The purpose of this course is to increase the professional counselor's knowledge base about ethical theories, principles, and the application of these principles to counseling practice. A historical context of ethics in counseling and in the larger context of the helping professions, such as medicine, social work, and other human service areas, will be explored. The course will also examine the specific components of ethical theories, ethical decision-making processes, the psychological context of moral development, multiculturalism, and the field's two major codes of ethics.

Education Category: Ethics - Human Rights
Release Date: 05/01/2022
Review Date: 05/18/2023
Expiration Date: 04/30/2025

Table of Contents


This intermediate to advanced course is designed for counselors and related professionals.

Accreditations & Approvals

NetCE has been approved by NBCC as an Approved Continuing Education Provider, ACEP No. 6361. Programs that do not qualify for NBCC credit are clearly identified. NetCE is solely responsible for all aspects of the programs. As a Jointly Accredited Organization, NetCE is approved to offer social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Organizations, not individual courses, are approved under this program. Regulatory boards are the final authority on courses accepted for continuing education credit. NetCE is accredited by the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). NetCE complies with the ANSI/IACET Standard, which is recognized internationally as a standard of excellence in instructional practices. As a result of this accreditation, NetCE is authorized to issue the IACET CEU. NetCE is recognized by the New York State Education Department's State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors #MHC-0021. This course is considered self-study by the New York State Board of Mental Health Counseling. NetCE is recognized by the New York State Education Department's State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed marriage and family therapists. #MFT-0015.This course is considered self-study by the New York State Board of Marriage and Family Therapy.

Designations of Credit

NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 6 NBCC clock hour(s). NetCE is authorized by IACET to offer 0.6 CEU(s) for this program. This course meets the qualifications for 6 hours of continuing education credit for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LEPs in the area of Law and Ethics as required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.

Individual State Behavioral Health Approvals

In addition to states that accept ASWB, NetCE is approved as a provider of continuing education by the following state boards: Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners, Provider #0515; Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling, CE Broker Provider #50-2405; Illinois Division of Professional Regulation for Social Workers, License #159.001094; Illinois Division of Professional Regulation for Licensed Professional and Clinical Counselors, License #197.000185; Illinois Division of Professional Regulation for Marriage and Family Therapists, License #168.000190;

Special Approvals

This course fulfills the Florida requirement for 3 hours of Professional Ethics and Boundaries education. This course has been approved by NetCE, as a NAADAC Approved Education Provider, for educational credits, NAADAC Provider #97847. NetCE is responsible for all aspects of their programming. NetCE is approved as a provider of continuing education by the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals. Provider Number 5-08-151-0624. NetCE is approved as a provider of continuing education by the California Association of DUI Treatment Programs (CADTP). Provider Number 185. NetCE is approved as a provider of continuing education by the California Association for Alcohol/Drug Educators. Provider Number CP40 889 H 0626. NetCE designates this continuing education activity for 6 continuing education hours for addiction professionals.

Course Objective

The purpose of this course is to increase the professional counselor's knowledge base about ethical theories, principles, and the application of these principles to counseling practice. A historical context of ethics in counseling and in the larger context of the helping professions, such as medicine, social work, and other human service areas, will be explored. The course will also examine the specific components of ethical theories, ethical decision-making processes, the psychological context of moral development, multiculturalism, and the field's two major codes of ethics.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this course, you should be able to:

  1. Discuss the historical context of ethics in counseling.
  2. Define common terms such as ethics, values, morality, ethical dilemmas, and ethical principles.
  3. Discuss the ethical principles in the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics and the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) Code of Ethics.
  4. Differentiate between deontologic, teleologic, motivist, natural law, transcultural ethical, feminist, and multicultural theories.
  5. Identify the different ethical decision-making models.
  6. Discuss the psychological context of ethical decision making by applying Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development.
  7. Outline ethical issues that emerge with counseling in managed care systems.
  8. Review issues that arise in online counseling, including sociocultural context, ethical and legal issues, and standards for ethical practice.


Alice Yick Flanagan, PhD, MSW, received her Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University, School of Social Work. She has clinical experience in mental health in correctional settings, psychiatric hospitals, and community health centers. In 1997, she received her PhD from UCLA, School of Public Policy and Social Research. Dr. Yick Flanagan completed a year-long post-doctoral fellowship at Hunter College, School of Social Work in 1999. In that year she taught the course Research Methods and Violence Against Women to Masters degree students, as well as conducting qualitative research studies on death and dying in Chinese American families.

Previously acting as a faculty member at Capella University and Northcentral University, Dr. Yick Flanagan is currently a contributing faculty member at Walden University, School of Social Work, and a dissertation chair at Grand Canyon University, College of Doctoral Studies, working with Industrial Organizational Psychology doctoral students. She also serves as a consultant/subject matter expert for the New York City Board of Education and publishing companies for online curriculum development, developing practice MCAT questions in the area of psychology and sociology. Her research focus is on the area of culture and mental health in ethnic minority communities.

Michele Nichols, RN, BSN, MA, received her Associates Degree in Nursing in 1977, her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing in 1981 and obtained her Master of Arts Degree in Ethics and Policy Studies in 1990 through the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She was Chief Nurse Executive at Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, and retired as the System Director for the Valley Health System University, a five hospital system in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently a volunteer nurse for Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada.

Faculty Disclosure

Contributing faculty, Alice Yick Flanagan, PhD, MSW, has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

Contributing faculty, Michele Nichols, RN, BSN, MA, has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

Director of Development and Academic Affairs

Sarah Campbell

Director Disclosure Statement

The Director of Development and Academic Affairs has disclosed no relevant financial relationship with any product manufacturer or service provider mentioned.

About the Sponsor

The purpose of NetCE is to provide challenging curricula to assist healthcare professionals to raise their levels of expertise while fulfilling their continuing education requirements, thereby improving the quality of healthcare.

Our contributing faculty members have taken care to ensure that the information and recommendations are accurate and compatible with the standards generally accepted at the time of publication. The publisher disclaims any liability, loss or damage incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any of the contents. Participants are cautioned about the potential risk of using limited knowledge when integrating new techniques into practice.

Disclosure Statement

It is the policy of NetCE not to accept commercial support. Furthermore, commercial interests are prohibited from distributing or providing access to this activity to learners.

Technical Requirements

Supported browsers for Windows include Microsoft Internet Explorer 9.0 and up, Mozilla Firefox 3.0 and up, Opera 9.0 and up, and Google Chrome. Supported browsers for Macintosh include Safari, Mozilla Firefox 3.0 and up, Opera 9.0 and up, and Google Chrome. Other operating systems and browsers that include complete implementations of ECMAScript edition 3 and CSS 2.0 may work, but are not supported. Supported browsers must utilize the TLS encryption protocol v1.1 or v1.2 in order to connect to pages that require a secured HTTPS connection. TLS v1.0 is not supported.

Implicit Bias in Health Care

The role of implicit biases on healthcare outcomes has become a concern, as there is some evidence that implicit biases contribute to health disparities, professionals' attitudes toward and interactions with patients, quality of care, diagnoses, and treatment decisions. This may produce differences in help-seeking, diagnoses, and ultimately treatments and interventions. Implicit biases may also unwittingly produce professional behaviors, attitudes, and interactions that reduce patients' trust and comfort with their provider, leading to earlier termination of visits and/or reduced adherence and follow-up. Disadvantaged groups are marginalized in the healthcare system and vulnerable on multiple levels; health professionals' implicit biases can further exacerbate these existing disadvantages.

Interventions or strategies designed to reduce implicit bias may be categorized as change-based or control-based. Change-based interventions focus on reducing or changing cognitive associations underlying implicit biases. These interventions might include challenging stereotypes. Conversely, control-based interventions involve reducing the effects of the implicit bias on the individual's behaviors. These strategies include increasing awareness of biased thoughts and responses. The two types of interventions are not mutually exclusive and may be used synergistically.

#77723: Ethics for Counselors


Ethical issues do not exist within a vacuum; rather, they emerge, evolve, and adapt within the sociocultural context of a particular society. In past decades, the field of professional ethics has received increased attention. Much of the discussion began in the 1960s in the medical field, where the blending of ethics, legalities, and medicine has become known as bioethics. Its emergence occurred because there was a need to talk about how research and healthcare decisions and regulations could be made, who could make them, and what their long-term implications would be. In the late 1960s, philosophers, theologians, physicians, lawyers, policy makers, and legislators began to write about these questions, hold conferences, establish institutes, and publish journals for the study of bioethics. Around the same time, many existing professional organizations and agencies, such as those for counseling, social work, and law enforcement, began implementing their own ethical codes. When a new institution is young, the creation of a formal code of ethics is standard practice to inform prospective members, unify, advise, and protect existing members, help resolve ethics issues, protect those who the profession serves, and help establish and distinguish an organization, agency, and its members.



Modern psychology began with the work of Sigmund Freud in the 1880s in Vienna. By the early and mid-20th century, Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical theories were being challenged, most notably by American psychologist Carl Rogers. While Freud examined the effects of the unconscious mind upon patients, Rogers' work focused on environmental factors, the patient's experience in the world, and the person-centered approach [50]. It was during this same time period that advanced education in medicine and certification was becoming required for psychoanalysts, because in the United States, analysis of the mind was viewed as a medical endeavor [50]. Frank Parsons, often called the father of vocational guidance, had established the new field of career counseling between the years 1906 and 1908 [52]. Rogers borrowed Parson's label, "counselor," and extended it to individuals who were educated in and practiced behavioral health both outside of the field of medicine and toward different goals than medical psychoanalysis [50]. This helped remove some of the prejudice against non-medically trained professionals and shifted the emphasis away from treating clients purely as medical patients to helping individuals and groups realize their developmental goals. The relatively new field of counseling that stemmed from Parsons' vocational guidance movement and Rogers' work was of particular value during World War II, when the need for vocational training became acute, and after the war, when a large number of people were integrating back into a society that had become profoundly different [51,52]. Some returned with psychologic problems, and many were left with disabilities. Many more had come home to a country where they could not find jobs.

Around this time, the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Veterans Administration (VA) both formed counseling psychology branches. The post-war era was a defining period because the need for trained professionals was so great, and counselors were increasingly seen as critical human service providers in the fields of psychology and employment services. Guidance counseling, with a focus on educational and career advancement, was still seen as a somewhat separate profession. Today, each branch of counseling is considered a practical application of psychology because the focus on human development and wellness issues deals directly with strategies to enable personal and family growth, career development, and life enhancement [53]. In addition, counselors advocate for patients and clients and connect them to services.


Ethics have been discussed in various arenas since ancient times. The ethics that most Western counselors are familiar with are derivatives of the virtue ethics system developed by Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and most notably, Aristotle, in the 5th century B.C.E. Virtue ethics were thought to be a way to make decisions in life that developed strong personal character, based on attaining permanent happiness through knowledge, reason, restraint, and striving for excellence in physical and intellectual pursuits [54]. The word ethics has evolved from the ancient Greek word ethikos, meaning moral character, and implies that a personal character is constructed. The ability to engage in the ethical decision-making process, or thinking analytically about how an action will be viewed in the context of the community by applying its upheld virtues, develops strong character. The action will be viewed by others who can determine that the decision-maker is a virtuous person if the outcome is in line with the values of society. The community will have positive feelings about the person, the person will have positive self-esteem, and the end result will be happiness.

The virtues (i.e., values) of a particular society are based on what has been deemed important to that society; for example, liberty and justice are among the most important American values. It could be said that one who upholds these values with the sole intention of being virtuous is acting in a righteous way according to Aristotelian virtue ethics [54]. In other words, virtues are values, and being virtuous is acting ethically. It must be acknowledged that not all societies have similar values and not all subgroups or individuals in a society have values similar to the mainstream. Therefore, codes of ethics must be developed to unify, guide, and protect individuals belonging to a group or institution and to protect the institution itself.

A familiar historical code of ethics, the Hippocratic Oath, also comes from Greece during the same time period as Aristotle's philosophies and embodies the values of ancient Greek ethics. A few of the oath's ethical principles, translated from the original text and listed here, relate to specific counseling ethical principles that will be discussed later in this course [55]:

I will use those dietary regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgment, and I will do no harm or injustice to them. (Ethical principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence)

I will not use the knife, even upon those suffering from stones, but I will leave this to those who are trained in this craft. (Ethical principle of competence)

Into whatever homes I go, I will enter them for the benefit of the sick, avoiding any voluntary act of impropriety or corruption, including the seduction of women or men, whether they are free men or slaves. (Ethical principle of maintaining appropriate relationships)

Whatever I see or hear in the lives of my patients, whether in connection with my professional practice or not, which ought not to be spoken of outside, I will keep secret, as considering all such things to be private. (Ethical principles of confidentiality, trust, and privacy)

Although Hippocrates' wrote this oath roughly 2,500 years ago, the ideas remain pertinent to health care today. This is likely due to the fact that the Hippocratic Oath is based on principles that are universally applicable.

Because Aristotelian virtue ethics can be adapted to fit any society or institution by reprioritizing the values to achieve positive end goals congruent with "normal" community values, many offshoots of virtue ethics exist. With the rise of Christianity in the Middle Ages came theologic ethical systems derived from the Aristotelian notion of virtue ethics. St. Augustine, in the 4th century C.E., put forth the idea that a relationship with and love of God, in addition to acting from virtue, leads to happiness [54]. In the 13th century C.E., St. Thomas Aquinas developed another Christian system of ethics by simply adding the values of faith, hope, and charity to the established virtues of Aristotelian ethics [54].

These two ethical systems, Aristotelian virtue ethics and Christian ethics, form the foundation of most ethical systems and codes used in modern Western society. It should be understood that other ethical systems have contributed to Western philosophies and have shaped modern ethics; for example, one of the traditional Asian ethical systems, Confucian ethics, is very similar to Aristotelian ethics with an added emphasis on obligations to others [54].

Recent History

Prior to the 1960s, healthcare decisions were part of the paternalistic role of physicians in our society. Patients readily acquiesced health decisions to their physicians because they were regarded almost as family. What drove this resolve of patients to acquiesce their medical care and treatment decisions to their physicians? David Rothman, as discussed in his book Strangers at the Bedside: A History of How Law and Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision Making, believes physicians were given such latitude by their patients because they were well known and trusted by their patients and the community in which they practiced [56]. There were no specialists. One physician took care of a patient and family for a lifetime. The frontier physician often knew the patient from birth to adulthood, made house calls, and was a family friend who knew best what the patient should do with a healthcare concern [56]. Since the 1960s, physicians have become strangers to their patients, largely due to three factors. First, World War II experimentation and other medical research brought attention to humans as test subjects and the rights that should be recognized on their behalf. Second, the modern structuring and organization in healthcare delivery moved patients from their familiar surroundings of home and neighborhood clinics to the often intimidating large hospital. Third, the medical technologic boom brought life-saving interventions. In today's healthcare model, the patient is evaluated and educated by the professional and encouraged to make their own determination about the course of treatment.

Several medical research events in the 20th century served as catalysts to strengthen the codifying principles and behaviors that protect the rights of all individuals. This spurred the creation of codes of ethics in human service arenas, including counseling. The codes of ethics that were developed were designed to protect all individuals from harm and strived to be inclusive of age, race, ethnicity, culture, immigration status, disability, educational level, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and socioeconomic status.

One event was the atrocities exposed during the Nuremberg trials in Germany in 1945 and 1946. Because an ethical code (e.g., the Hippocratic Oath) would condemn the acts committed by Nazi medical researchers, it can be deduced that either no ethical code existed or that ethics did not extend to certain populations.

Another significant event occurred in the United States when, in 1932, the Public Health Service initiated a syphilis study on 399 black men from Tuskegee, Alabama, who were unaware of their diagnosis. The goal of the study was to observe the men over a period of time to examine how the disease progressed in people of African descent, because most of the clinical data on syphilis came from evaluating people of European descent. When the study began, there were no effective remedies; however, fifteen years into the study, penicillin was found to be a cure for syphilis. The research participants were never informed, and treatment was withheld, in spite of the fact that by the end of the experiment, in 1972, 128 men had died either from the disease or related complications [1].

Finally, in 1967, children with intellectual disability at the Willowbrook State School in New York were given hepatitis by injection in a study that hoped to find a way to reduce the damage done by disease. Although consent was obtained in this study, the consent sometimes had an element of coercion in that gaining admission to the school was difficult and parents were given a guarantee their child would be admitted if they consented to the participation of their child in the study.

It was events such as these that heightened the realization that organized standards of ethics were necessary to ensure that self-determination, voluntary consent, and informed consent, among other principles, were upheld and extended to all populations. In 1966, the Public Health Services established ethical regulations for medical research. In 1973, the first edition of the Hastings Center Studies pointed out the problems and the needs that would become paramount in developing healthcare research projects. Remarkable advances were projected in the areas of organ transplantation, human experimentation, prenatal diagnosis of genetic disease, prolongation of life, and control of human behavior. All of these had the potential to produce difficult problems, requiring scientific knowledge to be matched by ethical insight. This report laid the foundation for other disciplines to develop or revise their own ethics guidelines. In 1974, the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects was created by public law. Finally, in 1979, the Commission published The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research. The Commission recommended that all institutions receiving federal research funding establish institutional review boards. Today, these boards, made up of researchers and lay people, review social science research proposals to ensure that they meet ethical standards for protecting the rights of the potential subjects. This was an initial entry into what would later be called bioethics.

Professional Ethics

In the 1970s, a new field of applied and professional ethics emerged, which had a dominant role in healthcare ethics. This new field emerged during a social and political climate that begged for answers to philosophical questions. For example, there were debates about welfare rights, prisoners' rights, and healthcare issues such as organ transplants, abortion, and end-of-life decisions.

It is within this backdrop that, in the 1980s, counselors began to further explore the profession's values. Drawing on ideas from philosophy and the newer field of applied ethics, counseling literature focused on ethical theories, ethical decision making, and ethical challenges confronted in direct practice, such as self-determination, informed consent, and the relationships among practitioners [6].

The federal government, private philanthropists and foundations, universities, professional schools, and committed professionals moved quickly to address these questions. A plethora of codes of ethical behaviors and guidelines have been set forth by many human service disciplines. Table 1 provides a summary of codes of ethics commonly utilized by mental health professionals, counselors, marriage and family therapists, social workers, and other helping practitioners [2,106,107,108,109].


National Board for Certified CounselorsNBCC Code of Ethics
National Association of Social WorkersNASW Code of Ethics
American Association for Marriage and Family TherapyAAMFT Code of Ethics
American Mental Health Counselors AssociationCode of Ethics for Mental Health Counselors
Association for Specialists in Group WorkASGW Best Practices Guidelines
American Psychological AssociationEthical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct
American Counseling AssociationCode of Ethics and Standards of Practice
American School Counselors AssociationEthical Standards for School Counselors
International Association of Marriage and Family CounselorsIAMFC Code of Ethics
Association for Counselor Education and SupervisionEthical Guidelines for Counseling Supervisors
Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor CertificationCode of Professional Ethics for Rehabilitation Counselors
National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse CounselorsNAADAC Code of Ethics
National Rehabilitation Counseling AssociationRehabilitation Counseling Code of Ethics
National Organization for Human ServicesEthical Standards for Human Services Professionals
International Society for Mental Health OnlineSuggested Principles for the Online Provision of Mental Health Services

Development of Ethical Codes in Counseling

The APA was the first mental health organization to publish a code of ethics. The code was published in 1953, but an ethics committee had been formed before World War II. The original APA ethical code was based on more than 1,000 submissions by psychologists regarding ethical decisions they had made in their practice to determine which ethical dilemmas were common [53]. The American Counseling Association (ACA), originally called the American Personnel and Guidance Association, was created in 1952, formed an ethics committee in 1953, and published its first code of ethics in 1961. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) was established in 1982 by an ACA committee to implement and monitor a national certification system for counseling professionals. The NBCC is now an independent, non-profit organization that maintains the certification of more than 65,000 counselors in more than 40 countries, and its members and those seeking certification are required to follow the NBCC Code of Ethics to maintain their certification [57,58].

Ford identifies several reasons that codes of ethics are developed [53]:

  • To identify the purpose, goals, and values of an organization to members and those applying

  • To give rights to and protect both clients and professionals

  • To provide guidance for ethical decision making

  • To influence public perception and ensure professionalism by showing that the organization will monitor itself for the public

  • To send a message to law enforcement and government that the organization can enforce its own rules and regulate itself

  • To help to establish an organization by differentiating it from similar institutions

  • To establish a road toward being granted licensing of professionals in that field

Ethics and New Technologies

Internet technology has and will continue to have a tremendous impact on the economic, social, political, and cultural landscape. Not only has it affected commerce, but the fields of physical health, mental health, and counseling have also incorporated Internet technologies in the delivery of services and resources. As a result, the general public can access services from home within minutes at their convenience. Looking toward the future, as personal computers and computer software applications become less expensive and more accessible, an increasing number of agencies and organizations will be able to offer a diverse array of services via the Internet.

As a result, there has arisen a need for ethical standards for online counseling. Both the ACA and the NBCC have established practice guidelines for online counseling, which will be discussed in detail later in this course [100,101].


It is important to understand historical philosophical underpinnings in order to understand the evolution of the definition of ethics and how today's ethical principles emerged [3]. Ethics can be viewed as developing within two major eras in society: modernism and postmodernism.


The term modernism refers to an era during which scholars were encouraged to shift from a basis of metaphysics to rationalism in analyzing the world and reality [3]. In a modernist world, it is believed that reasoning can determine truth on all subjects [3]. Just as science evolved from being religion- or faith-based, modernists sought to understand social phenomena by explicating universal ethical laws [3].

Modernist philosophy argues that all individuals are similar and individual rights are supreme [4]. This philosophy has permeated much of biomedical ethics, and as such, each of the four ethical principles that form the backbone of ethical codes—autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice—should be universally adhered to and applied [5]. Utilitarian ethical principles, rationalism, and evidence-based scientific applications are at the heart of modernism [116].


Postmodernism is a reaction to the belief that there is "rational scientific control over the natural and social worlds" [3]. Postmodernism is characterized by diversity, pluralism, and questioning the belief that there are objective laws or principles guiding behavior [3]. Postmodernists argue that ethical principles must take into account historical and social contexts to understand individuals' behaviors [4]. This philosophical climate emphasizes situational ethics in which there are no black-and-white rules about principles of good and bad. Ultimately, a set of universal ethical principles cannot be easily applied [3].

Since 2015, there has been increasing discussion regarding the apparent shift to postmodernism in the ethical landscape [116,117]. In part spurred by the political environment in the United States during this period, the concept of a universal set of ethical principles appeared to be challenged; instead, ethical relativism appeared to move to the forefront. The growing use of social media and the Internet helped to present a highly individualized set of "truths" (or "alternative facts") [116].

