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Ethics and Law Commonalities and Distinctions Annabelle Shestak Walden University


Ethical standards of practice are an important part of the professional identity for any trade, including that of counselors. Acceptance of ethical standards and their publication enable counselors to educate new practitioners, enhance standards of practice, and support accountability (Herlihy & Corey, 2006). Usually, these standards are also parallel to applicable state and federal laws (Knapp, Gottlieb, Berman, & Handelsman, 2007). However, Knapp et al (2007) report that occasionally, ethical principles would be without corresponding or parallel laws. The interplay between standards of counseling ethics and the law are analyzed and discussed in the paragraphs below. The Relationship Between Counseling Ethics and the Law Mental Heath Counseling is a new profession, which has only recently received full recognition through state licensing in all 50 states. Therefore, many of the state and federal laws created to protect counseling clients are also applicable to other professions, such as Social Work and Psychology, which are founded on many of the same theoretical knowledge and principles. Many of the current laws pertaining to the counseling profession are the result of civil action stemming from mistreatment of clients, as well as from licensing statutes for the profession (Knapp et al, 2007). However, the law does not fully match the ethical standards of the counseling profession. According to Remley and Herlihy (2010), ethical standards represent the ideal practice, while the law ensures the minimum level of care. Therefore, laws often focus on four basic quality-of-care issues: sexual relationships, confidentiality, competency, and billing accuracy (Knapp et al, 2007). Ethical standards go beyond these basic regulations, describing other types of counselorclient relationships that could be problematic, providing standards for supervision, and

ETHICS AND LAW- COMMONALITIES AND DISTINCTIONS incorporating the values of beneficence and non-malficence (ACA, 2005). In contrast to applicable laws, ethics originate from philosophical underpinnings related to virtue- those qualities that represent a good, caring professional (Remley & Herlihy, 2010). Remley and Herlihy (2010) also reported that ethics represent moral standards applicable to all healthcare professions. Ethics and Cultural Competence In recent years, cultural competence has become a growing trend of the mental health field. Such appreciation of a multicultural society is expressed by various non-discrimination laws and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protect the rights and needs of diverse populations. Ethics of the counseling profession go beyond such basic laws, demanding that counselors maintain awareness and separation of their personal biases and cultural perceptions from their understanding of clients needs (ACA, 2005). This way, counselors must engage in increasing their own cultural competence by learning about each clients values, beliefs, and needs. Such behavior ensures that clients are treated fairly and provided with the most culturally appropriate care by their counselors. Personal Understanding of Ethics in Counseling The pursuit of ethical conduct is a challenging one. Knapp et al (2007) described situations in which ethical standards contradict one another, as well as instances in which these standards contradict applicable laws. This suggests a complex relationship between counseling practice and adherence to ethical standards. However, counselors increase their likelihood of maintaining high standards of ethical practice when they strive to (a) increase professional competence in counseling techniques, as well as in understanding of principles of counseling

ethics and ethical decision making, (b) decrease isolation through consultation and collaboration


with peers, superiors, and other professionals, and (c) practice self-care to the degree that enables the counselors full investment in the welfare and wellbeing of individuals in their care.

Summary The path to ethical conduct is filled with pitfalls for the beginning counselor. Many of these pitfalls may not just violate the professions ideal standards of practice, but cause legal and license-terminating action (Knapp et al, 2007). Counselors and counseling students- must therefore understand and follow both ethical and legal standards, taking care to serve the best interests of their clients, including those of diverse cultural backgrounds. Such in-depth understanding can only result from continuous learning efforts by counselors who engage in consistent self-reflection and self-evaluation to assess their own professional needs and capabilities, as well as those of their clients and third parties.

ETHICS AND LAW- COMMONALITIES AND DISTINCTIONS References American Counseling Association (ACA). (2005). 2005 ACA code of ethics [White Paper]. Retrieved from the ACA website: http://www.counseling.org/Files/FD.ashx? guid=ab7c1272-71c4-46cf-848c-f98489937dda Herlihy, B., & Corey, G. (2006). ACA ethical standards casebook (6th ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association. Knapp, S., Gottlieb, M., Berman, J., & Handelsman, M. M. (2007). When laws and ethics

collide: What should psychologists do?. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(1), 5459 Remley, T. P., Jr., & Herlihy, B. (2010). Ethical, legal, and professional issues in counseling (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson Education.