Counseling codes of ethics establish client expectations, discussion help


Counseling codes of ethics establish client expectations as well as expectations among members of the profession. The most obvious expectation is that counselors must know the ethical codes of the professional groups or organizations (e.g., ACA, IAMFC, and/or AMHCA). Ethical standards, as expressed by such professional groups, represent the ideal. A professional code of ethics is a standard of conduct that a practitioner adheres to in order to affiliate with that group. This affiliation is a choice to accept the standards of the professional body and be subject to disciplinary actions of the organization if codes are violated. The ability to reason with ethical principles and to arrive at a decision for which you are accountable is what constitutes an ethical counseling practice.

The ethical codes of various professional organizations offer some guidance for practice. However, these guidelines can often leave many ethical questions unanswered and are often insufficient to explicitly deal with every situation. Students and professionals alike must ultimately resolve personal issues of responsible practice. They also should decide how accepted principles apply in specific cases. It is often difficult to interpret ethical codes for specific clients.

For this Discussion, review the Ethical Decision-Making Game media and begin to evaluate different ethical challenges presented to prepare you to complete your Discussion. Review the Learning Resources for this week and select a case study from the ACA Ethical Standards Casebook. Use the Case Analysis Worksheet for this Discussion. Do not turn your worksheet in as part of your Discussion. Then, select one of three case studies presented. Consider ethical challenges in the case related to the codes of ethics you have selected and reflect on potential strategies for preventing them.

Post by Day 3 a brief description of the case study you selected from the ACA Ethical Standards Casebook and the codes of ethics you will be applying. Explain the ethical challenges in the case related to the codes of ethics you have selected. Finally, explain how this ethical challenge might have been prevented. Then, apply the ACA 2014 Code of Ethics to one of this week’s assigned case studies and either the 2015 AMHCA Code of Ethics or the IAMFC Ethical Codes to another case study. (MCFC students must use the IAMFC Ethical Codes.)

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Case Study 4 Working With an Immigrant Family Laura M. Gonzalez

Esmerelda is a 15-year-old girl who lives in a rural southern town with her family and three younger siblings. Her parents were born in El Salvador but came to the United States in the 1990s when they were at the point of starva- tion in their home country and heard rumors about a better life up north. Esmerelda and her siblings were born in the United States. Her mother and father each work several shifts at a poultry processing plant, so Esmerelda has taken on more responsibilities in the home, taking care of her younger siblings, cooking, cleaning, and opening the mail and making sure her par- ents know which bills they need to pay by the end of the week. Esmerelda’s school counselor, Frances, has noticed that Esmerelda ap- pears tired during the day. When asked about her apparent exhaustion, Esmerelda briefly mentions nightmares about her parents being deported that disrupt her sleep. However, she makes it clear that she does not want to discuss that topic further. Frances consults with Esmerelda’s teachers and receives varying impressions: She is quiet and sleepy in her geometry class, unable to focus and pay attention in English class, and withdrawn and “not very social” in history class. However, none of the teachers state that they are overly concerned about Esmerelda. Frances decides that she needs clarification about what is going on with Esmerelda, and she asks Esmerelda to stop by for a conversation. Fran- ces asks if she can invite one of Esmerelda’s parents to join them as well, but Esmerelda indicates their English is not strong enough to participate in the meeting. When Esmerelda comes to the counseling office, Frances begins by inquiring about Esmerelda’s wellness and learns that she is usu- ally forgoing her breakfast so that her younger siblings will have enough to eat. Although the family would most likely qualify for free or reduced lunch at school, they have not completed the necessary paperwork, and Esmerelda declines to take the application home. Esmerelda also admits to having headaches and stomachaches often while at school and to be- ing distracted by persistent and intrusive thoughts. She cannot identify a support system outside of her family, and she says that her classmates still tease her about her family’s origins, incorrectly and inappropriately call- ing her a “dirty Mexican” even though she is a fully bilingual U.S. citizen. Although Esmerelda has described all of this with a stoic look on her face and in a low, quiet voice, she finally breaks into anguished tears as she touches on the topic of the deportation dream. For a few moments, the two sit quietly together as Esmerelda sobs, unable to find any more words for her grief and fears. Frances realizes she does not know anything about immigration law or whether it is probable that this nightmare could come to pass. After a few moments, she asks if Esmerelda would like to have a social worker check in on her family. Esmerelda abruptly leaves the room. Frances decides to consult with the school interpreter, Jorge, guessing that he might have more information than she does about immigrant fam- ilies and legal status. He confirms that several students in the school have already had parents deported because of immigration raids at some of the factories in the community. Jorge tells Frances that his standard practice is to not inquire about legal documentation, as he has seen the state laws go back and forth about whether school personnel must report the pres- ence of undocumented individuals to the government. “I just would not want to be in the position of choosing whether to tear a family apart or be in contempt of court,” he says. When Frances asks whether Jorge has met either of Esmerelda’s parents, as she is considering reaching out to them about her concerns for their daughter, he advises her to restrict her atten- tion to what is happening in school. “Besides,” he says, “if the family isto improve her quality of life during the school day. This could include an offer to assist her with her anxiety by processing her terrifying dream, with Esmerelda’s permission. Frances could make further efforts to in- volve Esmerelda’s parents. Frances has an ethical responsibility to estab- lish “collaborative relationships with parents/guardians to best serve [her minor client]” (ACA, 2014, Standard B.5.b.). Esmerelda’s parents may not fully understand the free and reduced lunch policy, and they might be willing to consider it if they have complete information and a chance to discuss their concerns (which the counselor could provide through Esmerelda or directly to the parents via an interpreter). These steps would honor the school counselor’s commitment to her client’s welfare, would allow Esmerelda freedom of choice in whether to participate in therapeutic sessions at school, and would be inclusive of the family. Frances might make an effort to include Esmerelda’s parents via an interpreter or trans- lated documents because Esmerelda is a minor. Multicultural competence would suggest that family members should not be pressed to translate for each other, so Esmerelda should not be coerced into that role. A second level of ethical response to this case could be for Frances to take an advocacy role. “When appropriate, counselors advocate . . . to address potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients” (Standard A.7.a.). If Frances decides to take on this role, she should proceed carefully because of her lack of information about immigration law and her potential limits of competence in that area. Con- sultation is advisable for Frances. The National Immigration Law Center ( is a trusted source for up-to-date information about the constantly shifting national and state policy environment. Advocacy could include reaching out to the school counselor at the siblings’ schools to assess for their wellness, asking Esmerelda’s teach- ers to show extra consideration in their work with her, initiating antidis- crimination programs in the school as a whole, convening a professional development workshop for teachers and school administrators to learn about relevant state immigration law, or identifying bilingual community mental health providers who would work on a sliding scale or accept pro bono clients. Certainly, counselors working in states with restrictive im- migration laws and policies need to be aware of those statutes in order to practice within both ethical and legal boundaries. In some cases, counsel- ors may need to make preemptive statements to clients about their duty to report legal status should it be disclosed during a session so that clients are informed prior to starting therapeutic work

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