Today, ethical codes and practices are also influenced by critical theory. Critical theorists focus on eliminating inequities and marginalization [112]. Ethics from this perspective explores the role of power and power inequalities, exploring who or what defines truth and whose voices are represented [112]. Reality is a socially and culturally shared experience and is shaped and navigated by both the practitioner and client [118]. Therefore, ethics is not a top-down experience, whereby ethical rules are unilaterally imposed. Rather, handling and negotiation of ethical challenges should be a collaboration [118].



Frequently, the terms values and ethics are employed interchangeably; however, the terms are not synonymous. Values are beliefs, attitudes, or preferred conceptions about what is good or desirable, that provide direction for daily living. They stem from our personal, cultural, societal, and agency values. Rokeach has argued that values may be organized into two categories: terminal values and instrumental values [9]. Terminal values describe the desired end-goal for a person's life. Some that are identified by Rokeach are happiness, inner harmony, wisdom, salvation, equality, freedom, pleasure, true friendship, mature love, self-respect, social recognition, family security, national security, a sense of accomplishment, a world of beauty, a world at peace, a comfortable life, and an exciting life. Instrumental values are those that help a person to achieve their desired terminal values; they are the tools one uses to work toward an end goal. Instrumental values include love, cheerfulness, politeness, responsibility, honesty, self-control, independence, intellect, broad-mindedness, obedience, capability, courage, strength, imagination, logic, ambition, cleanliness, helpfulness, and forgiveness. Ultimately, all of these types of values influence how a person will behave. Not all individuals will identify with all of these values; most will have a few terminal values that are most important to them. When there is conflict or tension between instrumental values, such as politeness and honesty, individuals will begin to prioritize [9].

It is important for counselors to have a high level of self-awareness and to understand the nature and origins of value conflicts and the impact of values on their decisions. Values include our life experiences, worldview, cultural outlook, professional values, societal values (e.g., equality, freedom, justice, achievement, self-actualization), and religious beliefs. Values are also based on knowledge, aesthetics, and morals [10].

Whether values can or should be completely removed from counseling sessions is a topic of debate. Core values are key to successful interventions; however, there are two extremes in a counseling relationship that should be avoided [59]:

  • Counselors should not act as a moral authority and try to influence clients to change their personal values in favor of the counselors'.

  • Counselors should not struggle to create a value-free environment, because this can cripple the intervention.

The professional counselor's duty is to help a client assess thoughts, feelings, and actions and, perhaps, to help clients to reprioritize values. When a counselor shows his or her own values through the choice of words, identification of problems, and treatment strategies, the client will usually pick-up on the implied values and may decide to adopt some [59].


Ethics are the beliefs an individual or group maintains about what constitutes correct or proper behavior or actions [13]. To put it simply, ethics are the standards of conduct an individual uses to make decisions. The term morality is often confused with ethics; however, morality involves the judgment or evaluation of an ethical system, decision, or action based on social, cultural, or religious norms [13,14]. The term morals or morality is derived from the Greek word mores, which translates as customs or values. The separation between ethics and values/morals is best illustrated in the following two examples.

Defense Lawyer W is representing a client who he knows has committed homicide because the client has admitted to the slaying in confidence. Murder goes against the values of American society and, more importantly for this example, against the values of the attorney, whose ethical duty is to defend the client to the best of his abilities, regardless of his feelings toward the client's action.

Counselor T is a high school counselor in Oregon who is against the termination of pregnancy due to her personal and religious values; she has had several miscarriages and is currently experiencing difficulty becoming pregnant. Student A, 15 years of age, enters Counselor T's office in tears; the student has not told anyone that she is 9 weeks pregnant. She is seeking help regarding obtaining an abortion. Counselor T learns that her client was the victim of sexual abuse by her first adoptive parents. Other foster children and individuals in support groups, which Student A has come to know, were also victims of physical and sexual abuse by their adoptive parents. She expresses fear of alienation from her friends, concern about falling behind in school, and anguish at not being able to remain active in sports, which are "her way of coping with life." The student has stated that she does not want to give birth to a child because she is too young to raise it properly and would not put her child up for adoption for fear that it too would become a victim. In fact, she states that she does not know if she "ever wants to bring a child into this world."

It is apparent that the student's values differ from the counselor's values. Counselor T's employer has made it clear in their code of ethics that promoting well-being and self-determination is the primary responsibility of counselors. While abortion does not fit with Counselor T's personal values, society as a whole values independence, self-determination, and equal rights. Given the student's history and values, taken in the context of societal values and laws, it would be unethical for the counselor to impose her own personal values upon Student A.

It is important to remember that ethics must prevail over a counselor's personal values when value conflicts exist. As discussed, counselors are bound to the ethical duty to not act as moral authorities and force their values upon others. The professional relationship exists to benefit the client and fulfill the client's needs. A counselor's needs, such as the need to feel adequacy, control, and clients' change toward values similar to one's own values, will harm the relationship [59]. It is unethical to put personal needs before clients' needs [59].

Ethical Dilemmas

An ethical dilemma presents itself to a counselor when he or she must make a choice between two mutually exclusive courses of action. The action may involve the choice of two goods (benefits) or the choice of avoiding two harms (problems). If one side of the dilemma is more valuable or good than the other side then there is no dilemma because the choice will lean toward the side that is more desirable [15].

Ethical Decision Making

The process of resolving an ethical dilemma is the ethical decision-making process. Ethical decision making is influenced by values and the ethical principles to which individuals and groups adhere. Counselors are encouraged to gather all available resources and consider all possible outcomes before making decisions; this will be discussed in detail later in this course.

Ethical Principles

Ethical principles are expressions that reflect people's ethical obligations or duties [10]. These principles of correct conduct in a given situation originated from debates and discussions in ancient times and became the theoretical framework upon which we base our actions as individuals and societies. Most prominently, it was the Bible and Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, who created most of the familiar ethical principles in use today. The following are general ethical principles that counseling professionals recognize [10]:

  • Autonomy: The duty to maximize the individual's rights to make his/her own decisions

  • Beneficence: The duty to do good

  • Confidentiality: The duty to respect privacy and trust and to protect information

  • Competency: The duty to only practice in areas of expertise

  • Fidelity: The duty to keep one's promise or word

  • Gratitude: The duty to make up for (or repay) a good

  • Justice: The duty to treat all fairly, distributing risks and benefits equitably

  • Nonmaleficence: The duty to cause no harm

  • Ordering: The duty to rank the ethical principles that one follows in order of priority and to follow that ranking in resolving ethical issues

  • Publicity: The duty to take actions based on ethical standards that must be known and recognized by all who are involved

  • Reparation: The duty to make up for a wrong

  • Respect for persons: The duty to honor others, their rights, and their responsibilities

  • Universality: The duty to take actions that hold for everyone, regardless of time, place, or people involved

  • Utility: The duty to provide the greatest good or least harm for the greatest number of people

  • Veracity: The duty to tell the truth

While ethical principles are seemingly similar to values, they pertain specifically to ethics. For example, in medicine, there are many infections that can be prevented simply by hand washing. Hence, the value of cleanliness pertains to the ethical principle of nonmaleficence, or the duty to cause no harm. Based on general values and ethical principles, professions develop ethical codes that embody the values and ethics of the institution and guide the behavior of members. Unfortunately, codes of ethics do not always provide clear direction, and in some cases, the tenets of the codes are in direct conflict with each other.



The ACA Code of Ethics is divided into nine sections and a preamble. Each section is well organized into various sub-sections; for example, working backward, "Section A.9.a. Screening" contains selection criteria for group counseling in the "A.9. Group Work" category of "Section A: The Counseling Relationship" [8]. It is laid out in a concise, easily accessible format, which makes it a helpful tool for any professional counselor to use when trying to resolve ethical issues. The Code of Ethics must be studied and utilized by ACA members and is recommended for all counselors.

The preamble of the ACA Code of Ethics states that embracing professional values ultimately provides a basis for ethical behavior and decision-making in practice. The Code identifies ACA's core values and requires that ACA ethics prevail over personal values. The following are section headings as they appear in the Code followed by a synopsis of the ethical guidelines and values expressed in each section [8]. Additionally, examples of related values and ethical principles are given. This synopsis of the ethical principles in the ACA Code of Ethics is meant to be an overview. Please refer to the full ACA Code of Ethics, available online at https://www.counseling.org/Resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf and in the Appendix.

Section A: The Counseling Relationship

Counselors should always work to serve the client's best interest in a manner that is culturally sensitive. The primary goals of the counselor are to help people in need, to advocate, and to link clients to services that best fit their needs. However, a counselor's commitment to these goals is tested when presented with a client who may be unable to afford services. The code encourages pro bono work, when possible.

Informed consent is a prominent issue in health care. It is especially important to make all information about evaluation results, treatments, and what to expect from the counseling relationship, including the benefits and limitations of counseling, available to clients. The counselor must honestly and accurately represent their training, abilities, and experience to clients.

When conducting group work, each client's needs must be met in a way that also benefits the group; in turn, the client should benefit the group. Counselors must always do no harm and should avoid imposing their personal values upon others. Sexual or romantic relationships with clients (and clients' family members/former partners) are strongly discouraged and are prohibited for a period of five years after the professional relationship is terminated.

Some of the ethical principles expressed in this section include autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and competency. The values are honesty, responsibility, self-control, and helpfulness.

Section B: Confidentiality and Privacy

Trust is perhaps the most important aspect of a counseling relationship. A client's trust is earned by maintaining boundaries and respecting privacy. Information relating to client care should be shared with other professionals only with the consent of the client. When counseling minors or people with diminished capacity, all local and federal laws must be obeyed and a third party should be consulted before sharing any private information.

The limits of confidentiality should be discussed with clients, and counselors should remain aware of situations that confidentiality must be breached in order to protect the client or others from serious and likely harm (e.g., intended violence, life-threatening disease). When doubts exist about breaching confidentiality, counselors have a duty to consult with other professionals. If the court orders disclosure of confidential and private information, counselors must make an effort to obtain informed consent from the client and to block disclosure or severely limit its reach (i.e., only provide essential information).

All records and correspondence, including e-mail, should be protected within reason. Clients have a right to access their records, but access should be limited when there is compelling evidence that the information may potentially harm the client. The fundamental ethical principles that apply to this section are fidelity and veracity.

Section C: Professional Responsibility

The responsible counselor values honesty and is competent. Professional competence is an ethical standard, meaning counselors should only practice in areas in which they have the requisite knowledge and abilities. One can only help if he or she has the proper tools and the skills to utilize them effectively; techniques, procedures, and modalities used in practice should have a solid foundation of theory, empiricism, and/or science. Counselors must also improve their knowledge and abilities so they can further assist clients and contribute to the advancement of their profession. Advocating for positive social change and engaging in self-care activities are also highly recommended, and pro bono work is encouraged. Self-monitoring for impairment (i.e., physical, mental, or emotional illness that interferes with practice) and not practicing while impaired is important. The principles represented in this section are nonmaleficence, ordering, and universality. An important value is self-awareness.

Section D: Relationships with Other Professionals

When a network of colleagues is developed both inside and outside of the counselor's field of practice, different perspectives can be gained and shared. Having a support system of professionals in related disciplines can help to inform decision making, and ultimately, clients can benefit from these interrelationships. Counselors are also encouraged to alert the proper entities to ethical concerns, and a professional attitude should be maintained toward someone who exposes inappropriate behaviors, policies, or practices. Deficiencies or ethical concerns regarding employer policies require intervention (e.g., voluntary resignation from the workplace, referral to appropriate certification, accreditation, or state licensure organizations). Fidelity and veracity are ethical principles that apply in this section.

Section E: Evaluation, Assessment, and Interpretation

Appropriate assessment instruments should be used when evaluating a client, and care should be taken that these instruments and evaluations are culturally appropriate. This includes educational, psychologic, and career assessment tools that provide qualitative and quantitative information about abilities, personality, interests, intelligence level, achievement, and performance. It is important not to use the results of any test to the client's detriment and to make the results known to the client. In addition, one should note that in many instances, these tests were standardized on a population that may be different from the client's population or identity. Informed consent and explanation of the goals of the assessment should be given in a language preferred by the client or his or her surrogate. Clients are to be given autonomy, and the counselor must apply the ethical principles of nonmaleficence and confidentiality.

Section F: Supervision, Training, and Teaching

Supervising counselors should have knowledge of supervisor models and be aware of supervisees' training, methods, and ethics while respecting their styles and values. Supervisors should foster an environment of openness and continued learning and should seek to minimize conflicts. Training sessions should be inclusive and positive. Romantic or sexual relationships with supervisees are prohibited; however, it may be beneficial in some circumstances to engage with supervisees in friendly or supportive ways (e.g., formal ceremonies, hospital visits, during stressful events). It is important to remember that the supervisor must also ensure client welfare; therefore, it is necessary to regularly assess supervisees' work and encourage their growth as counselors. Ethical principles that apply in this section are autonomy, respect, and universality.

Section G: Research and Publication

A main goal of research in counseling is to improve society, as many of the personal problems that counselors are enlisted to solve arise from clients' experiences in flawed social environments. Counselors should help with and participate in research. Research should not cause harm or interfere with participants' welfare. Informed consent must be maintained throughout the process, and all data must be kept private. Justice and confidentiality are paramount ethical concerns. When conducting research it is important to ensure that the benefits and risks are distributed equitably. Often, any benefits from research groups will only be short lived; it should be made clear that after the study has concluded, counseling interactions related to the study will cease. Also, participants must be confident that collected data will remain secure.

Section H: Distance Counseling, Technology, and Social Media

Counselors should have a good understanding of the evolving nature of the profession with regard to distance counseling, digital technology, and social media and how these resources can be used to better serve clients. Maintaining privacy and confidentiality in the digital world is more complex than with face-to-face counseling and maintaining hard-copy records. Every reasonable effort to protect digital client information should be made, and clients should be informed about the potential risks and limitations of distance counseling. The appropriateness of distance counseling should be considered for each client. The counselor's qualifications to provide the service are equally important. The laws and regulations of the counselor's location jurisdiction and of the client's location jurisdiction must be understood and followed. When counselors have a social media presence, the personal and professional presence should be separate and unmistakably distinct. Counselors are advised to avoid viewing clients' social media pages unless given expressed permission. Personal and confidential information should never be disclosed on public social media or forums. Confidentiality and nonmaleficence are especially important ethical principles in online and distance communications, and politeness, forethought, and clarity are especially critical when body and other nonverbal cues are unavailable because counseling is not face-to-face.

Section I: Resolving Ethical Issues

Counselors should be familiar with their agency's or institution's rules and regulations; these should be accepted and upheld or employment should be sought elsewhere. When ethical dilemmas arise, they should be resolved using communication with all those involved. When a conflict cannot be resolved among the parties involved, consultation with peers may be necessary. Ethical codes should be followed, but in some cases, this may conflict with laws (e.g., subpoena). It is advised that laws prevail over ethics when all other means of resolution are exhausted. Counselors who become aware of colleagues' ethics violations that are not able to be resolved informally are obligated to report them provided it does not violate client-counselor confidentiality. The ethical resolution of dilemmas or issues requires the application of the ethical principles of ordering, respect, reparation, and veracity. Values of honesty, courage, independence, and intellect, among many others, determine positive outcomes in adverse situations.


The preamble of the NBCC's ethical code states that while counselors may work for agencies that also have their own ethical codes, all NBCC ethical guidelines must be followed to retain NBCC certification [58]. The Code is an assurance to other professionals, institutions, and clients that the certified counselor is expected to adhere to NBCC's ethical standards. While this code of ethics is intended for those who are certified by the NBCC, it is an excellent resource for all counselors. A synopsis of the directives contained in the Code of Ethics appears below [58].

Professional Responsibilities

Counselors have a responsibility to themselves, clients, and institutions to behave in an ethical manner consistent with the NBCC Code of Ethics. All applicable legal standards and professional regulations should be abided in all cases. Counselors speaking publicly should reflect their personal views and not those of an organization unless authorized to speak on its behalf.

As with the ACA Code of Ethics, the ethical principle of competency is stressed. Counselors should recognize their limitations in all areas of practice, keep up with reviews and advancements in the field, and seek to improve their knowledge base. Only proven, established techniques may be used without client consent. Competency is an ethical priority for those who supervise others, both self-competency and an understanding of the competency of supervisees.

Cultural competency is an important aspect of this directive, and counselors must ensure unbiased and nondiscriminatory practice. Beyond this, counselors are expected to demonstrate multicultural counseling competence.

Credentials and qualifications should be accurately represented, and it is the responsibility of the counselor to correct known misrepresentations. Counselors who are no longer able to competently practice shall seek professional assistance or withdraw from the practice of counseling. In addition, counselors who have reasonable cause to believe that another mental health professional has engaged in unethical behavior, must report the matter to NBCC except when State regulations require immediate reporting.

Professional influence should not be misused, either for personal gain or at the expense of clients and their welfare. Testimonials from family/friends or current clients are not permitted. Counselors have the duty not to provide a reference for a counselor known to be unqualified.

Counseling Relationships

Harms identified in this section include breach of confidentiality, privacy, and trust. Information learned in the counseling relationship (including test/assessment results and/or research data) may not be shared without client/legal guardian consent, barring the threat of imminent danger to self/others or court order. Out of the respect of privacy, only information that is pertinent to the counseling goals shall be solicited from clients. Steps must be taken to ensure that client records remain confidential, even following the incapacitation/death of the counselor; these include verbal communications, paper documents, test results, media recordings, and electronically stored documents.

Client records are to be maintained for a minimum of five years and disposed of in a manner that assures confidentiality. Client confidentiality should be a priority of every subordinate employee with access to client records. Prior to the court-ordered release of client records, a reasonable attempt should be made to notify clients and former clients. Upon retirement from the profession, current and former clients should be notified.

Before or during the initial session, clients must be informed about the goals, limitations, purposes, procedures, and the potential risks and benefits of services and techniques. Information regarding rights and responsibilities must also be provided, including the potential limitations of confidentiality, particularly when working with families or groups.

Consent should be obtained before initiating services. The goals of the counseling relationship and written plans should be developed collaboratively with the client. Clients must agree to changes to the plan and these changes should be documented. The record should also contain information regarding other relationships that exist between the client and other mental health professionals. Upon request, client records must be released to the client. There can be a discussion of the repercussions of release if the counselor believes the information may harm the counseling relationship, but the client record belongs to the client. Upon realization of a lack of benefit for the client, termination of services should be discussed within a reasonable period. Termination of services must not take place without a justified cause, and an appropriate referral should be made.

Supervision and Consultation

Consultation, supervisor assistance, or client referral is required if the services rendered are ineffective. A professional with whom consultation is sought must have the requisite experience to effectively respond to the issue. A written plan shall be agreed upon by the counselor and the consultant that identifies the specific issue, consultation goals, potential consequences of action, and evaluation terms. If no specific client information is shared between the consultant/consultee, it is not considered a consultation.

Counselors who act as educators or supervisors should avoid multiple relationships and specifically must refrain from sexual or romantic intimacy (in-person or electronic) with students or supervisees during and for at least five years following last academic/supervisory contact.

Supervisors must identify their qualifications and credentials to supervisees and provide information regarding the supervision process. Counselor supervisors should strive to establish a helpful and safe supervisory environment, always promoting the welfare and continued professional development of supervisees. This includes providing regular, substantive feedback and establishing procedures for responding to crisis situations.

Testing, Appraisal, and Research

Counselors should explain the ramifications of tests and results to clients and use assessments only for the client's benefit. Only current, reliable, and valid tests and assessments should be used. The results of a single test/assessment should never be used as the sole basis for a decision. It is a counselor's duty to recognize if the services provided will benefit a client or if they would be better served by another counselor or institution.

There are many assessment tools and techniques available to counselors, and counselors should be competent in the use and interpretation of each they intend to use. Consideration must be given to the fact that many tests/assessments are culturally biased; open-mindedness about test/assessment performance is valued. Tests and assessment administration and interpretation must comply with standard protocols. Identified security protocols for each must also be maintained.

Test results must be objectively and accurately interpreted, with consideration given to any irregularities in the administration of assessments or to any known unusual behavior or conditions (e.g., cultural factors, health, motivation) that may affect test results. Test results must be taken in the appropriate context. All communications with clients and colleagues, including those made electronically, are entered into the record. Clerical issues (e.g., change of address, appointment scheduling) are not an exception.

Counselors have an obligation to ensure that services or research are conducted in an ethical manner. It is unethical to use any tests or techniques that have the foreseen potential to cause harm. Informed consent is paramount when conducting research, and every precaution must be taken to ensure the safety and confidentiality of research participants. Replicable and unbiased data is the product of honest research practices.

All counselors should consider plagiarism a breach of the Code of Ethics and give credit to the work of others when publishing work or research. If ethics violations occur, it is the counselor's duty to withdraw from the profession.

Social Media and Technology

Social media must be used wisely and sensibly when communicating with clients or for sharing client information with other professionals; any means of consultation with other professionals must ensure client confidentiality. Policies must be in place to delineate the appropriate use of social media and other related digital technology as it relates to current and former clients. This policy should identify differences between private and professional accounts and measures to prevent confidentiality breaches. Professional accounts should only be used to post information related to professional services that does not create multiple relationships or violate client confidentiality.

Clients should be provided with instructions for how to securely and appropriately contact with their counselor, including the risks of inappropriate technology use. Counselors should become familiar with the privacy and security settings of social media and other electronic platforms used to provide services and how these settings can impact confidentiality.

Counselors should not access clients’ social media accounts without documented discussion, client permission, and a specific clinical purpose. The privacy of clients’ online activities and personas should be respected, and counselors must refrain from establishing non-professional online relationships with clients.

Counselors who are certified by the NBCC must follow the NBCC Code of Ethics. The Code may be reviewed online at https://www.nbcc.org/Assets/Ethics/NBCCCodeofEthics.pdf.


Ethical theories provide a framework that can be used to decide whether an action is ethical. These ethical systems are each made up of principles, precepts, and rules that form a specific theoretical framework, providing general strategies for defining the ethical actions to be taken in any given situation. In its most general and rudimentary categorization, ethics can be classified into two different headings: mandatory ethics and aspirational ethics [16]. When a counselor uses a mandatory ethics lens, he/she views the world in terms of polar opposites, in which one must make a choice between two behaviors. On the other hand, those who adopt aspirational ethics assume that there are a host of variables that play a role in benefiting the client's welfare [16]. For each ethical decision-making model, there is an underlying ethical theory that drives the model. Therefore, it is important to understand the various ethical theories.


As mentioned, virtue ethics developed from the Aristotelian philosophy that positive personal character is developed by acting based on the values of a particular society. According to Aristotle, there are two categories of virtues: intellectual and moral. Intellectual virtues include wisdom, understanding, and prudence; moral virtues encompass liberality and temperance [119]. A true virtue ethicist would act out of charity and good will rather than just following society's rules because they were expected to. Because virtues are "neither situation specific nor universal maxims," but instead are "character and community specific," virtue ethics allows an individual to have free will, both good and ill [54]. It is not a commandment that people must be benevolent and avoid doing evil; instead virtue ethics posits that if people uphold societal values then they will gain happiness. It is to this end that virtue ethical theory encourages people to act out of virtue. Virtue ethics forms the basis of religions throughout the world but is not inherently religious. This approach is different from deontologic ethics and teleologic ethics because rather than focusing on duty and consequences, respectively, virtue ethics' main focus is on the character of the person; it emphasizes the appraisal of the actor rather than the action [54].


