Career counseling has become a crucial element of career development in recent times. This is especially the case in the 21st century because of the wide-ranging changes unfolding in the workplace. In many cases, professionals who are embarking on their career path quickly find out that the world of work is very different from the way they had envisioned. The challenges arise mainly because of changes in government regulations, technology, world politics, financial markets, and demographic swings (Broscio & Scherer, 2003). Without exposure to professional counseling, employees may not succeed in the realm of career development. Similarly, employers may fail to take the right decisions on issues such as outplacement and career progression. Failure to make the right decisions may have a negative impact on an entire organization.
Ethical aspects play a critical role in career counseling. Career counselors have to put into consideration ethical issues in order to remain relevant in their work. During the career counseling process, clients tend to give private information to the counselors. In case this information is made public, the affected individual may cry foul and accuse the career counselor of professional misdemeanor. It may be important to examine the possibility of introducing a code of ethics for career counselors. Other than privacy and confidentiality, career counselors must take care when tackling issues of counseling relationships, professional responsibility, privileged communication, and relationships with other counseling professionals. Proper channels of resolving ethical issues whenever they arise also need to be examined in the context o career counseling literature. The aim of this paper is to discuss various aspects relating to ethics in career counseling.
The counseling relationship
In career counseling, it is important that the goal of career growth is achieved. For this to happen, it is important that the counselor puts the interest of the client at heart. It is unethical for the counselor to fail to behave in a manner likely to suggest that he is working against the best interest of the client. To understand the career interest of the client, the career counselor must work towards the establishment of a healthy relationship with that client.
In some cases, clients may come from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds. If the socio-cultural values of the career counselors differ remarkably from those of the client, ethical issues are likely to arise. However subtle these concerns might be, concerted effort to resolve them should be introduced in due course. Failure to address them on time may create a situation where the effectiveness of the counseling process is affected negatively. To succeed in nurturing healthy relationships with clients, career counselors must understand that they have a duty to contribute to social wellbeing through their professional services. This means that they must not look at their work solely from the perspective of financial return. In some cases, ethical probity demands that these professionals will sometimes be compelled to take little pay for a noble course.
According to Mitchell, Levin, & Krumboltz (2000), it is not always easy for career counseling professionals to fulfill strict ethical requirements in terms of their relationships with their clients. For instance, career counselors are required to spend a lot of time dispensing with paperwork to ensure that the records of every client are properly maintained. A series of steps need to be taken to ensure that accuracy and professionalism is maintained at all times. Yet sometimes it becomes extremely difficult for the counselor to ensure that he has maintained all records required during the process of rendering professional services as provided for by law, institutional procedures, or professional code of conduct. In such a case, counseling professionals must do their best to ensure that the negative effects of such a turn of events are minimized.
The same case applies to the process of preparing counseling plans. Counselors are required to work closely with their clients in coming up with an integrated plans to increase chances of success. The plans must be founded on an accurate understanding of the clientsâ€™ problems and expectations. It is unethical for the counselor to raise the expectations of the client and then end up with poor results. Through careful planning, the counselor is able to manage expectations and do his best to help the client drive his career towards the right direction. Moreover, in addition to the initial client briefing, the professional must maintain regular contact with the client to ensure that any changes that occur in the course of the counseling process are put into consideration. At the same time, regular contact and communication provides an excellent platform on which to safeguard the freedom of choice of the client.
In career counseling, the involvement of support networks is critical for overall success in terms of career growth and development. In multi-cultural contexts, the counselor may not necessarily approve of the support networks of the client. However, he has a responsibility to accept them despite socio-cultural and ideological differences. Whenever a counselor severs a clientâ€™s support network unnecessarily, he may be deemed to have acted in an unethical manner. It is imperative for the counselor to assess the extent to which the support network may be hampering the clientâ€™s career growth and progression. Ultimately, this will create a better understanding of the meaning of such networks to the clientâ€™s life. The support network may in most cases comprise of friends, community leaders, family members, and members of a religious group.
The issue of abilities also features prominently in the discussion on relationships with clients (Brown, 2012). Without establishing a relationship with the client, it is impossible for the career counselor to gain an in-depth understanding of his employment needs. Proper identification of these needs arises out of a realistic assessment of the clientâ€™s overall abilities. Different people encounter different physical restrictions, vocational limitations, aptitude levels, career interests, qualification-related problems, and issues relating to general temperament (Peterson & GonzÃ¡lez, 2000). Conventionally, it is expected that all career counseling professionals who are keen to pursue and maintain ethical standards should put into consideration all these factors in efforts to give the best career guidance to the client. Counselors who are not adequately trained in the field of career development may encounter difficulties in efforts to fulfill this ethical obligation. They may find it extremely difficult to assist in the placement of employees in positions that match their personal interests, professional qualifications, physical abilities, aptitude patters, and general temperament.
