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Exploratory study of common and challenging ethical dilemmas experienced by professional school counselors.

Results of a survey asking public school counselors A school counselor is a counselor and educator who works in schools, and have historically been referred to as "guidance counselors" or "educational counselors," although "Professional School Counselor" is now the preferred term.  in Virginia Virginia, state, United States
Virginia, state of the south-central United States. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (E), North Carolina and Tennessee (S), Kentucky and West Virginia (W), and Maryland and the District of Columbia (N and NE).
 to indicate their most common and most challenging ethical dilemmas An ethical dilemma is a situation that will often involve an apparent conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another.

This is also called an ethical paradox
 are presented. Ninety-two school counselors reported that the most common and challenging ethical dilemmas included those involving student confidentiality, dual relationship with faculty, parental rights, and acting on information of student danger to themselves or others. Results are reported for differences in academic level. Implications for professional school counselors and counselor educators are discussed.


All professional counselors are required to abide by To stand to; to adhere; to maintain.

See also: Abide
 the ethical standards of their particular professional organization. In the case of school counselors, this adherence adherence /ad·her·ence/ (ad-her´ens) the act or condition of sticking to something.

immune adherence
 is to the American American, river, 30 mi (48 km) long, rising in N central Calif. in the Sierra Nevada and flowing SW into the Sacramento River at Sacramento. The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill (see Sutter, John Augustus) along the river in 1848 led to the California gold rush of  School Counselor Association ethical standards (ASCA ASCA American School Counselor Association
ASCA Australian Shepherd Club of America
ASCA Arab Society of Certified Accountants
ASCA American Swimming Coaches Association
ASCA American Society of Consulting Arborists
ASCA Association of State Correctional Administrators
, 2004). Ethical standards are established as a guideline guideline Medtalk A series of recommendations by a body of experts in a particular discipline. See Cancer screening guidelines, Cardiac profile guidelines, Gatekeeper guidelines, Harvard guidelines, Transfusion guidelines.  to use and refer to in situations that create dilemmas, defined as "problems for which no choice seems completely satisfactory, since there are good, but contradictory reasons to take conflicting and incompatible incompatible adj. 1) inconsistent. 2) unmatching. 3) unable to live together as husband and wife due to irreconcilable differences. In no-fault divorce states, if one of the spouses desires to end the marriage, that fact proves incompatibility, and a divorce  courses of action" (Kitchener Kitchener, city (1991 pop. 168,282), Regional Municipality of Waterloo, S Ont., Canada, in the Grand River valley. Settled largely by Mennonites from Pennsylvania in 1806, it was known as Berlin until 1916, when it was renamed in memory of Lord Kitchener. , 2000, p. 2). According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 the Solutions to Ethical Problems in Schools model proposed by Stone (2005), referring to the ethical code Noun 1. ethical code - a system of principles governing morality and acceptable conduct

system of rules, system - a complex of methods or rules governing behavior; "they have to operate under a system they oppose"; "that language has a complex system
 is one of the first steps, which then is followed by, if necessary, considering the students' chronological chron·o·log·i·cal   also chron·o·log·ic
1. Arranged in order of time of occurrence.

2. Relating to or in accordance with chronology.
 and developmental levels; considering the setting, parental rights, and minors' rights; applying moral principles of autonomy, beneficence beneficence (b·neˑ·fi·s , nonmaleficence nonmaleficence Medical ethics A central guiding principle of the ethical practice of medicine, first expressed by Hippocrates, and translated into Latin as primum non nocere, first do no harm , justice, and loyalty; determining potential courses of action and their consequences; evaluating the selected actions; consulting; and implementing the chosen course of action (pp. 16-19). Currently, little empirical evidence is available on the ethical dilemmas faced by school counselors. This study attempts to fill this knowledge gap.

The ASCA magazine publication School Counselor includes a regular column on legal and ethical issues. Since its inception in 1997, Professional School Counseling (PSC (Public Service Commission) Same as PUC. ) has published 11 articles specific to ethical issues. Legal issues and ethical implications were included in other articles, but the focus on ethical issues was limited. Of these 11 articles, 7 were published in a special issue on legal and ethical issues in school counseling (Remley, 2002).

Confidentiality was the most frequent focus in these articles. Isaacs Isaacs may refer to:

People with the surname Isaacs:
  • Isaacs (surname)
In accommodation Hotel and holiday hostels in Dublin and Cork Ireland
  • Isaacs Hotel Isaacs and Isaacs Hostel
In places:
 and Stone (1999) presented a study in which they surveyed 627 school counselors regarding the likelihood of breaking confidentiality in a wide variety of situations. Their study indicated that in many situations described, elementary school elementary school: see school.  counselors were more likely to break confidentiality than middle school counselors, who were more likely to break confidentiality than high school counselors. This finding reflected the age and maturity levels of the students, legal precedents that establish increasing children's tights with age, as well as the different roles that school counselors have at different academic levels. Previous studies also have indicated that elementary school counselors have more contact and consultation with both families and teachers than middle and high school counselors (Isaacs & Stone), and they perceive school-family-community partnerships to be more important than do high school counselors (Bryan Bryan, city (1990 pop. 55,002), seat of Brazos co., E central Tex.; inc. 1872. Settled in the early 19th cent. in an area of large plantations, Bryan was long a cotton center.  & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004).

