Ethics Issue in Elementary School Counseling: Keep a Professional Distance
People are guided and governed by rules and regulations that are on paper. There are, however, some that are not written down, and one is expected to follow; they are instincts and could also be referred to as ethics. Ethical issues are one of the most important aspects that one has to put in mind and observe to the latter while at the workplace or while carrying out various activities in their day to day lives. To one person, an action could be ethically right while the same action would appear wrong to a different individual. What this means therefore is that ethical issues are perceived differently by various people. The term ethics refers to the moral principles that dictate or determine a person’s character and differentiates between that what is good and bad (Alzheimer Europe, 2010). The aim of this paper is to undertake research on keeping a professional distance in Elementary School Counseling. The various components that involve keeping professional distance such as the relationship between the counselor and the child shall also be discussed. The research also aims at discussing the various ways of maintaining the professional distance which is an ethics issue. There are different types of school counselors, and this paper involves Elementary School Counselors whose duties will also be evaluated to understand better the aspect of keeping a professional distance. At Elementary school, the counselors are involved with young children and therefore should take the full burden of determining the extent to which they relate with the young. The above decisions are made concerning the ethical standards the counselors apply or believe.
Elementary School Counselors
The most important aspect while trying to understand one’s character is to get to know the people, things, situations, and the environment in which that person operates. The same case applies to this research’s main theme, which is how elementary school counselors should keep a professional distance. As seen earlier, elementary school counselors deal with children who are at a crucial stage of mental, emotional and intellectual development (Our Lady of the Lake University, n.d.). The children are at the early age of social development and are attaining attitudes towards their teachers and fellow students. They, therefore, require specialized attention from the counselors but it also means that the counselors should maintain a professional distance.
The counselors are tasked with the responsibility of building and maintaining professional relationships with both the children and their parents/guardians (Ohio Department of Education, 2015). The latter is a healthy practice as it creates confidence in the parents in that their children are in good hands and hence they can expect their children to receive the best care. In Ohio, for example, school counselors undertake a significant role in helping students in achieving success in education, living their dreams and in realizing their careers (Ohio Department of Education, 2015). The counselors have to achieve the above, and this could only be done if they keep a professional distance. A student will not be successful in education if he starts getting romantically involved with the counselor.
Factors That Affect the ‘Keep a Professional Distance’ Rule and Ways in Which Elementary School Counselors Solve Them
Various associations support and set the rules and regulations that govern school counselors. The American School Counselor Association is one such body, and it helps all the stakeholders in the counseling department, be it counseling students, supervisors, and professionals (American School Counselor Association, 2016). The professional organization identifies the duties of a school counselor as follows; advocating, leadership, collaboration, and provision of consultation services within the field of counseling (American School Counselor Association, 2016). For one to provide the services mentioned above, he must act according to his professional code of ethics. The American School Counselor Association (2015) expects its members to handle students with dignity and respect. Dignity may involve a lot of things, but in this case, it applies to the relationship between the child and the counselor. If the counselor is, for example involved romantically with his/her students, then there is no dignity or respect for their professional boundaries. Romantic relationships between counselors and the students or even their guardians are often in breach of the respect for both parties. For this reason, counselors are called upon to ensure that they keep a professional distance in their practice.
Elementary school counselors and other school level counselors are expected to manage boundaries and dual relationships (American School Counselor Association, 2016). It is the counselor’s duty to ensure that he/she does not exceed certain boundaries during their interactions with the students and their parents. Counselors should be in a position to explain their relationships with students and the extent to which they go, to their patients (American School Counselor Association, 2016). A counselor may decide to attend a student’s distant event, but in doing so, they are advised to take the appropriate professional measures that would not put them in a compromising situation. In accordance with the American School Counselor Association (2016), counselors extend boundaries such as the ones mentioned earlier, and are hence expected to document the type of interaction and state the possible benefits, positive and negative outcomes for both the counselor and the student. Counselors are therefore in a position to keep a professional distance as bound by their professional rules and regulations.
The work of an elementary school counselor is to provide social, emotional and educational support to the students, among other services. These services are however monitored by a school administrator, and the counselors should refrain from offering such support if the administrator is absent (American School Counselor Association, 2016). The result for acting against the above is dual relationships with parents/guardians, school staffs and students which will later affect the professional distance that needs always to be maintained. School counselors should not have dual relationships that go beyond professional standards with school personnel and parents, as it may affect the integrity of the relationship between the students and the counselors (American School Counselor Association, 2016). Dual relationships are as a result of conducting other services other than the ones the counselor is commissioned with; such as taking part in grading the students in absentia of the administrator and installing direct discipline (American School Counselor Association, 2016). The latter practices adversely affect the professional distance that the counselors are required to keep, and to overcome such temptations, the counselors should stick to their specified duties.