Deontologic theories concentrate on considering absolutes, definitives, and imperatives [7]. Deontologic theories may also be referred to as fundamentalism or ethical rationalism [17]. The Greek word deon means duty or obligation, and the deontologic theorist would argue that values such as self-determination and confidentiality are absolute and definitive, and they must prevail whatever the circumstances (i.e., universally applicable) [17]. An action is deemed right or wrong according to whether it follows pre-established criteria known as imperatives. An imperative is viewed as a "must do," a rule, an absolute, or a black-and-white issue. This is an ethic based upon duty linked to absolute truths set down by specific philosophical schools of thought. Persons adhering to this perspective ask: What rules apply? What are the duties or obligations that provide the framework for ethical behavior [120,121,122]? As long as one follows the principles dictated by these imperatives and does his/her duty, one is said to be acting ethically.

The precepts in the deontologic system of ethical decision making stand on moral rules and unwavering principles. No matter the situation that presents itself, the purest deontologic decision maker would stand fast by a hierarchy of maxims. These maxims are as follows [18,121]:

  • People should always be treated as ends and never as means.

  • Human life has value.

  • Always to tell the truth.

  • Above all in practice, do no harm.

  • All people are of equal value.

The counseling professionals making ethical decisions under the deontologic ethical system see all situations within a similar context regardless of time, location, or people. It does not take into account the context of specific cultures and societies [17]. The terminology used in this system of beliefs is similar to that found in the legal justice system. Of course, enforcement of the rights and duties in the legal system does not exist in the ethical system.

One of the most significant features of deontologic ethics is found in John Rawls' Theory of Justice, which states that every person of equal ability has a right to equal use and application of liberty. However, certain liberties may be at competition with one another. Principles within the same ethical theoretical system can also conflict with one another. An example of this conflict might involve a decision over allocation of scarce resources. Under the principle of justice, all people should receive equal resources (benefits), but allocation can easily become an ethical dilemma when those resources are scarce. For instance, in national disasters, emergency response personnel would be among those ranked first to receive immediate stockpiles of food and drugs. Although this is in opposition with the principle of justice, it is supported by the principle of utility (greatest good).

A framework of legislated supportive precepts, such as the ACA Code of Ethics, serves counseling professionals by protecting them in their ethical practice. Most ethical codes are said to be deontologic because they set forth rules that must be followed. However, even these systems of thought will not clearly define the right answer in every situation. Most professionals will not practice the concept of means justifying the end if the means are harmful to the client. When duties and obligations conflict, few will follow a pure deontologic pathway because most people do consider the consequences of their actions in the decision-making process.

Theologic Ethical Theories

Well-known deontologic ethical theories are based upon religious beliefs and are strongly duty-bound. The principles of these theories promote a summum bonum, or highest good, derived from divine inspiration. A very familiar principle is the Golden Rule. Its Christian phrasing is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you;" however, the Golden Rule is present in various wordings in almost all cultures and religions throughout written history. One would be viewed as ethically sound to follow this principle within this system of beliefs. The most prevalent theologic ethical systems/religious ethics in the world are Christian (31.4%), Muslim (23.2%), Hindu (15%), Buddhist (7.1%), folk religions (5.9%), Jewish (0.2%), and other (0.8%), with 16.2% unaffiliated with any particular religion [60]. The most prevalent in the United States are Protestant (51.3%), Roman Catholic (23.9%), unaffiliated (16.1%), Mormon (1.7%), other Christian (1.6%), Jewish (1.7%), Buddhist (0.7%), Muslim (0.6%), and other (2.5%); 4% claim no religion [60].

According to this data, it would seem that about 80% of people in the United States are using deontologic/theologic ethics as their primary decision-making framework. However, when it comes to actual, real-world decision making, it is easy to see that purely deontologic/theologic pathways are followed less often, because, as discussed, people usually consider the implications of their actions or decisions upon the lives of others. Accordingly, in the United States, a separation of church and state is required so the common good is upheld, and the democratic system is determined to be the best source of governance rather than any one religious entity.

A 2004 Gallup poll found that 71% of Protestants and 66% of Catholics supported capital punishment [61]. Though it would seem that execution is against theologic ethics, many religious individuals have decided that the death penalty better safeguards the common good, in spite of an 88% criminologist and law enforcement expert-consensus that the death penalty does not deter homicide and other violent crime [104]. A 2000–2001 survey asked 10,000 women who had obtained induced abortions at 100 different providers throughout the United States about their religious affiliation. The results were that 70% identified as Catholic, Protestant, or Evangelical ("born-again") Christians and that an additional 8% identified as belonging to other religions; 22% had no religious affiliation [62]. These two examples are given to show that pure theologic ethical decision-making pathways are followed less often when people are faced with extremely difficult ethical dilemmas.

Categorical Imperative

Another fundamental deontologic ethical principle is Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative. An imperative is something that demands action. The first rule in Kant's theory is to only act in a way that you would wish all people to act, which is essentially a variation of the Golden Rule. Other rules are to treat people as both a means and an end and to never act in a way so as to cause disruption to universal good.

Kant believed that rather than divine inspiration, individuals possessed a special sense that would reveal ethical truth to them. The idea is that ethical truth is inborn and causes persons to act in the proper manner. Some of the ethical principles to come from Kant include individual rights, self-determination, keeping promises, privacy, and dignity.


Telos is a Greek word meaning end, and the teleologic ethical theories or consequential ethics are outcome-based theories [123]. It is not the motive or intention that causes one to act ethically, but the consequences of the act [7]. If the action causes a positive effect, it is said to be ethical. So here, the end justifies the means. From this perspective, the question is: What are the possible good and bad outcomes? What would be the most or least harmful [120,122,123,124]? Teleological theories focus more on societal effects of actions, while deontological theories emphasize effects on the individual [121]. Therefore, deontological theories may be more patient-centered.


Utilitarianism is the most well-known teleologic ethical theory. It is the principle that follows the outcome-based belief of actions that provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people [125]. So rather than individual goodness or rightness, this principle speaks for the group or society as a whole. Social laws in the United States are based upon this principle. The individual interests are secondary to the interest of the group at large. There are two types of utilitarianism: rule utilitarianism and act utilitarianism [125]. In rule utilitarianism, a person's past experiences are his influence toward achieving the greatest good. In act utilitarianism, the situation determines whether an action or decision is right or wrong. There are no rules to the game; each situation presents a different set of circumstances. This is commonly referred to as situational ethics. In situational ethics, if the act or decision results in happiness or goodness for the client and their social context, it would be ethically right.

Individuals may choose the utilitarian system of ethics over another because it fulfills their own need for happiness, in which they have a personal interest. It avoids the many rules and regulations that may cause a person to feel lack of control. One of the limitations of utilitarianism is its application to decision making in counseling. In developing policies for a nation of people based upon the principle of doing the greatest good for the greatest number, several questions arise. Who decides what is good or best for the greatest number: society, government, or the individual? For the rest of the people, are they to receive some of the benefits, or is it an all or nothing concept? How does "good" become quantified in counseling?


One modern teleologic ethical theory is existentialism. In its pure form, no one is bound by external standards, codes of ethics, laws, or traditions. Individual free will, personal responsibility, and human experience are paramount. Existentialism lends itself to counseling because one of the tenets is that every person should be allowed to experience all the world has to offer. A critique of the existential ethical theory is that because it is so intensely personal, it can be difficult for others to follow the reasoning of a counselor, making proof of the ethical decision-making process a concern.


Another modern teleologic ethical theory is pragmatism. To the pragmatist, whatever is practical and useful is considered best for both the people who are problem solving and those who are being assisted. This ethical model is mainly concerned with outcomes, and what is considered practical for one situation may not be for another. Pragmatists reject the idea that there can be a universal ethical theory; therefore, their decision-making process may seem inconsistent to those who follow traditional ethical models.


The motivist would say that there are no theoretical principles that can stand alone as a basis for ethical living. Motivist belief systems are not driven by absolute values, but instead by intentions or motives. It is not the action, but the intent or motive of the individual that is of importance. An example of a motivist ethical theory is rationalism. Rationalism promotes reason or logic for ethical decision making. Outside directives or imperatives are not needed as each situation presents the logic within it that allows us to act ethically.


Natural law ethics is a system in which actions are seen as morally or ethically correct if in accord with the end purpose of human nature and human goals. The fundamental maxim of natural law ethics is to do good and avoid evil. Although similar to the deontologic theoretical thought process, it differs in that natural law focuses on the end purpose concept. Further, natural law is an element in many religions, but at its core it can be either theistic or non-theistic.

In theistic natural law, one believes God is the Creator, and the follower of this belief has his understanding of God as reflected in nature and creation. The nontheistic believer, on the other hand, develops his understanding from within, through intuition and reason with no belief rooted in God. In either case natural law is said to hold precedence over positive (man-made) law.

The total development of the person, physically, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, is the natural law approach. Therefore, ethical decision making should not be problematic, as judgment and action should come naturally and habitually to the individual follower of natural law. A shortcoming with natural law ethics is that what might be a virtue for one person might be another person's vice [53]. Like existentialism, if virtue ethics is dependent on personal character it may not consistently lead to decisions that many others agree with [63].


Another ethical theory used in counseling is a relatively modern system of thought that centers on the diversity of cultures and beliefs among which we now live. At its core, this ethic assumes that all discourse and interaction is transcultural because of the differences in values and beliefs of groups within our society. This concept has developed into what has become known as the transcultural ethical theory [27].

The concept of care from a transcultural perspective focuses on a comparative analysis of differing cultures' health/illness values, patterns, and caring behavior. Decisions are made on the basis of the value or worth of someone by the quality of interrelationships. This transcultural context encourages individual and global communities to question and to understand each other's beliefs and values. It is only within this context of understanding that one can make sound ethical decisions in a culturally diverse society.

The advantage to the transcultural ethical system is that while it recognizes the uniqueness of different cultures, it is based on various precepts of other ethical systems [27]. The disadvantage might be that Western society largely follows the deontologic and teleologic principles that also make up its legal system. In a society that values decision-making based on hard facts, one may have some difficulty in making decisions based upon other cultural beliefs and values. Many professionals may have difficulty with transcultural ethics' reliance on close interrelationships and mutual sharing of differences that are required in this framework of ethical decision making.

Ethical Relativism/Multiculturalism

The ethical theory of relativism/multiculturalism falls under the postmodernist philosophical perspective and may be referred to as moral relativism [17]. Multiculturalism promotes the idea that all cultural groups be treated with respect and equality [19]. According to ethical relativists, ethical principles are culturally bound and one must examine ethical principles within each culture or society [17]. The question then becomes how ethical principles that are primarily deontologic and rooted in Western values are applicable in other societies. The challenge of ethical relativism is how to determine which values take precedent [17]. Greater detail will be focused on multiculturalism and diversity issues later in this course.


Feminist philosophy questions the origins, meanings, and implications of societal gender roles. Over the years, feminist ethics has focused on disputing three major patriarchal ideas [64]:

  • Women's moral thinking is more contextual and less abstract than men's thinking.

  • Values of empathy, caring, and nurturing are inherent in women, are more valued by women, and are shown more often by women.

  • Values of free will and autonomy apply equally to men and women, not because of women's moral choice but because of the moral demands imposed on women as caretakers.

When the assumption is made that women are not able to engage in concrete thought, it is a short leap to assume that women are incapable of grasping complex, abstract ideas; this has been used as an argument against women participating in the professional world [65]. Feminist ethicists posit that, in general, women are forced to consider context because their moral priorities are focused differently than men, not because of an inherent difference in thinking style [65].

Of particular concern to feminist ethics in counseling and psychology are the perception of "female" moral priorities (e.g., benevolence, nonmaleficence, etc.) and the assignment of the values of caring, nurturing, and empathy to women. Because the duty of feeling goes against deontologic ethics (which fails to acknowledge sympathy, compassion, and concern as motives for decision making) reasoning based on these values can be seen as irrational [65]. It is a goal of feminist ethics to show that caring, nurturing, sympathy, empathy, benevolence, and concern, among other supposedly "female" values, are actually universal values that are simply discouraged in males. Ancient philosophers, such as Aristotle, have noted that relationships between men are impossible without such values [65]. It has been debated whether a counselor can be effective without a duty to feeling, whether or not it is acknowledged as such.


A relational model of ethics focuses on the network of relationships and social connections rather than universal absolutes, as humans are embedded in a social web [113,114,126]. Cooperation and care are key in relational ethics. Gilligan's ethics of care is an example of relational ethics. At the heart of relational or care ethics is consideration of the care responsibilities of a practitioner [122].


It is important to remember a theory is not an absolute. Rothman encourages professionals to consider the following three questions when assessing ethical theories [15]:

  • The authoritative question: Where does the theory turn to for validation of its basic assumptions or tenets—the Bible, law, philosophical constructs, or another source?

  • The distributive question: Whose interest does the theory serve—the interests of every human being or only certain members of a community?

  • The substantive question: What is the theory's ultimate goal—social justice, equality, happiness, or another desirable endpoint?

There are other indicators to assess ethical theories. First, a sound ethical theory must be clear and easily understood. It should be simple, with no more rules and principles than professionals are able to remember and apply to real-life professional situations. Second, it should be internally consistent. This means that the different parts of a theory should be in agreement and that different professionals applying the theory to similar circumstances should reach similar conclusions. Third, a good ethical theory should be as complete as possible, without major gaps or omissions. Finally, an ethical theory should be consistent with general daily experience and judgment. If an ethical theory is useful in helping to resolve moral dilemmas but is inconsistent with most or all our ordinary judgments, it will ultimately cause dissonance and will need to be modified.


It is important to remember that ethical theories are just that—theories. They do not provide the absolute solutions for every ethical dilemma. They do provide a framework for ethical decision making when adjoined to the critical information we obtain from the clients and families. In other words, theories serve as lenses to how we approach the ethical dilemma or problem.

In reality, most counselors combine the theoretical principles that best fit the particular client situation. Whenever the professional relationship is established, a moral relationship exists. Moral reasoning is required to reach ethically sound decisions. This is a skill, not an inherent gift, and moral reasoning must be practiced so that it becomes a natural part of any counselor's life.

If a professional wears a deontologic lens, duty and justice are the underlying and unchanging moral principles to follow in making the decision. Wearing this theoretical lens, one argues that a person who becomes a helping professional accepts the obligations and duties of the role. Caring for clients who have contagious diseases, for example, is one of those obligations; therefore, refusal, except in particular circumstances, would be a violation of this duty. In the deontologic system, another unchanging moral principle, justice, would require healthcare professionals to provide adequate care for all patients. Refusing to care for a patient with HIV/AIDS would violate this principle.

Although all the ethical systems concern decisions about ethical problems and ethical dilemmas, the decision reached in regard to a specific conflict will vary depending on the system used. For example, a nurse working in a hospital setting assigned to a patient in the terminal stages of AIDS might have strong fears about contracting the disease and transmitting it to family. Is it ethical for him or her to refuse the assignment? If the nurse employs a utilitarian lens, they would weigh the good of the family members against the good of the patient. Based on the greatest good principle, it would be ethical to refuse working with the patient. In addition, because utilitarianism holds that the ends justify the means, preventing the spread of AIDS to the nurse's family would justify refusal of the assignment.

However, if the nurse adheres to the natural law system in shaping his or her ethical decisions, refusing to care for an AIDS patient would be unethical. One of the primary goals of the natural law system is to help the person develop to maximum potential. Refusing to have contact with the AIDS patient would diminish the patient's ability to develop fully. A good person, by natural law definition, would view the opportunity to care for an AIDS patient as a chance to participate in the overall plan of creation and fulfill a set of ultimate goals.


The decision-making frameworks presented in this section are decision analyses. A decision analysis is a step-by-step procedure breaking down the decision into manageable components so one can trace the sequence of events that might be the consequence of selecting one course of action over another [23]. All ethical decision-making models include the steps of identifying the problem, identifying alternatives, consulting with others, and implementing and evaluating the decision [127]. Decision analysis frameworks provide an objective analysis in order to help professionals make the best possible decision in a given situation, build logic and rationality into a decision-making process that is primarily intuitive, and lay the potential outcomes for various decision paths [23]. They are also attempts to shift the process of moral decision making from the arena of the personal and subjective to the arena of an intellectual process, characterized by rigor and systematization [24]. They can be particularly helpful for novice practitioners to organize the information that surfaces when an ethical dilemma emerges [128]. The models assist in providing a linear series of steps to make an informed decision in order to reduce the likelihood of making a truncated decision [128].

Osmo and Landau note that there are two types of argumentation: explicit and implicit [25]. Implicit argumentation involves an internal dialogue, whereby the practitioner talks and listens to him/herself. This internal dialogue involves interpreting events, monitoring one's behavior, and making predictions and generalizations. It is more intuitive and automatic, and this type of dialoguing to oneself has tremendous value because it can increase the practitioner's level of self-awareness. However, Osmo and Landau also argue for the importance of counselors' use of explicit argumentation [25]. Research indicates that just because a professional code of ethics exists, it does not automatically guarantee ethical practice. Explicit argumentation involves a clear and explicit argumentation process that leads to the ethical decision. In other words, the counselor must provide specific and explicit justification of factors for a particular course of conduct regarding an ethical dilemma [25]. Explicit argumentation is like an internal and external documentation of one's course of action. One can explain very clearly to oneself and others why one made the choices.

Osmo and Landau employ Toulmin's theory of argumentation [25,26]. Toulmin defines an argument as an assertion followed by a justification. According to Toulmin, an argument consists of six components: (1) the claim, (2) data, evidence, or grounds for the claim, (3) a warrant, which is the link between the claim and the data (may include empirical evidence, common knowledge, or practice theory), (4) qualification of the claim by expressing the degree of confidence or likelihood, (5) rebuttal of the claim by stating conditions that it does not hold, and (6) further justification using substantiation. In essence, decision-making frameworks are an attempt of explicit argumentation.

In general, decision analyses typically include the following: acknowledging the decision, listing the advantages or disadvantages (pros or cons), creating the pathways of the decision, estimating the probabilities and values, and calculating the expected value [23].


Kenyon's Ethical Decision-Making Model

Kenyon has adapted an ethical decision-making model from Corey, Corey, and Callanan and from Loewenberg and Dolgoff (Table 2) [10]. The first step in Kenyon's decision-making model is to describe the issue [10]. Counselors should be able to describe the ethical issue or dilemma, specifically, by identifying who is involved and what their involvement is, what the relevant situational features are, and what type of issue it is. Next, they should consider all available ethical guidelines; professional standards, laws, and regulations; relevant societal and community values; and personal values relevant to the issue.


1. Describe the issue.
2. Consider the ethical guidelines.
3. Examine the conflicts.
4. Resolve the conflicts.
5. Generate all possible courses of action.
6. Examine and evaluate the action alternatives.
7. Select and evaluate the preferred action.
8. Plan the action.
9. Evaluate the outcome.
10. Examine the implications.

Any conflicts should be examined. Counselors should describe all conflicts being experienced, both internal and external, and then decide if any can be minimized or resolved. If necessary, they may seek assistance with the decision by consulting with colleagues, faculty, or supervisors, by reviewing relevant professional literature, and by seeking consultation from professional organizations or available ethics committees.

After all conflicts are resolved, counselors can generate all possible courses of action. Each action alternative should be examined and evaluated. The client's and all other participants' preferences, based on a full understanding of their values and ethical beliefs, must be considered. Alternatives that are inconsistent with other relevant guidelines, inconsistent with the client's and participants' values, and for which there are no resources or support should be eliminated. The remaining action alternatives that do not pass tests based on ethical principles of universality, publicity, and justice should be discarded. Counselors may now predict the possible consequences of the remaining acceptable action alternatives and prioritize them by rank. The preferred action is selected and evaluated, an action plan is developed, and the action is implemented.

Finally, counselors may evaluate the outcome of the action and examine its implications. These implications may be applicable to future decision making.

In Kenyon's ethical decision-making framework, there are five fundamental components to this cognitive process. They encompass naming the dilemma, sorting the issues, solving the problem, and evaluating and reflecting [10].

Naming the dilemma involves identifying the values in conflict. If they are not ethical values or principles, it is not truly an ethical dilemma. It may be a communication problem or an administrative or legal uncertainty. The values, rights, duties, or ethical principles in conflict should be evident, and the dilemma should be named (e.g., this is a case of conflict between client autonomy and doing good for the client). This might happen when a client refuses an intervention or treatment that the counselor thinks would benefit the client. When principles conflict, such as those in the example statement above, a choice must be made about which principle should be honored.

Sort the issues by differentiating the facts from values and policy issues. Although these three matters often become confused, they need to be identified, particularly when the decision is an ethical one. So, ask the following questions: what are the facts, values, and policy concerns, and what appropriate ethical principles are involved for society, for you, and for the involved parties in the ethical dilemma?

Solve the problem by creating several choices of action. This is vital to the decision-making process and to the client's sense of controlling his or her life. When faced with a difficult dilemma, individuals often see only two courses of action that can be explored. These may relate to choosing an intervention, dealing with family and friends, or exploring available resources. It is good to brainstorm about all the possible actions that could be taken (even if some have been informally excluded). This process gives everyone a chance to think through the possibilities and to make clear arguments for and against the various alternatives. It also helps to discourage any possible polarization of the parties involved. Ethical decision making is not easy, but many problems can be solved with creativity and thought. This involves the following:

  • Gather as many creative solutions as possible by brainstorming before evaluating suggestions (your own or others).

  • Evaluate the suggested solutions until you come up with the most usable ones. Identify the ethical and political consequences of these solutions. Remember that you cannot turn your ethical decision into action if you are not realistic regarding the constraints of institutions and political systems.

  • Identify the best solution. Whenever possible, arrive at your decision by consensus so others will support the action. If there are no workable solutions, be prepared to say so and explain why. If ethics cannot be implemented because of politics, this should be discussed. If there are no answers because the ethical dilemma is unsolvable, the appropriate people also must be informed. Finally, the client and/or family should be involved in making the decision, and it is imperative to implement their choice.

Ethics without action is just talk. In order to act, make sure that you communicate what must be done. Share your individual or group decision with the appropriate parties and seek their cooperation. Implement the decision.

As perfect ethical decisions are seldom possible, it is important to evaluate and reflect. Counselors can learn from past decisions and try to make them better in the future, particularly when they lead to policy making. To do this [27]:

  • Review the ramifications of the decision.

  • Review the process of making the decision. For example, ask yourself if you would do it in the same way the next time and if the appropriate people were involved.

