Academic journal article TCA Journal

Counselors in the Broadcast Media: Professional and Ethical Considerations

Academic journal article TCA Journal

Counselors in the Broadcast Media: Professional and Ethical Considerations

Article excerpt

As counseling professionals become more active in broadcast media presentations, they are encountering ethical situations that are not specifically defined in codes of ethics. Media interactions are new arenas for counselors, and mental health professionals need to be ethical in the information they deliver and be seen as positive role models for the profession. This article addresses the roles of counselors when they interact with clients in the media, discusses professional ethical codes for media representation, and provides specific recommendations for media interaction.

Broadcast media communications between counselors and clients are increasing, but the existing professional ethical codes do not adequately address the limitations and concerns of these interactions. The purpose of this article is threefold: (1) to review the limited literature on counselors' experiences in the media and review their suggestions for TV and radio appearances; (2) to examine how media representation is addressed in the existing professional codes of ethics; and (3) to offer guidelines and recommendations for counselors and counselor educators who are contemplating media interactions or teaching on the subject of media communications.

Although this article addresses problems encountered by counselors during media participation, such experiences can be powerful and positive for both counselors and communities given interactions occur within professional guidelines. A counselor has the opportunity to convey a positive image and impart important knowledge through media appearances. These important aspects of media participation should not be devalued. Foster (1996) provides the rationale for counselors to behave ethically in transactions with the media and emphasizes the responsibility of counselors to serve as professional role models. McCall ( 1990) discussed several advantages of promoting the image of psychologists and other mental health professionals, including: helping clients who would not otherwise receive help; assuring clients they are not alone with their problems; providing alternatives and hope; increasing referrals; and increasing awareness of current mental health problems.

Haas and Malouf (1995) mentioned that deterrent aspects of media psychology (educating people on psychological issues through the media) may make a contribution to the quality of life. It would also seem important for counselors to be involved in this educational mode since the counseling profession is focused on prevention and education.

Among the identified disadvantages for counselors who are involved with the media, is the risk that the public may receive misinformation which may damage the image of the helping profession. This problem may occur if the media host misrepresents the counselor's credentials. One student in ethics class gave an example of watching a talk show during which a marriage and family therapist was referred to throughout the program as a "psychologist" by the host. Attempts of the therapist to declare herself as a "marriage and family therapist" were ignored. Another example of an ethical dilemma would be if an editor of a newspaper article embellishes a counselor's comments and perhaps exaggerates or misrepresents the content of the counselor's intent. According to McCall (1990), "This writer will select, rephrase, and give emphasis to what you say. If the topic is controversial, be careful not to provide reporters with `juicy' extreme statements, lest you find them featured in a headline while your more balanced observations get buried or omitted entirely" (p. 182). One misinterpreted headline read, "Psychologist discovers pills to improve your sense of humor" (p. 120).

Some therapists make repeated appearances on talk shows, become affiliated with specific shows, and are known as "star" or "repeat" therapists (Shattuc, 1997). They are described by Shattuc (1997) as "performers" and are rated more on their "performative skills" than on their professional knowledge. …

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