Ethics is defined by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2002) as the moral principles governing or influencing conduct. According to Judson, and Hicks (1999), ethics is the "standard of behaviour developed as a result of one's concept of right and wrong" (P.5).
Walrand (2005) believed ethics should be viewed as a code of conduct that changes with time, as the society and the professions decide what actions are right and wrong. In whatever context ethics is viewed the importance of understanding ethics as it relates to one profession is paramount. Each professional should be versed in and be abreast with current ethical principles that govern his or her profession, since it is the professional code of ethics that the gives generalized guidance for practice.
Owing to the fact that the guidance offered by an ethical code is general and not specific, the practitioner's problem-solving skills, ethical reasoning and creative approach to meeting ethical responsibilities can never be replaced. (Corey, Schneider Corey, & Collaman, 2003). For any practitioner to function at the highest possible professional level, the content of the principles and standards should be learned and practiced in the every day affairs of one's professional life. Although ethical applications are often controversial and disagreements among similar professionals are not rare, it remains the responsibility of each professional to ensure currency of ethical practice (Lawman, 2006).
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The suggestion by Herlishy and Corey (as cited by Corey, et al 2003) claims that the code of ethics fulfils three objectives; to educate professionals about sound ethical conduct, to provide a mechanism for professional accountability and as a catalyst for improving practice.
Professional ethics as it relates to the counselling and consulting profession has five ethical principles as its foundation pillars. These are:
Beneficence and normalificience - refers to promoting good for others and avoiding doing harm.
Fidelity and responsibility - refers to awareness of professional ethics, ethical decision making, recognizing impairment, and honouring one's responsibilities of trust in a relationship.
Integrity - involves honesty, avoiding conflicts of interest and exploitation, maintaining personal boundaries, and addressing ethical misconduct.
Justice or fairness is about equity. It means providing equal treatment to all individuals. It does not mean treating all individuals the same, but appropriately in the circumstances.
The respect for people's rights and dignity - this involves the right to privacy, confidentiality and self determination. Valuing the dignity and worth of all individuals. (American Psychological Association (APA), 2002 ).
On these ethical principles are sets of standards, which incorporate the framework for ethical conducts, that the society expects of each psychologist. There are two sets of standards: the mandatory ethics which is found in the 'lower house' and the aspirational ethics which is found in the 'upper house'. The practitioners, who are practicing from the lower house, will do only what is mandatory, or the least to prevent legal implications and/or professional censuring. The client's best interest is not the focal point here. On the other hand, the practitioners who function from the upper house, practicing aspirational ethics, focus on what is in the best interest of their clients and not just meeting the basic requirement of what is permitted. Corey, et al ( 2003) suggest that this " entails an understanding of the spirit behind the code and the principles on which the code rest" (p.12).
The counselor /consultant as a person and a professional
As stated by one philosopher, the unexamined life is not worth living. It therefore behooves all professionals who work intimately with others, to so examine themselves in order to develop an acute high level of self awareness. This will put them in good stead to recognize and address their personal needs, conflicts, defenses and vulnerability (Corey, et al 2003).
Most individuals who enter the helping profession are by nature nurturers. They get great satisfaction in being the catalyst for change in the clients. The focus can easily be misplaced from the nurturee to the nurturer; if there is a lack or inadequate self awareness on the part of the nurturer the boundaries can easily be violated. Peterson (1992) ,defined boundaries as "the limits that allow for safe connection based on the client's need" (P.74). Individuals who exploit the professional-client relationship in order to satisfy their personal needs instead of the client's, are in breach of the ethical code. Corey, et al (2003), implied that achieving the goal of therapy can be hampered if the therapist who has a strong need for approval, focus on trying to win the acceptance, and admiration of his/her clients.
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How the clinician orchestrates his/her professional role will be influenced by the clinician's personal attribute, level of personal functioning, and beliefs (Corey, et al 2003). The APA (2002) ethics code stated that when "psychologists become aware of personal problems that may interfere with their performing work related duties adequately, they should take appropriate measures such as obtaining professional consultation or assistance, and determine whether they should limit, suspend, or terminate their work related duties" (2.06.b). Therefore, having an issue is not the major problem but instead, how the issue or problem is dealt with. Having an issue/problem and not being aware of its existence can be a major problem in the client-therapist relationship. As outlined in the APA (as cited in Corey, et al 2003), a clear guideline is given, on how personal conflicts should be dealt with. It states that"Psychologists recognize that their personal problems and conflicts may interfere with their effectiveness. Accordingly, they refrain from undertaking an activity when they know or should know that their personal problems are likely to lead to harm of a patient, client, colleague, student research participant, or other persons to whom they may owe a professional or scientific obligation" (p.13).