  • Ask whether the decision should become policy or if more cases and data are needed before that step should occur.

  • Learn from successes and errors.

  • Be prepared to review the decision at a later time if the facts or issues change.

  • It is important to remember that Kenyon's ethical decision-making framework is based on a rational model for ethical decision making. One of the criticisms of rational decision-making models is that they do not take into account diversity issues.

Ethical Principles Screen

Loewenberg and Dolgoff's Ethical Principles Screen is an ethical decision-making framework that differs slightly from the Kenyon model [28]. This method focuses on a hierarchy of ethical principles to evaluate the potential course of action for ethical dilemmas. The hierarchy rank prioritizes ethical principles; in other words, it depicts which principle should be adhered to first. The first ethical principle is more important than the second to the seventh [11]. Counselors should strive for the first ethical principle before any of the following ethical principles. In a situation where an ethical dilemma involves life or death, this ethical principle should be adhered to first before principle 6, which is adhering to confidentiality. When reading Loewenberg and Dolgoff's hierarchy, the counselor can see that only conditions to maintain the client's right to survival (ethical principle 1) or his/her right to fair treatment (ethical principle 2) take precedence to ethical principle 3, which is free choice and freedom or self-determination.

Collaborative Model for Ethical Decision Making

The Collaborative Model for Ethical Decision Making is relationally oriented and is based on values emphasizing inclusion and cooperation [27,29]. Essentially, it entails four steps [27]:

  • Identify the parties involved in the ethical dilemma.

  • Define the viewpoints and worldviews of the parties involved.

  • Use group work and formulate a solution in which all parties are satisfied.

  • Identify and implement each individual's proposed recommendations for a solution.


One of the criticisms of ethical decision-making frameworks is that they portray decision making in a linear progression, and in real life, such prescriptive models do not capture what professionals do [30]. In essence, these frameworks stem from a positivist approach. Positivism values objectivity and rationality. In subjectivity, one's values, feelings, and emotions are detached from scientific inquiry. Research has indicated that practitioners having these linear ethical decision frameworks in their knowledge base do not necessarily translate them into ethical practice. Consequently, Betan argues for a hermeneutic (i.e., interpretive) approach to ethical decision making. The person making the decision is not a detached observer; rather, the individual is inextricably part of the process. Betan maintains that this is vital because "ethics is rooted in regards to human life, and when confronting an ethical circumstance, one calls into service a personal sense of what it is to be human. Thus, one cannot intervene in human affairs without being an active participant in defining dimensions of human conduct and human worth" [30]. This does not necessarily mean that professionals should discard the linear approaches to ethical decision making. Rather, professionals should work toward understanding how the principles fit within the therapeutic context as well as the larger cultural context. Furthermore, some maintain that even if practitioners follow a decision-making model, they are often prone to rationalizing their decisions despite ethical violations [128]. Many ethical decision-making models also fail to take into account diversity and culture [129].


Mattison challenges mental health professionals to not only use decision-making models to infuse logic and rationality to the decision-making process, but to also incorporate a more reflexive phase [24]. In many ways, Mattison's assertion is similar to Betan's call for integrating a hermeneutic perspective to ethical decision making. This is referred to as ethical self-reflection. The process is to learn more about oneself as a decision maker or to better understand the lens one wears to make decisions [24]. It is impossible and unnecessary to remove one's character, conscience, personal philosophy, attitudes, and biases from the decision-making process [31]. Just as counseling emphasizes the person-in-situation perspective in working and advocating for clients, so too should the person-in-situation perspective be employed in increasing self-awareness as a decision maker in ethical situations [24]. The person-in-environment perspective argues that to understand human behavior, one must understand the context of the environment that colors, shapes, and influences behavior. Therefore, the counselor must engage in an active process by considering how their individual level (e.g., prior socialization, cultural values and orientations, personal philosophy, worldview), the client's domain (e.g., values, world views, beliefs), organizational context (i.e., organizational or agency culture, policies), professional context (i.e., values of the social work profession), and societal context (i.e., societal norms) all play a role in influencing moral decision making [24]. Supervision is also key in facilitating self-awareness and reflection when making ethical decisions [130].


As discussed, ethical decision making does not operate within a vacuum. As Mattison acknowledges, there is an array of factors that influence the ethical decision-making process [24]. Consequently, it is impossible to talk about ethical decision making without looking at the psychology of moral development. Psychologists have looked at many of the same questions that philosophers have pondered but from their own professional perspective. Their theories of moral development permit us to learn something else about how moral disagreements develop and even how we may untangle them. Lawrence Kohlberg, a former professor at Harvard University, was a preeminent moral-development theorist. His thinking grew out of Jean Piaget's writings on children's intellectual development. Kohlberg's theories are based on descriptive norms (i.e., typical patterns of behavior) rather than on proven facts. Others in this field have taken issue with his categories, saying they are based too exclusively on rights-oriented ethical approaches, particularly those based on responsibility for others.

Kohlberg's stages of moral development theory presumes that there are six stages of moral development that people go through in much the same way that infants learn first to roll over, to sit up, to crawl, to stand, and finally to walk [32]. The following section is from Lawrence Kohlberg's theory on moral development. There are two important correlates of Kohlberg's system:

  • Everyone goes through each stage in the same order, but not everyone goes through all the stages.

  • A person at one stage can understand the reasoning of any stage below him or her but cannot understand more than one stage above.

These correlates, especially the latter one, are important when it comes to assessing the nature of disagreements about ethical judgments. Kohlberg has characterized these stages in a number of ways, but perhaps the easiest way to remember them is by the differing kinds of justification employed in each stage. Regarding any decision, the following replies demonstrate the rationale for any decision made within each stage level.

Stage 1: When a person making a stage 1 decision is asked why the decision made is the right one, he or she would reply, "Because if I do not make that decision, I will be punished."

Stage 2: When a person making a stage 2 decision is asked why the decision made is the right one, he or she would reply, "Because if I make that decision, I will be rewarded and other people will help me."

Stage 3: A stage 3 decision maker would reply, "Others whom I care about will be pleased if I do this because they have taught me that this is what a good person does."

Stage 4: At this stage, the decision maker offers explanations that demonstrate his or her role in society and how decisions further the social order (for example, obeying the law makes life more orderly).

Stage 5: Here, the decision maker justifies decisions by explaining that acts will contribute to social well-being and that each member of society has an obligation to every other member.

Stage 6: At this final stage, decisions are justified by appeals to personal conscience and universal ethical principles.

It is important to understand that Kohlberg's stages do not help to find the right answers, as do ethical theories. Instead, recognizing these stages helps counselors to know how people get to their answers. As a result, if you asked the same question of someone at each of the six levels, the answer might be the same in all cases, but the rationale for the decision may be different. For example, let us suppose that a counselor is becoming more involved in the life of his female client. He drives her home after Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and is talking with her on the weekends. Here are examples of the rationale for the counselor's decision and reply, in each stage, to the question of whether this relationship is appropriate.

Stage 1: "No, because I could lose my license if anyone found out that I overstepped the appropriate boundaries."

Stage 2: "No, because if I became known as a counselor who did that kind of thing, my colleagues might not refer clients to me."

Stage 3: "No, because that is against the law and professionals should obey the law," or, "No, because my colleagues would no longer respect me if they knew I had done that."

Stage 4: "No, because if everyone did that, counselors would no longer be trusted and respected."

Stage 5: "No, the client might benefit from our relationship, but it is wrong. I need to merely validate her as a human being."

Stage 6: "No, because I personally believe that this is not right and will compromise standards of good practice, so I cannot be a party to such an action."

These stages can give the counselor another viewpoint as to how ethical decisions can get bogged down. A person who is capable of stage four reasoning may be reasoning at any level below that, but he/she will be stymied by someone who is trying to use a stage six argument. Ideally then, if discussion is to be effective or result in consensus or agreement, the participants in that discussion should be talking on the same level of ethical discourse.

Whenever individuals gather to address a particular client's case, the members of the team must be sure that they are clear about what values they hold, both individually and as a group, and where the conflict lies. Is it between the values, principles, or rules that lie within a single ethical system? Is it between values, principles, or rules that belong to different ethical systems? When consensus has been reached, the members should be aware of the stage level of the decision.

Kohlberg's theory of moral development has been criticized for being androcentric. In other words, his moral dilemmas capture male moral development and not necessarily female moral development. Gilligan, backed by her research, argues that men and women have different ways of conceptualizing morality, and therefore, the decisions made will be different [33]. This does not necessarily mean that one conceptualization is better than the other. Brown and Gilligan maintain that men have a morality of justice while women have a morality of care [34]. Consequently, the goal is not to elevate one form of moral development as the scientific standard; rather, it is crucial to view feminine ethics of care as complementing the standard theories of moral development.


Managed care has changed the climate in the provision of health and mental health services, and a range of practitioners have been affected, including counselors. In part due to negative public perception, there has been a shift away from the term "managed care" and toward terms such as "behavioral health," "integrated behavioral health," and "behavioral mental health" to refer to managed mental health care [115]. This shift acknowledges that mental health issues are complex and involve physical, psychologic, and emotional components [20]. So, more coordinated and integrated services should ultimately benefit the consumer [20,115]. This section is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of how managed care has impacted ethical practice but is meant to provide an overview of the ethical issues raised in a managed care climate that is complex and multifaceted.

Managed care is a system designed by healthcare insurance companies to curb the increasing costs of health care. A third party (utilization reviewer) reviews treatment plans and progress and has the authority to approve further treatment or to terminate treatment [16]. In addition, certain types of interventions are reimbursable while other types of care are not [36].

The ethical concerns in managed care revolve around the issue of whether a counselor or other practitioner should continue to provide services outside the parameter of the managed care contract [16]. Is early termination of services deemed on a probability that payment will not be obtained? In a cost-benefit analysis, what is the role of the client? How does the ethical principle of beneficence come into play? Certain diagnoses will be deemed reimbursable by the managed care organization. Is it beneficial for the client if a different diagnosis is given in order for services to continue [131]?

At the core, it is the ethical conflict of distributive justice versus injustice [37]. Distributive justice stresses the role of fairness in the distribution of services and states that, at minimum, a basic level of care should be provided. However, the principle of distributive justice may be compromised when services are allocated based on fixed criteria and not on individuals' needs [37]. Situations will then emerge in which the utilization reviewer indicates that the client is not approved for more services, and the counselor may find him or herself unable to provide services that are still necessary. In this case, it is suggested that counselors utilize their roles as advocates to encourage and coach their clients to go through grievance procedures for more services from their managed care provider [37].

Another ethical issue emerging within counseling practice in a managed care environment is that of the counselor's fiduciary relationship with their agency versus a fiduciary relationship with the client [37]. Each relationship has competing sets of loyalties and responsibilities. First, the counselor has a fiduciary relationship to the managed care company. The responsibility to the agency is to keep expenditures within budget. Yet, there is also the counselor's obligation to the client's best interests and needs [37]. One way of managing this conflict is for counselors to be involved in the advocacy and development of policies that allow some leeway for clients who may require additional services.

Confidentiality, which is founded on respect and dignity, is of paramount importance to the therapeutic relationship. However, managed care systems also present challenges to the ethical issue of client confidentiality, as they often request that clients' records be submitted for review for approval of services [38,131]. Consequently, counselors and other practitioners should explain up front and provide disclosure statements that establish the limits to confidentiality, what types of information must be shared, how this information is communicated, treatment options, billing arrangements, and other information [38,39].

Regardless of what counselors might think of managed care, the counselor bears the responsibility of upholding his/her respective professional ethical principles. In order to assist counselors and other practitioners in developing their own ethical standards, the following self-reflective considerations for those working in a managed care environment should be considered [16]:

  • Reflect on one's therapeutic and theoretical orientation and its compatibility with the philosophies of managed care. Depending on the assessment, counselors may have to reassess their practices or obtain additional training to acquire the necessary competencies to work in a managed care environment.

  • Reflect on one's biases and values regarding managed care and how these attitudes influence one's practice.

  • Develop a network of colleagues to act as peer reviewers, as they may evaluate one's ethical practice within the managed care climate.


As noted, it has been argued that ethical principles may not be easily applied to different cultural contexts. The majority of established ethical principles and codes have been formulated within a Western context; therefore, these ethical principles may have been formulated without consideration for linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic differences. Harper argues that a cultural context must be taken into account because many of these groups constitute vulnerable populations and may be at risk of exploitation [17]. In this course, an inclusive definition of diversity is utilized, encompassing age, race, ethnicity, culture, immigration status, disability, educational level, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and socioeconomic status [40].


Coupled with the ever-changing socioeconomic backdrop, demographic trends indicate increasing diversification and multiculturalism in U.S. society, including rapidly growing ethnic minority populations relative to the white population; a continual influx of documented and undocumented immigrants; a growing number of individuals with various gender and sexual identities (4% to 17% of the total population); an unprecedented increase in the older American population; and a vast number of Americans with disabilities (57 million individuals) [41,42,43,44,45,46]. This has profound implications for counselors, as culture (in a general sense) influences every aspect of our lives, including our social and psychologic reality [47]. Consequently, it is inevitable that counselors will work with more clients and settings than they are familiar or comfortable with. It is therefore advisable that counselors take into account cultural context and their clients' sociocultural identity when entering into a counseling relationship. Richmond writes that "counselors and clients are both emotionally invested in 'right living' issues. Since no therapy is value free, clients face the dilemma of finding a therapist with values similar to their own or having their values challenged. Therapists face the ethical issue of clarifying their own values and determining how to make them known" [66].

This is part of the ethical principle of competency. It is correct to admit to oneself that the knowledge/experience or willingness to effectively care for another individual is not currently possessed. When value conflicts are apparent from the start, it may be more ethical not to engage in a professional relationship with the client. Remember, multiculturalism is not a demand (i.e., one cannot be forced to apply the ethic); rather, it is the knowledge and understanding that cultures/social-groups operate on different value systems.


It is important to note that culturally sensitive research is of particular value because many older studies, while perhaps not totally biased, may have been skewed due to a lack of cultural understanding. An example of this is a study of research conducted with elderly Japanese American populations in which participants signed agreements that they did not fully understand because they traditionally deferred judgment to their doctors regarding medical decisions; they also felt that not agreeing to participate would be disrespectful to their doctors and the researchers [67].

A positive example of a culturally appropriate study was one that was conducted within a Korean community in which research follow-ups took place at local ethnic grocery stores rather than in an institutional setting [68]. The businesses were identified as traditional gathering places whereas the institutions were identified as a source of fear or discomfort or were inconveniently located, which would have caused a reduction in willing participants. If the research had only been conducted in institutional settings, instead of getting a true cross section, the study would likely end up with participants who were of a certain type (e.g., more affluent, no mobility issues).

Both the ACA and the NBCC wish to further the goals of the field by encouraging counselors to give knowledge back to the profession through the release of culturally appropriate research [8,58]. Publishing culturally oriented or culturally inclusive research upholds the ethical principles of gratitude, publicity, and justice.


Much of the traditional ethical systems and philosophies that have influenced the United States stems from Christian-based and scientific empiricism [48]. Positivism assumes there is one universal that can be counted or measured. In addition, it postulates that reality is objective and value-free [48]. This positivistic approach to ethics was challenged by Joseph Fletcher in 1966 when he published Situation Ethics. He challenged the assumption made by many scholars in the 20th century that one resolved ethical dilemmas by turning to universally accepted principles. His work caused a paradigm shift from a universal approach to ethics to deconstructing it and developing a constructivist, contextual approach [48]. Consequently, in situation ethics, one takes the context (including culture and diversity) into account.

In our multicultural society, how one views good or bad will inevitably vary from group to group. Consequently, one of the struggles when dealing with multiculturalism and diversity issues while developing ethical guidelines is the question of how to develop one ethical guideline that can fully apply to the many diverse groups in our society. The complexity of defining multiculturalism and diversity is influenced by the tremendous differences within a group in addition to the differences between groups. Certainly religion, nationality, socioeconomic status, education, acculturation, and different political affiliations all contribute to this within-group diversity. To make matters even more complex, multiculturalism and diversity within a society are dynamic rather than static [49]. Consequently, the questions that arise in this debate are, should ethical guidelines be based on the uniqueness of groups, taking into account distinct values, norms, and belief systems, or should ethical guidelines be developed based on the assumption that all human beings are alike [49]?


Several ethical decision-making models have been reviewed in this course. The major criticism of these models is that they do not take into account issues of diversity. Garcia, Cartwright, Winston, and Borzuchowska developed the Transcultural Integrative Model for Decision Making, which includes a self-reflective activity [27]. This allows practitioners to recognize how cultural, societal, and institutional factors impact their values, skills, and biases. Furthermore, the model stresses the role of collaboration and tolerance, encouraging all parties to be involved in the evaluation of ethical issues and promoting acceptance of diverse worldviews [27].

The authors of this model maintain that its strength lies in the fact that it is based on several underlying frameworks: rational, collaborative, and social constructivist. It employs a rational model in providing a sequential series of procedures. The collaboration model is used because it acknowledges the importance of working with all stakeholders involved, employing a variety of techniques to achieve consensus. Finally, the Transcultural Integrative Model employs social constructivist principles by acknowledging that meanings of situations are socially constructed [27]. No single theoretical framework can provide solutions to complex and multifaceted ethical solutions; therefore, an array of strengths from various frameworks is harnessed. The Transcultural Integrative Model consists of four major steps, with sub-tasks within each step [27].

Step 1: Interpreting the Situation through Awareness

First, the counselor examines his/her own competence, values, attitudes, and knowledge regarding a cultural group. The counselor then identifies the dilemma not only from his/her own perspective, but also from the client's perspective. Relevant stakeholders, or meaningful parties relevant to the client's cultural context and value systems, are identified. Finally, cultural information is garnered (e.g., value systems, immigration history, experiences with discrimination, prejudice).

Step 2: Formulating an Ethical Decision

In the second step, the dilemma is further reviewed within its cultural context. It is important to examine the professional ethical code for specific references to diversity. A list of possible culturally sensitive and appropriate actions is formulated by collaborating with all parties involved. Each action is then evaluated from a cultural perspective, examining the respective positive and negative consequences. Again, feedback from all parties is solicited. Consultation with individuals with multicultural expertise is sought to obtain an outsider perspective. Finally, a course of action is agreed upon that is congruent with the cultural values and is acceptable to all parties involved.

Step 3: Weighing Competing, Nonmoral Values

Counselors should reflect and identify personal blind spots that may reflect values different from that of the cultural values of the client. Larger professional, institutional, societal, and cultural values should also be examined.

Step 4: Implementing Action Plan

In the final step, cultural resources are identified to help implement the plan. Cultural barriers that might impede execution of the plan, such as biases, stereotypes, or discrimination, are identified. After the action is implemented, it should be evaluated for accuracy and effectiveness. Such an evaluation plan should include gathering feedback from multicultural experts and culturally specific and relevant variables.


In the 2005 revision of the ACA Code of Ethics, the emphasis on the multicultural/diversity issues in counseling reminds professionals to consider sociocultural context when making ethical decisions. For example, section A.1.d. of the Code was changed to "Support Network Involvement" from "Family Involvement," realizing that in many instances a client may be alienated from a traditional family due to a variety of factors, including sexual or gender identity, interracial marriage, or religious differences; this revision persists in the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics [8,69]. This is an example of the kind of sensitivity to diversity that must be applied in a professional relationship. It is not a new concept but is instead an increased awareness that informs applied ethics.

Other such examples are sections E.5.b. and E.5.c. of the Code, which remind counselors that in other cultures mental or emotional disorders may not be defined in the same ways they are in their culture [8,69]. Also, in the past, certain sociocultural differences were viewed by the hegemony as anomalies that required treatment, and the Code advises counselors to be aware of these past prejudices and to not perpetuate them.


Directive 7 of the NBCC Code of Ethics states, "Counselors shall demonstrate multicultural counseling competence in practice. Counselors will not use counseling techniques or engage in any professional activities that discriminate against or show hostility toward individuals or groups based on gender, ethnicity, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or any other legally prohibited basis" [58]. In addition to a working knowledge of a client's cultural norms, the counselor should have an understanding of the effect that discrimination and oversimplification have on various social groups.

Furthermore, Directive 66 states, "Prior to the use of a test or assessment with a client, counselors shall seek information about a test's normative groups and limitations of use that may affect the administration or interpretation of results" [58]. It has been noted that many assessments, standardized tests, and techniques were normalized based on research with white, middle class populations. This includes psychologic test procedures and instruments in addition to educational or career assessment tools. Sociocultural norms and biases should be accounted for when interpreting results.

In order to avoid perpetuating cultural disparities in research and care, the NBCC also requires that research conducted with under-represented groups must take into consideration their historical, diverse, and multicultural experiences, and only use techniques and approaches based on appropriate, established, clinically sound theories.


Despite the debate about the strengths and limitations of utilizing Internet technologies in the delivery of mental health services, there is a consensus that online counseling and mental health service will certainly become more popular, out of convenience and/or necessity [70]. Consequently, professionals must understand the clinical, legal, and ethical context of online counseling/therapy. Clinicians should be familiar with the empirical research in order to evaluate the strengths, challenges, and efficacy of online counseling and assist individuals who may be considering online counseling.


As a result of the relatively recent emergence of online counseling, some are concerned that established counseling theories apply specifically to face-to-face counseling and do not translate well to online counseling. It may not be easy to apply traditional theoretical frameworks and principles to online counseling [71]. However, as online practice becomes increasingly routine, more studies will be conducted to evaluate their effectiveness. Over time, a comprehensive knowledge base will be in place for clinicians, professionals, and researchers to utilize.

To date, one of the main challenges with the delivery of Internet counseling and mental health services involves the mechanisms for monitoring quality of services and accountability [72]. There is no established monitoring system to track the credibility and legitimacy of counselors' advertisements. There is also no accountability structure to review and monitor the quality and accuracy of information on websites [72]. These concerns may be amplified in cases of chat rooms or support groups, which may or may not involve a licensed and trained counselor. In some cases, these forums may open clients to a larger number of people who support a destructive behavior or lifestyle, as in the case of a number of pro-anorexia nervosa websites [73].

Another concern with online counseling is based on security and privacy issues. Computer hackers, for example, can access particular websites and compromise the confidentiality, privacy, and security of clients' disclosures as well as payment information, such as credit cards [72]. As online counseling websites become more sophisticated, there is a move toward using the same message security systems utilized by banking institutions [72].

Online counseling may not be conducive and appropriate for clients with severe emotional problems or who have serious psychiatric problems. In an emergency situation in which a client expresses suicidal or homicidal thoughts, counselors may not know where the client is located and be unable to implement emergency plans [72,74]. In addition, they may not be able to warn vulnerable third parties [75]. However, similar challenges exist with telephone counseling or crisis hotlines [74]. Counselors may also have difficulty referring clients to appropriate local resources and services [75]. Even when clients share their locations, counselors may be unfamiliar with the range and quality of services in any given geographic area.

