A defining characteristic of a professional organization is the formulation of a code or system of standards that prescribe acceptable professional behaviors for the members of that group. The establishment of a code of ethics signifies the maturation of a profession and results from the evolution of a collective professional identity within the organization (Mabe & Rollin, 1986). According to Nugent (1994), a mature profession not only has an explicit code of ethics but also has the ability to monitor the practice of the profession through a formalized system of adjudicating complaints made against members.
The history and development of the American Counseling Association Ethics Committee mirrors, in many ways, the development and maturation of the counseling profession. Donald Super, the first president of the American Personnel and Guidance Association (APGA; later the American Association for Counseling and Development [AACD], now the American Counseling Association [ACA]), formed an Ethical Practices Committee in 1953, just 1 year after the organization was established. The purpose of that committee was to establish a code of ethics for the young organization (Allen, 1986).
The first iteration of the association's code of ethics was published for member review in 1959 and was formally adopted in 1961 (Allen, 1986). Since that time, the code has been revised on an average of every 7 years to reflect changes that have occurred in professional practice, in the needs and issues presented by clients, and in American society in general. The Ethics Committee has overseen each of these revisions. Most recently, between 1993 and 1995, the Ethics Committee drafted, published, and revised according to member input the ACA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice (ACA, 1995), which was adopted in 1995. The ACA Ethics Committee continues to monitor issues of professional practice and oversees the revision of ethical standards as changes become necessary.
The role of the ACA Ethics Committee has expanded over the years to include educative and adjudicative functions. Efforts to educate the membership about ethics have included Herlihy and Corey's (1996) Ethical Standards Casebook, which was first published in 1965 and is now in its fifth edition. Each revision of the ethical standards since 1965 has been accompanied by a revision of the casebook, which has become a practical companion volume to the code itself (Herlihy & Corey, 1996).
Other efforts to educate the membership have included the Practitioner's Guide to Ethical Decision Making, written in 1996 by Ethics Committee members Holly Forester-Miller and Thomas E. Davis to assist counselors in resolving difficult ethical dilemmas. The Committee has also been involved in a nationally televised video conference on ethics featuring recognized experts in the field and in sponsoring ethics workshops and home study programs to assist ACA members in keeping current with ethical issues and standards. The Committee periodically publishes a column in Counseling Today that answers general questions posed by members.
Another function of the Ethics Committee has been to uphold and enforce the standards of the profession. The Committee has been charged with the duties of responding to formal inquiries and adjudicating formal complaints brought against ACA members. Over the years, the Ethics Committee has developed formal procedures for processing complaints, and the Policies and Procedures for Processing Complaints of Ethical Violations (ACA, 1997) outlines how complaints may be filed, the process for adjudicating such complaints, and disciplinary actions that the Committee might invoke (Forester-Miller & Shumate, 1998). Since 1991, the Ethics Committee has made a formal report to the membership at the end of each year. These annual reports have appeared in the archival issues of the Journal of Counseling & Development (see ACA Ethics Committee, 1992; Forester-Miller & Shumate, 1998; Garcia, Glosoff, & Smith, 1994; Garcia, Salo, & Hamilton, 1995; Salo, Forester-Miller, & Hamilton, 1996; Smith, 1993) and have served to inform the membership about types of violations and potential areas for concern. …