Keeping a professional distance while at the workplace involves more than just romantic interactions with fellow workers and the clients; in this case the students. According to the American School Counselor Association, a counselor should not communicate with the students and parents/guardians using their personal social media platforms such as e-mails, texts, and Facebook unless they are given such directives by the school district (2016). If a counselor encourages such kind of interaction, there is the loss of respect, and they eventually are taken for granted by the guardians/parents and the children. The professional distance that should be maintained is otherwise breached. To ensure that technology does not in any way interfere with the professional distance, the professional organizations provide the endorsement for the social sites to be used for communication between the counselors and the students, parents/guardians (American School Counselor Association, 2016). These sites are monitored by the organization and the school districts and get used whenever necessary. Technology is one of the major aspects that breach the code of ethics for maintaining a professional distance while at the workplace. Dealing with the latter issue aids at ensuring that elementary school counselors and other school levels counselors comfortably observe the Professional Distance rule.
At the elementary level, counselors are tasked the responsibility of enhancing academic, personal and social skills of the students that are important for their academic success. It is also at this stage that the students are taught on decision-making processes, self-understanding and coping strategies (South Carolina Guidance and Counseling Writing Team, 2008). Counselors at the Elementary level are therefore expected to act as role models to the students, and this could be achieved by keeping a professional distance in their jurisdiction. If a counselor starts to make advances for the young child, they become bad examples to the child and the society as a whole. There are various benefits associated with a student having to go through the guidance and counseling program, and they are attributed to a good counselor (South Carolina Guidance and Counseling Writing Team, 2008). Such benefits include improved academic performance, career exploration, developing problem-solving skills among others. These benefits and many others are attributed to a counselor who can maintain a professional distance. The students may not benefit if the counselors were to act against the code of ethics.
Parents/guardians are also beneficiaries of the guidance and counseling programs as they can indirectly support their children and enhance the parent-school interaction (South Carolina Guidance and Counseling Writing Team, 2008). The parents/guardians are also more knowledgeable on the assistance that they can receive from the school and the counselors. Guidance and counseling programs assist the parents in championing for their children’s academic and career development (South Carolina Guidance and Counseling Writing Team, 2008).All these benefits are experienced if the counselors act in good faith and give the required services. The counselors shall, therefore, maintain a professional relationship with the guardians/parents, which in turn facilitates respect between the two parties. A parent will not allow his child to be counseled by a person who is not of good moral values or one who goes about making advances at the same parent. Keeping a professional distance is, therefore, mandatory for any elementary school counselor.
School counselors are expected to perform their duties in the best interest of the students and act in the absence of malicious thoughts (American School Counselor Association, 2017). Malicious thoughts range from murder, abduction, rape to bad judgment. Counselors should always keep a professional distance to prevent malicious thoughts from occupying their minds. If counselors romantically involve themselves with the students, then they are not acting in the best interest of the child. Such thoughts could lead to rape which is against the code of ethics guiding counselors. It is advisable for the counselors to keep looking back at the rules and regulations and always remind themselves of the sole reason they are in the counseling industry. Elementary school counselors should inform the students and their parents/guardians on the extent to which they go about their relationships before the counseling sessions (American School Counselor Association, 2017). The above action is one of the many ways that help counselors to maintain the professional distance as it could be observed that the advances may originate from either the student or the parent/guardian. If the counselor happens to notice romantic advances from the students or their parents, they should prevent the consequences as early as possible and most probably report to the administrator for him/her to take action.
Personal values and attitudes go a long way in assisting a counselor in keeping a professional distance. According to the American School Counselor Association, it is ethical for an elementary school counselor to improve awareness of ‘personal values, attitudes, and beliefs’; acknowledge when the personal characteristics interfere with effective performance (np, 2017). In this research, personal characteristics could be taken to mean having feelings for the minors and the urge to sexually get associated with them. If a counselor experiences such instances they should seek help; which in turn helps in maintaining professionalism. It is always better to solve a problem once the signs start to show rather than waiting to later deal with adverse consequences.
There are written job descriptions that ought to be followed by elementary school counselors and having sexual relationships with students is not one of them. Counselors should always be accountable for their actions which should follow the rules given and be as appropriate as possible (American School Counselor Association, 2017). When dealing with minors, some areas might be controversial, and counselors are advised to involve family members (American School Counselor Association, 2017). Such an action could, however, affects the professional distance as the family members may be tempted to get too close with the counselors. In such a case, it is upon the counselor to act according to the rules and show that they understand the code of ethics by discouraging such relationships.