Isaacs and Stone (1999), as well as the authors of two other PSC articles, reported the difficulties involved with balancing student confidentiality and parental rights. State laws vary regarding the extent of parental rights, but, generally, minors (under 18) cannot legally provide informed consent for counseling, and some scholars interpret this to mean that parental rights supercede Verb 1. supercede - take the place or move into the position of; "Smith replaced Miller as CEO after Miller left"; "the computer has supplanted the slide rule"; "Mary replaced Susan as the team's captain and the highest-ranked player in the school"  confidentiality. Legally, confidentiality for minors is an ill-defined legal area. Ethically, confidentiality is needed within the counseling relationship, but so are the support, good will, and cooperation of student support networks, which frequently include families (ASCA, 2004). Confidentiality for minors remains a debated issue which understandably causes many school counselors concern regarding how to resolve situations when parents want more information than the counselor believes should be shared (Glosoff & Pate, 2002; Isaacs & Stone; Mitchell Mitchell, city (1990 pop. 13,798), seat of Davison co., SE S.Dak.; inc. 1881. Mitchell is a trade, distribution, and shipping center for a dairy and livestock area. , Disque, & Robertson Rob·ert·son   , Oscar Palmer Born 1938.

American basketball player. As a guard for the Cincinnati Royals, he became in 1962 the only player in National Basketball Association history to average in double figures in scoring, rebounding, and assists.
, 2002).

Confidentiality was also the focus of additional articles on the ethical challenges of working with students exhibiting specific behaviors. Froeschle and Moyer (2004) outlined the challenges of working with students who self-mutilate, including the challenge of disclosing information to parents and determining the level of potential harm to students when weighing the decision to breach confidentiality. Stone (2000) pointed out that sexual harassment sexual harassment, in law, verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, aimed at a particular person or group of people, especially in the workplace or in academic or other institutional settings, that is actionable, as in tort or under equal-opportunity statutes.  presents a legal responsibility to inform school authorities who are in a position to take corrective action A corrective action is a change implemented to address a weakness identified in a management system. Normally corrective actions are instigated in response to a customer complaint, abnormal levels if internal nonconformity, nonconformities identified during an internal audit or  to stop the harassment Ask a Lawyer

Country: United States of America
State: Nevada

I recently moved to nev.from abut have been going back to ca. every 2 to 3 weeks for med.
. School counselors who are aware of harassment through a victim's disclosure can be in a conflict between the legal requirements of notification to school administrators and the ethical duty of confidentiality In common law jurisdictions, the duty of confidentiality obliges a solicitor to respect the confidentiality of his or her client's affairs. Information that a solicitor obtains about his or her clients' affairs may be confidential, and must not be used for the benefit of persons . Initially, the information can likely be shared without disclosing the victim's identity, but for purposes of due process, the perpetrators may eventually need to be able to face their accusers (Stone). Capuzzi (2002) reminded school counselors that suicidal ideation suicidal ideation Suicidality Psychiatry Mental thoughts and images which hinge around committing suicide. See Suicide.  is a form of self-harm, thereby mandating the counselor to break confidentiality and inform parents.

Other articles on ethical issues in PSC included considerations of student and counselor spirituality, especially in small communities. Lonborg and Bowen (2004) raised awareness of the potential for and concerns related to multiple relationships in situations where school counselors' spiritual beliefs are well known. Additional articles pointed out the ethical responsibility both of protecting students from harm and violence (Hermann & Finn, 2002) and of practicing competently through receiving supervision (Herlihy, Gray, & McCollum Mc·Col·lum , Elmer 1879-1967.

American biochemist and nutritionist who first classified vitamins, distinguishing between fat-soluble (A) vitamins and water-soluble (B) vitamins.
, 2002).

It would seem from the focus of the literature that the primary ethical dilemma for school counselors is student confidentiality. This would be consistent with the broader scope of the American Counseling Association The American Counseling Association (ACA) is a non-profit, professional organization that is dedicated to the counseling profession. ACA is the world's second largest association exclusively representing professional counselors.  (ACA ACA - Application Control Architecture ). ACA offers its members consultation on ethical issues, and reports the categories of inquiries each year. During the 2002-2003 year, the ACA office received 1,236 inquiries. Almost half of the inquiries (609) regarded issues of confidentiality, and another quarter (305) regarded issues of the counseling relationship, which includes dual relationships (Hubert & Freeman Freeman can mean:
  • An individual not tied to land under the Medieval feudal system, unlike a villein or serf
  • A person who has been awarded Freedom of the City or "Freedom of the Company" in a Livery Company
  • The Freeman
, 2004). Confidentiality is the area in practice that seems to cause most ethical concerns among all counselors, which may be true for school counselors as well. We do not know, however, what additional areas are causing ethical dilemmas for school counselors.


No studies to date have examined which areas of the ASCA ethical standards present the most common or the most challenging dilemmas, and whether these dilemmas vary across academic level. Counselor educators and supervisors would benefit from this background information by being better able to prepare novice counselors to meet these challenges on the job. School counselors would also benefit by normalizing their experience of common dilemmas. In order to explore the most common and most challenging dilemmas experienced by professional school counselors, and to explore whether any differences exist between the levels in which school counselors work, a survey was developed and distributed to practicing school counselors in Virginia.



