Principles of ethical career counseling

Chapter 2 Ethical and Legal Guidelines and Competencies Needed for Career Development Practice

Things to Remember

The general principles of ethical career counseling and career development practice


Guidelines for avoiding liability lawsuits


Major competencies needed by career counselors


Qualifications for three certificates: Master Career Counselor, Master Career Development Professional, and Global Career Development Facilitator


This chapter is in many ways the most important chapter in this book. Ethical practice is the cornerstone of any profession and is essential if the public is to accept an individual practitioner or a professional group. Career development practice, career counseling, assessment, and information dissemination all are areas in which ethical dilemmas lurk. The major aim of this chapter is not to endorse one particular code of ethics; it is to endorse ethical principles found in most ethical codes. Not unexpectedly, the principles on which codes of ethics are based are for the most part universal. To be sure, there are nuances in the various codes of ethics because of a unique role or technique used by the professional group. Where these nuances are related to career development practice, they will be highlighted. The approach here will be to synthesize the principles of several codes of ethics, including, but not limited to, the ethical statements adopted by the American Counseling Association (2005), the National Career Development Association (2007), the American Psychological Association (2010), and the American School Counselor Association (2010). By using broad strokes to look at ethics, I hope to avoid embroiling students in the mind-numbing details that characterize all codes of ethics. The details are important, but at this juncture a thorough knowledge of ethical principles should suffice to alert would-be practitioners to areas in which the details become important and their particular code of ethics must be consulted.


Chief among the requirements of ethical practice is the importance of standards of competency. No one would knowingly hire a surgeon or an architect without first ascertaining their competence. Professional associations develop competency statements that are often embedded in program-accrediting standards to make certain that people who enter their professional fields are competent. In addition, graduates of professional programs are often required to take rigorous examinations prior to being licensed to practice and to engage in in-service education to maintain their credentials. This two-tiered approach to verifying that individuals are competent has served professions well, but history and current practice tell us that the two-tiered approach is not a foolproof way of ensuring competency.


Unfortunately, the standards for career development practitioners in many states are woefully weak, and the public is not rigorously protected from incompetency. This is partially true because standards for career development practice have only recently been developed and incorporated into training guidelines. The licensing of counselors in all 50 states was not complete until 2009, and the licensing of specialist career counselors is in its infancy. However, there is an exception of sorts. The licensure of psychologists, some of whom offer career counseling, has been in place for more than a quarter of century, although these licensing laws generally do not pertain to subspecialists, such as vocational psychologists. Rather, these laws depend on psychologists adhering to the code of ethics issued by the American Psychological Association (2010), which admonishes them to practice within the limits of their competence. Those who fail to heed this warning can have their licenses revoked, as can counselors and others who are licensed by state licensing boards for professional counselors.


Ethical Principles

Ethical codes for career counselors have been developed by the National Career Development Association (2007), the American School Counselor Association (2010), the American Counseling Association (2005), the National Board for Certified Counselors (2012), the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (2010), and a few other subspecialties. Although counselors who belong to several organizations and hold state-level licenses or certifications may be professionally obligated to adhere to several codes of ethics, the principles of all of the codes are the same. In some respects, psychologists (APA, 2010) and social workers (NASW 2008) have done a better job of unifying their ethical codes and thus their professions. The purpose of this chapter is not to compare and contrast ethical codes. That would take a book, not a brief chapter. Instead, this chapter identifies principles of ethical standards that are embedded in all codes of ethics. If practitioners learn and follow these principles, then ethical practice will result.


Career development services such as career counseling, assessment, job placement, and career coaching are offered by a variety of practitioners, including school counselors, college counselors, career counselors, mental health counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and counseling psychologists. Some people who offer these services, such as those who do career coaching or job placement, may not be counselors or psychologists and thus may not necessarily be obligated to follow a code of ethics. Practitioners in private practice, as opposed to those who work in public institutions, typically are licensed by the states in which they practice and must follow the code of ethics adopted by their licensing boards. However, no career development practitioners should be so foolish as to ignore the ethical principles of their professional group. To do so is to place themselves at risk. Malpractice lawyers thrive when practitioners fail to follow the ethical canons of their professions and damage to clients, real or imagined, occurs.


All practitioners should not only follow the extant codes of ethics of their professions but also maintain awareness of changes that are almost always in the works. The following are four examples of interim statements that deal with technology and assessment that were issued between 1993 and 2004 and have now been largely incorporated into codes of ethics. These interim standards dealt with two topics: technology and cultural sensitivity. Recently, the National Board for Certified Counselors (n.d.) issued an updated statement, The Practice of Internet Counseling, that attempts both to define the practice in this area and set standards for practitioners. Novotney (2011), writing in the APA Monitor, makes a powerful argument for the use of video conferencing and the telephone to deliver services to a broad range of clients. Synchronous and asynchronous chat is also being used to provide services to clients. Because of the pervasiveness of communication that uses various forms of technology, it seems likely that ethical standards will continue to evolve in this area, and therefore more interim statements can be expected. Some ethical standards include:


Ethical Standards for Internet Online Counseling (American Counseling Association, 1997)


NCDA Guidelines for the Use of the Internet for the Provision of Information and Planning Services (National Career Development Association, 2004)


Multicultural Assessment Standards (Prediger, 1993)


Providing culturally sensitive career counseling and assessment services has been a long-standing concern of counselors, psychologists, and social workers. Prediger’s (1993) statement is a reflection of this concern. In 2005, ACA revised their code of ethics with one major aim in mind: to make all of the standards in the code culturally sensitive. Kaplan (2006a, p. 2) quoted one member (Courtland Lee) of the committee charged with the revision as follows: “That (cultural sensitivity) was a primary charge of the Ethical Revision Task Force—to look at the revision with an eye on making the code more culturally sensitive.” The National Association of Social Workers (2008) and the American Psychological Association (2010) have made similar changes.


The remainder of this chapter focuses on the general principles of ethical practice as identified by VanHoose (1986), Koocher and Keith-Speigel (1998), Srebalus and Brown (2003), and others. The section numbers appearing with each principle refer to the ACA Code of Ethics (American Counseling Association, 2005).


Principle 1: Above All, Do No Harm (Sections A.4.a and C.6.e)

The do-no-harm principle puzzles most students until they consider that the misapplication of their knowledge and skills can, in fact, harm their clients. The career counselor who encourages high school or college students to make their own decisions may harm the relationships of those clients with their parents if their clients follow up on the counselor’s expectations. Furthermore, clients may perceive that they are being rejected by the counselor because of their cultural values and, thus, their self-esteem may be lowered. The career counselor who fails to adhere to multicultural guidelines in the use of tests and inventories or misapplies them with people who are disabled is likely to generate faulty information that may harm clients’ prospects in the labor market. Clients may feel alienated by a counselor who maintains eye contact that is not in accordance with the norms in their own cultures. Doing no harm requires competence in the use of counseling techniques, coaching strategies, and assessment devices. It also requires counselors to provide up-to-date, accurate information about educational and occupational options. Furthermore, doing no harm requires that counselors develop knowledge of the cultural backgrounds and worldviews of their clients and an understanding of the cultural conflicts that may occur between the client’s culture and the dominant culture.


Doing no harm has been stressed in another way in the 2005 ACA ethical code. Counselors are admonished to use only those techniques that grow out of well-established theorizing and/or research support, preferably the latter (Kaplan, 2006a). This standard does not preclude career

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