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Comparing Codes of Ethics Annabelle Shestak Walden University

COMPARING CODES OF ETHICS Comparing Codes of Ethics To be considered ethical, counselors must comply with the ethical codes created by the associations governing their profession. This ethical conduct is not only morally desirable, but also legally required of counselors, regardless of practice setting. In the case of Mental Health Counselors, professional activity is governed by two separate codes of ethics- that of the American Counseling Association (referred to thereafter as ACA), and the American Mental Health Counselors Association (referred to thereafter as AMHCA). The following paragraphs

compare and contrast the two codes, identifying differences and similarities, and concluding with insights gained from such a comparison. Differences Between ACA and AMHCA Codes At first glance, the two codes appeared to be very differently written. The AMHCA (2010) code seemed to be rather concrete, with specific work issues discussed in each section, while the ACA (2005) code seemed to look at issues rather broadly. This became significant as both codes standard of informed consent were reviewed. The AMHCA code provided specific details that should be shared with a client, while the ACA (2005) code did not. However, the ACA (2005) code did describe informed consent as an ongoing process, and required that counselors document discussions of informed consent. As a result, this writer has seen counseling practices combine elements of both standards, providing a disclosure statement in writing prior to the first session (with a written consent form to be signed by the client for documentation), reviewing it verbally during the first session, then reviewing elements of it (as well as treatment choices and alternatives) throughout the relationship, documenting each effort by the counselor in case notes. Similarly, the ACA (2005) and AMHCA (2010) codes viewed certain relationship issues


differently. Specifically, the ACA (2005) code suggested avoiding non-professional relationships with clients unless these benefit the client. In contrast, the AMHCA (2010) discussed suggested courses of action when the assumption of such roles is unavoidable. This seems more applicable to situations where counselors work in the communities in which they live, and thus cannot avoid non-professional interactions with counseling clients. In one such situation, a counselor was a member of the same church as one of his clients. The church attendance of both preceded the counseling relationship. When the client came in for his first meeting with the counselor, the latter explained that these relationships are separate, and that the counseling relationship is confidential and would not be discussed or disclosed by the counselor during church gatherings. The counselor also sought out consultation with a mentor to ensure proper separation of these roles. Similarities Between ACA and AMHCA Codes In many instances, these codes offered the same language and similar topics and content. Two clear examples of this were the standards referring to sexual relationships with clients and former clients, as well as counseling plans. The first, a paragraph forbidding sexual and romantic relationships with clients, former clients, and clients families, is a concrete statement forbidding such relationship with counselors, up to 5 years of the termination of the counseling relationship (ACA, 2005, AMHCA, 2010). In fact, this form of relationship has resulted in the stripping of multiple counselors licenses over the years, according to Shallcross (2011). Shallcross (2011) reported that several sources have identified these relationships as ultimately problematic, and far more common than expected, often resulting from unmet human needs of the counselor. The second standard, referring to counseling plans, is a specific statement on the need to collaboratively formulate, review, and modify


concrete plans to address client challenges (ACA, 2005, AMHCA, 2010). Both ACA (2005) and AMHCA (2010) codes also suggested that plans should reflect client needs, values, and beliefs. In my previous work within a psychiatric rehabilitation outreach setting, we were required to complete goal plans based on Medicaid reimbursement standards. These were a great example of the application of the counseling plan standard set forth by the ACA (2005) and AMHCA (2010), since they required direct client contributions: these plans asked for the clients own words for the stated goal, description of strengths, and potential barriers. These plans also required quarterly review, and both plan and review had to be signed by the client to allow billing for services. This meant that we, as providers, had to sit down with clients and talk about their goals for treatment, consistently asking for their input. Conclusion The ethics codes reviewed within the paragraphs above were in many ways similar. However, the standards set forth by AMHCA (2010) appeared in many instances more concrete, as well as more realistic than those set forth by the ACA (2005). It would be my assumption that the AMHCA (2010) code, written by and for practicing mental health professionals, creates far more reasonable expectations of the counseling practice and offers clear guidance in challenging situations.

COMPARING CODES OF ETHICS References American Counseling Association (ACA). (2005). 2005 ACA code of ethics [White Paper]. Retrieved from the ACA website: guid=ab7c1272-71c4-46cf-848c-f98489937dda

American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA). (2010). 2010 AMHCA code of ethics [White Paper]. Retrieved from the AMHCA website: Shallcross, L. (2011). Do the right thing. Counseling Today. Retrieved from the website: