Ethical Decision Making Models

There are a variety of ethical decision making models that are available to counselors who are facing legal and ethical decisions. The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics states that:

No specific ethical decision-making model is always most effective, so counselors are expected to use a credible model of decision making that can bear public scrutiny of its application.

(American Counseling Association, 2014, p. 3)

Analysis of Ethics Violations

Even & Robinson (2013) conducted a large scale analysis of ethics violations committed by professional counselors. The authors found that:

The most frequent violations for this national sample related to the competency of the professional (27.6%). This category included practicing outside the scope of one's training and experience and practicing while impaired due to substance use or mental health matters. Ethics violations reflecting a violation of the professional boundary, which included both sexual and nonsexual dual relationships, accounted for 22.3% of violations. Finally, approximately 10% of violations related to a breach of confidentiality.

Even & Robinson, 2013

Read through the entire Even and Robinson (2013) article before responding to the following discussion questions.

Ethical Violations Exploration Questions

  1. What are some of the challenges to maintaining an ethical practice?
    1. How are ethical challenges different based on practice setting? For example, are there different ethical challenges in schools, agencies, and private practice?
  2. What are some of the risk factors for ethical violations that Even & Robinson (2013) identified?
  3. What critiques do you have regarding Even & Robinson's study?
  4. How can you maintain an ethical practice after graduation?

The Practitioner's Guide to Ethical Decision Making

This model is published by the American Counseling Association, and it is particularly useful for professional counselors working in agencies, private practice, and other community mental health settings.

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Apply the ACA Code of Ethics
  3. Determine the nature and dimensions of the dilemma
  4. Generate potential courses of action
  5. Consider the potential consequences of all options and determine a course of action
  6. Evaluate the selected course of action
  7. Implement the course of action
Practitioner's Guide to Ethical Decision Making

		depiction of the Practitioner's guide to ethical decision making model.

This image is used with permission from the American Counseling Association. The original .pdf is available here.

A Social Constructivism Model of Ethical Decision Making in Counseling

This alternative model for ethical decision making is based on constructivist philosophy. Thus, the model emphasizes constructing ethical knowledge through professional relationships.

  1. Obtain information from those involved
  2. Assess the nature of the relationship operating at that moment in time
  3. Consult valued colleagues and professional expert opinion (including ethics codes and literature)
  4. Negotiate when there is a disagreement
  5. Respond in a way that allows for a reasonable consensus as to what should happen or what really occurred
(Cottone, 2001)

American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Ethical Standards for School Counselors

This ethical decision making model is included with the ASCA Ethical Standards, and it is commonly used by school counselors.

  1. Define the problem emotionally and intellectually
  2. Apply the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors and the law
  3. Consider the students' chronological and developmental levels
  4. Consider the setting, parental rights and minors' rights
  5. Apply the ethical principals of beneficence, autonomy, nonmaleficence, loyalty and justice
  6. Determine potential courses of action and their consequences
  7. Evaluate the selected action
  8. Consult
  9. Implement the course of action
ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors