The author presents an overview of the current content of ethics education in counseling, grouping that content into 3 areas: decision-making models, principle ethics, and the standard of care. It is argued that as the field of ethics education has grown, so has the need for additional content models, especially ones that enhance moral sensitivity and reduce objectification of client circumstances. The author presents 3 possible approaches to revising the conceptualization of professional ethics that meet the need for new models: moral visions, narrative ethics, and virtue ethics.
This article provides a broad overview of the current ethical analysis content presented to students in counselor education programs. In this article, ethical analysis refers to the educational content counseling students can be expected to apply to ethically troubling situations throughout their careers. The goal of this article is to describe some of the characteristics of ethical analysis that are commonly presented in counselor education programs. I also introduce alternate methods of ethical analysis to help counselor educators enhance the ethical capacities of counseling students. In order to identify the content of ethical analysis in counselor education, it is necessary to define ethics. It is also necessary to describe the social context in which the teaching of ethics in counselor education programs takes place.
The Current State of Ethical Analysis: Dilemma Over Drama
Professional ethics is a complex domain for students, teachers, and practitioners. The term ethics itself carries so many different meanings that important opportunities for valuable inquiry may be missed by individuals who are attempting to clarify these meanings. When counselors refer to ethics, it is often not clear whether they are referring to codes of ethics, moral values, legal limitations on behavior, community standards, or to some general sense of the term that is meant to encompass any one or all of these concepts. In addition, ethics may be discussed in either ideal language, referring to the highest and best goals a counselor may aspire to, or in practical language, reflecting mandatory minimal standards in professional life (Herlihy & Corey, 1996).
Standards created by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001) provide some guidance for individuals who want to define the parameters and limits of ethics, of professional ethics, and of educational content relating to ethics. CACREP standards related to knowledge and skill acquisition are divided into core standards that are required of all students and program specialization standards. The following text applies to all but one of the eight core curricular areas: "Curricular experiences and demonstrated knowledge ... of ethical and legal considerations ... for each area are required of all students in the program" (CACREP, 2001). In all but one instance among the eight core standards, this is the only mention of what instruction in ethics should entail. One exception exists in the section on helping relationships. This section requires curricular experience and demonstrated knowledge of the guidelines presented in the American Counseling Association's (ACA; 1995) ACA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and related codes of ethics. The same language used to describe the required curricular experiences and demonstrated knowledge is then repeated in the sections on eight program specialization areas. Curricular content in each of these specialization areas is cross-referenced to the ACA Code of Ethics as well as to divisional ethical codes, where relevant. Thus, the CACREP standards strongly suggest that being ethical and behaving ethically are defined by practice in accordance with these codes of ethics. Furthermore, the CACREP standards suggest that the content of education in ethics may appropriately be limited to curricular experiences and demonstrated knowledge of practicing in accordance with these codes of ethics.
Several writers have attempted to define ethics (ACA, 1995; Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 1998; Erwin, 2000; Pope & Vasquez, 1998; Remley & Herlihy, 2001; Rest, 1984; Swenson, 1997; Van Hoose & Paradise, 1979; Welfel, 2002). Although there are differences, of course, in the various definitions of ethics, there are also many similarities. No explicit definition of ethics is provided in the ACA Code of Ethics; however, the preamble to the document states "the specification of a code of ethics enables the association to clarify ... the nature of the ethical responsibilities held in common by its members" (p. 1). Because this code of ethics is a commonly shared document among counselors and counselor educators, perhaps there is a need to synthesize the many definitions that are placed under the heading "responsibility held in common." This basic description of the practical side of ethics is most applicable to the applied ethics one encounters in professional work. It is consistent with the definition provided by Levy (1972): "Ethics are standards of behavior or action in relation to others" (p. 96). Definitions provided by Corey et al., Pope and Vasquez, Erwin, Swensen, and Van Hoose and Paradise used similar language.
Some writers define ethics as ethical behavior, that is, rules for appropriate conduct adopted by an individual or group (Corey et al., 1998). Others define ethics by incorporating conduct into practitioner psychological processes. According to Welfel (1998), ethical behavior must meet four criteria: (a) The counselor must have sufficient knowledge, skill, and judgment to use efficacious interventions; (b) the counselor must respect the human dignity and freedom of the client; (c) the counselor must responsibly use the power inherent in his or her role; and (d) the counselor must act in ways that promote public confidence in the counseling (p. 3). Similarly, Rest (1984), Rest and Narvaez (1994), and Kitchener (1984) all defined ethics (which Rest equated with moral behavior) both behaviorally and attitudinally. They all described four psychological criteria; if the criteria are met, then the result is moral behavior. The criteria are (a) moral sensitivity (interpreting the situation), (b) moral judgment (judging which action is morally right or wrong), (c) moral motivation (prioritizing moral values relative to other values), and (d) moral character (having courage, persisting, overcoming distractions, implementing skills; Rest & Narvaez, 1994, p. 23).
If responsibility held in common is the practical common denominator of professional ethics, then another common theme centers on ideals. Again, Levy (1972) provided a definition that reflects the work of Frederich Paulson, a philosopher of ethics. For Paulson (1899), ethics is
the science of moral duty; more broadly the science of the ideal human character and the ideal ends of human action ... The chief problems with which ethics deals concern the nature of the summum bonum, or highest good, the origin and validity of the sense of duty, and the character and authority of moral obligation.
A third aspect of ethics focuses on systematic study of moral choices. According to Swenson (1997), borrowing from Sieber, "Ethics is the systematic study of value concepts such as right and wrong and the broader principles justifying application of rules of conduct. The study of ethics helps us to answer questions that have no ultimate answers and is important in justifying, planning, and implementing decisions" (p. 57). This element of systematic study is also common in dictionary definitions of ethics. For example, the American Heritage Dictionary focuses on three elements: the study of moral philosophy, the rules of a profession (or more broadly the character of a community), and moral self-examination (Soukhanov, 1992).
The previously mentioned definitions of ethics provide a foundation for defining ethical analysis for professional counseling. Thus, ethical analysis is the art and skill of engaging with ethically troubling material in ways that (a) support client welfare, (b) empower counselors to practice within professional standards of competency, (c) inspire counselors to practice in ways that are consistent with their own ideals, and (d) inspire counselors to practice in ways that are consistent with the ideals of the profession.
The Background of Ethical Analysis
For the past 30 years, the social context for the development of professional ethics in counseling has been marked by attempts to curb abuses of professional authority. Both ethical codes and laws governing professional licensure have been designed to provide clear guidelines regarding acceptable and unacceptable professional behavior (Swenson, 1997). One primary goal for forming a profession is to limit practice to those who are aware of the misdeeds of prior …