Names of public schools in Virginia were accessed through the Virginia Department of Education. A stratified stratified /strat·i·fied/ (strat´i-fid) formed or arranged in layers.

Arranged in the form of layers or strata.
 random sample of 300 schools was selected, with 100 schools selected from each level (elementary, middle, and high school). Envelopes were addressed to "School Counselor" at each school address. The letter of informed consent included a request to pass the survey to another counselor in the same building (if applicable) if the original recipient was not going to complete the survey. Mailings for the elementary and middle schools were sent in April 2004 with a follow-up follow-up,
n the process of monitoring the progress of a patient after a period of active treatment.



follow-up plan
 in May. Mailings for the high schools were sent in August 2004 with a follow-up in October. The difference in the timing of the mailings was based on the heavy testing responsibilities for most Virginia high school Virginia High School, home of Blue Devil Athletics, educates students grades 7-12 in Virginia, Minnesota. It is a public high school with open enrollment located on scenic 5th Avenue.  counselors in the spring.

From the 300 surveys sent, 92 school counselors responded for a response rate of 30.7%. Among the respondents In the context of marketing research, a representative sample drawn from a larger population of people from whom information is collected and used to develop or confirm marketing strategy.  who provided demographic information, females made up 89% (n = 82) of the respondents; males made up 10% (n = 8). Caucasian Caucasian or Caucasoid: see race.  was the indicated ethnicity ethnicity Vox populi Racial status–ie, African American, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic  for 85% (n = 78) of the respondents, 9% (n = 8) indicated African-American, 1.1% (n = 1) indicated Asian American A·sian A·mer·i·can also A·sian-A·mer·i·can  
A U.S. citizen or resident of Asian descent. See Usage Note at Amerasian.

, and 1.1% (n = 1) indicated multicultural mul·ti·cul·tur·al  
1. Of, relating to, or including several cultures.

2. Of or relating to a social or educational theory that encourages interest in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture.
. The age range represented was 25 years to 62 years. The median age was 52 years, and the mean age was 46.6 years. Participants had worked as school counselors for a range of 1-29 years. The mean, median, and mode mean, median, and mode

In mathematics, the three principal ways of designating the average value of a list of numbers. The arithmetic mean is found by adding the numbers and dividing the sum by the number of numbers in the list. This is what is most often meant by an average.
 of experience as a professional school counselor were all 10 years. This population represents a slightly larger percentage of females than many other national studies of school counselors. The ethnicity, age, and experience of the population in this study are very similar to many other national studies of school counselors (Bodenhorn & Skaggs, 2005).

A variety of school settings was represented: 34% (n = 31) of the participants worked in rural schools, 38% (n = 35) in suburban schools, 17% (n = 16) in urban schools, 10% (n = 9) in a combination or other setting, and 1% (n = 1) did not respond to this question. The participants included 28% (n = 26) elementary school counselors, 32% (n = 29) middle school counselors, and 40% (n = 37) high school or secondary schools configured con·fig·ure  
tr.v. con·fig·ured, con·fig·ur·ing, con·fig·ures
To design, arrange, set up, or shape with a view to specific applications or uses:
 as grades 7, 8, or 9 through grade 12.


The survey instructions asked participants to respond to questions regarding ethical dilemmas. Examples provided included "being the only school counselor in a building in which a family member is a student, caring parents or staff requesting information to be able to support a student, or seeing students in an illegal or dangerous activity outside of school."

The survey contained a list of potential dilemma areas, for which respondents were asked to (a) underline underline

an animal's ventral profile; the shape of the belly when viewed from the side, e.g. pendulous, pot-belly, tucked up, gaunt.
 the areas in which they had experienced a dilemma within the past academic year; (b) rank the areas of potential dilemmas according to how often the respondents experienced this type of dilemma throughout their career, referred to as commonness;, and (c) rank the areas of potential dilemmas according to level of challenge. The list of potential dilemma areas, adapted from the divisions of the ASCA ethical code, included student confidentiality (personal disclosures); confidentiality of student records; dual relationships with students; dual relationships with faculty; dual relationships with administrators; dual relationships with parents; making appropriate referrals; acting on information of danger to self or others; using appropriate assessments; interpreting assessments; peer helper programs (including mediation mediation, in law, type of intervention in which the disputing parties accept the offer of a third party to recommend a solution for their controversy. Mediation has long been a part of international law, frequently involving the use of an international commission, ); parental rights; cultural diversity; recommendation writing; practicing only in area of competence; receiving consultation or supervision; providing consultation or supervision; awareness of colleagues' ethical breach; and other. Respondents also were asked to write two descriptions of dilemmas experienced, one common dilemma and one challenging dilemma.


SPSS A statistical package from SPSS, Inc., Chicago ( that runs on PCs, most mainframes and minis and is used extensively in marketing research. It provides over 50 statistical processes, including regression analysis, correlation and analysis of variance.  13.0 was used for the analysis. Frequencies, cross-tabulations, chi-squares, and Cramer's V were conducted to find group differences among counselors working at different school levels. The rankings were recoded into two categories for analysis. If a participant ranked an area of potential dilemma as one of the three most common or most challenging dilemmas, it was recoded as a 1. If a participant ranked an area as less than 3, or did not rank the area at all, it was recoded as a 2. The cross-tabulations and chi-square chi-square (ki´skwar) see under distribution and test.

 statistics are thus reflective Refers to light hitting an opaque surface such as a printed page or mirror and bouncing back. See reflective media and reflective LCD.  of categories ranked as among the top three most common or most challenging dilemmas as compared to those ranked less than 3 or not ranked at all. The rationale rationale (rash´nal´),
n the fundamental reasons used as the basis for a decision or action.
 for recoding Noun 1. recoding - converting from one code to another
coding, steganography, cryptography, secret writing - act of writing in code or cipher
 was to establish categories for analysis. Many respondents only ranked three or four categories, while some ranked more. With only 92 respondents overall, analysis would be jeopardized with too many possibilities, so errors were minimized by creating two recoded variables.

Chi-square and Cramer's V tests were both run to examine differences between the results and the expected percentages based on the numbers of participants at each level. The chi-square information indicates the statistical significance of the differences, but the robustness of this process is strongly affected by the number of respondents. Because the number of participants is relatively small when broken into levels, analysis using Cramer's V also was indicated. A Cramer's V between .2 and .5 denotes that the difference is substantively important and merits further analysis with a larger sample size (Cohen cohen
 or kohen

(Hebrew: “priest”) Jewish priest descended from Zadok (a descendant of Aaron), priest at the First Temple of Jerusalem. The biblical priesthood was hereditary and male.
, 1988, p. 224-225).


Ethics Preparation

Participants reported on their preparation and education in ethics. Over half (55%) reported having a general course in a master's program that included some ethics; 58% had a specific course in a master's program that focused on ethical and legal issues; 46% attended conferences or continuing education continuing education: see adult education.
continuing education
 or adult education

Any form of learning provided for adults. In the U.S. the University of Wisconsin was the first academic institution to offer such programs (1904).
 sessions on ethical issues within the last two years; 72% had read articles and books dealing with ethical issues; 41% reported having a copy of the ethical code readily accessible; yet only 8% indicated they referred to the ethical code frequently.

Most Common Dilemmas

The results of areas of ethical dilemmas endorsed as most commonly experienced were similar in relative frequency to the indications of whether the participants reported experiencing a dilemma in that area within the last year. The five most common areas in which this group of school counselors reported experiencing ethical dilemmas were student confidentiality of personal disclosures (67%), confidentiality of student records (36%), acting on information of danger to self or others (33%), parental rights (22%), and dual relationship with faculty (20%). Less than 10 percent of the respondents rated the following areas as among the most common dilemmas experienced: providing consultation or supervision (9%); receiving consultation or supervision (8%); dual relationships with administrators (7%); peer helpers (including mediation) (6%); using appropriate assessments (3%); interpreting assessments (3%); and practicing in area of competence (2%).

Most Challenging Dilemmas

The five most challenging areas in which this group of school counselors reported experiencing ethical dilemmas were student confidentiality of personal disclosures (46%), acting on information of danger to self or others (45%), awareness of colleague's ethical breach (34%), parental rights (33%), and dual relationships with faculty (19%). Less than 10 percent of the respondents rated the following areas as among the most challenging dilemmas experienced: receiving consultation or supervision (6%); practicing in area of competence (6%); peer helpers (including mediation) (4%); using appropriate assessments (4%); and interpreting assessments (4%).

Most Common and Challenging Dilemmas Experienced by School Level

School counselors at different academic levels (elementary, middle and high school) may experience ethical dilemmas with different commonness and challenge. Student ages vary at the different levels, which affect practice; additionally the school structure, parent involvement, and school counselor responsibilities vary at the three levels. Table 1 reports the dilemmas for which there were statistical (according to a chi-square analysis) or substantive (according to a Cramer's V analysis) differences of reported commonness and challenge between counselors at different academic settings. Statistical analysis revealed three areas of significant difference and two areas of substantive difference in reported commonness of dilemmas experienced, and three areas of significant difference and three areas of substantive difference in reported challenge.

Comparing Commonness and Challenge

Maintaining confidentiality, both of personal disclosures and of student records, were sections from the ethical code that more participants ranked as a most common dilemma than as a most challenging dilemma. In the area of confidentiality of personal disclosures, 67% indicated this as most common, while 46% indicated as most challenging. In the area of confidentiality of student records, 36% indicated as most common, while 18% indicated as most challenging.

Alternatively, those sections of the ethical code that participants ranked more often as most challenging than as most common included information of danger to self or others, parental rights, and awareness of a colleague's ethical breach. Specifically, 45% of the respondents indicated information of danger to self or others was among the most challenging dilemmas experienced, while 33% indicated it was most common. In the area of parental rights, 33% indicated as most challenging, while 22% indicated as most common; and in the area of awareness of colleague's ethical breach, 34% indicated as most challenging while 14% indicated as most common. Seven counselors provided scenarios about situations in which they were aware of a colleague's ethical breach, but only two involved other counselors. Five scenarios involved ethical breaches of administrators or teachers. Ethical breaches included abuse of power, breaking confidentiality, dating and drinking with students, gossiping and spreading rumors For other uses, see Rumor (disambiguation).

