One of the most critical issues facing counselor education today is whether graduates of counselor education programs are competent to practice independently (Adams, 2006; Kerl, Garcia, McCullough, & Maxwell, 2002; Levitt, 2004). Because of gatekeeping policies and procedures, some students who demonstrate personal and professional liabilities do not continue toward graduation and licensure (Bradey & Post, 1991; Lumadue & Duffy, 1999; Morrissette & Gadbois, 2006; Tjeltveit, 1999). However, the majority of students who enter counselor education programs do graduate and continue toward licensure. So, then, the assumption of any profession and the public that embraces its service is that certified and licensed members of that profession have demonstrated a minimum degree of competence. By the nature of their membership in the profession, they agree to adhere to the standards of that profession, to participate in maintaining--if not increasing--public trust in and voluntary receipt of professional services, and to advocate for and protect that profession's collective identity.
Regrettably, ethical misconduct--defined here as acts of commission or omission that directly violate the standards of the profession as reflected in various codes of ethics and state licensure laws and regulations--draws both question and concern about how counselors are trained and socialized into the profession. Although the prevalence of confirmed ethics and licensure violations is limited to just 0.5% to 1% of total membership (Neukrug, Milliken, & Walden, 2001), Gentry (2007) estimated that 10% of counselors are actively violating an ethics code at any given time. Ethical misconduct harms clients, counselors, and public trust (Welfel, 1998) while raising criticism about counselor professionalism, competence, and congruence with the larger professional identity displayed by most counselors. Because ensuring competence among counselor education graduates is of critical importance and because ethical conduct is positioned as hallmark evidence for competence, those factors that potentially affect the behaviors that counselors display should be assessed.
Contributors to this literature believe that ethics training matters. Mascari and Webber (2006) noted that a slippery slope toward engaging in ethical misconduct resulted from the interaction of problems of professional identity and the effects of inadequate training. Freeman (2000) stated that students who graduate from counselor education programs may be ill-prepared to manage ethical dilemmas. Although training in ethics may have steadily increased in counselor education (Colby & Long, 1994; Neukrug et al., 2001; Urofsky & Engels, 2003), it appears that the content and delivery of ethics education varies widely (Downs, 2003; Urofsky & Sowa, 2004). Hill (2004) reported that "research to date has provided little clear evidence of the impact of instruction in ethics on the ethics of professional counselors" (p. 185).
In counselor education, ethics instruction is delivered via two primary methods. Hill (2004) reported that approximately one fourth of counselor education programs preferred a standalone ethics course. It appears that most counselor education programs prefer an infused or integrated approach to teaching ethics. Because ethics was believed to be an essential component of the counselor education curriculum, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2009) required accredited programs to address ethics regardless of specialty area but did not specify the manner of delivery.
Since its inception in 1981, CACREP has functioned as the primary accrediting organization for the counseling profession. The CACREP (2009) Standards are standards by which counselor education programs are evaluated and subsequently granted or denied accreditation. Generally, CACREP's influence on counselor education curricula has been perceived as favorable (Hensley, Smith, & Thompson, 2003; Holcomb-McCoy, Bryan, & Rahill, 2002; McGlothlin & Davis, 2004; Milsom & Akos, 2005; Vacc, 1992). …