Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.
Your daughter appears to be having an issue with a teacher, and it's upsetting her. The teacher seems to single her out in front of the class and embarrass her in front of her peers without cause. You're thinking of reaching out to the school counselor about this, but are concerned about confidentiality.
This lesson will help you understand the ethical standards school counselors are required to adhere to according to the American Counseling Association, so that you can make a more informed decision before seeking out guidance.
The American Counseling Association
The American Counseling Association (ACA) is a professional organization which serves as a resource to counselors nationwide. One of the primary purposes of the ACA is to establish a general ethical code of conduct to which all counseling professionals are expected to adhere. The ACA code of ethics contains 9 different sections dealing with:
- The counseling relationship
- Professional obligations
- Relationships with colleagues in the field
- Evaluation, assessment, and data interpretation
- Supervision, training, and education
- Research and publication
- Virtual counseling, technology, and social media
- Ethical issues
Let's take a look at these sections in a little more detail and consider how they impact school counselors.
The ACA Code of Ethics Sections
The Counseling Relationship
A counselor's responsibility lies first and foremost with their clients. For school counselors, the identified populations would primarily be students and parents. All counselors need to ensure that:
- Client welfare is protected and the counseling relationship is explained. This includes working collaboratively with other mental health professionals.
- Personal values are not projected onto clients, and appropriate relationship boundaries are adhered to at all times.
- Appropriate advocacy for clients takes place at multiple levels and assuming conflicting roles is avoided.
- Fair business practices are adhered to and termination practices are appropriately followed, ensuring that clients are not abandoned.
School counselors should ensure that relationships with students do not get personal and that they serve pro-actively, collaboratively, and without bias on interdisciplinary teams that are serving students.
The American Counseling Association's concern with client confidentiality and privacy is paramount. It is recognized that counselors have an ethical obligation to preserve and respect client privacy and must simultaneously inform clients about the limits of confidentiality. General exceptions to confidentiality include a serious threat to harm oneself or others, a court order disclosure, or when sharing information within a professional counseling environment, provided the personal identity of the client is not revealed.
School counselors most often deal with children, who are not considered capable of giving informed consent for treatment. School counselors are encouraged to establish collaborative relationships with parents whenever possible, while maintaining confidentiality in accordance with legal requirements.
The American Counseling Association expects all counselors, including school counselors, to comply with the ACA code of ethics. Counselors are furthermore expected to -
- Provide services only within their areas of expertise
- Seek out professional development
- Represent themselves accurately
- Maintain a non-discriminatory approach
- Practice a high level of public responsibility
- Take personal ownership of comments made in professional settings
School counselors should seek ongoing professional development opportunities to remain current in their field and become knowledgeable about the latest trends and issues in school counseling.
Relationships with Colleagues in the Field
The American Counseling Association recognizes the importance and value of establishing collegiate, professional relationships within the field. Interdisciplinary team approaches are therefore encouraged. For school counselors, this may mean working with teachers, the school psychologist, and school administrators to ensure that the best interests of the students remain central.
Evaluation, Assessment, and Data Interpretation
Counselors should only use testing and assessment procedures in which they have been properly trained, and the nature of assessment or testing should be explained to clients. Assessment and testing data should be properly scored and interpreted and should only be released with the client's informed consent. Counselors should only make a diagnosis when supported by their professional credentials. School counselors are advised to refrain from making a diagnosis and are encouraged to refer to outside experts instead.
Supervision, Training, and Education
Counselors who are supervising others are expected to do so without bias and in adherence to the code of ethics requirements for maintaining professional relationships. Supervisors are expected to communicate standards and to obtain informed consent.
Counselors who work in education have a responsibility to communicate and teach ethics, demonstrate a primary concern for student welfare, and project cultural competence while embracing diversity.
Research and Publications
The ACA encourages counselors to seek out research opportunities and publish their work. It is expected that research is conducted in a professional and responsible manner, as outlined in the ACA code of ethics. Participants should provide informed consent prior to participation, appropriate boundaries need to be in place, and accurate unbiased results should be reported. When publishing, work should be free from plagiarism and give credit to joint authors. Counselors in educational institutions build credibility by conducting and publishing research.
Virtual Counseling, Technology, and Social Media
With the continuously evolving technologies that are available to counselors, instances of virtual counseling sessions are expected to increase. At the school counseling level, this is already becoming evident as more and more students are selecting virtual school options. ACA reminds counselors to be cognizant of the code of ethics, along with state and federal laws that could impact the virtual counseling relationship.
The ACA encourages counselors to separate professional and personal social media use. It is not considered appropriate ethical conduct, for example, when school counselors 'friend' students on social media and comment on their personal posts.
ACA expects all counselors to adhere to the code of ethics described in this lesson, while simultaneously abiding to legal standards. Suspected ethical violations are expected to be reported to the proper authorities, and cooperation with ethics committees is the expected standard.
We hear about ethical conduct violations in schools quite often. Any counselor who suspects that the relationship between a student and school professional is inappropriate, needs to report their concern to administrators without hesitation.
The American Counseling Association (ACA) has developed a code of ethical standards, which all counselors are expected to comply with. These ethical standards are intended to guide client relationships, confidentiality, professional duties and relationships, evaluation processes, training and teaching, research, virtual counseling situations, and assist in resolving ethical issues.
As professionals in their respective fields, school counselors are required to comply with ACA ethical codes, while understanding the needs and rights of their unique client population. As the role of the school counselor continues to expand, it is critical that professionals in this field adopt the practice of adhering to the ethical standards set forth by the ACA.
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