American Counseling Association Code of Ethics
ACA Ethics and Professional Standards
Ethical Analysis in Counseling
Practitioner's Guide to Ethical Decision Making
Why Social Justice is a Counseling Concern

Scholarly Articles: Ethics and LGBTQ Issues in Counseling
Dual Relationships, Multiple Relationships, and Boundary Decisions
Dual Relationships Continuum
Good Therapy: Ethics in Therapy

Corporate Resource Council: Social Goals of LGBTQ Advocacy
American Psychological Association Policy Statements On Gay & Lesbian Issues

Human Rights Campaign


Court Supports Code of Ethics

December 2011


"While we are all free to hold our personal beliefs, a counselor must practice according to professional ethics that require her not to impose her beliefs on her clients."


United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a lower courtís ruling against Jennifer Keeton, a graduate student in counseling at Augusta State University. Ms. Keeton expressed intent to engage in discriminatory and harmful professional practices when working with LGBT students as a school counselor. Keeton claimed her first amendment rights were violated when the school required her to complete a remediation program to better understand LGBT issues. 


In the Courtís opinion, Judge Rosemary Barkett writes, "Keeton does not have a constitutional right to disregard the limits ASU has established for its clinical practicum and set her own standards for counseling clients in the clinical practicum."


Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Georgia Safe Schools Coalition (GSCC) in opposition to a Keetonís legal claim against Augusta State University:


"We are grateful to the Court for recognizing how potentially dangerous it would be for a counselor to allow her personal beliefs to get in the way of her ethical obligation to promote the well-being of all students, including LGTBQ youth.


"Augusta State University had legitimate concerns to require Ms. Keeton to complete a remediation program after expressing her desire to subject LGBTQ youth to dangerous conversion therapy. If a counselor cannot respect the dignity and promote the welfare of her LGBTQ clients and uphold the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, she is not a competent counselor.  


"While we are all free to hold our personal beliefs, a counselor must practice according to professional ethics that require her not to impose her beliefs on her clients. When Georgiaís LGBTQ youth are being bullied or thinking about committing suicide, we want them to be speaking with trained counselors who will help not harm them."

Lambda Legal Supports Court Decision

Lambda Legal: Case Notes

Augusta Chronicle: Christian Student Sues ASU
Chronicle of Higher Education: ASU Accused of Requiring Counseling Student to Accept Homosexuality

Official Statement From ALGBTIC President Michael Chaney




Appeals Court Protects ACA Ethics Code


December 2011


Appeals Court Protects ACA Code of Ethics and GLBTQ Non-Discrimination...

ACA Welcomes Decision of 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals...


On Friday, December 15, the US Court of Appeals upheld the Southern District Court of Georgia's decision to deny a preliminary injunction against Augusta State University (ASU) for expelling Jennifer Keeton, a graduate counseling student who refused to participate in a remediation plan aimed at addressing her views on counseling GLBTQ clients.


As a graduate student, Jennifer Keeton openly stated her views to ASU professors and students that she would not be able to counsel GLTBQ clients because of her religious beliefs and that she supported reparative/conversion therapy. In order to address Keeton's deficits in becoming a multiculturally competent counselor, the ASU counseling program faculty created a remediation plan to help Ms. Keeton become comfortable counseling the GLBTQ population. Rather than comply with the remediation plan, Keeton opted to file a complaint against ASU in federal court, as well as a motion to preliminarily enjoin ASU from enforcing her expulsion.


The ACA Code of Ethics featured heavily in the appellate decision. In rebutting Keeton's claim that ASU effectively gave her the ultimatum of "adhering to the Bible or to the ACA Code of Ethics, "Judge Barkett of the Eleventh Circuit Court explained that the code regulates certain types of speech in the interest of requiring counselors to "separate their personal beliefs from their work".


