Recent court cases have looked at important issues as they relate to the dilemma in which counselors or, in most cases, counseling students face when their personal values come into conflict with ethical guidelines. In some cases, students are dismissed from counseling programs while others opt to drop out (Elliot, 2011). Such instances serve to underscore the importance of understanding that regardless of one’s personal values the needs of clients come first. In this hypothetical situation, I am a counselor who values sexual abstinence prior to marriage and presently work in a teen clinic where many of the clients are young mothers. I’m not entirely sure where the conflict is in this situation. The fact that the teen girls had already given birth indicates they may need assistance, and counseling, on how to meet the needs of their babies as well as themselves. In such instances I don’t think I would have any issue with providing needed services for which I am ethical bound to provide.
The American Psychological Association (APA) Code of Ethics addresses issues of beneficence and nonmaleficence, meaning we make all attempts to be of benefit for those we work for and avoid doing harm (APA, 2010). Again, in the given scenario there doesn’t appear to be a conflict, and the priority shifts from something that may have been challenging in regards to my personal values to an instance where I will do my best to provide needed services. This is not an ideal, instead providing services to young teen mothers and their babies is important to the welfare of both, which is embedded in the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics (Elliot, 2011). But, for the sake of argument I could say that I am torn over providing services to young teen mothers based on my values concerning pre-marital sex. If this were the case, I may have chosen one of two options. First, I would not have chosen to work in this setting or, two, I would tender my resignation upon realizing that providing such services were part of my job responsibilities.
But, in the interest of fairness I would like to say that there is actually a third option (perhaps even more) that might allow me the opportunity to become more open to teen mothers. Elliot (2011) suggests that counselors become grounded in the client-centered approach, “It is the position of this author that these conditions—unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence—provide a perspective that holds the potential for the resolution of the conflict” (p. 41). Training in the client-centered approach offers the opportunity to become more empathetic to the needs and lives of clients, particularly those who have made choices that appear in conflict with my own values and beliefs. The preamble to the APA (2010) Code of Ethics instructs that the role of psychologist is to increase the knowledge concerning individual behavior and how people understand themselves. Without specific guidance, for example through training in client-centeredness, I would imagine it might be difficult to fully explore such issues with young mothers and in such cases it would be necessary to refer to other professionals.
Of course, such answers are relatively easy to make when drawing them on paper. While I have no values that would prevent me from effectively working with young teen mothers, I am sure that other situations might be of some challenge. The value of this exercise is in exploring options that may be available to assist in overcoming such values-based conflicts. Given the array of people counselors come into contact with each day it is understandable that a great deal of training is necessary, in this case a client-centered approach, in order to overcome personal bias and conflicts before they arise.