Philosophy, Moral Philosophy, and Counseling Ethics: Not an Abstraction. (Issues and Insights)

By Urofsky, Robert I.; Engels, Dennis W. | Counseling and Values, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Philosophy, Moral Philosophy, and Counseling Ethics: Not an Abstraction. (Issues and Insights)


Urofsky, Robert I., Engels, Dennis W., Counseling and Values


Despite the counseling profession's relatively nascent status, a complex history of dialogue and debate surrounds the content of counselor preparation curricula and the educational process. Many practitioners and educators acknowledge the important role ethics plays in the helping professions; over the past several decades, increased attention has been given to ethics in the preparation of counselors and psychologists. With that increase comes a small, but growing, number of voices calling for exposure to and integration of not only moral philosophy but other areas of philosophy to enhance understanding and provide a foundation for counseling practice among practitioners and students. The authors review and echo these calls.

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If there were ever professions that should be open to what other disciplines, such as philosophy and ethics, have to offer, they are counseling and counseling psychology. Both disciplines naturally embrace the concerns of the humanities and sciences. Both emphasize human dignity and worth (key words in the preamble to the 1995 American Counseling Association's [ACA] Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and in Principle D of the 1992 American Psychological Association's [APA] Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct) and human potential and uniqueness (key words in the preamble to ACA's Code of Ethics). If, in fact, counselors need to know themselves and others in order to facilitate understanding and therapeutic change, then philosophy and ethics can provide an appropriate framework for engaging in such self- and other exploration.

Philosophical discourse and ethical discourse have much more to offer the disciplines of counseling and psychology than mere criteria for ethical practice, such as those delineated in ethical codes; it is clear, however, that this emphasis on practice is important. A more comprehensive exposure to philosophy and ethics affords the established counselor and the counselor-in-preparation access to and awareness of the fabric of human existence and interaction and provides an appropriate foundation from which an individual can understand and engage in counseling practice. A counselor's ability to make meaningful connections with others in an increasingly diverse society becomes more and more contingent on such an expanded awareness. One may question the appropriateness or efficacy of professional skills that are used in isolation and without an integrated understanding of self and society.

Review of the Literature

The amount of attention given to ethics in the preparation and practice of counselors and psychologists has increased over the years. Tymchuk et al. (1979), in a study of APA-approved clinical psychology programs, reported that 67% of programs responding offered formal courses in ethics. This is a sharp increase over the 9% that DePalma and Drake (1956, as cited in Tymchuk et al., 1979) had found in the study that they had conducted 23 years earlier than Tymchuk et al.'s study. In Tymchuk et al.'s (1979) study, 98% of the department chairs who responded indicated that ethics should be taught, and 66% believed that ethics should be a required subject for all psychology students.

The APA began mandating ethics education in its accreditation standards in 1979 (Welfel, 1992). The accreditation standards of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001) require that ethical considerations be included in each of the eight common-core areas; CACREP, however, does not specify what should be taught or how ethics should be addressed, indicating only that "the ethical standards of ACA and related entities and applications of ethical and legal considerations in professional counseling" (p. 61) should be included. In a recent comprehensive literature review, Cottone and Claus (2000) discussed more than 25 ethical decision-making models that were discussed in counseling literature between fall 1984 and spring 1998. …

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