Elementary school counselors may not be faced with the challenge of keeping a professional distance as other counselors in various levels because they are involved with young children. However, they face the challenge of having to deal with the parents/guardians who may have other intentions than for the child’s welfare. According to the American Counseling Association, some counselors may receive gifts from their clients, and they are expected to understand and overcome the challenges that come with such acts (2014). Some gifts are given out of good faith and are meant to show genuine gratitude while others come as a way of attracting one party to the other. If the counselor is not careful in discerning the aim behind the giving, they may fall into temptation. The counselor is, therefore, required to take into account the relationship between them and the client, the value of the gift and the reason which drives the client into giving (American Counseling Association, 2014). If the counselor is in a position to get answers for the latter situation, then they can comfortably maintain the professional distance as stated by the rules.
Counselors could attend to a child of a person with whom they have had a previous relationship either at a former workplace or in life (American Counseling Association, 2014). The counselor must be very observant to prevent crossing the professional line and get involved with such a person. Counselors have to undertake ‘professional precautions such as informed consent, consultation, supervision, and documentation’ so as to ensure that exploitation does not occur and fair judgment is served (American Counseling Association, 5, 2014). Some past partners are malicious enough to ruin one’s career, and it is, therefore, advisable for a counselor to take the right measures if faced with such a situation. Other people are vulnerable enough to fall in the trap, and in this case, the counselor is sure to tamper with the professional distance.
Professional distance could be interfered with if counselors extend the counseling boundaries. Such extents could include visiting the student’s family member in the hospital; an act which could lead to impaired judgment (American Counseling Association, 2014). The counselor could be thought to develop some romantic relationship with either the family member or the child, and such a thought is deluded if there is proper documentation. The counselor is required to state the reasons for such a visit or any other out of office activity involving the students and their families (American Counseling Association, 2014).
Confidentiality goes hand in hand with keeping a professional distance. Counselors are supposed to handle the students’ information with confidentiality and should not let anyone get access to the same unless guided by the administrator (Black, Riechel, and Shillingford, nd). It, however, becomes difficult for the counselors in trying to tell what information should be given to the school authority and that which should remain private. It is at such a point that keeping a professional distance becomes hard. The counselors should, however, follow the code of ethics on keeping a professional distance.
There are ethical rules and moral values that govern or guide people in their daily undertakings. Counselors have rules that govern how they go about providing their services at various school levels. Elementary school counselors deal with minors who are at the critical age of social and moral development. These children are at the stage where they seek academic success and development of future careers. It is the counselor’s duty to ensure that the students together with their parents/guardians reap maximum benefits. The counselors are faced with the challenge of maintaining the professional distance as they are expected to be close to the children but at the same time desist from falling into temptations. There are, however, rules that govern the counselors and solutions for the same are also provided. Elementary school counselors should always keep the professional distance and at the same time ensure that they act in the best interest of the students. The rules and regulations are set by organizations such as the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) and the American Counseling Association (ACS).
Alzheimer Europe. 2010. What is meant by the term ethics? Retrieved from: http://www.alzheimer-europe.org/Ethics/Definitions-and-approaches/What-is-meant-by-the-term-ethics
American Counseling Association. 2014. 2014 ACA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from: https://www.counseling.org/resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf
American School Counselor Association. 2016. ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors. ASCA. Retrieved from: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/Ethics/EthicalStandards2016.pdf
American School Counselor Association. 2017. Ethical Tips for School Counselors. ASCA. Retrieved from: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors-members/legal-ethical/ethical-tips-for-school-counselors
Black T S, Riechel K E M, and Shillingford A M. nd. School Counselors’ Constructions of Student Confidentiality. Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1034752.pdf
Ohio Department of Education. 2015. Ohio Standards for School Counselors. Retrieved from: https://education.ohio.gov/getattachment/Topics/Career-Tech/Career-Connections/School-Counselors/School-Counselor-Standards-and-Evaluation/SchoolCounselorStandards.pdf.aspx
Our Lady of the Lake University. nd. A look at ethical issues in school counseling. Ollusa. Retrieved from: http://onlineprograms.ollusa.edu/med-school-counseling/resources/ethical-issues-in-school-counseling
Our Lady of the Lake University. nd. Comparing the roles of different types of school counselors. Ollusa. Retrieved from: http://onlineprograms.ollusa.edu/med-school-counseling/resources/types-of-school-counselors
South Carolina Guidance and Counseling Writing Team. 2008. The South Carolina Comprehensive Developmental Guidance and Counseling Program Model. Retrieved from: https://ed.sc.gov/scdoe/assets/File/agency/ccr/Career-and-Technology-Education/documents/Ann4SCCDGCPM062308Finalpostedaug2011.pdf