ACA News: ASU Appeals Court Ruling
Augusta Chronicle: Christian Student Sues ASU
Chronicle of Higher Education: ASU Accused of Requiring Counseling Student to Accept Homosexuality


Ethical Responsibility: Do The Right Thing


March 2011


"The specification of a code of ethics enables the association to clarify the nature of the ethical responsibilities held in common by its members"
-ACA Code of Ethics


Do the right thing


It is important for professionals to not only do things right but to also do the right thing. Ethics are necessary for all counselors without regard to setting, specialty or technique. Ethical behavior is the framework upon which the profession is built. Counselors are expected to be knowledgeable about the ACA Code of Ethics. Counselors must be able to consistently apply the ACA Code of Ethics to the complex issues they encounter in their daily practice.


Ethics are the recognized rules of conduct with respect to a particular group. They are the accepted actions of a particular group or culture and the rules and principles that govern actions, conduct and behavior. Ethics are a code of behavior considered correct by a particular group or profession. They represent the character of a community. They delineate the responsibilities held in common by a specific group.


By being a member of ALCA, you are agreeing to adhere to the ACA Code of Ethics. More importantly, leaders in the profession are expected to be role models who uphold the ACA Code of Ethics and exhibit ethical behavior as an ongoing example to all counselors.




Congruence and diversity


Key among the ethical expectations of counselors are issues of counselor congruence and diversity considerations.


Counselors must recognize that culture affects the manner in which clientsí problems are defined. Clientsí socioeconomic and cultural experiences must be considered when diagnosing mental disorders.


Counselors do not discriminate. Counselors do not condone or engage in discrimination based on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status/partnership, language preference, or socioeconomic status.


Counselors respect differences. Counselors will actively attempt to understand the diverse cultural backgrounds of the clients with whom they work, including learning how the counselor's own cultural, ethnic, and racial identity impacts her or his values and beliefs about the counseling process. Counselors communicate information in ways that are developmentally and culturally appropriate.


Counselors exhibit a multicultural awareness and sensitivity. Counselors should select appropriate techniques, approaches, activities, and assessment tools with sensitivity to culturally diverse populations. Counselors recognize historical and social prejudices in the misdiagnosis and pathologizing of certain individuals and groups and the role of mental health professionals in perpetuating these prejudices through diagnosis and treatment.


Counselors do not impose their values on their clients or insert them into the counseling process. Counselors should be aware of their own values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors and avoid imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals


The responsibility of counseling professionals is to help clients make the most appropriate choices for themselves without the counselor imposing her/his values. The focus of ethical counseling is always on the clientís own feelings and thoughts, not on those of the counselor.


Counselors are expected to give unconditional positive regard. Counselors are expected to be non-judgmental. Counselors are expected to be empathetic. The counselor accepts the client unconditionally and non-judgmentally. The client is free to explore all thoughts and feelings, positive or negative, without danger of rejection or condemnation.


Counselors avoid an attitude of self-interest. Counselors should always act in the best interest of the client and not in their own self interest. Counselors must never place personal interests ahead of those of the client. Counselors should not take advantage of others or exploit others in their professional relationship.



Impairment and referrals


Counselors recognize when they are impaired. Therapeutic impairment occurs when there is a significant negative impact on a counselorís professional functioning which compromises client care or poses the potential for harm to the client. Counselors may be impaired due to substance abuse or chemical dependency, mental illness, personal crisis or trauma, insufficient knowledge, skill, or training regarding the clientís particular issue, burnout from the stress of a heavy or demanding workload, vicarious trauma or counter transference, discomfort with clientís background, values, attitudes, and lifestyle, or unresolved emotional or attitudinal issues.


When necessary, counselors make appropriate referrals. If counselors determine an inability to be of professional assistance to clients, they avoid entering or continuing counseling relationships. Counselors are knowledgeable about culturally and clinically appropriate referral resources and suggest these alternatives. When counselors transfer or refer clients to other practitioners, they ensure that appropriate clinical and administrative processes are completed and open communication is maintained with both clients and practitioners. While making a referral, counselors must avoid communicating judgment, abandonment, neglect, rejection, disdain, disgust, or condemnation.

Counselors also have a professional obligation to monitor their effectiveness and ensure their competency through continuing education. According to the ACA Code of Ethics, counselors must be intentional about gaining new knowledge, personal awareness, sensitivity, and skills pertaining to working with diverse populations. Therefore, counselors should be especially cognizant of those areas for which they repeatedly make referrals as an indication of an area or issue requiring the counselorís further education and expanded competency.