Another concern is the absence of nonverbal cues in online environments, such as chatrooms, e-mails, discussion forums, and even with videoconferencing. Counselors have traditionally relied on nonverbal cues to assist in diagnosing. Due to the lack of nonverbal cues, there is a greater likelihood for counselors to misread and misinterpret text-based messages; therefore, counselors must be careful in interpreting latent meanings [74]. Crying, irritability, and other signs of distress may not be detected, and side effects of medications such as tremors or akathisia may not be evident, even in a video call [76]. The online environment for counseling may not be conducive for certain clients who require visual and auditory cues, including clients who have paranoid tendencies or poor ego strength [74]. The lack of nonverbal cues is also a concern in the formation of a therapeutic alliance and establishment of rapport between the counselor and client.

Some argue that the anonymity offered by online counseling offsets this concern, as anonymity can promote greater rapport building and self-disclosure. Others believe it is impossible for an effective working alliance to be developed in an online environment [72,77]. At this point, the results are mixed at best.

As noted, one of the potential advantages of the online environment is the time delay for both client and counselor responses [74]. It can provide both parties the opportunity to think before they converse. However, the downside of this time delay is that some clients may misinterpret the delay as abandonment or inattention, which can trigger anxiety [74]. Again, online counseling is not suited for everyone. Counselors must properly assess its applicability for each client.

Finally, there are many ethical and legal issues associated with online counseling. Because the Internet is available across state and national boundaries; state and legal jurisdictions by which the counselor practices may not apply [72].

Several states have passed legislation addressing the potential risks, consequences, and benefits to patients who decide to pursue counseling online. These laws generally require that patients must give both oral and written consent stating they are fully aware of the potential risks. In addition, counselors must document whether or not patients have the skills to truly benefit from counseling online [110].

The APA has developed guidelines for counselors who wish to provide telepsychology. These guidelines were created as a direct response to the growing use of technology, which ultimately helps to continue to reach more clients/patients. There are eight guidelines for counselors to consider [111]:

  • Competence of the psychologist: Counselors should be competent with the use of the technologies needed and aware of the possible risks to online counseling.

  • Standards of care in the delivery of telepsychology services: Counselors should make every effort to ensure that ethical and professional standards of care are followed throughout the duration of services.

  • Informed consent: Counselors must obtain informed consent specific to the risks and benefits of telepsychology, including laws that may apply.

  • Confidentiality of data and information: Counselors must protect client data and inform clients about the possible risks of using technology for telepsychology.

  • Security and transmission of data and information: Counselors must use applicable security measures to protect client information.

  • Disposal of data and information and technologies: Counselors should dispose of data and information in a way that reasonably protects it from unauthorized access.

  • Testing and assessment: Counselors should be aware that screenings, tests, and other assessments used with clients may work in different ways when used online than when applied with clients face-to-face.

  • Interjurisdictional practice: Counselors should be aware of laws that may exist when providing services outside one's jurisdiction or internationally.


It is crucial to remember that technology is merely a tool to communicate and impart information. As with any form of communication, the sender and recipient of the message operate within a cultural context. Technologies are described as cultural tools that "transform, augment, and support cognitive engagement" [78]. The atmosphere of online groups, for example, is influenced by members' styles of participation, forms of interactions, roles assumed, and power sharing between members and the facilitator, all of which are influenced by the cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds of the members and the facilitator [78]. Race, culture, ethnicity, and gender influence communication patterns and attitudes toward technology usage.

Race, Culture, and Ethnicity

Johari, Bentley, Tinney, and Chia argue that reasoning pattern differentials and high- and low-context differentials must be taken into account in gaining an understanding of how ethnic minorities and individuals from other cultures assimilate information and communicate through computer technologies [79]. Thinking and reasoning patterns and approaches to problem solving, for example, vary from culture to culture. Individuals from Western countries like the United States tend to use linear reasoning, whereas individuals from Asia, the Mediterranean, and Latin America are characterized by more nonlinear or circular reasoning patterns [79].

Styles of communication can be classified from high-context to low-context [80]. High-context cultures are those cultures that disseminate information relying on shared experience, implicit messages, nonverbal cues, and the relationship between the two parties [81]. They tend to focus on "how" something was conveyed [55]. Low-context cultures rely on verbal communication and focus on what is explicitly stated in the conversation [81]. Western cultures, including the United States, can generally be classified as low-context. On the other hand, groups from collectivistic cultures such as Asian/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, Native Americans, and African Americans are from high-context cultures [80].

Individuals from high-context cultures may require more social context in order to understand the meanings of the communication [79]. E-mail is a technology that can be viewed as more amenable to individuals from low-context cultures [79]. E-mails are perceived as a quick, easy way to communicate, in which the focus is on words to convey both content and meaning [79]. However, this form of communication can place ethnic minorities or individuals from other cultures at a disadvantage. Some experts recommend that when using technology in education and, by extension, counseling, the facilitator should attempt to increase contextual cues [82]. Counselors may choose to provide biographical information about themselves and encourage brief introductions from everyone in an online support group [82]. This process of setting up rich contextual cues will assist in building rapport as well.

High- and low-context culture differentials can also impact the amount of information that can be assimilated. Individuals from high-context cultures (e.g., Korea, Japan) may experience information overload compared to those individuals from low-context cultures (e.g., Germany, the United States) [83]. Counselors should be sensitive to the amount of information a client can process and assimilate.

Other cultural values can influence technology usage. Individuals' attitudes about appropriate uses of time vary from culture to culture [84]. Monochronism refers to preference to perform tasks one at a time; polychronism refers to a preference to parallel task, performing more than one task simultaneously [84]. Certain cultures (e.g., Egypt and Peru) tend to be less concerned with slower technologies with some delay because they adhere to more polychronistic attitudes toward time [83].

Instructors who use Internet technology are cautioned to remember that writing styles, writing structure, web design, and multimedia all influence how students process and assimilate information and that the learning process does not exist in a cultural vacuum [85]. The same applies to Internet counseling. Vocabulary and grammar have varying meanings from culture to culture and signify different levels of respect and politeness [85]. For example, some cultures use more formal language to convey respect. Sentence structures, particularly if they are translated from one language into another, can inadvertently convey a completely different message, or they might sound too direct, appearing to be offensive [85]. Web design is also important, and the design should reflect the language of the cultural group. The English language, for example, is read from left to right, but some cultures read right to left. Therefore, icons and images should reflect these norms [85]. It is also important to remember that images are culturally sensitive and can perpetuate stereotypes [85].

Finally, individuals' perceptions of computer technologies may be influenced by cultural and gender role norms, and understanding cultural differences in attitudes toward computers may have implications in online counseling [86]. One would surmise that some ethnic minority groups may have less favorable attitudes toward computer technology in part due to practical barriers, such as cost and access. One ethnographic study revealed that economics is not the only factor; psychosocial barriers can also affect ethnic minority adults' perceptions about computers [87]. Some participants, for example, did not see themselves as the type of person who used computers. Some thought that computers were a luxury item, and their subcultural identity did not include the image of a computer user [87]. Similarly, in Menard-Warwick and Dabach's case studies of two Mexican families, affective factors included fear in using computers and anxiety revolving around a sense of entitlement [88].

Culturally embedded perceptions about gender roles also color attitudes toward computers. Some Hispanic men stated that computers and typing were considered female subjects in school. In other cases, some participants stated that computers were equated with educational success, but educational achievement was not part of their life tasks and roles [87].


It has been said that Internet and computer usage is male-dominated and that the Internet was developed by men for men [89]. Yet, some argue that the Internet democratizes and minimizes patriarchal communications between men and women in part because there are less social cues in online communication [90]. Consequently, differential status based on gender may potentially be reduced, ultimately equalizing communication patterns [90].

Those who argue that the Internet is male-dominated and reinforces male patriarchy attribute this to early socialization processes favoring males in computer, math, and science subjects [89,91]. In the United States, men and women are roughly equal users of the Internet at home (79.4% and 78.5%, respectively) [103]. Yet, it is important to remember that examining the gender digital divide in terms of statistics of usage is misleading because the culture of gender and general societal expectations of men and women continue to influence attitudes toward Internet usage, computer technologies, and communication patterns and styles in online media.

In general, there are gender differences in how the Internet is used. Men have historically been more likely to use the Internet to find news, play games, seek information, and connect to audio broadcasts. Early on, men gained more sophisticated web skills, and were more comfortable and proficient in developing their own websites and changing preferences [89]. In one study, Weiser found gender differences in Internet patterns and applications [89]. Men had a tendency to use the Internet for entertainment and leisure such as pornography, games, and pursuing sexual relationships, while women were more likely to use the Internet for interpersonal communications and education [89].

Gender differences are also apparent in the content of Internet communications. When examining text of postings in online forums, women tend to gravitate toward topics that have practical ramifications and consequences and are less inclined to be drawn to topics that are abstract and theoretical [92]. They prefer to discuss personal issues, ask questions to solicit information, and give or garner information [92]. Men also may discuss personal issues, but prefer to focus on an issue, give or obtain information, ask questions, and discuss personal matters [92].

In a qualitative study examining gender differences and technology use, particularly women's experiences with the use of the Internet, women were most likely to discuss how e-mail has helped them to keep in touch with family and friends. Instant messaging was also used as a way to keep in touch with children, particularly for single mothers with children at home alone [93]. Men also discussed the ability of the Internet to connect them to family and friends; however, male communication predominantly consisted of providing information, while women connected on a personal level [93].

Male communications are characterized as being more power-conscious; that is, they are more assertive in conveying information and less focused on exchanging information and developing relationships [90]. On the other hand, female communications are described as less power-dominated, as they tend to ask more questions and apologize more often [93]. Postings by female participants in online groups are characterized by more support and encouragement compared to the postings of male participants, who seek and receive information (Table 3) [93,102]. Similarly, Rovai found that the majority of men in online forums tended to utilize an independent voice that was characterized as authoritative, impersonal, and assertive, while the majority of women used a connected voice described as supportive and helpful [94].


Attenuated assertions
Explicit justifications
Personal orientation
Support for others
Strong assertions
Rhetorical questions
Authoritative orientation
Challenges to others
Use of humor and sarcasm

Some scholars argue that by emphasizing these dichotomies, stereotypes about women will be reinforced. Instead, it is important to focus on how the Internet serves to equalize interactions and relationships. Others argue that it is too simplistic to maintain that online communications equalize gender relationships due to the promotion of anonymity, as it might actually heighten stereotypical behavior, promote group norms, and trigger an "us" versus "them" behavior [95]. Interestingly, in one study, researchers found that one way to reduce stereotypical behaviors was to reduce the depersonalization and the anonymity of the online environment. Simply having individuals post their photos and share biographies with other participants in the online environment can promote greater personalization [96].

Regardless of the side of the debate, it is impossible to disregard the power of gender in shaping Internet communications. While some might hail the Internet as democratizing and equalizing gender relations, it is crucial to recognize that gender norms and the effects of socialization may be equally if not more powerful in online media. It should be noted that gender differences in the use of information and communication technology among the younger generations are minimal [105]. However, there is still debate regarding the effect of socialization and generational differences on Internet use behavior; for example, the youngest generations of proficient Internet and social media users have not yet become parents, workers, or spouses. It is too early to know if or how gender will affect online behavior as these individuals transition to adulthood [105]. Clinicians should be aware of the effects of gender on communication patterns and styles in individual and group online counseling.


Various ethical concerns have been raised regarding online counseling. There is some concern that beneficence cannot be fully upheld with the use of electronic communications because the counselor may find it difficult to ensure the client's safety. In part, this safety concern is linked to the issue of privacy and confidentiality. It is nearly impossible to ensure that another party will not intercept the client/counselor interaction or that encryption methods will be foolproof [97]. For example, a client who is accessing the Internet at home could be interrupted by another individual who might see what was written, or an e-mail could be read by other family members, compromising the client's privacy. If a client is using a computer in the workplace, there is a possibility that others may read the online communication. In the United States, an employer has the legal right to read their employees' e-mail communications [71]. In some situations, the compromise of the client's privacy could prove particularly dangerous. Consider a victim of family violence who is caught by the abuser communicating with a counselor or an abuser hacking into the victim's computer system to access private information [97].

Beyond merely ensuring the client's physical safety, some argue it may not be possible for counselors to truly extend beneficence to clients in an online environment because the essence of therapeutic change rests upon the formation of the client-counselor rapport and relationship. However, this argument is based on the belief that a relationship cannot truly be developed in an online environment, an issue that remains controversial [97].

At the heart of the client-counselor relationship is confidentiality. A counselor adheres to the ethical principle that the information provided by the client will remain confidential. Moreover, the Internet does not exist within state or international borders, which then brings legal jurisdictions into question. What regulations about patient/doctor confidentiality will be adhered to, particularly if the counselor resides in one state and the client in another [72]?

As noted, one of the limitations of online counseling is the fact that neither party can be fully confident of the other's identity [72]. The clients may not give their identity, contact information, or physical location. Again, this has implications regarding ensuring client safety. In a traditional counseling relationship, if the client expresses a desire to hurt him/herself or others, the counselor is obligated to report this to the appropriate authorities. If a client never discloses his/her full name or contact information, then the counselor's ability to intervene or report is limited [97,98]. Another concern revolves around minors who lie about their identity and age and who obtain treatment without parental consent [97]. Despite statements indicating that users must be older than 18 years of age or have parental consent, online counselors should still ask for age and birthdate during the intake process [98]. Although a minor could still lie, the online counselor has then done all that is possible to ensure that the client is not a minor [98].

There is also concern about the identity of counselors and their stated qualifications [97]. Online counselors' qualifications vary widely, from unlicensed therapists to licensed social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Again, questions about licensing requirements across legal jurisdictions arise [99]. There is debate about which authorities and jurisdictions should be recognized for activities occurring on the Internet, as online counseling crosses geographical and governmental boundaries [71]. Normally, malpractice insurance is limited to the state(s) where the clinician is licensed to practice; online, the clinician may not be covered in "interstate" suits [76]. Some contend that if the client has accessed the clinician's website, then the client has actually "traveled" to the clinician's state [76]. These ethical and legal issues have not yet been firmly resolved.


Because online counseling has become increasingly popular, national counseling and other related professional organizations must develop ethical codes relating to online and other distance counseling. Clinicians should be familiar with the code of ethics for distance counseling in their professional organization as well as ethical codes in related professional disciplines.

Manhal-Baugus described two main ethical issues pertinent to distance counseling: information that is conveyed to the client about privacy/confidentiality and principles in establishing online relationships [100].

Information Privacy and Confidentiality

The ACA code of ethics highlights specific information that must be conveyed to the client and to the counselor. Counselors, for example, must clearly communicate to clients regarding their identity, qualifications, and areas of expertise. In turn, clients should also provide identification information at the beginning and throughout the relationship [8].

Information related to the inherent limitations of using computer technology and how privacy might be affected when transmitting information should be clearly communicated to clients [8]. Counselors must inform clients whether websites are secure and whether e-mail encryption is employed and should make every effort to ensure this is true. The client must acknowledge in a waiver that he/she understands that there are risks to confidentiality when information is disseminated over the Internet. Finally, all records and e-mail transcripts should be stored in a secure place [8].

Distance Counseling, Technology, and Social Media

Six principles related to establishing and maintaining distance counseling relationships are identified in the ACA's code of ethics [8]:

  • Knowledge and legal considerations: Counselors should have clear understanding of the technical, legal, and ethical aspects of distance counseling, technology, and social media. The laws and regulations of the counselor's practice location and the client's location must be known. Counselors should only practice within their area(s) of expertise.

  • Informed consent and security: Intervention plans should reflect the client's individual needs, and the client should decide whether to use alternatives to face-to-face counseling. The counselor must disclose her or his distance counseling credentials, physical location, and contact information; risks and benefits of distance counseling, technology, or social media; response times; and possible failure of technology and alternatives in this eventuality. Counselors discuss and the client acknowledges the security risks and confidentiality limitations involved with distance counseling.

  • Client verification: Counselors must ensure that the client is who he or she purports to be. Steps must be taken to verify clients' identity throughout the relationship.

  • Distance counseling relationship: Counselors should be sure that clients are completely able use the technology and that the client is suited to distance counseling. Clients should understand that misunderstandings are possible due to lack of nonverbal cues between both individuals in the relationship. If it is assessed and determined that distance counseling is not appropriate, counselors should first consider providing face-to-face services; referrals should be made to alternative services if this is not feasible.

  • Records and web maintenance: Laws and statutes regarding electronic record storage dictate how counselors maintain and secure client files and personal information. Clients should be informed about the security measures and encryption used in their database. If transaction records are archived, counselors should disclose how long these are kept. A distance counselor's licensure and professional certification board information should be linked on their website or personal page, and these links should be regularly updated.

  • Social media: Counselors must maintain separate personal and professional social media profiles and/or web pages. Disclosure of confidential information on public social media or web pages must be avoided. Clients' Internet presence should remain private (even publicly shared information) unless a counselor receives consent.


In its most recent revision of its Code of Ethics, the NBCC added a section addressing telemental health. This section replaces the previous policy for the provision of distance professional services issued by the NBCC in 2016. The following standards are from the 2023 NBCC Code of Ethics [58].

91. Counselors shall provide only those telemental health services for which they are qualified by education and experience.

92. Counselors shall carefully adhere to legal requirements when providing telemental health services. This requirement includes legal regulations from the State(s) in which the counselor and client are located. Counselors shall document relevant State requirements in the relevant client record(s).

93. Counselors shall ensure that the electronic means used in providing telemental health services are in compliance with current Federal and State laws and regulatory standards concerning telemental health service.

94. Counselors shall ensure that all electronic technology communications with clients are encrypted and secure.

95. Counselors shall maintain records of all clinical contacts with telemental health service clients.

96. Counselors shall set clear expectations and boundaries with telemental health service recipients about the type(s) and timing of communications that will be included in service provision. These expectations and boundaries shall be communicated in writing in disclosure documents provided to clients.

97. Counselors shall provide written information to all telemental health clients regarding the protection of client records, accounts and related passwords, electronic communications, and client identity. This information should include a description of the nature of all communication security measures that are used by the counselor, including any risks or limitations related to the provision of telemental health services.

98. Counselors shall communicate information regarding security to clients who receive telemental health services. Telemental health service clients shall be informed of the potential risks of telemental health communications, including warnings about transmitting private information when using a public access computer or one that is on a shared network.

99. Counselors shall screen potential telemental health service clients to determine whether such services are appropriate. These considerations shall be documented in the client’s record. Counselors shall advise telemental health services clients that they must be intentional about protecting their privacy and confidentiality, including advice concerning viewing employer policies relating to the possible prohibitions concerning the use of work computer systems for personal communications, and not using “auto-remember” usernames and passwords.

100. During the screening or intake process, Counselors shall provide potential clients with a detailed written description of the telemental health counseling process and service provision. This information shall be specific to the identified service delivery type, and include relevant considerations for that particular client. These considerations shall include: the appropriateness of telemental health counseling in relation to the specific goal; the format of service delivery; the electronic equipment requirements such as the need for a computer with certain capabilities; the limitations of confidentiality; privacy concerns; the possibility of technological failure; anticipated response time to electronic communication; alternate service delivery processes; and, any additional considerations necessary to assist the potential client in reaching a determination about the appropriateness of the telemental health service delivery format for their needs. Counselors shall discuss this information throughout the service delivery process to ensure that this method satisfies the anticipated goals. The counselor will document such information and the discussion of alternative service options and referrals in the client’s record.

101. Counselors shall prevent the distribution of confidential telemental health client information to unauthorized individuals. Counselors shall discuss actions the client may take to reduce the possibility that such confidential information is sent to unauthorized individuals in error.

102. Counselors shall provide clients of telemental health services with information concerning their professional preparation and/or credentials related to telemental health, and identify the relevant credentialing organization websites.

103. Counselors, either prior to or during the initial session, shall inform clients of the purposes, goals, procedures, limitations, and potential risks and benefits of telemental health services and techniques. Counselors also shall provide information about rights and responsibilities as appropriate to the telemental health service. Counselors also shall discuss with clients the associated challenges that may occur when communicating through telemental health means, including those associated with privacy and confidentiality.

104. In the event that the client of telemental health services is a minor or is unable to provide legal consent, the counselor shall obtain a legal guardian’s consent prior to the provision of services unless otherwise required by State law. Counselors shall retain documentation indicating the legal guardian’s identity and consent in the client’s file.

105. Counselors will provide clients of telemental health services with specific written procedures regarding emergency assistance situations related to a client. This information shall include the identification of emergency responders near the client’s location. Counselors shall take reasonable steps to secure referrals for recipients when needed for emergencies. Counselors shall provide information to clients concerning the importance of identifying personal contacts in the event of identified emergency situations, and shall ask clients to identify such contacts. Counselors also shall identify to the clients the circumstances in which the counselor will communicate with emergency contacts, and the information that will be shared with emergency contacts.

106. Counselors shall develop written procedures for verifying the identity of each telemental health client, their current location, and readiness to proceed at the beginning of each contact. Examples of verification include the use of code words, phrases, or inquiries, such as “Is this a good time to proceed?”.

107. Counselors shall limit use of client information obtained through social media sources (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) in accordance with established practice procedures provided to the client at the initiation of services and as adopted through the ongoing informed consent process.

108. Counselors shall retain telemental health service records for a minimum of five (5) years unless applicable State laws require additional time. Counselors shall limit the use of such client records to those permitted by law and professional standards, and as specified by the agreement terms with the respective telemental health services client.

As previously indicated, all professional organizations have their own codes of ethics, and many of these ethical principles overlap. It is important to remember that counselors are bound to their employer's code of ethics, but often, professional organizations will explicitly highlight principles directly related to online counseling. Counselors are encouraged to review and become familiar with other organizations' codes of ethics.


Interprofessional collaboration is defined as a partnership or network of providers who work in a concerted and coordinated effort on a common goal for clients and their families to improve health, mental health, and social and/or family outcomes [132]. It involves the interaction of two or more disciplines or professions who work collaboratively with the client on an identified issue [133]. Providers come together to discuss and address the same client problem from different lenses, which can ultimately produce more inventive and effective solutions [134]. The client/patient is not excluded from the process; rather, shared decision making by all team members advances the goal of improving client/patient outcome(s) [132].

Interprofessional collaborations have been touted for multiple reasons. Positive outcomes have been demonstrated on individual and organizational levels. For example, on the client level, reduced mortality, increased safety and satisfaction, and improved health outcomes and quality of life have been demonstrated [135,136,137]. Practitioners also experience benefits, including increased job satisfaction, staff retention, improved working relationships, and more innovative solutions to problems [135,137,138].

