Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Ethical Discernment Points: The Alchemy of Dialogue, Deliberation, and Decisions/Les Points De Discernement éThique : L'alchimie Du Dialogue, De la Délibération, et Des Décisions

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Ethical Discernment Points: The Alchemy of Dialogue, Deliberation, and Decisions/Les Points De Discernement éThique : L'alchimie Du Dialogue, De la Délibération, et Des Décisions

Article excerpt

In 2004, Lehr and Sumarah put forth as their major premise the notion that judgement in ethical decision-making models needs to be more inclusive of relationship with others, and that dialogue in such a relationship is an essential dimension in the discernment process. This premise aligns with the social constructivist position of Cottone (2001), who notes the importance of understanding the interpersonal realm in ethical decision making, rather than relying solely on intrapsychic or internal processes, and that a needed part of the decision-making process must or ought to revolve around interaction, conversation, and dialogue with others. In our research, we are interested in how counsellors navigate moments of tension in the counselling process, those "grey" areas where ethical dilemmas do not clearly exist, but where counsellors need to decide how or where to proceed with a client.

We refer to these moments of tension or uncertainty when counsellors are faced with choices about direction or next step(s) as ethical discernment points (EDPs). We define these as a moment at which there is recognition that a choice must be made that will have ethical implications or that is related to an ethical dilemma or the resolution of an ethical question or conundrum. We use discernment, with its connotation of inward- and outward-directed reflection, to describe the somewhat intangible and elusive process of accessing and attending to the whole psyche (the human soul, mind, or spirit: i.e., the unique self) and the experience, conscious and unconscious, that appears to be going on in the process in which counsellors engage in order to determine how to proceed when faced with these ethically laden moments. In contrast, we define ethical dilemma as a situation necessitating a choice between two equal, often undesirable, alternatives. To further differentiate, an ethical decision describes choosing between what is right or better and what is wrong or worse. Counsellors often face EDPs in their day-to-day practice and certainly more frequently than they encounter actual ethical dilemmas or decisions. If they navigate the EDPs effectively, they may avert or circumvent many ethical challenges that might otherwise arise.

As researchers and counselling practitioners, we attend to the relational and social interactive aspects of ethical counselling practices-the degree to which counsellors talk to others, including clients, when faced with ethical quandaries. Bond (2010) wrote that counsellors generally draw upon six sources of information when faced with ethical issues or dilemmas: personal ethics; ethics implicit in therapeutic models; agency policy; professional codes, frameworks, and guidelines; moral philosophy; and law. How they make determinations based upon these sources is still somewhat of a mystery; however, Bond agreed that "[t]he construction of counselling ethics is fundamentally a social process, which draws upon many different sources of ethical insight" (p. 40), a point reminiscent of the poet John Donne, who said that no one is an island-we are all part of and connected to each other.

In the current research, we view relational ethical decision making from a social constructivist perspective, which Cottone (2004) defined as an intellectual movement in the mental health field that directs a social, consensual interpreta- tion of what we come to regard as real, where experience is socially interpreted and constructed through interaction with others (Vygotsky, 1962) and, as Strong (2005) noted, not discovered objectively. Counsellors, like others, are relational beings who use their own knowledge and experience as a guide when situations that create uncertainty and personal tension arise, a point emphasized by Strong, who affirmed that "ethics are humanly created, upheld or modifiable conventions based on the concerns and aspirations of those articulating and living them" (pp. 89-90). The Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association Code of Ethics (CCPA, 2007) describes an ethical decision-making approach that includes both principle ethics, described by Jordan and Meara (1990) as objective, rational, impartial, and universal ethics that dictate actions, and virtue ethics, which focus on the counsellor's intentions, motives, values, and ethical consciousness while recognizing the importance of understanding principles based on cultural context. …

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