Treatment modalities


Counselors utilize treatment modalities that are scientifically based. Counselors use techniques, procedures, and modalities that are grounded in theory and have an empirical or scientific foundation.


Counselors refrain from using unethical therapy methods. Among the unethical treatment modalities are the questionable practices regarding treatment for homosexual clients attempting to change a clientís sexual orientation. Reparative Therapy (Also called Conversion Therapy, Re-Orientation Therapy, and Transformational Therapy) is regarded by the ACA, APA, and AMA as unethical.


Moreover, reparative or conversion therapy is not effective. No empirical scientific support exists for this approach. And it can be harmful to clients. Counselors who conduct this type of therapy view same-sex attractions and behaviors as abnormal and unnatural and, therefore, in need of "curing." The belief that same-sex attraction and behavior is abnormal and in need of treatment is in opposition to the position taken by national mental health organizations, including ACA. ACA opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation. According to the DSM-IV-TR, homosexuality is not a mental disorder in need of being changed.


(From Michael Lebeau / ALCA President 2004-05)


ACA Code of Ethics & Professional Standards
Ethics in Therapy
ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors

Hot Topics in Ethics



ACA Code of Ethics


February 2005


Emphasis on multiculturalism and diversity issues are among major changes in the ACA Code of Ethics.

Earlier this year, the American Counseling Association Governing Council approved the adoption of the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics. The code is revised approximately every 10 years and provides an opportunity for the counseling profession to examine current practices and issues faced by professionals in a variety of settings.


A central focus of our professional code of ethics is to help guide professional practice with clients, students, supervisees, colleagues and research participants. A code of ethics is designed to protect the well-being of those served by counselors, as well as to advance the work of the profession. The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the main changes in the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics. Readers are encouraged to log onto the ACA website at www.counseling.org/ethics to access the revised code. The new code is also being published in this issue of Counseling Today beginning on page 25.


The 2005 ACA Code of Ethics consists of eight main sections broken down into the following areas: The Counseling Relationship; Confidentiality, Privileged Communication and Privacy; Professional Responsibility; Relationships With Other Professionals; Evaluation, Assessment and Interpretation; Supervision, Training and Teaching; Research and Publication; and Resolving Ethical Issues. A new glossary is also provided to help readers understand key counseling terms and how they are defined in the document.


Another feature is a section that outlines the five main purposes of the ACA Code of Ethics: The code enables the association to clarify to current and future members, and to those served by members, the nature of the ethical responsibilities held in common by its members.


The code helps support the mission of the association.

The code establishes principles that define ethical behavior and best practices of association members.

The code serves as an ethical guide designed to assist members in constructing a professional course of action that best serves those utilizing counseling services and best promotes the values of the counseling profession.

The code serves as the basis for the processing of ethical complaints and inquiries against members of the association.



Multiculturalism and diversity issues


An important component threaded through the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics is the emphasis on multicultural and diversity issues facing counseling professionals. A new subsection, "A.1.d. Support Network Involvement," is just one example. It states that "Counselors recognize that support networks hold various meanings in the lives of clients and consider enlisting the support, understanding and involvement of others (e.g., religious/spiritual/community leaders, family members, friends) as positive resources, when appropriate, with client consent." This section represents a variance from the 1995 code of ethics, which only addressed the role of family involvement. The 2005 code broadens this section to include any person from the perspective of the client who plays a central role in that client's life.


Another culturally relevant example contained in the 2005 code is "A.10.e. Receiving Gifts," which states: "Counselors understand the challenges of accepting gifts from clients and recognize that in some cultures, small gifts are a token of respect and showing gratitude. When determining whether or not to accept a gift from clients, counselors take into account the therapeutic relationship, the monetary value of the gift, a client's motivation for giving the gift and the counselor's motivation for wanting or declining the gift." A final example of cultural issues affecting the counseling relationship is in the section on diagnosis of mental disorders. "E.5.b. Cultural Sensitivity" states that "Counselors recognize that culture affects the manner in which clients' problems are defined. Clients' socioeconomic and cultural experiences are considered when diagnosing mental disorders."




Dual/multiple relationships


A paradigm shift is currently taking place within the counseling profession and within other mental health organizations when it comes to traditional views on dual or multiple relationships. Recently, ethics scholars have called attention to the fact that not all dual or multiple relationships should be avoided or viewed as harmful. In fact, some argue that dual/multiple relationships within a counseling context can actually be growth enhancing. To speak to this change, the revised code of ethics contains "A.5.d. Potentially Beneficial Interactions." It states in part, "When a counselor-client nonprofessional interaction with a client or former client may be potentially beneficial to the client or former client, the counselor must document in case records (when feasible) the rationale for such an interaction, the potential benefit and anticipated consequences for the client or former client and other individuals significantly involved with the client or former client."


Counselors should consult the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics for a detailed explanation of this section of the document.


End-of-life care


A new addition to the 2005 ethics code is Section A.9, which discusses end-of-life care for terminally ill clients. ACA is one of the few national mental health-related organizations to specifically address end-of-life care in its ethics code. While this section does not endorse or prescribe one single way of approaching this sensitive issue, it does stress the importance of the counselor being competent to work with clients facing end-of-life issues. Counselors handling end-of-life issues with clients should seek supervision and consultation to help clients receive competent care from a wide range of professionals. Counselors should also work toward supporting the client's ability to make informed judgments on end-of-life decisions that foster the client's ability for self-determination.


Use of technology


Section A.12, "Technology-Assisted Services," integrates ACA's 1999 Ethical Standards for Internet Online Counseling and broadens ethical use of technology in research, record-keeping and provision of services to consumers.


Counselor impairment and transfer of clients


More detailed language was added to the section on counselor impairment (SectionC.2.g.), and a new section was added that addresses the importance for all counseling professionals, regardless of setting, to create a plan for the transfer of clients and records to an appropriate colleague in the event of a counselor's incapacitation, death or termination of practice (Section C.2.h.).


Supervision, training and teaching


A number of changes were also made to Section F, which deals with supervision, training and teaching. Counselor educators, those who supervise counseling trainees and counseling students are encouraged to pay particularly close attention to this section devoted to the training and competence of new counseling professionals. Section F deals with such areas as supervisory relationships, potentially beneficial relationships between supervisors and supervisees, endorsement, counselor educators, student welfare and orientation, self-growth experiences, impairment of counseling students and ethical evaluation of students' performances within their academic preparation.



Miscellaneous changes


Other noteworthy items found in the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics are related to changes in terminology that have evolved since the last revision of the code. These changes include (but are not limited to) a shift from the 1995 code's use of the word "tests" in Section E to the use of the term "assessment" in 2005. It was determined that "assessment" has a broader, more holistic meaning. In addition, use of the term "research participants" is intended to be more inclusive and less clinically detached than the previous term in use, "research subject." Section E also helps counselors address the appropriate handling of records during the research process and the confidentiality of people involved in research projects. The final section of the code of ethics, Section H, helps practitioners address ethical dilemmas and outlines the appropriate ethical behavior counselors are expected to uphold.


While this article provides a brief and general overview of a few revisions to the ACA Code of Ethics, it is important to take the time to carefully review the entire document and understand both the specific and the broad changes that have evolved between the 1995 and 2005 documents. In the coming months, books and scholarly articles addressing specific sections of the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics will be available. It's important at all stages of professional development to have an ethics library at your disposal should the need arise to consult with the ethics literature. ACA members are strongly encouraged to consult with ethics experts in the field on the impact that the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics will have on counselors' daily work. The 2006 ACA/Canadian Counseling Association Convention in Montreal will have a presidential program addressing the new code, and all are encouraged to attend the various training and continuing education opportunities that will be available.


It is critical to examine the professional code of ethics from a cultural and contextual perspective rather than seeing it simply as a list of dos and don'ts. No code of ethics can prescribe what actions counselors are to take in every situation. Through supervision, consultation and careful personal reflection, the ACA Code of Ethics can be one of many tools at a counselor's disposal when faced with a challenging ethical dilemma. It has been a privilege to serve the counseling profession by helping to create the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics. I want to personally thank all the members of the ACA Code Revision Task Force, as well as the ACA leadership and staff who made it possible to revise this important document that impacts every single member of our association. Should you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact me.


