An Approach to Teaching Ethics Courses in Human Services and Counseling

By Corey, Gerald; Corey, Schneider Marianne et al. | Counseling and Values, April 2005 | Go to article overview
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An Approach to Teaching Ethics Courses in Human Services and Counseling


Corey, Gerald, Corey, Schneider Marianne, Callanan, Patrick, Counseling and Values


This article presents multiple facets of a team approach to teaching and facilitating an ethics course for undergraduate human services students and a graduate ethics course for students majoring in counseling, Starting with general points, this article describes a specific, week-to-week approach to a 1-semester course, concluding with sample student evaluative comments and an experienced professor/author's processing of the experience of preparing and teaching this course for many years.

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What follows is our particular approach to teaching an ethics course at the undergraduate level (Ethical and Professional Issues in Human Services) and at the graduate level (Professional, Ethical, and Legal Issues in Counseling). Our purpose is to share what we do during the course of a semester, our rationale for doing what we do, and our approaches to designing the format and content for each week of the course. We also describe course objectives and a variety of methods and procedures used in reaching these objectives. We briefly look at the role of faculty modeling as a way to teach and as a means to shared learning in ethics, and we address ways of teaching ethical decision making. Most of the article concentrates on describing the structure used in our ethics courses.

From our perspective, cultivation of an ethical sense begins with students' commitment to their education in the helping professions. The way they approach their education has a bearing on the way they will approach their professional career. When they are committed to their studies on an intellectual, emotional, and behavioral level, our experience indicates that students will probably bring this enthusiasm and dedication to their total educational process and eventual professional practice.

Role of Faculty Modeling in Teaching Ethics

We believe that the faculty of any program in the helping professions play a major role in modeling an ethical sense. Ways in which faculty members teach their courses and relate to and supervise students have a significant impact. As Kitchener (1984) pointed out, one way of teaching students what it means to be an ethical professional is by being truthful, honest, and direct with them. Kitchener (1986) put this matter well:

   By modeling, through discussions, and by valuing ethical behavior,
   counselor educators call encourage young professionals to develop a
   sense of responsibility to act ill an ethically responsible manner.
   Also, they can help them learn to tolerate the ambiguity involved in
   ethical decision making. First, however, counselor educators must
   learn to tolerate ambiguity themselves. (p. 310)

We agree with Engels, Wilborn, and Schneider (1990) concerning the importance of professors and supervisors taking the risks involved in good learning and effective counseling practice. They saw it as imperative that faculty members engage in ongoing self-examination regarding personal and professional values, ethics, competence, and dedication. They emphasized that the best route to teaching these characteristics is by modeling them. Our students are likely to be more influenced by what we are actually doing than by what we say others should be doing.

According to Tabachnick, Keith-Spiegel, and Pope (1991), there has been a lack of comprehensive and systematic data concerning the beliefs and behaviors of psychologists who function as educators. They maintained that psychologists who serve as educators can benefit from a process of ethical self-examination and accountability. They encouraged psychologists to model through their teaching the self-reflection on ethical issues that they expect of their students. Tabachnick et al. stated, "A crucial aspect of the maturation and moral development of any profession is the collective openness and dedication of its membership to study and critically examine itself" (p. 515). They suggested that it is time for psychologists to bring the strategies and rigorous discipline of psychology to their own behavior and beliefs as educators.

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