Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Counseling and the Law: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. (Practice & Theory)

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Counseling and the Law: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. (Practice & Theory)

Article excerpt

Regardless of one's professional credentials or work setting, counselors are expected to demonstrate ethical standards and lawful behavior. What makes this particularly challenging is that law and ethics are based on different understandings of how the world operates. These understandings, in mm, produce naturally different actions. These different actions often present the counselor with ethical-legal dilemmas. The following hypothetical vignette illustrates one such dilemma.

   Jon has been an agency counselor for nearly 3 years. One evening, shortly
   before he leaves for home, Jon receives a telephone call from someone who
   identifies herself as an attorney. Ashley, the attorney, says she is
   gathering all recent health care records for the Li family, whom Jon has
   been seeing professionally for the past 2 months. Ashley says Mr. Li has
   authorized her to obtain this information. Jon responds that he cannot
   comment one way or the other on the Li family ever having been his client.
   He also informs Ashley that any of his clients must give him written
   permission to release specific information to third parties, as per
   confidentiality requirements. Ashley tells Jon that she has the necessary
   written permission, but had hoped she could expedite the process for the Li
   family. Ashley then thanks Jon for his time and hangs up. Jon stares at the
   mute telephone and feels himself becoming angry at Ashley's attempt to
   persuade him to inappropriately disclose confidential information.

This fictitious vignette is similar to situations many counselors often encounter: Counselors and jurists seem to be locked in a tug-of-war involving client care and client privacy. Even if there is procedural agreement, there may be substantive disagreement as to the advisability of making records public. How this situation developed, its current status, and ways counselors can effectively cope with difficult counselor-jurist interactions are the foci for this article.

The primary issue underlying counselor-jurist interactions is much more complex than the individual perspectives of the counselor or the jurist. Rather, the primary issue that can be framed is a cross-cultural one. That is, counselors and jurists have differing perspectives and ways of behaving that their respective professions consider appropriate. Thus, Ashley, in the fictitious example, could sincerely seek information that she might know is supposed to be held confidential by Jon because this information may be essential for her best representation of her client. Contacting Jon in this manner was simply an attempt to expedite the process of retrieving needed information. Maintaining confidentiality regarding counseling materials is Jon's responsibility, not Ashley's. Jon seeks the welfare of his client while also cooperating with anyone who might enhance his client's therapeutic growth. He feels a tug to cooperate with Ashley because she represents the same family Jon wants to help. At the same time, however, he understands that he alone bears the potential liability for breach of confidentiality about the Li family if he relaxes a standard of practice to cooperate with Ashley. Who is right?

Such occurrences are understandably confusing for counselors. No less confusing are the words used at times to describe the occurrences. In an effort to lend clarity to these interactions, it is important to define a few key terms, as used in this article. Thus, the term counselor refers to mental health care providers and jurist refers to judges and attorneys, regardless of work setting for the respective professions. The term cross-cultural pertains to interactions between members of "cultures" in which members generally retain their cultural distinctions, rather than merging or blending those distinctions into a hybrid.

A cross-cultural perspective on the Jon and Ashley story suggests that both are right or at least acting in a way consistent with their respective professions. …

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