There is a difference between the traditional model of professional ethics and interprofessional ethics [139]. The traditional model revolves around a single profession's unique code of ethics, which addresses the specific profession's roles, expertise, core values, and ethical behaviors. Each professional's code of ethics demands the practitioner's loyalty and commitment to the values, specialty, and expertise [139]. On the other hand, interprofessional ethics emphasizes the relationship and interactions of practitioners from different professions and the unique ethical issues that emerge from working with a diverse team (e.g., interpersonal conflict, misuse of power, respect) [139]. Practitioners in an interprofessional setting should engage in collective interprofessional ethics work, which is defined as "the effort cooperating professionals put into collectively developing themselves as good practitioners, collectively seeing ethical aspects of situations, collectively working out the right course of action, and collectively justifying who they are and what they do" [140].


The application of ethical theories and ethical decision making is challenging. Without a background of knowledge and understanding, counselors will struggle to make sound decisions about ethical problems and be unable to help clients and families in their decision making. Although every situation differs, decision making based upon ethical theories can provide a useful means for solving problems related to client situations. Hopefully, as a result of this course, you feel more prepared and confident in facing future ethical decision-making situations.


Counselors play an important role in advocacy and education. To be more effective, counseling professionals may require additional resources.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
American Counseling Association Code of Ethics
APA Ethics Office
Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions
This center was established in 1976 for the purpose of promoting education and scholarship relating to the professions.
Ethics and Compliance Initiative
The Ethics and Compliance Initiative aims to strengthen ethical leadership worldwide by providing leading-edge expertise and services through research, education and partnerships. Although this may not be completely targeted to counselors, there are some resources that may be appropriate.
Ethics Updates
Ethics Updates is designed primarily to be used by ethics instructors and their students. It is intended to provide updates on current literature, both popular and professional, that relates to ethics.
NASW Code of Ethics
A code of ethics for social workers that may be used as a resource for counselors.
National Board for Certified Counselors: Ethics Policies and Procedures
W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics


This appendix contains the entirety of the ACA Code of Ethics. It is reprinted with permission from the American Counseling Association.



Counselors facilitate client growth and development in ways that foster the interest and welfare of clients and promote formation of healthy relationships. Trust is the cornerstone of the counseling relationship, and counselors have the responsibility to respect and safeguard the client's right to privacy and confidentiality. Counselors actively attempt to understand the diverse cultural backgrounds of the clients they serve. Counselors also explore their own cultural identities and how these affect their values and beliefs about the counseling process. Additionally, counselors are encouraged to contribute to society by devoting a portion of their professional activities for little or no financial return (pro bono publico).

A.1. Client Welfare

A.1.a. Primary Responsibility

The primary responsibility of counselors is to respect the dignity and promote the welfare of clients.

A.1.b. Records and Documentation

Counselors create, safeguard, and maintain documentation necessary for rendering professional services. Regardless of the medium, counselors include sufficient and timely documentation to facilitate the delivery and continuity of services. Counselors take reasonable steps to ensure that documentation accurately reflects client progress and services provided. If amendments are made to records and documentation, counselors take steps to properly note the amendments according to agency or institutional policies.

A.1.c. Counseling Plans

Counselors and their clients work jointly in devising counseling plans that offer reasonable promise of success and are consistent with the abilities, temperament, developmental level, and circumstances of clients. Counselors and clients regularly review and revise counseling plans to assess their continued viability and effectiveness, respecting clients' freedom of choice.

A.1.d. Support Network Involvement

Counselors recognize that support networks hold various meanings in the lives of clients and consider enlisting the support, understanding, and involvement of others (e.g., religious/spiritual/community leaders, family members, friends) as positive resources, when appropriate, with client consent.

A.2. Informed Consent in the Counseling Relationship

A.2.a. Informed Consent

Clients have the freedom to choose whether to enter into or remain in a counseling relationship and need adequate information about the counseling process and the counselor. Counselors have an obligation to review in writing and verbally with clients the rights and responsibilities of both counselors and clients. Informed consent is an ongoing part of the counseling process, and counselors appropriately document discussions of informed consent throughout the counseling relationship.

A.2.b. Types of Information Needed

Counselors explicitly explain to clients the nature of all services provided. They inform clients about issues such as, but not limited to, the following: the purposes, goals, techniques, procedures, limitations, potential risks, and benefits of services; the counselor's qualifications, credentials, relevant experience, and approach to counseling; continuation of services upon the incapacitation or death of the counselor; the role of technology; and other pertinent information. Counselors take steps to ensure that clients understand the implications of diagnosis and the intended use of tests and reports. Additionally, counselors inform clients about fees and billing arrangements, including procedures for nonpayment of fees. Clients have the right to confidentiality and to be provided with an explanation of its limits (including how supervisors and/or treatment or interdisciplinary team professionals are involved), to obtain clear information about their records, to participate in the ongoing counseling plans, and to refuse any services or modality changes and to be advised of the consequences of such refusal.

A.2.c. Developmental and Cultural Sensitivity

Counselors communicate information in ways that are both developmentally and culturally appropriate. Counselors use clear and understandable language when discussing issues related to informed consent. When clients have difficulty understanding the language that counselors use, counselors provide necessary services (e.g., arranging for a qualified interpreter or translator) to ensure comprehension by clients. In collaboration with clients, counselors consider cultural implications of informed consent procedures and, where possible, counselors adjust their practices accordingly.

A.2.d. Inability to Give Consent

When counseling minors, incapacitated adults, or other persons unable to give voluntary consent, counselors seek the assent of clients to services and include them in decision making as appropriate. Counselors recognize the need to balance the ethical rights of clients to make choices, their capacity to give consent or assent to receive services, and parental or familial legal rights and responsibilities to protect these clients and make decisions on their behalf.

A.2.e. Mandated Clients

Counselors discuss the required limitations to confidentiality when working with clients who have been mandated for counseling services. Counselors also explain what type of information and with whom that information is shared prior to the beginning of counseling. The client may choose to refuse services. In this case, counselors will, to the best of their ability, discuss with the client the potential consequences of refusing counseling services.

A.3. Clients Served by Others

When counselors learn that their clients are in a professional relationship with other mental health professionals, they request release from clients to inform the other professionals and strive to establish positive and collaborative professional relationships.

A.4. Avoiding Harm and Imposing Values

A.4.a. Avoiding Harm

Counselors act to avoid harming their clients, trainees, and research participants and to minimize or to remedy unavoidable or unanticipated harm.

A.4.b. Personal Values

Counselors are aware of—and avoid imposing—their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor's values are inconsistent with the client's goals or are discriminatory in nature.

A.5. Prohibited Noncounseling Roles and Relationships

A.5.a. Sexual and/or Romantic Relationships Prohibited

Sexual and/or romantic counselor-client interactions or relationships with current clients, their romantic partners, or their family members are prohibited. This prohibition applies to both in-person and electronic interactions or relationships.

A.5.b. Previous Sexual and/or Romantic Relationships

Counselors are prohibited from engaging in counseling relationships with persons with whom they have had a previous sexual and/or romantic relationship.

A.5.c. Sexual and/or Romantic Relationships with Former Clients

Sexual and/or romantic counselor-client interactions or relationships with former clients, their romantic partners, or their family members are prohibited for a period of 5 years following the last professional contact. This prohibition applies to both in-person and electronic interactions or relationships. Counselors, before engaging in sexual and/or romantic interactions or relationships with former clients, their romantic partners, or their family members, demonstrate forethought and document (in written form) whether the interaction or relationship can be viewed as exploitive in any way and/or whether there is still potential to harm the former client; in cases of potential exploitation and/or harm, the counselor avoids entering into such an interaction or relationship.

A.5.d. Friends or Family Members

Counselors are prohibited from engaging in counseling relationships with friends or family members with whom they have an inability to remain objective.

A.5.e. Personal Virtual Relationships with Current Clients

Counselors are prohibited from engaging in a personal virtual relationship with individuals with whom they have a current counseling relationship (e.g., through social and other media).

A.6. Managing and Maintaining Boundaries and Professional Relationships

A.6.a. Previous Relationships

Counselors consider the risks and benefits of accepting as clients those with whom they have had a previous relationship. These potential clients may include individuals with whom the counselor has had a casual, distant, or past relationship. Examples include mutual or past membership in a professional association, organization, or community. When counselors accept these clients, they take appropriate professional precautions such as informed consent, consultation, supervision, and documentation to ensure that judgment is not impaired and no exploitation occurs.

A.6.b. Extending Counseling Boundaries

Counselors consider the risks and benefits of extending current counseling relationships beyond conventional parameters. Examples include attending a client's formal ceremony (e.g., a wedding/commitment ceremony or graduation), purchasing a service or product provided by a client (excepting unrestricted bartering), and visiting a client's ill family member in the hospital. In extending these boundaries, counselor stake appropriate professional precautions such as informed consent, consultation, supervision, and documentation to ensure that judgment is not impaired and no harm occurs.

A.6.c. Documenting Boundary Extensions

If counselors extend boundaries as described in A.6.a. and A.6.b., they must officially document, prior to the interaction (when feasible), the rationale for such an interaction, the potential benefit, and anticipated consequences for the client or former client and other individuals significantly involved with the client or former client. When unintentional harm occurs to the client or former client, or to an individual significantly involved with the client or former client, the counselor must show evidence of an attempt to remedy such harm.

A.6.d. Role Changes in the Professional Relationship

When counselors change a role from the original or most recent contracted relationship, they obtain informed consent from the client and explain the client's right to refuse services related to the change. Examples of role changes include, but are not limited to:

  1. Changing from individual to relationship or family counseling, or vice versa;

  2. Changing from an evaluative role to a therapeutic role, or vice versa; and

  3. Changing from a counselor to a mediator role, or vice versa.

Clients must be fully informed of any anticipated consequences (e.g., financial, legal, personal, therapeutic) of counselor role changes.

A.6.e. Nonprofessional Interactions or Relationships (Other Than Sexual or Romantic Interactions or Relationships)

Counselors avoid entering into non-professional relationships with former clients, their romantic partners, or their family members when the interaction is potentially harmful to the client. This applies to both in-person and electronic interactions or relationships.

A.7. Roles and Relationships at Individual, Group, Institutional, and Societal Levels

A.7.a. Advocacy

When appropriate, counselors advocate at individual, group, institutional, and societal levels to address potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients.

A.7.b. Confidentiality and Advocacy

Counselors obtain client consent prior to engaging in advocacy efforts on behalf of an identifiable client to improve the provision of services and to work toward removal of systemic barriers or obstacles that inhibit client access, growth, and development.

A.8. Multiple Clients

When a counselor agrees to provide counseling services to two or more persons who have a relationship, the counselor clarifies at the outset which person or persons are clients and the nature of the relationships the counselor will have with each involved person. If it becomes apparent that the counselor may be called upon to perform potentially conflicting roles, the counselor will clarify, adjust, or withdraw from roles appropriately.

A.9. Group Work

A.9.a. Screening

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 well-being will not be jeopardized by the group experience.

A.9.b. Protecting Clients

In a group setting, counselors take reasonable precautions to protect clients from physical, emotional, or psychological trauma.

A.10. Fees and Business Practices

A.10.a. Self-Referral

Counselors working in an organization (e.g., school, agency, institution) that provides counseling services do not refer clients to their private practice unless the policies of a particular organization make explicit provisions for self-referrals. In such instances, the clients must be informed of other options open to them should they seek private counseling services.

A.10.b. Unacceptable Business Practices

Counselors do not participate in fee splitting, nor do they give or receive commissions, rebates, or any other form of remuneration when referring clients for professional services.

A.10.c. Establishing Fees

In establishing fees for professional counseling services, counselors consider the financial status of clients and locality. If a counselor's usual fees create undue hardship for the client, the counselor may adjust fees, when legally permissible, or assist the client in locating comparable, affordable services.

A.10.d. Nonpayment of Fees

If counselors intend to use collection agencies or take legal measures to collect fees from clients who do not pay for services as agreed upon, they include such information in their informed consent documents and also inform clients in a timely fashion of intended actions and offer clients the opportunity to make payment.

A.10.e. Bartering

Counselors may barter only if the bartering does not result in exploitation or harm, if the client requests it, and if such arrangements are an accepted practice among professionals in the community. Counselors consider the cultural implications of bartering and discuss relevant concerns with clients and document such agreements in a clear written contract.

A.10.f. Receiving Gifts

Counselors understand the challenges of accepting gifts from clients and recognize that in some cultures, small gifts are a token of respect and gratitude. When determining whether to accept a gift from clients, counselors take into account the therapeutic relationship, the monetary value of the gift, the client's motivation for giving the gift, and the counselor's motivation for wanting to accept or decline the gift.

A.11. Termination and Referral

A.11.a. Competence within Termination and Referral

If counselors lack the competence to be of professional assistance to clients, they avoid entering or continuing counseling relationships. Counselors are knowledgeable about culturally and clinically appropriate referral resources and suggest these alternatives. If clients decline the suggested referrals, counselors discontinue the relationship.

A.11.b. Values within Termination and Referral

Counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor's personally held values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor's values are inconsistent with the client's goals or are discriminatory in nature.

A.11.c. Appropriate Termination

Counselors terminate a counseling relationship when it becomes reasonably apparent that the client no longer needs assistance, is not likely to benefit, or is being harmed by continued counseling. Counselors may terminate counseling when in jeopardy of harm by the client or by another person with whom the client has a relationship, or when clients do not pay fees as agreed upon. Counselors provide pre termination counseling and recommend other service providers when necessary.

A.11.d. Appropriate Transfer of Services

When counselors transfer or refer clients to other practitioners, they ensure that appropriate clinical and administrative processes are completed and open communication is maintained with both clients and practitioners.

A.12. Abandonment and Client Neglect

Counselors do not abandon or neglect clients in counseling. Counselors assist in making appropriate arrangements for the continuation of treatment, when necessary, during interruptions such as vacations, illness, and following termination.



Counselors recognize that trust is a cornerstone of the counseling relationship. Counselors aspire to earn the trust of clients by creating an ongoing partnership, establishing and upholding appropriate boundaries, and maintaining confidentiality. Counselors communicate the parameters of confidentiality in a culturally competent manner.

B.1. Respecting Client Rights

B.1.a. Multicultural/Diversity Considerations

Counselors maintain awareness and sensitivity regarding cultural meanings of confidentiality and privacy. Counselors respect differing views toward disclosure of information. Counselors hold ongoing discussions with clients as to how, when, and with whom information is to be shared.

B.1.b. Respect for Privacy

Counselors respect the privacy of prospective and current clients. Counselors request private information from clients only when it is beneficial to the counseling process.

B.1.c. Respect for Confidentiality

Counselors protect the confidential information of prospective and current clients. Counselors disclose information only with appropriate consent or with sound legal or ethical justification.

B.1.d. Explanation of Limitations

At initiation and throughout the counseling process, counselors inform clients of the limitations of confidentiality and seek to identify situations in which confidentiality must be breached.

B.2. Exceptions

B.2.a. Serious and Foreseeable Harm and Legal Requirements

The general requirement that counselors keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is required to protect clients or identified others from serious and foreseeable harm or when legal requirements demand that confidential information must be revealed. Counselors consult with other professionals when in doubt as to the validity of an exception. Additional considerations apply when addressing end-of-life issues.

B.2.b. Confidentiality Regarding End-of-Life Decisions

Counselors who provide services to terminally ill individuals who are considering hastening their own deaths have the option to maintain confidentiality, depending on applicable laws and the specific circumstances of the situation and after seeking consultation or supervision from appropriate professional and legal parties.

B.2.c. Contagious, Life-Threatening Diseases

When clients disclose that they have a disease commonly known to be both communicable and life threatening, counselors may be justified in disclosing information to identifiable third parties, if the parties are known to be at serious and foreseeable risk of contracting the disease. Prior to making a disclosure, counselors assess the intent of clients to inform the third parties about their disease or to engage in any behaviors that may be harmful to an identifiable third party. Counselors adhere to relevant state laws concerning disclosure about disease status.

B.2.d. Court-Ordered Disclosure

When ordered by a court to release confidential or privileged information without a client's permission, counselors seek to obtain written, informed consent from the client or take steps to prohibit the disclosure or have it limited as narrowly as possible because of potential harm to the client or counseling relationship.

B.2.e. Minimal Disclosure

To the extent possible, clients are informed before confidential information is disclosed and are involved in the disclosure decision-making process. When circumstances require the disclosure of confidential information, only essential information is revealed.

B.3. Information Shared with Others

B.3.a. Subordinates

Counselors make every effort to ensure that privacy and confidentiality of clients are maintained by subordinates, including employees, supervisees, students, clerical assistants, and volunteers.

B.3.b. Interdisciplinary Teams

When services provided to the client involve participation by an interdisciplinary or treatment team, the client will be informed of the team's existence and composition, information being shared, and the purposes of sharing such information.

B.3.c. Confidential Settings

Counselors discuss confidential information only in settings in which they can reasonably ensure client privacy.

B.3.d. Third-Party Payers

Counselors disclose information to third-party payers only when clients have authorized such disclosure.

B.3.e. Transmitting Confidential Information

Counselors take precautions to ensure the confidentiality of all information transmitted through the use of any medium.

B.3.f. Deceased Clients

Counselors protect the confidentiality of deceased clients, consistent with legal requirements and the documented preferences of the client.

B.4. Groups and Families

B.4.a. Group Work

In group work, counselors clearly explain the importance and parameters of confidentiality for the specific group.

B.4.b. Couples and Family Counseling

In couples and family counseling, counselors clearly define who is considered "the client" and discuss expectations and limitations of confidentiality. Counselors seek agreement and document in writing such agreement among all involved parties regarding the confidentiality of information. In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the couple or family is considered to be the client.

B.5. Clients Lacking Capacity to Give Informed Consent

B.5.a. Responsibility to Clients

When counseling minor clients or adult clients who lack the capacity to give voluntary, informed consent, counselors protect the confidentiality of information received—in any medium—in the counseling relationship as specified by federal and state laws, written policies, and applicable ethical standards.

B.5.b. Responsibility to Parents and Legal Guardians

Counselors inform parents and legal guardians about the role of counselors and the confidential nature of the counseling relationship, consistent with current legal and custodial arrangements. Counselors are sensitive to the cultural diversity of families and respect the inherent rights and responsibilities of parents/guardians regarding the welfare of their children/charges according to law. Counselors work to establish, as appropriate, collaborative relationships with parents/guardians to best serve clients.

B.5.c. Release of Confidential Information

When counseling minor clients or adult clients who lack the capacity to give voluntary consent to release confidential information, counselors seek permission from an appropriate third party to disclose information. In such instances, counselors inform clients consistent with their level of understanding and take appropriate measures to safeguard client confidentiality.

B.6. Records and Documentation

B.6.a. Creating and Maintaining Records and Documentation

Counselors create and maintain records and documentation necessary for rendering professional services.

B.6.b. Confidentiality of Records and Documentation

Counselors ensure that records and documentation kept in any medium are secure and that only authorized persons have access to them.

B.6.c. Permission to Record

Counselors obtain permission from clients prior to recording sessions through electronic or other means.

B.6.d. Permission to Observe

Counselors obtain permission from clients prior to allowing any person to observe counseling sessions, review session transcripts, or view recordings of sessions with supervisors, faculty, peers, or others within the training environment.

B.6.e. Client Access

Counselors provide reasonable access to records and copies of records when requested by competent clients. Counselors limit the access of clients to their records, or portions of their records, only when there is compelling evidence that such access would cause harm to the client. Counselors document the request of clients and the rationale for withholding some or all of the records in the files of clients. In situations involving multiple clients, counselors provide individual clients with only those parts of records that relate directly to them and do not include confidential information related to any other client.

B.6.f. Assistance with Records

When clients request access to their records, counselors provide assistance and consultation in interpreting counseling records.

B.6.g. Disclosure or Transfer

Unless exceptions to confidentiality exist, counselors obtain written permission from clients to disclose or transfer records to legitimate third parties. Steps are taken to ensure that receivers of counseling records are sensitive to their confidential nature.

B.6.h. Storage and Disposal After Termination

Counselors store records following termination of services to ensure reasonable future access, maintain records in accordance with federal and state laws and statutes such as licensure laws and policies governing records, and dispose of client records and other sensitive materials in a manner that protects client confidentiality. Counselors apply careful discretion and deliberation before destroying records that may be needed by a court of law, such as notes on child abuse, suicide, sexual harassment, or violence.

B.6.i. Reasonable Precautions

Counselors take reasonable precautions to protect client confidentiality in the event of the counselor's termination of practice, incapacity, or death and appoint a records custodian when identified as appropriate.

B.7. Case Consultation

B.7.a. Respect for Privacy

Information shared in a consulting relationship is discussed for professional purposes only. Written and oral reports present only data germane to the purposes of the consultation, and every effort is made to protect client identity and to avoid undue invasion of privacy.

B.7.b. Disclosure of Confidential Information

When consulting with colleagues, counselors do not disclose confidential information that reasonably could lead to the identification of a client or other person or organization with whom they have a confidential relationship unless they have obtained the prior consent of the person or organization or the disclosure cannot be avoided. They disclose information only to the extent necessary to achieve the purposes of the consultation.



Counselors aspire to open, honest, and accurate communication in dealing with the public and other professionals. Counselors facilitate access to counseling services, and they practice in a nondiscriminatory manner within the boundaries of professional and personal competence; they also have a responsibility to abide by the ACA Code of Ethics. Counselors actively participate in local, state, and national associations that foster the development and improvement of counseling. Counselors are expected to advocate to promote changes at the individual, group, institutional, and societal levels that improve the quality of life for individuals and groups and remove potential barriers to the provision or access of appropriate services being offered. Counselors have a responsibility to the public to engage in counseling practices that are based on rigorous research methodologies. Counselors are encouraged to contribute to society by devoting a portion of their professional activity to services for which there is little or no financial return (probono publico). In addition, counselors engage in self-care activities to maintain and promote their own emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being to best meet their professional responsibilities.

C.1. Knowledge of and Compliance with Standards

Counselors have a responsibility to read, understand, and follow the ACA Code of Ethics and adhere to applicable laws and regulations.

C.2. Professional Competence

C.2.a. Boundaries of Competence

Counselors practice only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, state and national professional credentials, and appropriate professional experience. Whereas multicultural counseling competency is required across all counseling specialties, counselors gain knowledge, personal awareness, sensitivity, dispositions, and skills pertinent to being a culturally competent counselor in working with a diverse client population.

C.2.b. New Specialty Areas of Practice

Counselors practice in specialty areas new to them only after appropriate education, training, and supervised experience. While developing skills in new specialty areas, counselors take steps to ensure the competence of their work and protect others from possible harm.

C.2.c. Qualified for Employment

Counselors accept employment only for positions for which they are qualified given their education, training, supervised experience, state and national professional credentials, and appropriate professional experience. Counselors hire for professional counseling positions only individuals who are qualified and competent for those positions.

C.2.d. Monitor Effectiveness

Counselors continually monitor their effectiveness as professionals and take steps to improve when necessary. Counselors take reasonable steps to seek peer supervision to evaluate their efficacy as counselors.

