Problems and Ethical Issues in Counselling Practice

The early 1900s progressive guiding movement gave rise to the profession of counseling. It strongly emphasized prevention and purposefulness—assisting people of all ages and stages in avoiding poor decisions and discovering meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in their work. Even though the profession of professional counseling today includes clinicians who still strongly emphasize preventing issues and encouraging progress, it is much more than that.

Ethics is typically a philosophical field examining moral judgment and human action. Ethics are normative and concentrate on values and rules that control how people interact with one another. Professional ethics are ideas about conduct and behavior that direct professional practices, such as those between therapists and their clients. It is often seen to be overlapping with Mortality. However, morality entails making decisions or assessing behavior. Words like good, bad, right, wrong, ought, and should are connected to it.

Ethical Issues in Counselling and How to Deal With It

In counseling, unethical conduct can take many different forms. Counselors are not immune to the same temptations that affect everyone. "Physical intimacy, the titillation of gossip, or the chance (if the bet pays off) to advance one's career" are a few examples. While some immoral actions are overt and deliberate, others are covert and unintended, and the negative effect is the same.

A Comprehensive Model for Ethical & Legal Issues in Counselling

The detailed approach aims to see ethics as a supportive platform or a benchmark to direct counseling activity. This model's foundational placement of ethics communicates that it should always be the basis for explaining counselors' actions and practices. Professional norms do not permit unethical behavior.

This approach is topped by legal regulations, which serve as the ultimate authority or cap on counseling practice. Breaking the law is not a popular course of action. When counseling techniques break the law, the legal system may take disciplinary action against those activities. Counselors must adhere to both rules and navigate the tensions and ambiguities between the law and ethics as they practice their profession.

The extensive approach considers ethics as a guiding principle or a starting point for counseling practice. This model's foundational placement of ethics communicates the idea that it should always serve as the rationale for the actions and practices of counselors. The standards of the profession do not permit unethical behavior. The regulating authority or upper limit for counseling practice is positioned at the top of this paradigm as legal regulations.

Breaking the law is not a common course of action, and counseling techniques that break it risk having their activities sanctioned by the legal system. Counselors must adhere to both rules and deal with the tensions and ambiguities between the two systems as they practice their profession in the grey area between ethics and law.

Four prominent sources that can influence the ethical and legal aspects of counseling practice are −

  • Governing Entities

  • Clinical Practices

  • Professionalism

  • Decision Making

Governing entities are considered outside parties with significant legal ramifications in counseling. The legal system can impose legal inquiries and impacts a counselor and his or her counseling practice. This includes the court system, federal and state agencies, insurance companies, and custodial rights holders. Counselors interact directly or indirectly with these organizations because they either get clients from them or have contractual obligations to them.

The demographic components of counseling practice are described by clinical practice. Specific ethical and legal considerations are raised depending on where, with whom, and how counselors conduct professional counseling (e.g., issues with clients in nursing homes, those who are psychotic, or minors). Collaboration with other professionals and the emphasis on accountability undoubtedly introduce challenging moral and legal quandaries into counseling practice.

Professionalism reflects the institutions that control counselors' professional identities and conducts through ethical standards, legal requirements, and professional conduct that adheres to the workplace, societal, and cultural norms. Making decisions refers to the rules and expert resources counselors can use to address moral and legal dilemmas.

These decision-making tools may guide counselors toward viable solutions, but they also impact counseling practices once solutions have been implemented. These four outside sources might place unequal emphasis on ethical or legal matters in any particular situation. To interpret judgments independently, one leaning toward ethics and the other towards law is unrealistic. Both ethical and legal considerations are included in these four external elements, and both must be considered.

The comprehensive model's design tries to classify many factors and clinical elements related to ethical and legal difficulties. The four main facets of counseling practice that must adhere to legal and moral requirements are the diagnostic, treatment, record-keeping, referral, and termination processes, as well as crisis intervention. In a counselor-client dyadic interaction, the implications of these counseling components influence the counseling process. The four sources, or external influences, will introduce ethical and legal concerns that will affect the implications of some or all of these counseling components. This complete model provides a clear road map for comprehending the elements essential to counseling's ethical and legal dimensions, both inside and outside the counseling setting.

Main Unethical Practices

Some of the most typical unethical practices in counseling include the following −

Violation of Confidentiality

Psychologists must protect confidential information obtained through or stored in any medium, and they should do so by taking reasonable precautions while also acknowledging that the scope and boundaries of confidentiality may be set by law, institutional policies, or other professional or scientific relationships. Psychologists must take reasonable precautions to disguise their clients/patients, students, research subjects, organizational clients, or other recipients of the services they obtained during their work before disclosing confidential, personally identifiable information in writing, lectures, or other public forums, unless (1) the person or organization has given written consent, (2) there is legal justification, or (3) there is another circumstance.

Psychologists only divulge private information without the person's consent when required to do so by law or when doing so is permitted by the law for a legitimate reason, such as to: (1) provide necessary professional services; (2) obtain suitable professional consultations; (3) protect the client/patient, psychologist, or others from harm; or (4) obtain payment for services from a client/patient, in which case disclosure is restricted to the minimum required to ac The standard 6.04e, Fees and Financial Arrangements, is also referenced.

Informed Consent

Psychologists must obtain the informed consent of the individual or individuals before conducting research or offering assessment, therapy, counseling, or consulting services in person, via electronic transmission, or in any other form of communication, unless doing so is required by law, a governmental regulation, or as otherwise specified in this Ethics Code.

Suppose such replacement consent is permitted or required by law. In that case, psychologists must nonetheless (1) provide an acceptable explanation, (2) seek the individual's consent, (3) take into account such persons' choices and best interests, and (4) acquire appropriate approval from a legally authorized person. Psychologists take reasonable measures to safeguard a person's rights and welfare when consent from a legally qualified third party is not permitted or required by the law.


Psychologists only work with populations and in fields within the scope of their expertise, determined by their education, training, supervised experience, consultations, studies, or professional experience. Psychologists nevertheless make reasonable efforts to ensure the quality of their work and to prevent harm to clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, organizational clients, and others in those developing fields where generally accepted standards for preparatory training do not yet exist. If a counselor faces a situation in which they are not competent enough, they also refer the client to some other counselor who is more competent in that field.

Sexual or Other Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined as sexual solicitation, physical advances, or sexually explicit verbal or nonverbal behavior that takes place in connection with a psychologist's professional activities or roles and is either (1) unwanted, offensive, or creates a hostile work or learning environment, and the psychologist is aware of or is informed of this, or (2) sufficiently severe or intense to be abusive to a reasonable person in the circumstances. Sexual harassment might take the form of a single, harsh, intense act, or it can take the form of numerous, persistent, pervasive acts. Psychologists never intentionally harass or denigrate people they interact with on the job, regardless of those people's age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic situation.

Avoiding Harm

Psychologists take reasonable precautions to prevent injury to their clients/patients, students, supervisees, research subjects, organizational clients, and other people with whom they interact and to reduce harm if it is both predictable and inevitable. Psychologists do not engage in torture, defined as any act that intentionally causes a person great pain or suffering (either physical or mental) or in any other cruel, inhumane, or degrading behavior that contravenes international law.


Before taking a position, counselors should carefully review the general policies and principles of the organization because doing so means that the counselor agrees with its rules, beliefs, and ethics. When therapists are employed by an institution that abuses their services and does not operate in their client's best interests, they must take action to either change the institution through persuasion or education, or they must find new work. Ethics in counseling must be considered by every counselor effectively.

Updated on: 10-Feb-2023

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