The ACA Code of Ethics provides guidance for counselors regarding professional values and behaviors. The skills on this page are important, as professionalism protects clients and counselors.
It is important to remember that no counselor is perfect and client's know themselves better than their counselors.
Check in regularly with clients to ensure that progress is being made toward goals & that counseling theories & techniques are a match for clients' culture.
It can be difficult to give authority figures feedback & clients may perceive counselors as authority figures. Because of this inherent power difference counselors are responsible for asking client's for feedback and for being open to feedback.
Ethical & skillful counselors know when to seek supervision. Supervision can be useful when counselors feel stuck, have a values conflict with a client, feel sexually attracted to a client, or are learning a new skill. There is no shame in seeking supervision, even the most advanced counselors can benefit from good supervision. As a side note, supervising counselors is not the same as giving counseling. It is important that counseling supervisors receive training and supervision of supervision.
Maintaining professional and ethical boundaries in counseling requires self-awareness and intentionality with regard to monitoring one's personal wellness, competency, and performance. Boundaries within the counseling relationship are essential as they provide the expectations and structure necessary for clients to feel safe vulnerably engaging in the counseling process. Setting professional boundaries involves providing clients with informed consent, clarifying the rights and responsibilities of the counselor and client, explaining to clients the nature of services provided, and informing clients of limitations to confidentiality.
During counseling sessions, counselors can maintain boundaries through monitoring their personal reactions, avoiding imposing their values onto clients, making careful decisions about the use of self-disclosure, and thoughtfulness in relation to timing, pacing, and how directive they should be at any given point in the session. Boundaries outside of the counseling relationship include maintaining client confidentiality, being respectful of clients during supervision and staffing's, responding to client's questions or concerns within a timely manner, and engaging in necessary self-care to avoid burn out. Appropriate boundaries enhance counselor empathy for clients, which strengthens the counseling relationship. When working with clients, Brené Brown asks herself "what boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my integrity and make the most generous assumptions possible about you?"
Examples of egregious boundary violations in counseling can include having sexual or romantic relationships with current or former clients, attempting to provide counseling services to friends, family members, or past romantic partners, and inappropriate extensions of boundaries such as agreeing to go out for drinks with clients or friending or following clients on social media.
Professional counselors follow legal and ethical codes, with the understanding that law takes precedent over ethical codes.
Some of the common ethical codes for professional counselors are: