Comparing ACA and AACC ethics codes: Addressing counselor values impact


Over the next few post I plan to review similarities and differences between the ACA and AACC codes (see this post for the first in this mini-series). Today I want to look at how the two codes talk about counselors as they manage their own value systems with their clientele.

The ACA code raises the issue of values like this:

  • Section A Introduction

Counselors actively attempt to understand the diverse cultural backgrounds of the clients they serve. Counselors also explore their own cultural identities and how these affect their values and beliefs about the counseling process.

  • A.4.b. Personal Values

Counselors are aware of—and avoid imposing—their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.

In addition, the ACA clearly states that when there are significant values differences, a counselor is NOT to make referral on the basis of values differences alone. Values clashes cannot be treated as lack of competency in a particular area of counseling.

  • A.11.b. Values Within Termination and Referral

Counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor’s personally held values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.

The AACC code addresses the value systems of the counselor in these sections

  • ES1-010 Affirming Human Worth and Dignity

…Christian counselors express appropriate care towards any client, service-inquiring person, or anyone encountered in the course of practice or ministry, without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual behavior or orientation, socioeconomic status, age, disability, marital status, education, occupation, denomination, belief system, values, or political affiliation. God’s love is unconditional and, at this level of concern, so must that be of the Christian counselor.

  • ES1-120 Refusal to Participate in Harmful Actions of Clients

Within this section are paragraphs discussing the application and limits of the “do no harm” virtue to certain client behaviors deemed not to fit within the biblical framework articulated at the beginning of the ethics code. The AACC code expressed an ethic to avoid supporting or condoning (while respecting and continuing to help) in the following areas: abortion-seeking, substance abuse, violence towards others, pre or extramarital sex, homosexual/bisexual or transgender behavior, and euthanasia. On this last issue, the ACA notes that the duty to breach confidentiality may be optional (thus indicating a values insertion since in all other cases we have a duty to breach confidentiality so as to warn others or protect the life of our client).

  • 1-530: Working with Persons of Different Faiths, Religions, and Values

Counselors work to understand the client’s belief system, always maintain respect for the client and strive to understand when faith and values issues are important to the client and foster values-informed client decision-making in counseling. Counselors share their own faith orientation only as a function of legitimate self-disclosure and when appropriate to client need, always maintaining a posture of humility. Christian counselors do not withhold services to anyone of a different race, ethnic group, faith, religion, denomination, or value system.

  • 1-530-a: Not Imposing Values

While Christian counselors may expose clients and/or the community at large to their faith orientation, they do not impose their religious beliefs or practices on clients.

  • 1-550: Action if Value Differences Interfere with Counseling

Christian counselors work to resolve problems—always in the client’s best interest—when differences between counselor and client values become too great and adversely affect the counseling process. This may include: (1) discussion of the issue as a therapeutic matter; (2) renegotiation of the counseling agreement; (3) consultation with a supervisor or trusted colleague or; as a last resort (4) referral to another counselor if the differences cannot be reduced or bridged (and then only in compliance with applicable state and federal law and/or regulatory requirements).

Differences between codes?

There are many but let me identify two. Notice that the most significant difference between the two is on the basis of the AACC code biblical/christian ethic regarding what is good and what is harmful behaviors. Both codes express the need to respect persons without regard to their beliefs, values, identities, and actions. The AACC code differentiates between imposing of values and exposing of values. What is the difference between exposing and imposing? I suspect it will be in the eye of the beholder. However, I suspect that one of the results of the ACA code is that faith and spiritual values will be less likely to be brought up by counselors since “not imposing” is more emphasized than “exploring.” There is much literature out there suggesting that the failure to explore and utilize spiritual resources actually harms clients in that it slows recovery.

Both codes address the issue of values differences between client and counselor. Both point to a path (though different) about what to do when this happens. The ACA code places pressure on the counselor to work it out while the AACC code suggests a path to resolution either with re-negotiation or referral. Which one sounds better to you?

When the difference is with a colleague? 

Both ACA and AACC codes addresses differences with colleagues. In section D (Relationships with other professionals), the ACA code states,

D.1.a. Different Approaches. Counselors are respectful of approaches that are grounded in theory and/or have an empirical or scientific foundation but may differ from their own. Counselors acknowledge the expertise of other professional groups and are respectful of their practices.

The AACC codes says something similar,

1-710-a: Honorable Relations between Professional and Ministerial Colleagues. Christian counselors respect professional and ministerial colleagues, both within and outside the church. Counselors strive to understand and, wherever able, respect differing approaches to counseling, and maintain collaborative and constructive relations with other professionals serving their clients—in the client’s best interest.

Fun facts

The ACA code never uses the word “faith”, does suggest counselors need to address self-care (includes spirituality), and does suggest counselors seek to utilize client’s spiritual resources…”when appropriate.”

3 Comments

Filed under AACC, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling and the law, counseling skills, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Comparing ACA and AACC ethics codes: Addressing counselor values impact

  1. Reblogged this on Stacey L. Lacik and commented:
    Interesting notes on the differences between the ACA and AACC codes of ethics. Which do you follow?

  2. Phil, I reblogged this post on my blog; if this is not okay with you, please let me know! But I think it’s a very good post.

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