," is seen by some as the most important of all the others, even if they are all equally important logically. This rule incorporates the concepts of not intentionally injuring others and not taking acts that could damage others.

Avoiding ineptitude or malpractice and abstaining from giving services while unfit due to illness, a personal situation, or intoxication are all examples of non-maleficence. It also includes avoiding sexual, financial, emotional, and any other type of customer exploitation. Even when the harm to the client is unavoidable or accidental, the practitioner must try to lessen it.


Being just and fair to every customer and respecting their human rights and dignity are requirements of the justice principle. Justice does not imply treating everyone equally. Researchers argue that treating people fairly means treating them fairly based on their meaningful differences rather than treating them as equals and unequal equally. It draws attention to the need to carefully analyze any legal responsibilities and requirements and keep an eye out for any possible inconsistencies between legal and ethical commitments.

Practitioners are responsible for ensuring that counseling and psychotherapy services are fairly provided, easily available, and suitable for the requirements of potential clients. If a person is to receive a different treatment, the counselor must be able to justify why it is necessary and acceptable to do so.

Professional Code of Ethics in Counselling

A professional code of ethics refers to a set of clearly laid standards of conduct that are collectively agreed upon by professionals. The American Counselling Association, a non-profit professional organization founded in 1952, is the largest association of counselors in the world gave five main purposes of the ACA code of ethics, which are discussed below −

  • Clarify the ethical responsibilities to the current and future members of the association and other practitioners.

  • Help support the mission and vision of the association.

  • Establish principles that highlight the ethical behavior of the association's members and other practitioners.

  • The code helps guide the members and other practitioners to construct a professional course that serves the client's best interest.

  • The code is the basis for taking the ethical complaints and inquiries initiated against association members.

Another professional organization is the Rehabilitation Council of India which adopted ethics for Counselling in 2001 and was revised in 2006. Members registered with RCI are licensed professionals and are responsible for further maintaining their knowledge of the field and maintaining the moral code of conduct. The code of ethics of RCI highlight that professionals have obligations towards the public, clients, and the profession.

Obligation to Public

  • The members should engage only in truthful and accurate promotion of their practice.

  • Be respectful and considerate of the rights of others.

  • Make appropriate claims about their qualification.

Obligations to the Client

  • Competently serving each client.

  • Being unbiased and free from prejudice while offering services.

  • Only practice in their area of competence

  • Not making any personal contact with the clients.

  • Not offering or receiving gifts from public officials and clients.

  • Contribute time and services to a political campaign if they wish to.

Obligations towards the Profession

  • Recognize and value the contributions made by others in the field.

  • Encourage education and research in the field.

Common Ethical Issues in Counselling

Ethical issues occur under particular circumstances, which is why they are relatively easy to anticipate. Some common ethical issues that practitioners need to be careful of are −

  • Informed Consent − Informed consent lays the foundation of the therapeutic alliance between the practitioner and the client. Informed consent refers to sharing information regarding the therapeutic approach with the client, the limitations and strengths of the process, and the outcomes of the decision made. However, the difficulty arises that even if clients are provided with informed consent, they may need to understand the process because they have yet to experience it fully. Hence, therapists should encourage clients to evaluate the outcomes of the decision before giving their consent.

  • Termination of Therapy − After a certain period, the therapeutic alliance needs to be terminated. The practitioner should ensure that the therapy sessions are mutually terminated by the therapist and the client only when the therapy goals are met, and the client feels confident to handle the situation independently. Ethical issues arise when therapy sessions are prematurely terminated, or therapists make the clients dependent.

  • Online Counselling − In the present-day scenario, especially post-COVID, online Counselling has become popular. However, Online Counselling may need more boundaries; therapists may need to be able to establish personal contact and a proper structure in the online set-up which may hamper the therapeutic process.

  • Group Therapy − Group therapy may prove to be effective, but it has ethical issues. For example, clients may feel that in the presence of others, they may not be able to express themselves openly, and they may feel that their privacy and confidentiality are breached. They may also get influenced by others present.

Importance of Ethics in Counselling

Ethics play a crucial role in the process of Counselling. They are crucial for the following reasons −

  • Maintaining a professional relationship − Ethics ensure that the relationship between the practitioner and the client is strictly professional and that transference is dealt with effectively without hampering the process.

  • Confidentiality − Ethics ensure that the deepest secrets shared by the client with the therapist are strictly confidential and not shared with anyone other than legal authorities or family members, only when the client can potentially cause harm to themselves or others.

  • Professionalism − Ethics ensure that practitioners provide adequate services only in the fields they are competent in and do not give misleading information about their qualifications.

  • Autonomy − Ethics ensure that the clients join the therapeutic alliance by their own will and can withdraw whenever they feel. It also ensures that the clients can make decisions independently without being dependent on the therapist forever.


Ethics are a vital part of the Counselling process and ensure the well-being of the clients and the safeguarding of their rights and dignity. Counselors often refer to the ethical codes laid out by the American Counselling Association whenever faced with an ethical dilemma or consideration. Hence, practitioners must be well aware of the ethics and put them to practice.

Updated on: 10-Feb-2023

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