Knowing and following your profession’s code of ethics is part of being an LO16 ethical practitioner, but these codes do not make decisions for you. As you become involved in counseling, you will find that interpreting the ethical guidelines of your professional organization and applying them to particular situations demand the utmost ethical sensitivity. Even responsible practitioners differ over how to apply established ethical principles to specific situations. In your professional work you will deal with questions that do not always have obvious answers. You will have to assume responsibility for deciding how to act in ways that will further the best interests of your clients.
Throughout your professional life you will need to reexamine the ethical questions raised in this chapter. You can benefit from both formal and informal opportunities to discuss ethical dilemmas during your training program. Even if you resolve some ethical matters while completing a graduate program, there is no guarantee that these matters have been settled once and for all. These topics are bound to take on new dimensions as you gain more experience. Oftentimes students burden themselves unnecessarily with the expectation that they should resolve all potential ethical problem areas before they begin to practice. Throughout your professional life, seek consultation from trusted colleagues and supervisors whenever you face an ethical dilemma. Ethical decision making is an evolutionary process that requires you to be continually open and self-reflective. Becoming an ethical practitioner is not a final destination but a journey that will continue throughout your career.
It is essential that you learn a process for thinking about and dealing with ethical dilemmas, keeping in mind that most ethical issues are complex and defy simple solutions. A sign of good faith is your willingness to share your struggles with colleagues. Such consultation can be helpful in clarifying issues by giving you another perspective on a situation. New issues are constantly surfacing, and positive ethics demands periodic reflection and an openness to change on the part of the
If there is one fundamental question that can serve to tie together all the issues discussed in this chapter, it is this: “Who has the right to counsel another person?” This question can be the focal point of your reflection on ethical and professional issues. It also can be the basis of your self-examination each day that you meet with clients. Continue to ask yourself: “What makes me think I have a right to counsel others?” “What do I have to offer the people I’m counseling?” “Am I doing in my own life what I’m encouraging my clients to do?” At times you may feel that you have no ethical right to counsel others, perhaps because your own life isn’t always the model you would like it to be for your clients. More important than resolving all of life’s issues is knowing what kinds of questions to ask and remaining open to reflection.