Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The ACA Code of Ethics: Articulating Counseling's Professional Covenant

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The ACA Code of Ethics: Articulating Counseling's Professional Covenant

Article excerpt

In the mid-1970s, there was a local tavern located in a small town in New Jersey. Long and narrow, a favorite stop on the way home from work for many of the men of the town, it was indeed a place "where everybody knew your name." What made this bar different from all the others was that at the very end, where the bar curved toward the wall, was a sign that read "Professional's Corner." In this blue-collar bar, the rule was that if you wore a necktie to work, you sat down there. Those in ties saw it as an honor; however, no one really knew which group established the corner.

The generation that frequented that bar has certainly retired, the bar is closed, and that Professional's Corner is long forgotten. Nevertheless, there continues to be in society at large a professional corner, with its criteria for admission, its rights, and its responsibilities. For nearly 100 years, the counseling profession has been establishing its place at the professional corner. The development of professional organizations, educational programs and standards, and the legal recognition of licensure contributes to the profession's place at that professional corner. Still, the essential element of a profession, its ticket to the professional corner, is the relationship of the profession, collectively and individually, with society. In late 2005, the American Counseling Association (ACA) reaffirmed the essence and revised the articulation of that relationship by revising the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice (ACA, 1995). The purpose of this article is to reflect on the relationship of the ACA Code of Ethics (ACA, 2005) in the context of the counseling profession's relationship to society.

* The Definition of Profession

To begin a discussion about the context of the counseling profession, we believe that it is important to set the stage of what the term profession actually means. There is little in the counseling literature that defines a profession with accuracy. Like the people in the tavern, the literature has defined professional groups not in terms of the nature of the service they perform, but rather by what external signs they have in common with others who are called professional. Clearly, professionalism goes beyond that tavern's criterion of wearing a necktie to work. The classical concept of the professional was limited to physicians, clergy, and lawyers.

By the 18th century, it had extended to military officers. During the 19th century, with increased technology and urbanization, the term professional was applied to an ever-widening group of occupations (Gardner & Shulman, 2005).

An occupation does not become a profession merely because its members decide it will be one. It does not become a profession merely by an act of state or federal legislature. Furthermore, it does not even become a profession by collecting the various "hallmarks," like a Boy Scout collecting merit badges to reach the next rank. Rather, as the histories of professions demonstrate, they begin with and grow from significant needs of society. In the case of the classical professions, health, order, meaning, and security were clearly the existential needs recognized by society. It was those needs that established the vocation, the calling, of physician, lawyer, clergyman, and soldier, respectively. Those needs were so important, and so specific, that it was necessary to call men--and only men (Witz, 1992)--to address them on behalf of the public. Those needs were so vital that the men who were so called would have to be imbued with public respect and trust, extraordinary privilege, and exception from certain societal norms. They would be learned and would maintain an esoteric body of knowledge. They, in each of their respective fields, would be granted a monopoly, autonomy, and self-regulation. In response to such a call from society and such trust, these men would publicly promise (the meaning of the word profess) to act pro bono publico--for the good of the public. …

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