CODES OF ETHICS IN COUNSELING AND HUMAN SERVICES


According to Neukrug (2000), codes of ethics are a fairly recent development in the mental health professions. He states that the APA formulated its first set of ethical standards in 1953; the ACA in 1961; and the NASW in 1960. Within this relatively short period of time, these ethical codes have undergone a number of revisions. This is due to the fact that they reflect ever changing societal and professional values. Those charged with the formulation of such codes struggle with how these issues should be dealt with. These guidelines, however, do serve a number of purposes that have remained constant. Neukrug (2000, pp. 48-49) delineated the general purposes of codes of ethics as highlighted in a number of works (see Ansell, 1984; Corey et al., 1998; Lowewenberg & Dolgoff, 1996; Mabe & Rollin, 1986; VanZandt, 1990). He goes on to point out that "ethical guidelines are moral, not legal, documents, and our professional associations expect us to be bound by them (p. 49).


Purposes of Codes of Ethics

1. They protect consumers and further the professional stance of the organizations.

2. They denote the fact that a particular profession has a body of knowledge and skills that it can proclaim and that a set of standards can be established that reflect this knowledge.
 
3. They are a vehicle for professional identity and provide an indication of the maturity of a profession.
 
4. They profess a belief that the professional should exhibit certain types of behaviors that reflect the underlying values considered desirable in the professional.
 
5. They offer the professional a framework in the sometimes difficult ethical and professional decision-making process.
 
6. They represent, in case of litigation, some measure of defense for professionals who conscientiously practice in accordance with accepted professional codes (pp. 48-49).

Although codes of ethics provide an effective means of guiding professional practice and decision-making, they do pose certain limitations. Neukrug (2000, p.49) summarized these limitations, drawing especially on the work of Mabe and Rollin (1986).


Limitations of Codes of Ethics

1. Some issues cannot be handled in the context of a code.

2. There are some difficulties with enforcing the code, or at least the public may believe that enforcement committees are not tough enough on their peers.
 
3. There is often no way to bring the interests of the client, patient, or research participant systematically into the code-construction process.
 
4. There are parallel forums in which the issues in the code may be addressed, with the results sometimes at odds with the findings of the code (for example, in the courts).
 
5. There are possible conflicts associated with codes: between two codes, between the practitioner's values and code requirements, between the code and ordinary morality, between the code and institutional practice, and between requirements within a single code.
 
6. There is a limited range of topics covered in the code. Because a code approach is usually reactive to issues already developed elsewhere, the consensus requirement prevents the code from addressing new issues and problems on the cutting edge.
How would you resolve an ethical dilemma? Review Corey et al's (1998) ethical decision-making model that is presented in the next section of this module and try resolving the ethical issues presented in the case studies included in this module.