Moral character, that is, having courage, being persistent, dismissing distractions and so on in pursuit of the goal.
These are attempts to define ethics by describing actions, and fairly specific constellations of actions at that. Frederich Paulson, a 19th century philosopher of ethics, defined ethics as a science of moral duty (1899).
Almost 100 years later, Swenson also used the concept of study in defining ethics, saying that it included the systematic study of concepts such as right and wrong. Other researchers note that the idea of systematic study is common in dictionary definitions of ethics, with the American Heritage Dictionary focusing on three elements: " the study of moral philosophy, the rules of a profession (or more broadly the character of a community), and moral self-examination (Soukhanov, 1992).
Hill (2004) offers a 'definition' that is mainly practical but also incorporates some theoretical content. They believe that ethical analysis is both an art and a skill and is concerned with engaging ethically troubling situations in ways that support the welfare of the client or student, as the case may be; empower counselors to practice according to professional standards; allow counselors to practice in ways consistent with their own moral/ethical beliefs, and; allow counselors to practice in ways consistent with professional ideals.
On a more troubling note, Hill notes that for the past 30 years, the development of professional ethics has been concerned with attempting to curb abuses, or, in other words, it has grown from a negative rather than a positive point-of-view. However, Remley & Herlihy (2001) indicated that it can be useful, in instructing counselors, to include the misdeeds of prior practitioners as a guide to avoiding similar pitfalls in future. Hill noted that since the ACA published its code of ethics, the relatively young profession has concentrated on standardizing basic behavior guidelines, educating practitioners and students, and enforcing adherence to standards.
The ACA was formerly known as the American Personnel and Guidance Association; the name change seems also to signify a sea change in the group's attitude toward professionalism and developing workable professional standards. Indeed, Hill (2004) note that for several decades, counseling professionals have engaged more seriously in advocating for licensure as well as for developing professional codes; in fact, since the 1970s, state licensure has become more common, and in various states ethics committees and codes have also become more prevalent. Because of this, many states requires 3,000 hours of supervised experience for licensure.
In addition, Hill (2004) note that state licensure laws often include details concerning what constitutes unprofessional conduct, making it essential for counserlor education programs to provide students with study concerning both the legal ramifications of unprofessional conduct and their ethical responsibilities thereto. However, they note, this requirement is not universal. In fact, only 43.8% of community counseling programs, 47.3% of school counseling programs, and 55% of mental health counseling programs include such a requirement; oddly, 69.2% of marriage and family counseling programs include the requirement. Hill did not mention school counseling specifically, leading to the conclusion that, at least as of 2001, school counselors might very well have slipped through such licensure requirements as there are even in states that generally require licensure of counseling professionals of other types.
Perhaps the most revealing information Hill provides concerns the difficulty of "competent counselors" in maintaining their won awareness that ethics is more than performing according to state mandatory standards. They believe, along with Remley (2001) and Welfel (2002) that counselors having strong ethical standards of their own, beyond those prescribed by state law or professional organization, is the best protection against legal action and licensing board inquiries and they strongly suggest that counselors not rely on licensing board requirements but go beyond those in tier practice of ethical behavior.
While that might be the ideal, Hill noted that in one study of models preferred by counselors for learning ethics, following legal cases and precedents was favored by 90% of respondents in one study, making it the second most popular of six approaches to ethics studies. The first most popular model was the ethical decision-making model, at 96%. The other four, and level of acceptance as the best model for learning, were:
Principle ethics models at 77.5%
Ethics of care models at 73%
Using history and philosophy of ethics at 45% (Hill 2004).
This would seem to contradict the material that proposes experiential material is most useful in helping counselors learn how to deal with ethical dilemmas. Evans and Foster noted that the three most-preferred models, decision-making models, following legal cases and precedents (i.e., the standard of care), and models of principle ethics, seemed to be the most prevalent method of ethical analysis instruction in counselor education. Still, they believed it to be reasonable to posit that well-prepared students of counseling should be able to use one of the three models of ethical analysis in any dilemma with which they were presented. Hill also noted that each of these methods is given a great deal of exposure in a Web page sponsored by the ACA and dedicated to providing methods professionals can use as they encounter ethical dilemmas.
Hill (2004) also noted that the Web page was accessed at least 7,000 times each year, despite the fact that the ACA standards are considered to be minimal and, further, do not deal with the internal processes a counselor would need to conduct to achieve the ethical standards advocated, much less provide detail concerning ethical approaches to specific sorts of dilemmas. Nonetheless, Hill described the page as a "road map" a counselor could use to obtain the information he or she needed concerning ethics and conduct in many specific instances.
While the ACA material is apparently not as useful as Hill would like it to be, there is abundant literature elsewhere concerning specific types of ethical dilemmas that might be faced by school counselors. Most rely on work by Van Hoose & Paradise (1979), a paradigm that followed the earlier work of Bentham in utilitarian analysis. Although there are variations, most such analysis followed this basic model:
Identification of the problem
Consulting various sources including codes of ethics and colleagues in order to define the goals in the situation
Considering the possible consequences of actions under consideration
Generating the chosen action
Evaluating the situation as a whole, i.e., as it evolves based on implementation of the chosen actions (Hill 2004).
Several researchers have noted drawbacks to this logical paradigm and process. Corey et al. (1998) suggested that collaborating with those being counseled as these steps were accomplished would tend to make any decision more culturally appropriate. Remley and Herlihy (2001) had, in fact, been less than enthusiastic about the approach described by Hill because it was too dispassionate, logical, linear and abstract, and also tended to be paternalistic. Also, Van Hoose and Paradise themselves had noted that the rubric they described can be too time consuming to implement, and could ignore the nuances in the counselor/student relationship. Research also noted that it was common for a counselor to sent two to four yours addressing any ethically troubling material (Anderson, Nelson & Forester-Miller, 1999).
By definition, a dilemma is a situation that permits of mutually exclusive approaches to a solution. Such situations are not always inherently negative. In fact, Beauchamp and Childress (2001) note that even an ethical principle such as beneficence, which connotes mercy and kindness, can be at the root of an ethical dilemma. Counselors acting out of beneficence use listening skills and caring and use compassion to communicate with the client concerning what they have heard. Included within the general description of beneficence are also, in a counseling situation, respect of the client's autonomy, non-malfeasance, justice and fidelity (Meara et al., 1996). The counselor must determine how much emphasis might best be placed on any of these attributes depending on the nature of the dilemma at hand. What it does not do is help a counselor to identify an ethically challenging situation in the first place. In addition, Meara notes that while such concepts as beneficence and justice are often grouped together, in fact, there are counseling situations in which it would be wise to ask where beneficence ends and justice should begin.
Other researchers have noted that using models such as those described above can lead to relying too much on linear thought and ignoring other approaches that may even be more appropriate. It also ignores the intuitive aspect of counseling. Hill (2004) note: The intuitive level reflects a felt sense a counselor might have about the ethical propriety of a given situation. The critical evaluative level refers to a conscious attempt to identify and compare competing principles in the context of an ethical dilemma. It seems important for a person using principle ethics models to be aware that the intuitive level is not addressed by these models and, thus, should be attended to using…