Rumors is a farcical play by Neil Simon.

At its start, several affluent couples gather in the posh suburban residence of a couple for a dinner party celebrating their tenth anniversary.
. Although teachers and administrators are not bound by the same ethical expectations as counselors, their inappropriate behavior might be interpreted by counselors as breaching ethical standards. The dilemma of having to confront (or, alternatively, ignore) an ethical breach within the school staff is not diminished di·min·ish  
v. di·min·ished, di·min·ish·ing, di·min·ish·es
a. To make smaller or less or to cause to appear so.

 if it does not involve counselors. School counselors are apparently very aware of the impact on students and school climate when anyone is acting unethically or inappropriately. Parental rights and mandatory reporting mandatory reporting The obligatory reporting of a particular condition to local or state health authorities, as required for communicable disease and substance abuse Infectious disease State boards of health maintain records and collect data resulting from MR of  issues are discussed further in later sections.

Dilemma Descriptions

Almost half of the respondents (44/92) included scenario descriptions with their responses. Participants were asked to provide both a challenging and a common dilemma. Some respondents provided both, some provided only one. The scenarios helped to provide a description of the situations involved rather than simply the ethical code area label provided in the survey instrument.

The scenarios showed that ethical dilemmas are frequently related to legal issues, and often do not easily fit into only one category. In an attempt to chart the scenarios into the headings of the ethical code, very few related to only one heading. A common area of concern regarding confidentiality and parental rights involved parents who are either in the process of divorce or who believe erroneously er·ro·ne·ous  
Containing or derived from error; mistaken: erroneous conclusions.

[Middle English, from Latin err
 that obtaining custody indicates that the other parent cannot access information. Numerous scenarios presented situations of parents and teachers asking for confidential information--potentially a combination of student confidentiality with parental rights or dual relationships with parent and/or faculty. Two counselors described this overlap o·ver·lap
1. A part or portion of a structure that extends or projects over another.

2. The suturing of one layer of tissue above or under another layer to provide additional strength, often used in dental surgery.

 of concerns. An elementary school counselor wrote,
   I find myself believing that a teacher needs to
   know information on a child that I have
   learned via counseling with the student or via
   consultation with a parent, therapist or other.
   Generally, the conflict comes when I believe
   what the student has experienced (the confidential
   information) impacts behavior and academics
   at school. I find myself struggling with
   how much the teacher needs to know in order
   to be sensitive to the student, family, etc. I try
   to find the briefest, most helpful information
   to share. I get parent/student permission to

   A secondary school counselor wrote,

   Parents want to know what counselors discuss
   with sons/daughters. Parents want all information,
   regardless of confidentiality. If this
   directly involves the whole family, this is hard
   to deal with. School counselors cannot act in a
   professional capacity as a psychologist but it is
   often frustrating not being able to help a student
   who you have built a relationship with
   when you also know the parent and see the
   dilemma faced by student and parent.

Another dilemma example included areas of awareness of colleague's ethical breach, parental rights, student records, and dual relationships:
   As director of guidance, I was made aware that
   one of my colleagues was allowing a student to
   contact her birth mother, using the school email
   and using her e-mail account. The birth
   mother was not the custodial parent and there
   were court proceedings against her by her
   father, who had full custody.... Custody issues
   play a bigger role each year in schools as to
   who has access to information on students as
   well as who may or may not have physical
   access to students. We need to be vigilant in
   upholding parent rights while still protecting
   the rights of the minor child.

Eight of the 44 respondents who provided scenarios mentioned dilemmas involved in reporting suspected child abuse to local Child Protective Services child protective services Sociology A state or county agency that addresses issues of child abuse and neglect  (CPS (1) (Characters Per Second) The measurement of the speed of a serial printer or the speed of a data transfer between hardware devices or over a communications channel. CPS is equivalent to bytes per second. ) boards. School counselors are mandated reporters In many U.S. states, mandated reporters are professionals who, in the ordinary course of their work and because they have regular contact with children, disabled persons, senior citizens, or other identified vulnerable populations, are required to report (or cause a report to be , but five counselors wrote about situations in which they believed the report to CPS was either mishandled or not acted upon, and an additional respondent In Equity practice, the party who answers a bill or other proceeding in equity. The party against whom an appeal or motion, an application for a court order, is instituted and who is required to answer in order to protect his or her interests.  included lack of confidence in Social Services social services
Noun, pl

welfare services provided by local authorities or a state agency for people with particular social needs

social services nplservicios mpl sociales 
 in the "other" category of the dilemma list.


The results from this survey provide helpful information to the school counseling profession. It is important for school counselors, supervisors, and counselor educators to recognize the common and challenging areas of ethical dilemmas. School counselors should be provided with strong preparation and continued education on how to handle the particular dilemmas of student confidentiality, of personal disclosures and of student records, acting on information of danger to self or others, dual relationships with faculty and parents, and parental rights.