(From Michael M. Kocet / assistant professor / Bridgewater State College / chair of the ACA Code Revision Task Force, 2002-05/ member of the ACA Ethics Committee / mkocet@yahoo.com)

ACA Code of Ethics (PDF Booklet)
ACA Code of Ethics (PDF Text)
ACA Ethics and Professional Standards
ACA Code of Ethics Highlights



Moral Principles: Ethical Decision Making

Counselors are often faced with situations which require sound ethical decision making ability. Determining the appropriate course to take when faced with a difficult ethical dilemma can be a challenge. To assist ACA members in meeting this challenge, the ACA Ethics Committee has developed A Practitioner's Guide to Ethical Decision Making. The intent of this document is to offer professional counselors a framework for sound ethical decision making. The following will address both guiding principles that are globally valuable in ethical decision making, and a model that professionals can utilize as they address ethical questions in their work.


Moral principles


Kitchener (1984) has identified five moral principles that are viewed as the cornerstone of our ethical guidelines. Ethical guidelines can not address all situations that a counselor is forced to confront. Reviewing these ethical principles which are at the foundation of the guidelines often helps to clarify the issues involved in a given situation. The five principles, autonomy, justice, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and fidelity are each absolute truths in and of themselves. By exploring the dilemma in regards to these principles one may come to a better understanding of the conflicting issues.


1)  Autonomy is the principle that addresses the concept of independence. The essence of this principle is allowing an individual the freedom of choice and action. It addresses the responsibility of the counselor to encourage clients, when appropriate, to make their own decisions and to act on their own values. There are two important considerations in encouraging clients to be autonomous. First, helping the client to understand how their decisions and their values may or may not be received within the context of the society in which they live, and how they may impinge on the rights of others. The second consideration is related to the client's ability to make sound and rational decisions. Persons not capable of making competent choices, such as children, and some individuals with mental handicaps, should not be allowed to act on decisions that could harm themselves or others.


2)  Nonmaleficence is the concept of not causing harm to others. Often explained as "above all do no harm", this principle is considered by some to be the most critical of all the principles, even though theoretically they are all of equal weight (Kitchener, 1984; Rosenbaum, 1982; Stadler, 1986). This principle reflects both the idea of not inflicting intentional harm, and not engaging in actions that risk harming others (Forester-Miller & Rubenstein, 1992).


3)  Beneficence reflects the counselor's responsibility to contribute to the welfare of the client. Simply stated it means to do good, to be proactive and also to prevent harm when possible (Forester-Miller & Rubenstein, 1992).


4)  Justice does not mean treating all individuals the same. Kitchener (1984) points out that the formal meaning of justice is "treating equals equally and unequals unequally but in proportion to their relevant differences" (p.49). If an individual is to be treated differently, the counselor needs to be able to offer a rationale that explains the necessity and appropriateness of treating this individual differently.


5) Fidelity involves the notions of loyalty, faithfulness, and honoring commitments. Clients must be able to trust the counselor and have faith in the therapeutic relationship if growth is to occur. Therefore, the counselor must take care not to threaten the therapeutic relationship nor to leave obligations unfulfilled.


When exploring an ethical dilemma, you need to examine the situation and see how each of the above principles may relate to that particular case. At times this alone will clarify the issues enough that the means for resolving the dilemma will become obvious to you. In more complicated cases it is helpful to be able to work through the steps of an ethical decision making model, and to assess which of these moral principles may be in conflict.




Ethical decision-making model


We have incorporated the work of Van Hoose and Paradise (1979), Kitchener (1984), Stadler (1986), Haas and Malouf (1989), Forester-Miller and Rubenstein (1992), and Sileo and Kopala (1993) into a practical, sequential, seven step, ethical decision making model. A description and discussion of the steps follows.


1)  Identify the Problem.

Gather as much information as you can that will illuminate the situation. In doing so, it is important to be as specific and objective as possible. Writing ideas on paper may help you gain clarity. Outline the facts, separating out innuendos, assumptions, hypotheses, or suspicions. There are several questions you can ask yourself: Is it an ethical, legal, professional, or clinical problem? Is it a combination of more than one of these? If a legal question exists, seek legal advice.