The same case applies to the notion of informed consent. Any meaningful and ethical counseling relationship must thrive in a context where the requirements relating to informed consent are followed. Clients should be accorded the freedom to make a choice on whether they should continue being in the prevailing counseling relationship. It is also the responsibility of the career counselor to provide adequate information regarding the nature and length of the entire counseling process. Unfortunately, not all career counselors to this. Some of them overlook this critical requirement. As a result, clients end up raising serious ethical questions.
More importantly, not all career counselors adhere to the notion that informed consent is always an ongoing process. This essentially means that the process of reviewing verbally and in writing the responsibilities of both the client and career counselor should be one that is ongoing. Furthermore, proof of this process is essentially required, hence the need for the counselor to document every discussion with the client over changes relating to informed consent.
A good example of a phenomenon where ethical concerns may arise because of failure to adhere to requirements of informed consent is the case of outplacement services. A career counselor may recommend the introduction of outplacement services in an organization as a way of providing a smooth transition for both the former employee and the employer (Galbreath, 2013). During outplacement, employees who have been laid off are given assistance in finding new employment. This assistance may be in the form of a benefit offered directly by the employer or as a specialist service. Either way, former employees may feel a bit embarrassed by their present circumstances. They may feel like they are in an awkward situation where it has taken the assistance of their former employers to secure new employment (Galbreath, 2013). This negative attitude towards the process may be compounded if the client is not adequately informed about the issue of informed consent (Galbreath, 2013). This is because of lack of awareness on which information the career counselor is likely to divulge to the public and which one he is likely not to.
It is sad that many counselors assume that it is not important for their clients to gain a full understanding of the services being provided to them. This creates a situation where the client is not aware of the purposes and potential risks of the entire process. If the counselor does not even bother to provide sufficient information about the qualification of the counselor, it is impossible for the client to feel confidence about the outcome of the entire process. It becomes easy for the clients to feel that their right to privacy and confidentiality is likely to be violated. Therefore, it is evident that the counseling relationship plays a critical role in efforts to adhere to ethical standards in the field of career counseling.
Privacy and confidentiality
It is imperative that the privacy and confidentiality of the person seeking career guidance services to be safeguarded, protected, and maintained at all times. However, in this area, a number of problems exist, some of which are shared across the field of psychology. One of them is that privacy and confidentiality is a fuzzy concept (Fisher, 2008). This is primarily because although all psychologists are required to adhere to similar ethical standards relating to privacy and confidentiality, different jurisdictions impose varied requirements on this same issue in efforts to protect their citizensâ€™ rights (Fisher, 2008). The present practice of providing confidentiality training based on legal tenets only exacerbates the issue. In this type of training, legal exceptions are imposed as rules. At the same time, attorneys are relied upon as if they are the only ones who have the expertise in this aspect of career counseling practice (Fisher, 2008).
In career counseling, a lot of emphasis is on the importance of recognizing trust as a cornerstone of a success counseling relationship. SuccessfulÂ counselors must aspire to earn as much trust as possible from clients by nurturing an ongoing relationship. They can also achieve the same objective if they seek to establish and uphold appropriate boundaries as part of efforts to maintain the highest levels of confidentiality. At the same time, they must be aware of the need to maintain cultural competence in their communication with clients. Different cultural contexts call for the application of different values as far as issues of privacy and confidentiality are concerned. Cultural competence also calls for an acknowledgement that clients have a right to privacy and that this right is situated in a cultural context.
Cultural contexts determine which aspects of privacy and confidentiality clients are most concerned about (Corey, 2005). This explains why different jurisdictions enact different laws governing privacy and confidentiality. In multicultural contexts, such laws ideally provide for as many exceptions as possible in order to take case of the cultural meanings of minority groups. It is upon career counselors to ensure that such positive intentions are adhered to in practice. In some cases, policymakers may not fully understand the full implications of such laws for career counseling practice. Despite this situation, it is important that counseling professionals always do their best in safeguard the wellbeing and interests of their clients.
In literature on ethical aspects, counselors tend to express different views regarding how much information can be disclosed (Chung, 2003; Bratt, 2010; Birdsall & Hubert, 2000; Besley, 2002; Bergen, 2009). This adds to the fuzziness of the concept of privacy and confidentiality. To straighten things out, it is imperative that ongoing discussions with clients are held to discuss how much information should be shared, when this should happen, and how many people should be privy to such information. Answers to these questions should depend largely on the objective that the client intends to achieve and the cultural realities that need to be respected. At this point, the professional expertise of the career counselor should come in handy in terms of enabling the client assess various options in terms of benefits and potential drawbacks.
According to Chung (2003), it may sometimes be tempting for Â the counselor to solicit private information even when it is not of utmost relevance for the entire counseling process. Whenever a career counselor engages in such a practice, he is deemed to have acted in an unethical an unprofessional manner. Yet this is a difficult scenario since the counselor is expected to help the client take a hard look at his inner self in relation to his career prospects. The career counselor cannot succeed in this undertaking unless he takes stock of the clientâ€™s previous efforts to progress in his career before relating it to his career expectations.