C.2.e. Consultations on Ethical Obligations

Counselors take reasonable steps to consult with other counselors, the ACA Ethics and Professional Standards Department, or related professionals when they have questions regarding their ethical obligations or professional practice.

C.2.f. Continuing Education

Counselors recognize the need for continuing education to acquire and maintain a reasonable level of awareness of current scientific and professional information in their fields of activity. Counselors maintain their competence in the skills they use, are open to new procedures, and remain informed regarding best practices for working with diverse populations.

C.2.g. Impairment

Counselors monitor themselves for signs of impairment from their own physical, mental, or emotional problems and refrain from offering or providing professional services when impaired. They seek assistance for problems that reach the level of professional impairment, and, if necessary, they limit, suspend, or terminate their professional responsibilities until it is determined that they may safely resume their work. Counselors assist colleagues or supervisors in recognizing their own professional impairment and provide consultation and assistance when warranted with colleagues or supervisors showing signs of impairment and intervene as appropriate to prevent imminent harm to clients.

C.2.h. Counselor Incapacitation, Death, Retirement, or Termination of Practice

Counselors prepare a plan for the transfer of clients and the dissemination of records to an identified colleague or records custodian in the case of the counselor's incapacitation, death, retirement, or termination of practice.

C.3. Advertising and Soliciting Clients

C.3.a. Accurate Advertising

When advertising or otherwise representing their services to the public, counselors identify their credentials in an accurate manner that is not false, misleading, deceptive, or fraudulent.

C.3.b. Testimonials

Counselors who use testimonials do not solicit them from current clients, former clients, or any other persons who may be vulnerable to undue influence. Counselors discuss with clients the implications of and obtain permission for the use of any testimonial.

C.3.c. Statements by Others

When feasible, counselors make reasonable efforts to ensure that statements made by others about them or about the counseling profession are accurate.

C.3.d. Recruiting Through Employment

Counselors do not use their places of employment or institutional affiliation to recruit clients, supervisors, or consultees for their private practices.

C.3.e. Products and Training Advertisements

Counselors who develop products related to their profession or conduct workshops or training events ensure that the advertisements concerning these products or events are accurate and disclose adequate information for consumers to make informed choices.

C.3.f. Promoting to Those Served

Counselors do not use counseling, teaching, training, or supervisory relationships to promote their products or training events in a manner that is deceptive or would exert undue influence on individuals who may be vulnerable. However, counselor educators may adopt textbooks they have authored for instructional purposes.

C.4. Professional Qualifications

C.4.a. Accurate Representation

Counselors claim or imply only professional qualifications actually completed and correct any known misrepresentations of their qualifications by others. Counselors truthfully represent the qualifications of their professional colleagues. Counselors clearly distinguish between paid and volunteer work experience and accurately describe their continuing education and specialized training.

C.4.b. Credentials

Counselors claim only licenses or certifications that are current and in good standing.

C.4.c. Educational Degrees

Counselors clearly differentiate between earned and honorary degrees.

C.4.d. Implying Doctoral-Level Competence

Counselors clearly state their highest earned degree in counseling or a closely related field. Counselors do not imply doctoral-level competence when possessing a master's degree in counseling or a related field by referring to themselves as "Dr." in a counseling context when their doctorate is not in counseling or a related field. Counselors do not use "ABD" (all but dissertation) or other such terms to imply competency.

C.4.e. Accreditation Status

Counselors accurately represent the accreditation status of their degree program and college/university.

C.4.f. Professional Membership

Counselors clearly differentiate between current, active memberships and former memberships in associations. Members of ACA must clearly differentiate between professional membership, which implies the possession of at least a master's degree in counseling, and regular membership, which is open to individuals whose interests and activities are consistent with those of ACA but are not qualified for professional membership.

C.5. Nondiscrimination

Counselors do not condone or engage in discrimination against prospective or current clients, students, employees, supervisees, or research participants based on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/partnership status, language preference, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or any basis proscribed by law.

C.6. Public Responsibility

C.6.a. Sexual Harassment

Counselors do not engage in or condone sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can consist of a single intense or severe act, or multiple persistent or pervasive acts.

C.6.b. Reports to Third Parties

Counselors are accurate, honest, and objective in reporting their professional activities and judgments to appropriate third parties, including courts, health insurance companies, those who are the recipients of evaluation reports, and others.

C.6.c. Media Presentations

When counselors provide advice or comment by means of public lectures, demonstrations, radio or television programs, recordings, technology-based applications, printed articles, mailed material, or other media, they take reasonable precautions to ensure that:

  1. The statements are based on appropriate professional counseling literature and practice,

  2. The statements are otherwise consistent with the ACA Code of Ethics, and

  3. The recipients of the information are not encouraged to infer that a professional counseling relationship has been established.

C.6.d. Exploitation of Others

Counselors do not exploit others in their professional relationships.

C.6.e. Contributing to the Public Good (Pro Bono Publico)

Counselors make a reasonable effort to provide services to the public for which there is little or no financial return (e.g., speaking to groups, sharing professional information, offering reduced fees).

C.7. Treatment Modalities

C.7.a. Scientific Basis for Treatment

When providing services, counselors use techniques/procedures/modalities that are grounded in theory and/or have an empirical or scientific foundation.

C.7.b. Development and Innovation

When counselors use developing or innovative techniques/procedures/modalities, they explain the potential risks, benefits, and ethical considerations of using such techniques/procedures/modalities. Counselors work to minimize any potential risks or harm when using these techniques/procedures/modalities.

C.7.c. Harmful Practices

Counselors do not use techniques/procedures/modalities when substantial evidence suggests harm, even if such services are requested.

C.8. Responsibility to Other Professionals

C.8.a. Personal Public Statements

When making personal statements in a public context, counselors clarify that they are speaking from their personal perspectives and that they are not speaking on behalf of all counselors or the profession.



Professional counselors recognize that the quality of their interactions with colleagues can influence the quality of services provided to clients. They work to become knowledgeable about colleagues within and outside the field of counseling. Counselors develop positive working relationships and systems of communication with colleagues to enhance services to clients.

D.1. Relationships with Colleagues, Employers, and Employees

D.1.a. Different Approaches

Counselors are respectful of approaches that are grounded in theory and/or have an empirical or scientific foundation but may differ from their own. Counselors acknowledge the expertise of other professional groups and are respectful of their practices.

D.1.b. Forming Relationships

Counselors work to develop and strengthen relationships with colleagues from other disciplines to best serve clients.

D.1.c. Interdisciplinary Teamwork

Counselors who are members of interdisciplinary teams delivering multifaceted services to clients remain focused on how to best serve clients. They participate in and contribute to decisions that affect the well-being of clients by drawing on the perspectives, values, and experiences of the counseling profession and those of colleagues from other disciplines.

D.1.d. Establishing Professional and Ethical Obligations

Counselors who are members of interdisciplinary teams work together with team members to clarify professional and ethical obligations of the team as a whole and of its individual members. When a team decision raises ethical concerns, counselors first attempt to resolve the concern within the team. If they cannot reach resolution among team members, counselors pursue other avenues to address their concerns consistent with client well-being.

D.1.e. Confidentiality

When counselors are required by law, institutional policy, or extraordinary circumstances to serve in more than one role in judicial or administrative proceedings, they clarify role expectations and the parameters of confidentiality with their colleagues.

D.1.f. Personnel Selection and Assignment

When counselors are in a position requiring personnel selection and/or assigning of responsibilities to others, they select competent staff and assign responsibilities compatible with their skills and experiences.

D.1.g. Employer Policies

The acceptance of employment in an agency or institution implies that counselors are in agreement with its general policies and principles. Counselors strive to reach agreement with employers regarding acceptable standards of client care and professional conduct that allow for changes in institutional policy conducive to the growth and development of clients.

D.1.h. Negative Conditions

Counselors alert their employers of inappropriate policies and practices. They attempt to effect changes in such policies or procedures through constructive action within the organization. When such policies are potentially disruptive or damaging to clients or may limit the effectiveness of services provided and change cannot be affected, counselors take appropriate further action. Such action may include referral to appropriate certification, accreditation, or state licensure organizations, or voluntary termination of employment.

D.1.i. Protection From Punitive Action

Counselors do not harass a colleague or employee or dismiss an employee who has acted in a responsible and ethical manner to expose inappropriate employer policies or practices.

D.2. Provision of Consultation Services

D.2.a. Consultant Competency

Counselors take reasonable steps to ensure that they have the appropriate resources and competencies when providing consultation services. Counselors provide appropriate referral resources when requested or needed.

D.2.b. Informed Consent in Formal Consultation

When providing formal consultation services, counselors have an obligation to review, in writing and verbally, the rights and responsibilities of both counselors and consultees. Counselors use clear and understandable language to inform all parties involved about the purpose of the services to be provided, relevant costs, potential risks and benefits, and the limits of confidentiality.



Counselors use assessment as one component of the counseling process, taking into account the clients' personal and cultural context. Counselors promote the well-being of individual clients or groups of clients by developing and using appropriate educational, mental health, psychological, and career assessments.

E.1. General

E.1.a. Assessment

The primary purpose of educational, mental health, psychological, and career assessment is to gather information regarding the client for a variety of purposes, including, but not limited to, client decision making, treatment planning, and forensic proceedings. Assessment may include both qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

E.1.b. Client Welfare

Counselors do not misuse assessment results and interpretations, and they take reasonable steps to prevent others from misusing the information provided. They respect the client's right to know the results, the interpretations made, and the bases for counselors' conclusions and recommendations.

E.2. Competence to Use and Interpret Assessment Instruments

E.2.a. Limits of Competence

Counselors use only those testing and assessment services for which they have been trained and are competent. Counselors using technology-assisted test interpretations are trained in the construct being measured and the specific instrument being used prior to using its technology-based application. Counselors take reasonable measures to ensure the proper use of assessment techniques by persons under their supervision.

E.2.b. Appropriate Use

Counselors are responsible for the appropriate application, scoring, interpretation, and use of assessment instruments relevant to the needs of the client, whether they score and interpret such assessments themselves or use technology or other services.

E.2.c. Decisions Based on Results

Counselors responsible for decisions involving individuals or policies that are based on assessment results have a thorough understanding of psychometrics.

E.3. Informed Consent in Assessment

E.3.a. Explanation to Clients

Prior to assessment, counselors explain the nature and purposes of assessment and the specific use of results by potential recipients. The explanation will be given in terms and language that the client (or other legally authorized person on behalf of the client) can understand.

E.3.b. Recipients of Results

Counselors consider the client's and/or examinee's welfare, explicit understandings, and prior agreements in determining who receives the assessment results. Counselors include accurate and appropriate interpretations with any release of individual or group assessment results.

E.4. Release of Data to Qualified Personnel

Counselors release assessment data in which the client is identified only with the consent of the client or the client's legal representative. Such data are released only to persons recognized by counselors as qualified to interpret the data.

E.5. Diagnosis of Mental Disorders

E.5.a. Proper Diagnosis

Counselors take special care to provide proper diagnosis of mental disorders. Assessment techniques (including personal interviews) used to determine client care (e.g., locus of treatment, type of treatment, recommended follow-up) are carefully selected and appropriately used.

E.5.b. Cultural Sensitivity

Counselors recognize that culture affects the manner in which clients' problems are defined and experienced. Clients' socioeconomic and cultural experiences are considered when diagnosing mental disorders.

E.5.c. Historical and Social Prejudices in the Diagnosis of Pathology

Counselors recognize historical and social prejudices in the misdiagnosis and pathologizing of certain individuals and groups and strive to become aware of and address such biases in themselves or others.

E.5.d. Refraining From Diagnosis

Counselors may refrain from making and/or reporting a diagnosis if they believe that it would cause harm to the client or others. Counselors carefully consider both the positive and negative implications of a diagnosis.

E.6. Instrument Selection

E.6.a. Appropriateness of Instruments

Counselors carefully consider the validity, reliability, psychometric limitations, and appropriateness of instruments when selecting assessments and, when possible, use multiple forms of assessment, data, and/or instruments in forming conclusions, diagnoses, or recommendations.

E.6.b. Referral Information

If a client is referred to a third party for assessment, the counselor provides specific referral questions and sufficient objective data about the client to ensure that appropriate assessment instruments are utilized.

E.7. Conditions of Assessment Administration

E.7.a. Administration Conditions

Counselors administer assessments under the same conditions that were established in their standardization. When assessments are not administered under standard conditions, as may be necessary to accommodate clients with disabilities, or when unusual behavior or irregularities occur during the administration, those conditions are noted in interpretation, and the results may be designated as invalid or of questionable validity.

E.7.b. Provision of Favorable Conditions

Counselors provide an appropriate environment for the administration of assessments (e.g., privacy, comfort, freedom from distraction).

E.7.c. Technological Administration

Counselors ensure that technologically administered assessments function properly and provide clients with accurate results.

E.7.d. Unsupervised Assessments

Unless the assessment instrument is designed, intended, and validated for self-administration and/or scoring, counselors do not permit unsupervised use.

E.8. Multicultural Issues/Diversity in Assessment

Counselors select and use with caution assessment techniques normed on populations other than that of the client. Counselors recognize the effects of age, color, culture, disability, ethnic group, gender, race, language preference, religion, spirituality, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status on test administration and interpretation, and they place test results in proper perspective with other relevant factors.

E.9. Scoring and Interpretation of Assessments

E.9.a. Reporting

When counselors report assessment results, they consider the client's personal and cultural background, the level of the client's understanding of the results, and the impact of the results on the client. In reporting assessment results, counselors indicate reservations that exist regarding validity or reliability due to circumstances of the assessment or inappropriateness of the norms for the person tested.

E.9.b. Instruments with Insufficient Empirical Data

Counselors exercise caution when interpreting the results of instruments not having sufficient empirical data to support respondent results. The specific purposes for the use of such instruments are stated explicitly to the examinee. Counselors qualify any conclusions, diagnoses, or recommendations made that are based on assessments or instruments with questionable validity or reliability.

E.9.c. Assessment Services

Counselors who provide assessment, scoring, and interpretation services to support the assessment process confirm the validity of such interpretations. They accurately describe the purpose, norms, validity, reliability, and applications of the procedures and any special qualifications applicable to their use. At all times, counselors maintain their ethical responsibility to those being assessed.

E.10. Assessment Security

Counselors maintain the integrity and security of tests and assessments consistent with legal and contractual obligations. Counselors do not appropriate, reproduce, or modify published assessments or parts thereof without acknowledgment and permission from the publisher.

E.11. Obsolete Assessment and Outdated Results

Counselors do not use data or results from assessments that are obsolete or outdated for the current purpose (e.g., noncurrent versions of assessments/instruments). Counselors make every effort to prevent the misuse of obsolete measures and assessment data by others.

E.12. Assessment Construction

Counselors use established scientific procedures, relevant standards, and current professional knowledge for assessment design in the development, publication, and utilization of assessment techniques.

E.13. Forensic Evaluation: Evaluation for Legal Proceedings

E.13.a. Primary Obligations

When providing forensic evaluations, the primary obligation of counselors is to produce objective findings that can be substantiated based on information and techniques appropriate to the evaluation, which may include examination of the individual and/or review of records. Counselors form professional opinions based on their professional knowledge and expertise that can be supported by the data gathered in evaluations. Counselors define the limits of their reports or testimony, especially when an examination of the individual has not been conducted.

E.13.b. Consent for Evaluation

Individuals being evaluated are informed in writing that the relationship is for the purposes of an evaluation and is not therapeutic in nature, and entities or individuals who will receive the evaluation report are identified. Counselors who perform forensic evaluations obtain written consent from those being evaluated or from their legal representative unless a court orders evaluations to be conducted without the written consent of the individuals being evaluated. When children or adults who lack the capacity to give voluntary consent are being evaluated, informed written consent is obtained from a parent or guardian.

E.13.c. Client Evaluation Prohibited

Counselors do not evaluate current or former clients, clients' romantic partners, or clients' family members for forensic purposes. Counselors do not counsel individuals they are evaluating.

E.13.d. Avoid Potentially Harmful Relationships

Counselors who provide forensic evaluations avoid potentially harmful professional or personal relationships with family members, romantic partners, and close friends of individuals they are evaluating or have evaluated in the past.



Counselor supervisors, trainers, and educators aspire to foster meaningful and respectful professional relationships and to maintain appropriate boundaries with supervisees and students in both face-to-face and electronic formats. They have theoretical and pedagogical foundations for their work; have knowledge of supervision models; and aim to be fair, accurate, and honest in their assessments of counselors, students, and supervisees.

F.1. Counselor Supervision and Client Welfare

F.1.a. Client Welfare

A primary obligation of counseling supervisors is to monitor the services provided by supervisees. Counseling supervisors monitor client welfare and supervisee performance and professional development. To fulfill these obligations, supervisors meet regularly with supervisees to review the supervisees' work and help them become prepared to serve a range of diverse clients. Supervisees have a responsibility to understand and follow the ACA Code of Ethics.

F.1.b. Counselor Credentials

Counseling supervisors work to ensure that supervisees communicate their qualifications to render services to their clients.

F.1.c. Informed Consent and Client Rights

Supervisors make supervisees aware of client rights, including the protection of client privacy and confidentiality in the counseling relationship. Supervisees provide clients with professional disclosure information and inform them of how the supervision process influences the limits of confidentiality. Supervisees make clients aware of who will have access to records of the counseling relationship and how these records will be stored, transmitted, or otherwise reviewed.

F.2. Counselor Supervision Competence

F.2.a. Supervisor Preparation

Prior to offering supervision services, counselors are trained in supervision methods and techniques. Counselors who offer supervision services regularly pursue continuing education activities, including both counseling and supervision topics and skills.

F.2.b. Multicultural Issues/Diversity in Supervision

Counseling supervisors are aware of and address the role of multiculturalism/diversity in the supervisory relationship.

F.2.c. Online Supervision

When using technology in supervision, counselor supervisors are competent in the use of those technologies. Supervisors take the necessary precautions to protect the confidentiality of all information transmitted through any electronic means.

F.3. Supervisory Relationship

F.3.a. Extending Conventional Supervisory Relationships

Counseling supervisors clearly define and maintain ethical professional, personal, and social relationships with their supervisees. Supervisors consider the risks and benefits of extending current supervisory relationships in any form beyond conventional parameters. In extending these boundaries, supervisors take appropriate professional precautions to ensure that judgment is not impaired and that no harm occurs.

F.3.b. Sexual Relationships

Sexual or romantic interactions or relationships with current supervisees are prohibited. This prohibition applies to both in-person and electronic interactions or relationships.

F.3.c. Sexual Harassment

Counseling supervisors do not condone or subject supervisees to sexual harassment.

F.3.d. Friends or Family Members

Supervisors are prohibited from engaging in supervisory relationships with individuals with whom they have an inability to remain objective.

F.4. Supervisor Responsibilities

F.4.a. Informed Consent for Supervision

Supervisors are responsible for incorporating into their supervision the principles of informed consent and participation. Supervisors inform supervisees of the policies and procedures to which supervisors are to adhere and the mechanisms for due process appeal of individual supervisor actions. The issues unique to the use of distance supervision are to be included in the documentation as necessary.

F.4.b. Emergencies and Absences

Supervisors establish and communicate to supervisees procedures for contacting supervisors or, in their absence, alternative on-call supervisors to assist in handling crises.

F.4.c. Standards for Supervisees

Supervisors make their supervisees aware of professional and ethical standards and legal responsibilities.

F.4.d. Termination of the Supervisory Relationship

Supervisors or supervisees have the right to terminate the supervisory relationship with adequate notice. Reasons for considering termination are discussed, and both parties work to resolve differences. When termination is warranted, supervisors make appropriate referrals to possible alternative supervisors.

F.5. Student and Supervisee Responsibilities

F.5.a. Ethical Responsibilities

Students and supervisees have a responsibility to understand and follow the ACA Code of Ethics. Students and supervisees have the same obligation to clients as those required of professional counselors.

F.5.b. Impairment

Students and supervisees monitor themselves for signs of impairment from their own physical, mental, or emotional problems and refrain from offering or providing professional services when such impairment is likely to harm a client or others. They notify their faculty and/or supervisors and seek assistance for problems that reach the level of professional impairment, and, if necessary, they limit, suspend, or terminate their professional responsibilities until it is determined that they may safely resume their work.

F.5.c. Professional Disclosure

Before providing counseling services, students and supervisees disclose their status as supervisees and explain how this status affects the limits of confidentiality. Supervisors ensure that clients are aware of the services rendered and the qualifications of the students and supervisees rendering those services. Students and supervisees obtain client permission before they use any information concerning the counseling relationship in the training process.

F.6. Counseling Supervision Evaluation, Remediation, and Endorsement

F.6.a. Evaluation

Supervisors document and provide supervisees with ongoing feedback regarding their performance and schedule periodic formal evaluative sessions throughout the supervisory relationship.

F.6.b. Gatekeeping and Remediation

Through initial and ongoing evaluation, supervisors are aware of supervisee limitations that might impede performance. Supervisors assist supervisees in securing remedial assistance when needed. They recommend dismissal from training programs, applied counseling settings, and state or voluntary professional credentialing processes when those supervisees are unable to demonstrate that they can provide competent professional services to a range of diverse clients. Supervisors seek consultation and document their decisions to dismiss or refer supervisees for assistance. They ensure that supervisees are aware of options available to them to address such decisions.

F.6.c. Counseling for Supervisees

If supervisees request counseling, the supervisor assists the supervisee in identifying appropriate services. Supervisors do not provide counseling services to supervisees. Supervisors address interpersonal competencies in terms of the impact of these issues on clients, the supervisory relationship, and professional functioning.

F.6.d. Endorsements

Supervisors endorse supervisees for certification, licensure, employment, or completion of an academic or training program only when they believe that supervisees are qualified for the endorsement. Regardless of qualifications, supervisors do not endorse supervisees whom they believe to be impaired in any way that would interfere with the performance of the duties associated with the endorsement.

F.7. Responsibilities of Counselor Educators

F.7.a. Counselor Educators

Counselor educators who are responsible for developing, implementing, and supervising educational programs are skilled as teachers and practitioners. They are knowledgeable regarding the ethical, legal, and regulatory aspects of the profession; are skilled in applying that knowledge; and make students and supervisees aware of their responsibilities. Whether in traditional, hybrid, and/or online formats, counselor educators conduct counselor education and training programs in an ethical manner and serve as role models for professional behavior.

F.7.b. Counselor Educator Competence

Counselors who function as counselor educators or supervisors provide instruction within their areas of knowledge and competence and provide instruction based on current information and knowledge available in the profession. When using technology to deliver instruction, counselor educators develop competence in the use of the technology.

F.7.c. Infusing Multicultural Issues/Diversity

Counselor educators infuse material related to multiculturalism/diversity into all courses and workshops for the development of professional counselors.

F.7.d. Integration of Study and Practice

In traditional, hybrid, and/or online formats, counselor educators establish education and training programs that integrate academic study and supervised practice.

