Ethical Challenges of Boundary Issues
When individuals feel weighed down by challenges in relationships or work, and find it extremely hard to enjoy pleasures of life, they usually turn to counselors for assistance. Working with clients in a school setup has always been challenging, as a counselor has to maintain ethics in his practice. In counseling profession, boundaries exist to safeguard the wellbeing of clients, who might be in a susceptible position in a relationship. By using Ethics Code, counselors can distinguish between professional role behaviors and personal behaviors. Boundary issues are vital in counseling because they assist in handling ethical challenges, in addition to enhancing professional relationship between counselors and clients.
Counselors usually experience challenges while working with their clients as they attempt to maintain Ethics code, which restricts them from socializing with people who seek their services. School counselors are obligated to adhere to Ethics code in order to maintain boundaries between them and students. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), Ethics Code restricts psychologists from indulging in particular types of relationships with their clients, students, employees, research participants, and any other person whom they interact with in the workplace (Pipes, Holstein & Aguirre, 2005).
Counselors may establish dual relationships with the students if they fail to honor the Ethics code. Dual relationships emerge when a counseling professional opt to undertake two or more responsibilities simultaneously with a client (Remley & Herlihy, 2013). When a counselor run into his clients outside his office, he should be cautious on how to approach then. Nothing discussed outside the office should be discussed during counseling sessions. Students should develop trust from their therapists, who keep the information confidential, and would only disclose it through a court order. However, dual relationships may baffle the students, thus, interfering with the recovery plan due to violation of ethics code.
In order to handle the ethical challenges in the school setup, counselors can utilize the Kitchener’s model of ethical decision-making to offer guidance to students. This model explains ethical decision making by emphasizing on the role of virtues. According to this model, counselors should focus on moral reasoning or virtue ethics in making decisions in case of ethical dilemma. Kitchener’s model of ethical decision-making involves application of six principles in handling and responding to ethical challenges (Neukrug, 2013). The six principles are explained as follows:
Autonomy: This involves safeguarding the independence, as well as self-determination of the client. Dual relationships can interfere with both counselors and clients’ autonomy, thus, affecting the professional and ethical codes.
Non-maleficence: This is an attempt to “do no harm” to the clients in the process of offering counseling services. A good counselor is capable of maintaining morals in his work and separate personal opinions from professional behavior. Hugging, kissing, and spending too much time with clients of opposite sex can influence counseling relationship and consequently harming the counselors’ profession. Even if a former client or a colleague insists on having a personal relationship with the counselor, he should endeavor to make him/her understand why such relationship could interfere with his work.
Beneficence: This involves promoting the society through minding the wellbeing of the clients. Although some clients may opt to offer gifts to the counselor, they should not be encouraged to do so because counselors care about their clients’ well-being rather than receiving gifts.
Justice: This incorporates equal and fair treatment towards the clients. Counselors should not attend their clients based on their social status, but as a special group in the society. Discrimination in service delivery is unethical and community will scrutinize counselors who fail to practice justice in their profession.
Fidelity: This involves maintaining trust through ensuring confidentiality of information to clients, in addition to demonstrating commitment to service. Counselor should always inform his clients whenever he plans to reveal their identity.
Veracity: This is an act of being truthful and authentic towards the clients in the context of counseling. Being proactive and expressing boundary issues to clients can assist in assuring them their freedom and enabling them to understand how far they can go in terms of relationships. Counselors should explain boundary early enough for the clients to understand what their helpers require from them.
Making an ethical decision begins by identifying the problem and being aware of different perceptions that can emerge from the problem. The second step is to identify the potential issues involved in the problem, where the counselor considers Kitchener’s model principles. In the third stage, the counselor reviews the relevant ethical guidelines while in the fourth step, the counselor embarks on consultations to test his reasoning strategies. In the fifth step, the counselor comes up with probable courses of action before specifying the consequences of his choices of action in the sixth step. Lastly, the counselor chooses the best option to solve the ethical problem. Ethical problems can be prevented by categorizing professional behaviors from personal relationships while understanding each other’s role.
Boundaries are essential in counseling because they enable relationships between counselors and clients remain professional while the clients are assured of their safety. Professional boundaries are always at risk of interference from certain relationships, resulting to dual relationships, which can affect counseling. Counselors can evade ethical challenges if they adhere to the principles of Kitchener’s model of ethical decision-making, which emphasize on independence, promotion for good, avoiding harm, being fair, and maintaining trust from the clients. Identifying an ethical problem is the first step in solving it while distinguishing professionalism from personal behavior is vital in maintaining counseling relationships.
Neukrug, E. (2013). Theory, practice, and trends in human services: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
Pipes, R. B., Holstein, J. E., & Aguirre, M. G. (2005). Examining the Personal — Professional Distinction Ethics Codes and the Difficulty of Drawing a Boundary. American Psychologist, 60(4), 325-334. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.4.325
Remley, T. P., & Herlihy, B. (2013). Ethical, legal, and professional issues in counseling. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.