The most common and challenging ethical dilemmas faced by school counselors appear to be issues of confidentiality., which is consistent with the larger population of counselors represented by ACA, and validates the previous focus in the PSC literature. ASCA's (2004) recently revised ethical code acknowledges more directly than previous versions the tension that exists between confidentiality, and parental rights. Section A.2.g. admonishes the school counselor that "primary obligation for confidentiality, is to the student but [the professional school counselor] balances that obligation with an understanding of the legal and inherent rights of parents/guardians to be the guiding voice in their children's lives" (p. 2). Furthermore, section B.1.a. indicates that the professional school counselor "respects the rights and responsibilities of parents/guardians for their children and endeavors to establish, as appropriate, a collaborative relationship with parents/guardians to facilitate the student's maximum development" (p. 3). The complexity of navigating (networking, hypertext) navigating - Finding your way around. Often used of the Internet, particularly the World-Wide Web.

A browser is a tool for navigating hypertext documents.
 a collaborative relationship with parents while respecting their responsibilities and honoring student confidentiality, is both a common concern and very challenging.

The results of comparing commonness and challenge are also enlightening en·light·en  
tr.v. en·light·ened, en·light·en·ing, en·light·ens
1. To give spiritual or intellectual insight to:
. More professional school counselors ranked maintaining confidentiality, both of personal disclosures and of student records, as one of the most common dilemmas than as one of the most challenging. Reasons for these two areas of ethical practice to be more common than challenging might be that school counselors have a higher level of self-efficacy self-efficacy (selfˈ-eˑ·fi·k  in dealing with these dilemmas due to the frequency of experience, and that solutions to these two areas may seem more clear-cut. Professional school counselors rely on FERPA FERPA Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (aka the Buckley Amendment)
FERPA Fédération Européenne des Retraités et des Personnes Agées (French) 
 and school policy to maintain the confidentiality of school records, and are committed to maintaining personal confidentiality, with their students. Alternatively, acting on situations regarding information of danger to self or others was ranked by more professional school counselors as among the most challenging dilemma than as the most common. Although the resolution of these situations is usually clear-cut due to legal issues of mandatory reporting, duty. to protect, and concerns for school safety., the author hypothesizes that they are ranked as most challenging because these situations are usually highly charged emotionally and can be challenging to deal with for that reason.

The ASCA code (2004) indicates that school counselors are to "avoid dual relationships with school personnel that might infringe in·fringe  
v. in·fringed, in·fring·ing, in·fring·es
1. To transgress or exceed the limits of; violate: infringe a contract; infringe a patent.

 on the integrity of the counselor/student relationship" (p. 2). School counselors, however, apparently frequently experience challenging dilemmas involving faculty., especially at the elementary and middle school levels. This too is consistent with previous studies (Isaacs & Stone, 1999), and it reflects the intricacies and practicalities of collaborating with faculty for student development. It is interesting that middle school counselors report dilemmas involving dual relationships with students more common and challenging than do counselors at other levels. This may be a factor of the students' developmental ability, to understand different roles that all adults, including school counselors, have with children and adolescents during the many personal and social transitions experienced in middle school (Akos & Galassi, 2004).

Consistent with other counseling literature (Moleski & Kiselica, 2005; Pearson & Piazza piazza

Open square or marketplace, surrounded by buildings, in an Italian town or city. It was equivalent to the plaza of Spanish-speaking countries. The term became more widely used in the 16th–18th century, denoting any large open space with buildings around it.
, 1997), school counselors and educators may be warranted in examining contextual issues of dual relationships and of examining both the benefits and the problems involved in these relationships. Most research and literature on school counselor ethical issues do not differentiate between dual relationships with different constituents. From the results presented here, as well as the results from Isaacs and Stone (1999), and awareness of students' developmental capacity to understand possible dual relationships (Kohlberg, 1981), differentiation in future research seems to be warranted. Further guidelines guidelines, a set of standards, criteria, or specifications to be used or followed in the performance of certain tasks.
 may be appropriate for practitioners, who report frequent situations of dual relationships with a variety. of constituents.


It should be noted that this study was conducted in one state, and it should be replicated in other geographic areas. Although the response rate was adequate, the sample is relatively small. Caution should be used in generalizing from this study based both on the sample size and the limitation of collecting data in only one state. Many research studies surveying school counselors have a low return rate, similar to this one. School counselor time is in high demand, and some school systems indicate that completing surveys is not appropriate during employment hours. The timing of this study may have been especially problematic, although there is not a time of year that is identifiably lighter in responsibilities than others. Research on how to improve return rates overall for studies on school counseling would be beneficial to the profession.

Another potential limitation of this study is that although asking respondents to rank the areas of potential dilemmas provided some information, the rankings cannot be assumed to be of equal weight. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, a participant who ranked an area as number 1 may consider it to be twice as common or challenging as the area ranked number 2, yet consider the area ranked number 3 to be only barely less common or challenging than the category ranked as number 2. Additionally, the areas of potential dilemmas (i.e., dual relationships, parental rights) were not defined specifically within the survey, nor does the ASCA ethical code define the areas. As a result, respondents may have had different ideas about the meanings of the different areas.