Other questions that it may be useful to ask yourself are: Is the issue related to me and what I am or am not doing? Is it related to a client and/or the client's significant others and what they are or are not doing? Is it related to the institution or agency and their policies and procedures? If the problem can be resolved by implementing a policy of an institution or agency, you can look to the agency's guidelines. It is good to remember that dilemmas you face are often complex, so a useful guideline is to examine the problem from several perspectives and avoid searching for a simplistic solution.




2)  Apply the ACA Code of Ethics.

After you have clarified the problem, refer to the Code of Ethics (ACA, 2005) to see if the issue is addressed there. If there is an applicable standard or several standards and they are specific and clear, following the course of action indicated should lead to a resolution of the problem. To be able to apply the ethical standards, it is essential that you have read them carefully and that you understand their implications.

If the problem is more complex and a resolution does not seem apparent, then you probably have a true ethical dilemma and need to proceed with further steps in the ethical decision making process.

3)  Determine the nature and dimensions of the dilemma.

There are several avenues to follow in order to ensure that you have examined the problem in all its various dimensions.


--Consider the moral principles of autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, justice, and fidelity. Decide which principles apply to the specific situation, and determine which principle takes priority for you in this case. In theory, each principle is of equal value, which means that it is your challenge to determine the priorities when two or more of them are in conflict.


--Review the relevant professional literature to ensure that you are using the most current professional thinking in reaching a decision.


--Consult with experienced professional colleagues and/or supervisors. As they review with you the information you have gathered, they may see other issues that are relevant or provide a perspective you have not considered. They may also be able to identify aspects of the dilemma that you are not viewing objectively.


--Consult your state or national professional associations to see if they can provide help with the dilemma.

4)  Generate potential courses of action.

Brainstorm as many possible courses of action as possible. Be creative and consider all options. If possible, enlist the assistance of at least one colleague to help you generate options.

5)  Consider the potential consequences of all options and determine a course of action.

Considering the information you have gathered and the priorities you have set, evaluate each option and assess the potential consequences for all the parties involved. Ponder the implications of each course of action for the client, for others who will be effected, and for yourself as a counselor. Eliminate the options that clearly do not give the desired results or cause even more problematic consequences. Review the remaining options to determine which option or combination of options best fits the situation and addresses the priorities you have identified.

6)  Evaluate the selected course of action.

Review the selected course of action to see if it presents any new ethical considerations. Stadler (1986) suggests applying three simple tests to the selected course of action to ensure that it is appropriate. In applying the test of justice, assess your own sense of fairness by determining whether you would treat others the same in this situation. For the test of publicity, ask yourself whether you would want your behavior reported in the press. The test of universality asks you to assess whether you could recommend the same course of action to another counselor in the same situation.

If the course of action you have selected seems to present new ethical issues, then you'll need to go back to the beginning and reevaluate each step of the process. Perhaps you have chosen the wrong option or you might have identified the problem incorrectly.

If you can answer in the affirmative to each of the questions suggested by Stadler (thus passing the tests of justice, publicity, and universality) and you are satisfied that you have selected an appropriate course of action, then you are ready to move on to implementation.

7)  Implement the course of action.

Taking the appropriate action in an ethical dilemma is often difficult. The final step involves strengthening your ego to allow you to carry out your plan. After implementing your course of action, it is good practice to follow up on the situation to assess whether your actions had the anticipated effect and consequences.


American Counseling Association Code of Ethics
ACA Ethics and Professional Standards
Ethical Analysis in Counseling
Practitioner's Guide to Ethical Decision Making
Why Social Justice is a Counseling Concern

Scholarly Articles: Ethics and LGBTQ Issues in Counseling
Dual Relationships, Multiple Relationships, and Boundary Decisions
Dual Relationships Continuum
Good Therapy: Ethics in Therapy

Corporate Resource Council: Social Goals of LGBTQ Advocacy
American Psychological Association Policy Statements On Gay & Lesbian Issues

Human Rights Campaign




Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama