Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Counselors, Communities, and Spirituality: Ethical and Multicultural Considerations

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Counselors, Communities, and Spirituality: Ethical and Multicultural Considerations

Article excerpt

The ethical implications of spiritual diversity for school counseling in rural and small world communities are explored in this article. Multicultural competencies are proposed as a framework for conceptualizing and responding to these professional challenges. Specific recommendations for school counselors and counselor educators are provided.

Much attention has been focused on the important role school counselors play in the establishment and maintenance of a positive school environment (e.g., Lapan, 2001). By design, members of the counseling profession assist students and clients in the important process of identity development, of which spiritual identity is one important aspect (e.g., King, 2003; Maples, 2001; Poll & Smith, 2003; Richards & Bergin, 1997). Conseuently, we propose that school counselors must be able to work with their colleagues to create a school climate in which people of differing spiritual traditions feel welcome.

Counselors as individuals may be on their own spiritual journeys; however, as school professionals, their challenge is to find ways to live out their own spiritual traditions and beliefs while carrying out their important responsibilities to a school community that likely enjoys tremendous spiritual and religious diversity. In our thinking about school counseling and spiritual diversity, we find ourselves drawn to an exploration of the counseling profession's ethical standards and multicultural competencies for guidance, particularly as we consider the challenges associated with working as highly visible counselors in either rural communities or urban "small world" communities. When using the term small world communities, we are referring to relatively small, self-identified groups (e.g., ethnic or religious communities) that often exist "within the supposed anonymity" (Schank, 1998) of highly populated urban or suburban settings. Counselors who belong to these small world communities are olden highly visible and may experience professional challenges (e.g., dual relationships) not unlike their counterparts in rural settings.

It is interesting to note that there is a well-developed and growing body of literature addressing ethical and multicultural issues in school counseling (e.g., Herring, 1997; Tyson & Pedersen, 2000), yet there is relatively little discussion of the challenges associated with rural school counseling practice. In fact, comparatively few articles address ethical issues in rural practice, regardless of professional specialty, and most rely on clinical experience rather than empirical data. However, several general themes have emerged from what literature exists in this area (e.g., Barnett & Yutrzenka, 2002; Schank, 1998; Schank & Skovholt, 1997). The themes particularly germane to school counseling practice include: (a) professional challenges associated with the high visibility of the practitioner's personal life; (b) the potential for unavoidable nonsexual dual relationships with clients or patients; (c) confidentiality-related concerns; (d) questions concerning boundaries of competence; (e) community values and expectations; and (f) practitioners' personal needs and self care.

We suggest that the unique professional challenges encountered by rural school counselors are especially salient when issues of spiritual and religious diversity emerge. How school counselors might best address, or even encourage, the spiritual well-being of students is clearly controversial, particularly given the legal issues associated with the separation of church and state (e.g., Fischer & Sorenson, 1991; Staver, 1998). We believe this becomes even more problematic in rural and small world communities, where the counselor's own spiritual orientation may be known to students, parents, and staff: This visibility may both invite and prevent conversations about spiritual diversity in the school setting. Although not focused specifically on rural issues or the school counseling profession, Richards and Bergin (1997) provided a very thoughtful discussion of ethical issues related to counseling and spirituality. …

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