Ethics and Boundaries – What is at stake?
Ethics and boundaries issues are important to for counselors to comprehend. It is very imperative for the counselor to understand the Code of Ethics and learn about all possible scenarios that may come up during a professional relationship. Some examples of boundary situations are bartering, boundary crossings, and dual relationships. These scenarios are very common yet there is still a lot of controversy as to what exactly is ethical. Some situations are very clear cut where others are not.
Bartering is an exchange of goods or services in place of payment. Bartering is not prohibited or unethical in the counseling relationship however there could be situations when it may not run as smoothly as anticipated. If a counselor decides to barter for services oftentimes the proportion of services to counseling can be extremely off. For example, if a counselor is providing services to a mechanic and the mechanic is having troubles paying for services, he or she may offer to provide car maintenance to the counselor. At first this may seem like a decent deal, especially if the counselor’s car is due for more than the regular maintenance. Let’s take for example, the car needs about $1500 worth of work and the counselor charges $250.00 per session. If the mechanic is attending sessions once per week this would get him about 6 weeks’ worth of sessions. What about when the 6 weeks are up? An oil change is about $40.00 and that’s only needed every few months. At that point the counselor and client could be progressing in their sessions and since their therapeutic relationship is established it would be a shame for the client to be forced to quit counseling for lack of payment. On the other hand however, since it does not go against the ethical standards of the counseling profession, the counselor and client could look at the situation as a gained benefit and that is that the mechanic received 6 weeks of service that he may not ever had the chance to get. The same applies if the counselor wants to barter for goods.
Counseling is expensive so it is up to the counselor and client to come to an agreement as to what is fair. What does the client have to offer that is worth so much? In any situation, there could be challenges that must be clearly thought out. The receiver is going to expect a lot in return and in the case of bartering, both the counselor and client must be happy with their services.
Ethics and boundaries crossings can be hard to distinguish and often are understood through opinions. There is a difference between crossing the boundaries and violating the boundaries. Crossing a boundary is a gray area where are violating is black and white. Sometimes crossing boundaries can be defensible however; the counselor must take into consideration all possible outcomes. For example, a chemical dependency counselor may have helped a pregnant addict come clean and get her life back on track so that she was able to deliver and keep a healthy baby. Once the baby’s born the client may ask the counselor to come visit her at the hospital to meet the new bundle of joy. At this time it would up to the counselor to decide whether or not crossing this boundary is justified. The counselor must look at all angles including the legal ramifications that could possibly take place. Either way, deep thought and consideration from the counselor’s end is necessary.
Dual relationships have a very gray area as well. There are certain situations in which dual relationships are hard to avoid. A dual relationship is when the client and counselor have another type of relationship as well as the professional counseling relationship. There are definitely certain dual relationships that are unethical such as a sexual relationship, which is completely unacceptable. However, sometimes the counselor and client get cornered into other relationships. An example could be if the counselor and client find out through conversation that they have similar mutual friends and are a part of the same social circle. This could be fine to start with however, what if they happen to be somewhere socially at the same time? What if the counselor is a chemical dependency counselor and attends the same event as the client and the counselor is caught with a cocktail? Dual relationships can be hard to figure out but like all ethical standards it is the counselor’s duty to take all things into consideration and to make the best choice for the professional relationship.
Bartering, boundary crossings, and dual relationships are therapeutic boundaries that must be thought out and well understood by all counselors. Ethics and boundaries crossings are common, bartering is still acceptable, and dual relationships occur often. Yet, there are situations that happen within these therapeutic borders that are clearly unacceptable and very unethical. There are also situations that have occurred where only half of counselors surveyed believe they are unethical and other situations that can help the therapeutic relationship. Regardless of the severity of the situation the counselor must be appropriate when making decisions.
The NAADAC Code of Ethics was written to guide certified counselors through ethical situations they may encounter. There are ten main points to the NAADAC Code of Ethics which include: The Counseling Relationship, Evaluation, Assessment, and Interpretation of Client Data, Confidentiality/Privileged Communication and Privacy, Professional Responsibility, Working in a Culturally Diverse World, Workplace Standards, Supervision and Consultation, Resolving Ethical Issues, Communication and Published Works, Policy and Political Involvement. When a counselor comes across an ethical situation they can clearly refer to the NAADAC Code of Ethics to get a clearer picture of what action to take.
The counseling relationship should be safe and secure. The client should have access to treatment given their specific needs. The counselor should understand however, there could possibly be legal situations that may supersede the loyalty in the counseling relationship. A counseling professional would need to understand that assessment tools are very reliable and have been researched thoroughly, therefore, the counseling professional should rely on these assessment tools to provide the best possible care for the client’s emotional health. Confidentiality is very important and the client should always be fully aware of their confidentiality rights. There are laws and regulations that every client has the right to know and it is the counselor’s responsibility to educate them and provide them with the correct information. An addictions counselor has a professional responsibility to honor their commitment to their clients and be worthy of their word. However, the professional could come across situations in which they feel that someone is in immediate danger and this must be reported. The counselor’s is ethically responsibility to do so.
The NAADAC also guides counselors in how to handle ethical situations in culturally diverse groups. Many people have hidden disabilities that are not visible to the eye of the counselor therefore it is critical during the assessment stage for the counselor to be aware of any such disability that could affect their relationship. It is also vital for the professional counselor to continue their education and this point is brought up under workplace standards in the NAADAC Code of Ethics. This is also the case when an addiction counselor who supervises others. The professional agrees to produce efficient feedback and work for anyone whom they are overseeing.
Resolving Ethical issues is a primary concern for an addictions counselor. This means that the counselor must attempt at all times to resolve any issues where ethics are of any concern. A counselor must do this by seeking help when needed and by openly communicating with people who are deemed appropriate. All clients need to be aware of copyright laws. Lastly, involvement with counselors is highly encouraged when dealing with legislative activities that could affect policies. The counselor is often the clients only advocate.
The NAADAC has committed to leading professionals to a path of high moral and ethical standards. The NAADAC provides many resources to professionals such as books, research information, and knowledge and education. All addictions counselor are strongly encouraged to be involved with the NAADAC and should oblige by the entire ethic codes established.