Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Ethics and Relationship: From Risk Management to Relational Engagement

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Ethics and Relationship: From Risk Management to Relational Engagement

Article excerpt

Treating ethics as risk management, not only in counseling and psychotherapy, but also in the medical system in general, is an increasing trend (O'Leary, Choi, Watson, & Williams, 2012). In this article, the underlying assumptions of the current ACA Code of Ethics (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2014a) are examined as they are embedded in historical and cultural contexts. Also proposed is a relational ethic situated within relational-cultural theory (RCT) that provides a framework for understanding ethics in a relational and compassionate way.

History and Assumptions of Ethics Codes

The first published code of ethics was written for physicians by Thomas Percival in Manchester, England (Ponton & Duba, 2009). In a slightly later version (1803), he coined the term professional ethics (Ponton & Duba, 2009). This code of ethics replaced the earlier understanding of ethics as a matter of character and oath. As noted by Ponton and Duba (2009), the context of this change was one in which people were becoming less trusting of individual character. The emphasis shifted from "interior character to exterior expectations" (Ponton & Duba 2009, p. 119). In the succeeding 200 years, the model developed by Percival, which involved a written set of ethical codes, became the norm for Western professions seeking to establish a social contract with the society they serve (Ponton & Duba, 2009). As the potential corrupting forces of unquestioned power were observed in individuals who were sworn to serve others, trust in the inherent virtue of individuals as the basis for the social contract was replaced by rules and guidelines to which individual practitioners and professions as a whole could be held accountable (Ponton & Duba, 2009). Ethical codes are a public demonstration that "unlike charity, professional altruism is not an option but an obligation that binds each and every member, individually and collectively" (Welie as cited in Ponton & Duba, 2009, p. 118).

As a formal profession, counseling is relatively new. The American Counseling Association (ACA), the association that supported the formalization of the profession, celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2012 (http://www.counseling.org). ACA published its first code of ethics in 1961 (Allen as cited in Walden, Herlihy, & Ashton, 2003). The roots of the counseling profession extend back to educational and vocational service and sprouted from society's needs for both personal meaning and social order (Ponton & Duba, 2009). The counseling profession grew in scope and practice over the last several decades, and its identity can be described as "inextricably bound with those preventative and developmental activities issuing from oganismic (growth-oriented, holistic) and contextualistic (person/environment sensitive) perspectives" (Steenbarger, 1991, p. 380).

The ACA Code of Ethics (ACA, 2014a) was forged and shaped within the dialectic of individual and Western society. The 2014 version appeals for members not only to conform to the prescribed behaviors (exterior expectations) but also to "facilitate client growth and development in ways that foster the interest and welfare of clients and promote formation of healthy relationships" (Section A, p. 4). The overarching values or moral principles (Kitchener, 1984) of the Code, as outlined in A Practitioner's Guide to Ethical Decision Making (Forester-Miller & Davis, 1996), are autonomy (freedom of choice and action), justice (treating individuals appropriately with respect to their context and individuality), beneficence (contributing to a person's welfare), nonmaleficence (avoid doing harm), fidelity (honoring of commitments, faithfulness), and veracity (dealing truthfully with clients). Each section of the Code begins by outlining the greater values, based on the above moral principles, to which a counselor should aspire when attempting to live out the ethical mandates. …

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