F.7.e. Teaching Ethics

Throughout the program, counselor educators ensure that students are aware of the ethical responsibilities and standards of the profession and the ethical responsibilities of students to the profession. Counselor educators infuse ethical considerations throughout the curriculum.

F.7.f. Use of Case Examples

The use of client, student, or supervisee information for the purposes of case examples in a lecture or classroom setting is permissible only when (a) the client, student, or supervisee has reviewed the material and agreed to its presentation or (b) the information has been sufficiently modified to obscure identity.

F.7.g. Student-to-Student Supervision and Instruction

When students function in the role of counselor educators or supervisors, they understand that they have the same ethical obligations as counselor educators, trainers, and supervisors. Counselor educators make every effort to ensure that the rights of students are not compromised when their peers lead experiential counseling activities in traditional, hybrid, and/or online formats (e.g., counseling groups, skills classes, clinical supervision).

F.7.h. Innovative Theories and Techniques

Counselor educators promote the use of techniques/procedures/modalities that are grounded in theory and/or have an empirical or scientific foundation. When counselor educators discuss developing or innovative techniques/procedures/modalities, they explain the potential risks, benefits, and ethical considerations of using such techniques/procedures/modalities.

F.7.i. Field Placements

Counselor educators develop clear policies and provide direct assistance within their training programs regarding appropriate field placement and other clinical experiences. Counselor educators provide clearly stated roles and responsibilities for the student or supervisee, the site supervisor, and the program supervisor. They confirm that site supervisors are qualified to provide supervision in the formats in which services are provided and inform site supervisors of their professional and ethical responsibilities in this role.

F.8. Student Welfare

F.8.a. Program Information and Orientation

Counselor educators recognize that program orientation is a developmental process that begins upon students' initial contact with the counselor education program and continues throughout the educational and clinical training of students. Counselor education faculty provide prospective and current students with information about the counselor education program's expectations, including:

  1. The values and ethical principles of the profession;

  2. The type and level of skill and knowledge acquisition required for successful completion of the training;

  3. Technology requirements;

  4. Program training goals, objectives, and mission, and subject matter to be covered;

  5. Bases for evaluation;

  6. Training components that encourage self-growth or self-disclosure as part of the training process;

  7. The type of supervision settings and requirements of the sites for required clinical field experiences;

  8. Student and supervisor evaluation and dismissal policies and procedures; and

  9. Up-to-date employment prospects for graduates.

F.8.b. Student Career Advising

Counselor educators provide career advisement for their students and make them aware of opportunities in the field.

F.8.c. Self-Growth Experiences

Self-growth is an expected component of counselor education. Counselor educators are mindful of ethical principles when they require students to engage in self-growth experiences. Counselor educators and supervisors inform students that they have a right to decide what information will be shared or withheld in class.

F.8.d. Addressing Personal Concerns

Counselor educators may require students to address any personal concerns that have the potential to affect professional competency.

F.9. Evaluation and Remediation

F.9.a. Evaluation of Students

Counselor educators clearly state to students, prior to and throughout the training program, the levels of competency expected, appraisal methods, and timing of evaluations for both didactic and clinical competencies. Counselor educators provide students with ongoing feedback regarding their performance throughout the training program.

F.9.b. Limitations

Counselor educators, through ongoing evaluation, are aware of and address the inability of some students to achieve counseling competencies. Counselor educators do the following:

  1. Assist students in securing remedial assistance when needed,

  2. Seek professional consultation and document their decision to dismiss or refer students for assistance, and

  3. Ensure that students have recourse in a timely manner to address decisions requiring them to seek assistance or to dismiss them and provide students with due process according to institutional policies and procedures.

F.9.c. Counseling for Students

If students request counseling, or if counseling services are suggested as part of a remediation process, counselor educators assist students in identifying appropriate services.

F.10. Roles and Relationships Between Counselor Educators and Students

F.10.a. Sexual or Romantic Relationships

Counselor educators are prohibited from sexual or romantic interactions or relationships with students currently enrolled in a counseling or related program and over whom they have power and authority. This prohibition applies to both in-person and electronic interactions or relationships.

F.10.b. Sexual Harassment

Counselor educators do not condone or subject students to sexual harassment.

F.10.c. Relationships with Former Students

Counselor educators are aware of the power differential in the relationship between faculty and students. Faculty members discuss with former students potential risks when they consider engaging in social, sexual, or other intimate relationships.

F.10.d. Nonacademic Relationships

Counselor educators avoid nonacademic relationships with students in which there is a risk of potential harm to the student or which may compromise the training experience or grades assigned. In addition, counselor educators do not accept any form of professional services, fees, commissions, reimbursement, or remuneration from a site for student or supervisor placement.

F.10.e. Counseling Services

Counselor educators do not serve as counselors to students currently enrolled in a counseling or related program and over whom they have power and authority.

F.10.f. Extending Educator-Student Boundaries

Counselor educators are aware of the power differential in the relationship between faculty and students. If they believe that a nonprofessional relationship with a student may be potentially beneficial to the student, they take precautions similar to those taken by counselors when working with clients. Examples of potentially beneficial interactions or relationships include, but are not limited to, attending a formal ceremony; conducting hospital visits; providing support during a stressful event; or maintaining mutual membership in a professional association, organization, or community. Counselor educators discuss with students the rationale for such interactions, the potential benefits and drawbacks, and the anticipated consequences for the student. Educators clarify the specific nature and limitations of the additional role(s) they will have with the student prior to engaging in a nonprofessional relationship. Nonprofessional relationships with students should be time limited and/or context specific and initiated with student consent.

F.11. Multicultural/Diversity Competence in Counselor Education and Training Programs

F.11.a. Faculty Diversity

Counselor educators are committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty.

F.11.b. Student Diversity

Counselor educators actively attempt to recruit and retain a diverse student body. Counselor educators demonstrate commitment to multicultural/diversity competence by recognizing and valuing the diverse cultures and types of abilities that students bring to the training experience. Counselor educators provide appropriate accommodations that enhance and support diverse student well-being and academic performance.

F.11.c. Multicultural/Diversity Competence

Counselor educators actively infuse multicultural/diversity competency in their training and supervision practices. They actively train students to gain awareness, knowledge, and skills in the competencies of multicultural practice.



Counselors who conduct research are encouraged to contribute to the knowledge base of the profession and promote a clearer understanding of the conditions that lead to a healthy and more just society. Counselors support the efforts of researchers by participating fully and willingly whenever possible. Counselors minimize bias and respect diversity in designing and implementing research.

G.1. Research Responsibilities

G.1.a. Conducting Research

Counselors plan, design, conduct, and report research in a manner that is consistent with pertinent ethical principles, federal and state laws, host institutional regulations, and scientific standards governing research.

G.1.b. Confidentiality in Research

Counselors are responsible for understanding and adhering to state, federal, agency, or institutional policies or applicable guidelines regarding confidentiality in their research practices.

G.1.c. Independent Researchers

When counselors conduct independent research and do not have access to an institutional review board, they are bound to the same ethical principles and federal and state laws pertaining to the review of their plan, design, conduct, and reporting of research.

G.1.d. Deviation From Standard Practice

Counselors seek consultation and observe stringent safeguards to protect the rights of research participants when research indicates that a deviation from standard or acceptable practices may be necessary.

G.1.e. Precautions to Avoid Injury

Counselors who conduct research are responsible for their participants' welfare throughout the research process and should take reasonable precautions to avoid causing emotional, physical, or social harm to participants.

G.1.f. Principal Researcher Responsibility

The ultimate responsibility for ethical research practice lies with the principal researcher. All others involved in the research activities share ethical obligations and responsibility for their own actions.

G.2. Rights of Research Participants

G.2.a. Informed Consent in Research

Individuals have the right to decline requests to become research participants. In seeking consent, counselors use language that:

  1. Accurately explains the purpose and procedures to be followed;

  2. Identifies any procedures that are experimental or relatively untried;

  3. Describes any attendant discomforts, risks, and potential power differentials between researchers and participants;

  4. Describes any benefits or changes in indi­viduals or organizations that might reasonably be expected;

  5. Discloses appropriate alternative procedures that would be advantageous for participants;

  6. Offers to answer any inquiries concerning the procedures;

  7. Describes any limitations on confidentiality;

  8. Describes the format and potential target audiences for the dissemination of research findings; and

  9. Instructs participants that they are free to withdraw their consent and discontinue participation in the project at any time, without penalty.

G.2.b. Student/Supervisee Participation

Researchers who involve students or supervisees in research make clear to them that the decision regarding participation in research activities does not affect their academic standing or supervisory relationship. Students or supervisees who choose not to participate in research are provided with an appropriate alternative to fulfill their academic or clinical requirements.

G.2.c. Client Participation

Counselors conducting research involving clients make clear in the informed consent process that clients are free to choose whether to participate in research activities. Counselors take necessary precautions to protect clients from adverse consequences of declining or withdrawing from participation.

G.2.d. Confidentiality of Information

Information obtained about research participants during the course of research is confidential. Procedures are implemented to protect confidentiality.

G.2.e. Persons Not Capable of Giving Informed Consent

When a research participant is not capable of giving informed consent, counselors provide an appropriate explanation to, obtain agreement for participation from, and obtain the appropriate consent of a legally authorized person.

G.2.f. Commitments to Participants

Counselors take reasonable measures to honor all commitments to research participants.

G.2.g. Explanations After Data Collection

After data are collected, counselors provide participants with full clarification of the nature of the study to remove any misconceptions participants might have regarding the research. Where scientific or human values justify delaying or withholding information, counselors take reasonable measures to avoid causing harm.

G.2.h. Informing Sponsors

Counselors inform sponsors, institutions, and publication channels regarding research procedures and outcomes. Counselors ensure that appropriate bodies and authorities are given pertinent information and acknowledgment.

G.2.i. Research Records Custodian

As appropriate, researchers prepare and disseminate to an identified colleague or records custodian a plan for the transfer of research data in the case of their incapacitation, retirement, or death.

G.3. Managing and Maintaining Boundaries

G.3.a. Extending Researcher-Participant Boundaries

Researchers consider the risks and benefits of extending current research relationships beyond conventional parameters. When a nonresearch interaction between the researcher and the research participant may be potentially beneficial, the researcher must document, prior to the interaction (when feasible), the rationale for such an interaction, the potential benefit, and anticipated consequences for the research participant. Such interactions should be initiated with appropriate consent of the research participant. Where unintentional harm occurs to the research participant, the researcher must show evidence of an attempt to remedy such harm.

G.3.b. Relationships with Research Participants

Sexual or romantic counselor-research participant interactions or relationships with current research participants are prohibited. This prohibition applies to both in-person and electronic interactions or relationships.

G.3.c. Sexual Harassment and Research Participants

Researchers do not condone or subject research participants to sexual harassment.

G.4. Reporting Results

G.4.a. Accurate Results

Counselors plan, conduct, and report research accurately. Counselors do not engage in misleading or fraudulent research, distort data, misrepresent data, or deliberately bias their results. They describe the extent to which results are applicable for diverse populations.

G.4.b. Obligation to Report Unfavorable Results

Counselors report the results of any research of professional value. Results that reflect unfavorably on institutions, programs, services, prevailing opinions, or vested interests are not withheld.

G.4.c. Reporting Errors

If counselors discover significant errors in their published research, they take reasonable steps to correct such errors in a correction erratum or through other appropriate publication means.

G.4.d. Identity of Participants

Counselors who supply data, aid in the research of another person, report research results, or make original data available take due care to disguise the identity of respective participants in the absence of specific authorization from the participants to do otherwise. In situations where participants self-identify their involvement in research studies, researchers take active steps to ensure that data are adapted/changed to protect the identity and welfare of all parties and that discussion of results does not cause harm to participants.

G.4.e. Replication Studies

Counselors are obligated to make available sufficient original research information to qualified professionals who may wish to replicate or extend the study.

G.5. Publications and Presentations

G.5.a. Use of Case Examples

The use of participants', clients', students', or supervisees' information for the purpose of case examples in a presentation or publication is permissible only when (a) participants, clients, students, or supervisees have reviewed the material and agreed to its presentation or publication or (b) the information has been sufficiently modified to obscure identity.

G.5.b. Plagiarism

Counselors do not plagiarize; that is, they do not present another person's work as their own.

G.5.c. Acknowledging Previous Work

In publications and presentations, counselors acknowledge and give recognition to previous work on the topic by others or self.

G.5.d. Contributors

Counselors give credit through joint authorship, acknowledgment, footnote statements, or other appropriate means to those who have contributed significantly to research or concept development in accordance with such contributions. The principal contributor is listed first, and minor technical or professional contributions are acknowledged in notes or introductory statements.

G.5.e. Agreement of Contributors

Counselors who conduct joint research with colleagues or students/supervisors establish agreements in advance regarding allocation of tasks, publication credit, and types of acknowledgment that will be received.

G.5.f. Student Research

Manuscripts or professional presentations in any medium that are substantially based on a student's course papers, projects, dissertations, or theses are used only with the student's permission and list the student as lead author.

G.5.g. Duplicate Submissions

Counselors submit manuscripts for consideration to only one journal at a time. Manuscripts that are published in whole or in substantial part in one journal or published work are not submitted for publication to another publisher without acknowledgment and permission from the original publisher.

G.5.h. Professional Review

Counselors who review material submitted for publication, research, or other scholarly purposes respect the confidentiality and proprietary rights of those who submitted it. Counselors make publication decisions based on valid and defensible standards. Counselors review article submissions in a timely manner and based on their scope and competency in research methodologies. Counselors who serve as reviewers at the request of editors or publishers make every effort to only review materials that are within their scope of competency and avoid personal biases.



Counselors understand that the profession of counseling may no longer be limited to in-person, face-to-face interactions. Counselors actively attempt to understand the evolving nature of the profession with regard to distance counseling, technology, and social media and how such resources may be used to better serve their clients. Counselors strive to become knowledgeable about these resources. Counselors understand the additional concerns related to the use of distance counseling, technology, and social media and make every attempt to protect confidentiality and meet any legal and ethical requirements for the use of such resources.

H.1. Knowledge and Legal Considerations

H.1.a. Knowledge and Competency

Counselors who engage in the use of distance counseling, technology, and/or social media develop knowledge and skills regarding related technical, ethical, and legal considerations (e.g., special certifications, additional course work).

H.1.b. Laws and Statutes

Counselors who engage in the use of distance counseling, technology, and social media within their counseling practice understand that they may be subject to laws and regulations of both the counselor's practicing location and the client's place of residence. Counselors ensure that their clients are aware of pertinent legal rights and limitations governing the practice of counseling across state lines or international boundaries.

H.2. Informed Consent and Security

H.2.a. Informed Consent and Disclosure

Clients have the freedom to choose whether to use distance counseling, social media, and/or technology within the counseling process. In addition to the usual and customary protocol of informed consent between counselor and client for face-to-face counseling, the following issues, unique to the use of distance counseling, technology, and/or social media, are addressed in the informed consent process:

  • Distance counseling credentials, physical location of practice, and contact information;

  • Risks and benefits of engaging in the use of distance counseling, technology, and/or social media;

  • Possibility of technology failure and alternate methods of service delivery;

  • Anticipated response time;

  • Emergency procedures to follow when the counselor is not available;

  • Time zone differences;

  • Cultural and/or language differences that may affect delivery of services;

  • Possible denial of insurance benefits; and

  • Social media policy.

H.2.b. Confidentiality Maintained by the Counselor

Counselors acknowledge the limitations of maintaining the confidentiality of electronic records and transmissions. They inform clients that individuals might have authorized or unauthorized access to such records or transmissions (e.g., colleagues, supervisors, employees, information technologists).

H.2.c. Acknowledgment of Limitations

Counselors inform clients about the inherent limits of confidentiality when using technology. Counselors urge clients to be aware of authorized and/or unauthorized access to information disclosed using this medium in the counseling process.

H.2.d. Security

Counselors use current encryption standards within their websites and/or technology-based communications that meet applicable legal requirements. Counselors take reasonable precautions to ensure the confidentiality of information transmitted through any electronic means.

H.3. Client Verification

Counselors who engage in the use of distance counseling, technology, and/or social media to interact with clients take steps to verify the client's identity at the beginning and throughout the therapeutic process. Verification can include, but is not limited to, using code words, numbers, graphics, or other nondescript identifiers.

H.4. Distance Counseling Relationship

H.4.a. Benefits and Limitations

Counselors inform clients of the benefits and limitations of using technology applications in the provision of counseling services. Such technologies include, but are not limited to, computer hardware and/or software, telephones and applications, social media and Internet-based applications and other audio and/or video communication, or data storage devices or media.

H.4.b. Professional Boundaries in Distance Counseling

Counselors understand the necessity of maintaining a professional relationship with their clients. Counselors discuss and establish professional boundaries with clients regarding the appropriate use and/or application of technology and the limitations of its use within the counseling relationship (e.g., lack of confidentiality, times when not appropriate to use).

H.4.c. Technology-Assisted Services

When providing technology-assisted services, counselors make reasonable efforts to determine that clients are intellectually, emotionally, physically, linguistically, and functionally capable of using the application and that the application is appropriate for the needs of the client. Counselors verify that clients understand the purpose and operation of technology applications and follow up with clients to correct possible misconceptions, discover appropriate use, and assess subsequent steps.

H.4.d. Effectiveness of Services

When distance counseling services are deemed ineffective by the counselor or client, counselors consider delivering services face-to-face. If the counselor is not able to provide face-to-face services (e.g., lives in another state), the counselor assists the client in identifying appropriate services.

H.4.e. Access

Counselors provide information to clients regarding reasonable access to pertinent applications when providing technology-assisted services.

H.4.f. Communication Differences in Electronic Media

Counselors consider the differences between face-to-face and electronic communication (nonverbal and verbal cues) and how these may affect the counseling process. Counselors educate clients on how to prevent and address potential misunderstandings arising from the lack of visual cues and voice intonations when communicating electronically.

H.5. Records and Web Maintenance

H.5.a. Records

Counselors maintain electronic records in accordance with relevant laws and statutes. Counselors inform clients on how records are maintained electronically. This includes, but is not limited to, the type of encryption and security assigned to the records, and if/for how long archival storage of transaction records is maintained.

H.5.b. Client Rights

Counselors who offer distance counseling services and/or maintain a professional website provide electronic links to relevant licensure and professional certification boards to protect consumer and client rights and address ethical concerns.

H.5.c. Electronic Links

Counselors regularly ensure that electronic links are working and are professionally appropriate.

H.5.d. Multicultural and Disability Considerations

Counselors who maintain websites provide accessibility to persons with disabilities. They provide translation capabilities for clients who have a different primary language, when feasible. Counselors acknowledge the imperfect nature of such translations and accessibilities.

H.6. Social Media

H.6.a. Virtual Professional Presence

In cases where counselors wish to maintain a professional and personal presence for social media use, separate professional and personal web pages and profiles are created to clearly distinguish between the two kinds of virtual presence.

H.6.b. Social Media as Part of Informed Consent

Counselors clearly explain to their clients, as part of the informed consent procedure, the benefits, limitations, and boundaries of the use of social media.

H.6.c. Client Virtual Presence

Counselors respect the privacy of their clients' presence on social media unless given consent to view such information.

H.6.d. Use of Public Social Media

Counselors take precautions to avoid disclosing confidential information through public social media.



Professional counselors behave in an ethical and legal manner. They are aware that client welfare and trust in the profession depend on a high level of professional conduct. They hold other counselors to the same standards and are willing to take appropriate action to ensure that standards are upheld. Counselors strive to resolve ethical dilemmas with direct and open communication among all parties involved and seek consultation with colleagues and supervisors when necessary. Counselors incorporate ethical practice into their daily professional work and engage in ongoing professional development regarding current topics in ethical and legal issues in counseling. Counselors become familiar with the ACA Policy and Procedures for Processing Complaints of Ethical Violations and use it as a reference for assisting in the enforcement of the ACA Code of Ethics.

I.1. Standards and the Law

I.1.a. Knowledge

Counselors know and understand the ACA Code of Ethics and other applicable ethics codes from professional organizations or certification and licensure bodies of which they are members. Lack of knowledge or misunderstanding of an ethical responsibility is not a defense against a charge of unethical conduct.

I.1.b. Ethical Decision Making

When counselors are faced with an ethical dilemma, they use and document, as appropriate, an ethical decision-making model that may include, but is not limited to, consultation; consideration of relevant ethical standards, principles, and laws; generation of potential courses of action; deliberation of risks and benefits; and selection of an objective decision based on the circumstances and welfare of all involved.

I.1.c. Conflicts Between Ethics and Laws

If ethical responsibilities conflict with the law, regulations, and/or other governing legal authority, counselors make known their commitment to the ACA Code of Ethics and take steps to resolve the conflict. If the conflict cannot be resolved using this approach, counselors, acting in the best interest of the client, may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, and/or other governing legal authority.

I.2. Suspected Violations

I.2.a. Informal Resolution

When counselors have reason to believe that another counselor is violating or has violated an ethical standard and substantial harm has not occurred, they attempt to first resolve the issue informally with the other counselor if feasible, provided such action does not violate confidentiality rights that may be involved.

I.2.b. Reporting Ethical Violations

If an apparent violation has substantially harmed or is likely to substantially harm a person or organization and is not appropriate for informal resolution or is not resolved properly, counselors take further action depending on the situation. Such action may include referral to state or national committees on professional ethics, voluntary national certification bodies, state licensing boards, or appropriate institutional authorities. The confidentiality rights of clients should be considered in all actions. This standard does not apply when counselors have been retained to review the work of another counselor whose professional conduct is in question (e.g., consultation, expert testimony).

I.2.c. Consultation

When uncertain about whether a particular situation or course of action may be in violation of the ACA Code of Ethics, counselors consult with other counselors who are knowledgeable about ethics and the ACA Code of Ethics, with colleagues, or with appropriate authorities, such as the ACA Ethics and Professional Standards Department.

I.2.d. Organizational Conflicts

If the demands of an organization with which counselors are affiliated pose a conflict with the ACA Code of Ethics, counselors specify the nature of such conflicts and express to their supervisors or other responsible officials their commitment to the ACA Code of Ethics and, when possible, work through the appropriate channels to address the situation.

I.2.e. Unwarranted Complaints

Counselors do not initiate, participate in, or encourage the filing of ethics complaints that are retaliatory in nature or are made with reckless disregard or willful ignorance of facts that would disprove the allegation.

I.2.f. Unfair Discrimination Against Complainants and Respondents

Counselors do not deny individuals employment, advancement, admission to academic or other programs, tenure, or promotion based solely on their having made or their being the subject of an ethics complaint. This does not preclude taking action based on the outcome of such proceedings or considering other appropriate information.

I.3. Cooperation with Ethics Committees

Counselors assist in the process of enforcing the ACA Code of Ethics. Counselors cooperate with investigations, proceedings, and requirements of the ACA Ethics Committee or ethics committees of other duly constituted associations or boards having jurisdiction over those charged with a violation.

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