This study was designed to obtain a representational rep·re·sen·ta·tion·al  
Of or relating to representation, especially to realistic graphic representation.

 sample of counselors working at different levels of schooling, thus a stratified random sample of schools was used. This may have resulted, however, in a disproportionately dis·pro·por·tion·ate  
Out of proportion, as in size, shape, or amount.

 larger group of school counselors from rural areas or other schools with only one school counselor. A design targeting a random sample of counselors, rather than of schools, might result in a different professional representation.

Implications for Professional School Counselors

Hopefully, professional school counselors will feel a sense of validation See validate.

validation - The stage in the software life-cycle at the end of the development process where software is evaluated to ensure that it complies with the requirements.
 in recognizing that common and challenging ethical dilemmas are indeed reported by others as well. While this admittedly does not help in the process of resolving dilemmas, as counselors we understand the impact of this affirmation A solemn and formal declaration of the truth of a statement, such as an Affidavit or the actual or prospective testimony of a witness or a party that takes the place of an oath. An affirmation is also used when a person cannot take an oath because of religious convictions. .

Professional school counselors who do not feel confident in their local CPS should try to find other alternatives for providing support in addition to mandatory reporting for children in potentially abusive Tending to deceive; practicing abuse; prone to ill-treat by coarse, insulting words or harmful acts. Using ill treatment; injurious, improper, hurtful, offensive, reproachful.  situations. This will, of course, vary by community, but collaborations with local agencies and resources should be cultivated cultivated,
n in herbal medicine, used to describe plants that are commercially farmed rather than collected from the wild.
. School counselors should also advocate for increased funding and legislation to support children in abusive situations.

Professional school counselors should remain updated on laws and school policies regarding confidentiality of student records. Confidentiality of student records is a common dilemma faced by professional school counselors. Knowing and following laws and policies allow the school counselor to deal with these dilemmas according to both legal and ethical procedures that protect the school counselor as well as the student. In this study, participants did not report this dilemma as among the most challenging, presumably pre·sum·a·ble  
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.
 because these laws and policies exist to guide our responses.

Professional school counselors need to continue reminding students, parents, teachers, and administrators of responsibilities regarding confidentiality. Part of advocating for the profession is teaching others who and what we are, and confidentiality is an integral aspect of our profession. One of the areas of leadership that the school counselor can provide within the school is to advocate for increased professional behavior among all staff regarding student information, perhaps adopting a school staff ethical code.

It is disturbing that so few school counselors in this study reported referring to the ethical code regularly. If professional school counselors referred to the ethical code more often, and made reference to the code to their colleagues, this would also serve the advocacy and leadership roles of modeling ethical behavior.

Elementary and middle school counselors experience a higher rate of challenge than their high school colleagues in facing some dilemmas, namely dual relationships with faculty, student confidentiality, and parental rights. It is not clear from this study whether the higher rates are because of the students' ages, or because elementary school counselors, and to a lesser extent middle school counselors, tend to be the only counselor in the building. Being the only counselor in the building presents many challenges, one of which is finding consultation, a strategy to use when involved with a challenging dilemma. Professional school counselors are advised to seek out a supervisor or a colleague in a similar situation for consultation in resolving dilemmas.

Implications for Counselor Educators and Supervisors

Counselor educators and supervisors should include case studies and/or role-play role-play
To assume deliberately the part or role of; act out.

 opportunities for school counseling students to resolve challenging dilemmas in order to increase self-efficacy. According to self-efficacy theory, those with more direct exposure and practice when learning a skill will develop more confidence in utilizing the skill. In this case, studies and role-plays involving ethical dilemmas could result in a stronger level of self-efficacy when faced with a future challenge. Supervisors should provide ongoing consultation or supervision, and/or implement consultation or supervision groups, particularly for those who are the only counselor in their building. Consultation or supervision groups could provide ongoing case studies for practicing counselors.

Counselor educators and supervisors should include aspects of collaborating with families in the education and development of school counselors. The wording in the new ASCA ethical code (2004) encourages school counselors to include families more than the previous code did (Bodenhorn, 2005). The ASCA National Model[R] (2005) also includes collaboration Working together on a project. See collaborative software.  as a key function of the school counseling program, including collaboration with families. Family systems theories and practices should be included in preparation of supporting and educating parents, recognizing and balancing parental rights, and handling situations of dual relationships. Counselor educators and supervisors also should include aspects of collaborating with teachers. Confidentiality issues in the school frequently included teacher requests for information as well as parent requests. Elementary and middle level counselors, especially, need to be prepared for situations in which they work very closely with teachers. The balance of collaboration and professional distance is a difficult balance to strike, especially for young professionals.


Hopefully, current practitioners will recognize some of their own situations in these results, which will normalize normalize

to convert a set of data by, for example, converting them to logarithms or reciprocals so that their previous non-normal distribution is converted to a normal one.
 their dilemma experiences. There are some ethical absolutes, but the essence of a dilemma is that there are competing reasons to take contradictory actions. Ethical decision Real life ethical decisions are studied in sociology and political science and psychology using very different methods than descriptive ethics in ethics (philosophy). Not ethics proper  making is a daily, ongoing practice for school counselors, and it involves constant vigilance VIGILANCE. Proper attention in proper time.
     2. The law requires a man who has a claim to enforce it in proper time, while the adverse party has it in his power to defend himself; and if by his neglect to do so, he cannot afterwards establish such claim, the
 and commitment to serving the best interest of the student. Professional school counselors will undoubtedly continue to be presented with dilemmas involving confidentiality, parental rights, information of danger to self and others, and dual relationships. These dilemmas are inherent in the work that we do as student confidants. Professional school counselors are advised to continue their ethical practices by updating their knowledge and reference rate to the ASCA ethical code, utilizing an ethical decision-making decision-making,
n the process of coming to a conclusion or making a judgment.

decision-making, evidence-based,
n a type of informal decision-making that combines clinical expertise, patient concerns, and evidence gathered from
 model that incorporates consultation, and maintaining professional relationships with students, parents, and faculty.