Ethical decision making
The question is not if ethical dilemmas will occur but to accept the inevitability that it will in the course of one's professional practice. Be prepared psychologically so far as it is humanly possible. To resolve or attempt to resolve such dilemmas, one has to be cognizant of the fact, that it is a process that warrants being responsible and not just emotional. According to Corey, et al (2003), "acting responsibly implies recognizing any conflicts between personal and professional values and dealing with them effectively" (p.18). Corey, et al (2003) outlines eight stages in this process:
Identify the problem or dilemma; collecting adequate amount of information as possible to determine if the problem is ethical, legal, clinical, professional, and moral or a combination of all. This is done after it is recognized that a problem exist.
Identify the potential issues involved. A list is generated and critical issues noted, competing moral principles are identified and prioritized. Each one is viewed in relation to the problem, to see which of any supports a resolution to the problem.
The relevant ethics code are reviewed, checking to see if one's values and ethics are consistent with, or in conflict with the relevant codes.
Know the applicable laws and regulations. It is important for one to keep abreast with the laws of the land that applies to ethical dilemmas, such as: breaching confidentiality, reporting child or elder abuse, dealing with issues pertaining to danger of self or others, parental rights, record keeping, testing and assessment, diagnosis, licensing status, and the grounds for malpractice.
Obtain consultation. Obtaining different perspective on the problem by consulting colleagues. Seek legal counsel if there is a legal question. Seek feed back after presentation of the assessment of the situation. All consultations should be documented. The need for documentation cannot be over emphasized as this is important in a court case. One should be able to justify a course of action based on sound reasoning.
Consider possible and probable courses of action. Brainstorming, developing alternative courses of action in light of contextual factor.
Enumerate the consequences of various decisions, analyzing the advantages and the disadvantages of the various courses of action for those likely to be affected, allowing for different perspectives and cultures. Using the six fundamental moral principles (autonomy, normaleficience, beneficience, justice, fidelity and veracity) as a framework for evaluating the consequences of a given course of action.
Decide on what appears to be the best course of action
The consultant's main task is to help the client/organization to function optimally. In order for the consultant to be effective in this task, he or she should be well endowed with certain critical skills. These skills include diagnostic ability, specialized knowledge, communication, presentation and implementation (Metzger 1993).
Specialized knowledge- it is important that the psychologist is adequately trained for the task he/she accepts. The psychologist should be cognizant of his/her boundaries of competence in order to do no harm to client/organization. The ethical standard (2.01) clearly states (as cited in Lawman, 2006) that "psychologists planning to provide services, teach or conduct research involving populations, areas, techniques, or technologies new to them undertake relevant education, training, supervised experience, consultation or study" (P.99).
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The consultant should also demonstrate integrity throughout this relationship. According to Harry (2002), "integrity is not only a matter of being honest, keeping one's word, observing the rules of the organization and respecting the responsibility and authority of different people but also avoiding misrepresentation" (P.14). The consultant should not demonstrate favouritism, appearing to be more friendly with some people than with others, nor should he/she be perceived as 'grape vine', taking tales to higher management. If the workers become suspicious of the consultant's motives, this would greatly impede the task of obtaining the information needed for the assessment of the problem. The consultant should not only demonstrate integrity but also support. The consultant should be supportive to the leadership in his/her relationship with an organization. This does not mean that the consultant must agree with the mis-diagnosis by management of the problem. His or her diagnostic skill would equipt him or her, to be able to look past the obvious symptoms and to identify the root cause of the mismanagement. Recognizing the cause and then develop solutions that calls for dysfunctional, behavioural and value modifications that are acceptable to the perpetrators (Metzger, 1993). It is unethical and unprincipled for the consultant to undermine the leadership of the organization.
There should be no ambiguity of the consultant's function; it should be made clear that although the consultant's task is to help the organization function optimally, it is management who is in charge. The consultant does not have the responsibility for the organization; therefore, management should be kept abreast of the consultant's activities within the organization; the findings, what was learned from the findings, how it can help the organization and how it may be implemented (Levinson, 2002).