If the career expectations are not assessed based on a full understanding of individual needs, personal circumstances, and expectations of the employer, the career counseling process is not likely to achieve its goal. The goal in this case should be to achieve career development for the client. In the process of creating such a full understanding, it is only natural that personal information relating not just to the client but also his present place of work will be sought. To avoid ethical violations, it seems appropriate for the counselor to use such information with absolute discretion. Better still, it is only right for all career counseling professionals to refrain from asking for any unnecessary personal information and instead look for alternative, less intrusive ways of achieving the same end.
Career counselors have a professional responsibility to ensure that the best career interests of clients are taken care of. This calls for openness, accuracy, and honesty in all dealings with the public as well as other professionals. Whether career counseling is undertaken by the employer or by a specialized provider of career counselor services it is imperative that performance appraisal is undertaken in a professional manner (Shinkman, 2001). By appraising the employeeâ€™s abilities, the counselor is able to enlighten the employee on the best way of thinking about his future and improving it by making wise career decisions.
In todayâ€™s changing environment, traditional career counseling approaches are insufficient to prepare clients fully to respond to uncertainties in their careers. Changes in the word of work continue to force career counselors to embrace counseling interventions that view unplanned events as inevitable and even desirable (Amundson, 2002). It is the professional responsibility of counselors to inspire clients to explore and discover unexpected career opportunities. Amundson (2002) provides the examples of unplanned events, which can act as opportunities for learning. This can act as a countermeasure to a scenario where chance is assumed to play no role in career planning (Amundson, 2006).
According to Barry, Gfroercr & Coleman (2003), issues of professional responsibility are interlinked with those of ethics in the field of career counseling. The suggestions that these professionals make in terms of learning, training, and mentoring should have a direct bearing on the genuine career interests, aspirations, and goals of the client. It is unethical for these professionals to promote vested interests on the basis of information obtained from the employeeâ€™s career circumstance (Gfroercr & Coleman, 2003; Pope, 2000).
The same case applies in efforts to pursue a non-discriminatory approach to the change-management process. Any individual who goes out of his way to seek the guidance of a career counselor does so with one goal in mind: to achieve change in the course of his career. According to Perrone, Perrone & Chan (2000), counseling professionals who purport to act ethically must competently pursue this change process in such a way that it contributes to positive outcomes for the individual in the long run. This means that it is necessary for the professional to make follow-ups and harbor a genuine intention of foreseeing a successful completion of the entire change-management process.
It may be right to assume that for the overall aims of the counseling profession to be achieved, counselors should seek to promote change not just at the individual level but also group, organizational, and societal levels. The objective should be to ensure that as individuals benefits, the positive outcomes are also reflected across institutional and societal levels. From an ethical perspective, a pivotal professional responsibility for career counselors is to the public (Flores & Heppner, 2002). Therefore, it follows that all career counseling plans and procedures should be firmly founded on rigorous research methodologies.
An ideal way of ensuring that ethical issues relating to professional responsibilities are addressed amicably is to promote the idea of professional standards. Numerous efforts have been made in the past to come up with professional standards for career counselors. During the early 20th century, most placement services were being directed at an increasingly industrial, mainly urban, society (Pope, 2000). During the 1920s and 1930s, schools became the main area of concentration through the provision of education guidance (Pope, 2000). This guidance was mainly being channeled through elementary and secondary schools. This approach was gradually replaced by one where emphasis was on colleges and universities in the quest to provide professional training to counselors (Pope, 2000).
The process of developing professional standards for counselors may be said to have reached the maturity stage during the 1960s and 1970s (Pope, 2000). During this time, the profession was highly popularized. At the same time, the idea of the role of work as a crucial contributor of overall meaning in oneâ€™s life was embraced. This marked the birth of organizational development. Since then, the world has witnessed a rapid transition from the industrial age to the todayâ€™s information age. This new age has brought to the forefront new possibilities, such that it is possible for professionals to engage in career counseling as independent professionals. This new development creates new challenges over efforts to regulate professional practice and enforce standards. This challenge has been compounded by the internationalization of career counseling, the embracement of complex technologies, and frequent demographic changes. Sampson & Lumsden (2000) argue that to avoid a scenario where new frontiers of ethical violations emerge, the professional standards that were established during the 1970s need to be revised. The changes should address contemporary issues such as school-to-job transition, multicultural career counseling, and temporary work (Sampson & Lumsden, 2000).
 In this source, Galbreath (2013) provides a case of Jill, an employee whoÂ worked for ABC Company in a middle management position for over ten years. She was technically competent but lacked teambuilding and networking skills. Her waning support base ultimately led to her being laid off. Since no one wanted Jill hurt, it was decided that outplacement was the best way out for both Jill and her former employer.
 To expound on the concept of â€œtaking stockâ€ Broscio & Scherer (2003) uses the Q5 Framework. The Q5 Framework comprises of four elements (individual needs, company offer, individual offer, company needs) that contribute towards the success of the fifth element (plan).