The activity of psychological counselors has a special significance in the modern world. Given the complexity of the psychological problems faced by many people around the world for several reasons (problems in family life, at school, at work, in relationships with friends, etc.), the services of practicing psychologists are becoming more popular every day. However, this type of work has its own characteristics, which lies in the fact that a psychologist having an ability to influence the psychological state of a client, as well as his/her later life, performs primarily ethical responsibility towards his/her counselee. Both the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) emphasize some basic principles that must be followed by a counselor during testing, its assessment and interpretation. Currently, the concept of a professional counselor involves primarily meeting the ethical principles in his/her work.
The Main Ethical Principles of a Counselor’s Behavior
To begin, the ethical concept, as indicated by ACA (2014), is based on the following main principles of psychological counseling, which a counselor is forbidden to violate:
- “Enhancing human development throughout the life span;
- Honoring diversity and embracing a multicultural approach in support of the worth, dignity, potential, and uniqueness of people within their social and cultural contexts;
- Promoting social justice;
- Safeguarding the integrity of the counselor–client relationship; and
- Practicing in a competent and ethical manner”.
In this regard, the professional ethical behavior of a consultant undertakes to meet the following principles:
- Autonomy, which implies the need to encourage the client’s desire and aspiration to manage his/her own life;
- The absence of causing any harm to the client, both psychological and physical;
- A desire to do everything possible for the mental and psychological well-being of a client, given the special importance of his/her mental health not only for him/herself but also for society as a whole;
- Justice, which involves testing and counseling based on the principles of fairness and equality;
- Fidelity, which requires compliance with all of the consultant’s duties and fulfilling all his/her promises. It helps to maintain a trusting relationship between the counselor and the client;
- Veracity, which involves the provision of accurate and reliable information regarding the results of psychological research, testing, etc.
Ethical Principles in Testing, Assessment and Interpretation
In general, the ethical requirements presented by ASCA and ACA have much in common and argue that the ethical behavior of a counselor is directly related to the level of his/her competence, which finds its expression in the course of testing. In particular, testing should be only performed by qualified personnel intended to protect an individual against misuse of the test. Before the survey or the test, a psychologist is obliged to inform a customer about the features, aims and objectives of the approach that is consistent with the right of clients to have complete, accurate and truthful information about the methods used for investigating and solving their problems. For efficiency, it may be necessary to hide the true purpose of the test and the specific of the interpretation of a client’s answers; however, a person should not be subjected to any deception and lies.
Any person has the right to refuse to participate in a psychological examination or experiment and, thereby, protect him/herself against unwanted interference in his/her inner world. When testing is carried out in the interests of an institution, an examinee must be fully informed about the use of the results. The qualifications of counselors should match the type of the tests since they should “use those testing and assessment for which they have been trained and are competent” (“ACA Code of Ethics,” 2014). For example, for the proper application of individual intelligence tests and most of personality tests a relatively long period of intensive training and supervision of the testing process is required, while testing of educational achievements needs minimal professional preparation. In addition, a psychologist should be aware of the limits of his/her competence and not to use the methods that do not meet professional standards established in specific areas of research. A counselor should be able to select a test based on its task and the features of a counselee correctly. In fact, he/she is solely responsible for the correct application of the test and interpretation of the results, as well as following ethical standards in relation to his/her client.
In his/her activities, a counselor should always keep in mind the principle of “no harm”. A psychologist should express his/her opinions, either oral or written, with caution. Moreover, a counselor should avoid subjectivism, which prevents proper judgment in regard to clients, as well as to exclude any possible negative impact on them stemming from his/her behavior. Only a thorough compliance with all standard requirements to the procedure should be used. A counselor has no right to deviate from the standards in using techniques, make the modifications in the already published procedure and distribute the modified guidance. In his/her professional activities, a psychologist is guided by his/her knowledge and experience according to which he/she takes his/her own decision and is personally responsible for it. In doubtful and controversial cases, a psychologist is obliged to consult with an expert in the relevant field and objectively consider the recommendations received.
Confidentiality is also one of the main requirements for testing and assessment. It can only be broken if keeping the confidentiality might cause serious injury or even death of a counselee as well as other people, including the counselor. In this case, the priority is to preserve the right to life, which every person has, regardless of his/her cultural, gender, religious and other differences. As regards to the assessment of the tests, regardless of a counselee’s age, it must comply with the principles of accuracy, reliability and scientific validity, corresponding to the objective data obtained by research and proven methods. In turn, the interpretation of test results is directly related to the liability for the psychological state and health of the client. Informing a client of the test results should not harm his mental health and/or slow down the process of solving his/her problems, creating additional difficulties.
Ethics for a School Counselor
Testing, its assessment and interpretation performed by a school counselor has its own characteristics, given the fact that he/she has an ethical responsibility before both his/her minor consultees and their parents. As for parents, “the professional school counselor:
a. Respects the inherent rights and responsibilities of parents for their children and endeavors to establish, as appropriate, a collaborative relationship with parents to facilitate the counselee's maximum development.
b. Adheres to laws and local guidelines when assisting parents experiencing family difficulties that interfere with the counselee's effectiveness and welfare.
c. Is sensitive to cultural and social diversity among families and recognizes that all parents, custodial and noncustodial, are vested with certain rights and responsibilities for the welfare of their children by virtue of their role and according to law” (“The American School Counselor Association,” 1998).
In addition, the task of a school counselor is to: inform parents about his/her professional role based on the confidentiality of the testing (except the cases specified above); provide parents with comprehensive, accurate and relevant information about testing, its assessment and interpretation; and try to accommodate the wishes of parents, if they do not harm the general course of the testing. When reporting test results it is necessary to take into account a counselee’s features as a person. Individuals should not be told the results of testing without their interpretation.
Even if the test is carried out carefully and correctly interpreted, its results should be discussed in more detail in order to avoid any harm to the counselee. For example, a child may be very puzzled to learn that he/she executed the test on the ability to learn poorly. A counselor must do everything possible not to cause any mental or psychological harm to the minor with whom he/she works. Given the specificity of juvenile mentality that is extremely susceptible to criticism, humiliation and demonstration of superiority, only soft, but effective solutions to specific problems should be applied.
The interaction between a counselor and a counselee during testing, its assessment and interpretation should be based on following the ethical principles adopted by the Code of ACA and ASCA. A high level of professionalism of a counselor implies respect for his/her counselee as a unique and unrepeatable person. When it comes to advising minorities, a similar attitude should be performed towards their parents. The ethical behavior of a counselor is the result of qualified experience and compliance with the basic ethical rules guided by the principle “no harm”. A counselor is obliged to do everything possible to effectively solve the problem and avoid any mental, moral or physical harm. The relations between counselees and their counselors should be built on trust that requires maximum responsibility for their work from the latter. It should be as comfortable as possible for both sides and ensure a successful solution to the problem.