Ethics for Substance Abuse Counselors

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson addresses ethics for substance abuse counselors. Within, you'll find a summary overview of the nine principles defined by the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) for professional ethics.

Ethics Assist Healing

For anyone in the counseling profession, ethics aid in creating healthy relationships with patients, protecting mental health workers from dangerous and illegal situations, and providing a safe environment for the ultimate benefit of the patient. For substance abuse counselors, the need for well-established ethical guidelines is even greater. Their patients struggle with some of the most difficult situations, yet are often in vulnerable positions regarding legal situations, family issues, and the potential to be victimized by others. The National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, or NAADAC, created ethical guidelines for addiction counselors, recently updating the nine principles in October of 2016. While this lesson is too short to cover each principle in depth, the expanded list is available through their website.

animation holding ethics sign

Principle One: The Counseling Relationship

This principle involves 42 guidelines to deal with the current practices in addiction treatment. The primary guideline sets the tone for all guidelines, including the other eight principles that follow. It sets client welfare as the primary objective in substance abuse counseling, directing professionals to treat clients with dignity and honor, employ compassion, and work for the client's best interest at all times. Other guidelines within this principle, outline boundaries for the client-counselor relationship, in order to keep professional distance, informed consent regulations, ways to appropriately manage group therapy, and a variety of methods to protect the client, all while providing the greatest level of care.

client and counselor

Principle Two: Confidentiality and Privileged Communication

Many of us have heard the term confidentiality, meaning that conversations disclosed during counseling sessions cannot be revealed to others without the client's consent. The counselor cannot be legally compelled to testify against the patient. There are some legal ways around this, but those loopholes only apply in situations of imminent danger to others, or threats of self-harm. Privileged communication can, at times, be legally used in court, but counselors are instructed to limit their scope, so they can protect as much personal information as possible.

Principle Three: Professional Responsibilities and Workplace Standards

This principle outlines 54 guidelines regarding the professional work environment, required credentials, how a substance abuse counselor or facility may advertise, how to handle extreme situations and the process of investigating possible violations of a patient's rights. This section also sets out the legal standards for care and legal penalties for violating those standards.

Principle Four: Working in a Culturally Diverse World

This principle details how counselors should be culturally sensitive to a client's background, as well as what their culture may prohibit. Cultural awareness can increase a counselor's sensitivity to the client's needs and help them recommend courses of treatment, which are more likely to be successful based on the environment of the client whether at home or among family.

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Principle Five: Assessment, Evaluation, and Interpretation

Principle five discusses 15 guidelines for counselors to learn how they should use assessment tools, how to evaluate results of assessment tests, and proper interpretation of those results. Specific topics include the validity of tests, cultural influences (which may result in unusual or skewed results), how tests should be properly administered, use and misuse of results, and how to securely protect the test results from unauthorized view.

Principle Six: E-Therapy, E-Supervision, and Social Media

In this day and age, the use of new technology can help provide clients with even easier access to care. However, there are inherent risks involved in using internet technology to treat clients. Principle six explains the laws surrounding E-therapy, how to gain proper informed consent for treatment, security requirements to ensure the client's privacy, setting professional boundaries regarding social media, and cues to a client's current state which are more easily missed through electronic media.

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