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Bodenhorn, N. (2005). American School Counselor Association ethical code changes relevant to family work. The Family Journal, 13, 316-320.

Bodenhorn, N., & Skaggs, G. (2005). Development of the school counselor self-efficacy scale. Journal of Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 38, 14-28.

Bryan, J., & Holcomb-McCoy, C. (2004). School counselors' perceptions of their involvement in school-family-community partnerships. Professional School Counseling, 7, 162-171.

Capuzzi, D. (2002). Legal and ethical challenges in counseling suicidal su·i·cid·al
1. Of or relating to suicide.

2. Likely to attempt suicide.
 students. Professional School Counseling, 6, 36-45.

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences behavioral sciences, those sciences devoted to the study of human and animal behavior.
 (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, N J: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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Hubert, R. M., & Freeman, L.T. (2004). Report of the ACA ethics committee ethics committee A multidisciplinary hospital body composed of a broad spectrum of personnel–eg, physicians, nurses, social workers, priests, and others, which addresses the moral and ethical issues within the hospital. See DNR, Institutional review board. : 2002-2003. Journal of Counseling & Development, 82, 248-251.

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Kitchener, K. S. (2000). Foundations of ethical practice, research, and teaching in psychology. Mahwah, N J: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Harper & Row.

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Mitchell, C.W., Disque, J. G., & Robertson, P. (2002). When parents want to know: Responding to parental demands for confidential information Noun 1. confidential information - an indication of potential opportunity; "he got a tip on the stock market"; "a good lead for a job"
steer, tip, wind, hint, lead
. Professional School Counseling, 6, 156-161.

Moleski, S. M., & Kiselica, M. S. (2005). Dual relationships: A continuum Continuum (pl. -tinua or -tinuums) can refer to:
  • Continuum (theory), anything that goes through a gradual transition from one condition, to a different condition, without any abrupt changes or "discontinuities"
 ranging from the destructive to the therapeutic. Journal of Counseling & Development, 83, 3-11.

Pearson, B., & Piazza, N. (1997). Classification of dual relationships in the helping professions. Counselor Education and Supervision, 37, 89-99.

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Stone, C. (2000). Advocacy for sexual harassment victims: Legal support and ethical aspects. Professional School Counseling, 4, 23-31.

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Nancy Bodenhorn is an assistant professor in Counselor Education at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. E-mail:
Table 1. Comparison of Common and Challenging Ethical Dilemmas
by Percentage of Counselors at Different Levels of School

                                   Elem.    Middle   High
Percentage by School Level         (n=25)   (n=28)   (n=37)

Most common:
Dual relationships with faculty     38.5     21.4      5.4
Recommendation writing               0       10.7     24.3
Cultural diversity                  23.1      3.6      5.4
Awareness of colleague's            26.9     14.3      5.4
  ethical breach
Dual relationships with students     3.8     22.2     16.2

Most challenging:
Dual relationships with faculty     30.8     28.6      2.7
Recommendation writing               0        7.1     24.3
Dual relationships with students     0       21.4     10.8
Peer helper programs                11.5      0        2.7
  (including mediation)
Student confidentiality             61.5     46.4     35.1
  (personal disclosures)
Parental rights                     42.3     39.3     21.6

Percentage by School Level         Chi-Square

Most common:
Dual relationships with faculty    10.585, p = .004
Recommendation writing              8.108; p = .016
Cultural diversity                  7.163; p = .027
Awareness of colleague's
  ethical breach
Dual relationships with students

Most challenging:
Dual relationships with faculty    10.522; p = .005
Recommendation writing              9.433; p = .007
Dual relationships with students    6.331; p = .036
Peer helper programs
  (including mediation)
Student confidentiality
  (personal disclosures)
Parental rights

Percentage by School Level         Cramer's V

Most common:
Dual relationships with faculty    .341   ** ([section])
Recommendation writing             .298    * ([section])
Cultural diversity                 .281    * ([section])
Awareness of colleague's           .252      ([section])
  ethical breach
Dual relationships with students   .205      ([section])

Most challenging:
Dual relationships with faculty    .340   ** ([section])
Recommendation writing             .322   ** ([section])
Dual relationships with students   .264    * ([section])
Peer helper programs               .227      ([section])
  (including mediation)
Student confidentiality            .217      ([section])
  (personal disclosures)
Parental rights                    .201      ([section])

Note. ([section]) = Cramer's V > .2.

* p < .05, two-tailed. ** p < .01, two-tailed.
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Author:Bodenhorn, Nancy
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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