Each state makes an individual decision on the scope of its mental health services and how these are provided. However, the ethics that govern the work of clinical mental health counselors are informed by a range of moral qualities and values. These help a practitioner to interpret and apply the standards set out by organizations such as the American Counseling Association. There are several ethical issues clinical mental health counselors have to face as part of their daily work, many of which center on the rights of their patients.
Inspiring others in a rewarding role
By understanding these issues and building an ethical agenda in their practice, counselors are better placed to manage professional challenges and serve their clients optimally. This ensures they can improve the lives of the people they treat and witness significant changes taking place as clients begin to solve their problems. Counseling is not easy but it is a very meaningful and gratifying career, which is why many people choose to retrain later in life. Graduates with a degree in any field can qualify at the American International College through the online masters in clinical mental health counseling program. This accessible course blends academic study with real-world work experience, equipping students with the ethical framework and knowledge they need to succeed.
What ethical concerns do counselors have when meeting with clients?
At the forefront in the mind of any mental health professional is the need to maintain healthy boundaries with the people who come to them for help. This can be a challenge for many reasons, but primarily because it is difficult to maintain a level of professional detachment when regular clients try to form a closer bond with their practitioner. In these instances, a therapist may need to re-establish key boundaries.
These often include keeping to the set session length, limiting physical contact, and avoiding self-disclosure. Similarly, in order to work ethically, a clinical mental health counselor should avoid working with a client they know personally. Boundaries ensure that clients are treated objectively by their counselor and that their right to confidentiality is not compromised.
Keeping a client’s information confidential
Clinical mental health counselors take responsibility for their client’s confidentiality, like every other health professional. The details of their appointments, what was discussed, and how the client is progressing are all considered personal. The same is true for the intake forms a counselor is given, their client’s contact information, and the notes they provide at the start of a session. Indeed, with a few key exceptions, everything that is spoken about, from where the client is living to what their problems are, should be treated with confidence.
Knowing when to involve an outside agency
Each state’s licensure board has different regulations when it comes to what a mental health counselor has to report to an authority. In most cases, this happens when a person appears to present an immediate risk either to others or to themselves. Breaking the confidentiality of any client is a huge ethical dilemma but in the long run, it can ensure they get the additional support they need and that no one else is harmed.
Working within their scope of practice
The majority of mental health workers have a specialism and will work within that area in the field. Some are trained to work with children, others are skilled at helping people recovering from drug addiction, and others assist entire families in crisis. To provide the best possible service to their clients, counselors should only deliver the care they are trained to offer. When they know that a case is out of their scope of practice, they have an ethical duty to find another professional who has the relevant experience to take over.
Leaving personal feelings at the door
To practice ethically and remain professional, mental health workers have to keep their personal issues in check. It is occasionally the case that a counselor will meet a client who is experiencing the same situation that they are or something similar. For example, a relative with an addiction, a difficult divorce, or the death of a friend. Counselors are vulnerable to the same stresses as everyone else. If they cannot counsel properly, they may need to take a break until they are in good health or enroll in a course of personal counseling to get them back on track. Mental health workers have an ethical responsibility to maintain optimal standards in their care.
Remaining mindful of diversity
The United States is home to many diverse social groups and communities, and each of these may have a different experience of and attitude to mental health problems. Counselors consider how each client’s cultural background can impact how they react to speaking about their mental health problems. This can inform their practice when it comes to communicating effectively with clients from the LGBTQ+ community, different racial backgrounds, and various socio-economic groups. Furthermore, those with disabilities, both visible and non-visible, may need to work with a counselor in different ways. Mental health workers will consider how people from these groups can get the most out of a session and how to remain respectful of these differences.
Encouraging clients to make independent decisions
In the most severe cases, a mental health worker may have to make decisions in the best interests of a client; however, in general, they will assist people in making their own healthy decisions. This is an ethical consideration related to the counselor’s understanding of diversity. During a session, the focus should be on encouraging a person to think about what they believe and the values they hold rather than those of the counselor. Part of this involves giving a client clarity when it comes to them making plans for the future. Counselors can also give clients advice when stress or anxiety is clouding their thought processes so the choices they make can lead to them living a better life.
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