Article Published: 3/22/2023
NBCC was proud to sponsor the 2023 Law and Ethics in Counseling Conference, hosted by the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans, Louisiana. This in-person and virtual conference was held from Jan. 31–Feb. 3.
NBCC Director of Ethics Dr. Brenden Hargett co-presented with Dr. Aprille Woodson, Program Manager of Ethics for the American Counseling Association (ACA). Their presentation was titled “Counseling Ethics: A Collaborative Approach of ACA and NBCC.”
Hargett has presented in previous years and always looks forward to the conference.
“The highlight for me is about seeing what’s new, what’s on the verge of happening,” says Hargett. “It was great to be down there just to connect with other professionals.”
This year’s collaborative presentation grew out of a conversation at the Counseling Regulatory Boards Summit, hosted by NBCC affiliate the Center for Credentialing & Education. NBCC President and CEO Kylie Dotson-Blake introduced Hargett and Woodson.
“We had very similar interests in terms of our work,” says Hargett. “We began to talk about some of the trends we are seeing.”
Woodson has a law degree as well as a PhD in counselor education, which allows her to bring a unique perspective, says Hargett. “She talks about what’s happening at the national level and how legislation relates to what we are seeing.” As the two continued to collaborate and communicate, their conversation naturally turned into a presentation. They first gave a version of this presentation as a webinar for the counseling honor society Chi Sigma Iota. The Law and Ethics in Counseling Conference presentation highlighted trends and current concerns in the counseling profession. It also encouraged participants to be more in tune with ethical matters, especially for counselor educators.
“It’s really about being able to prepare students for some of what we consider to be overlooked areas where we see some of the violations,” says Hargett. “We remind people that this is what ethical codes are supposed to be doing; the intent is really to guide the profession and make sure we instruct counselors in what ethical behavior should look like, what their conduct should be.”
The presentation covered core values shown in NBCC’s Code of Ethics and ACA’s Code of Ethics. The presenters highlighted these similarities as well as differences between the two ethical codes.
“ACA and NBCC have different focuses, with one being a membership organization and one being a credentialing body,” says Hargett. “However, our overall professional values overlap.”
Woodson says, “The Law and Ethics in Counseling Conference was a great way to display how ACA’s and NBCC’s ethical codes complement each other, while highlighting the importance of the codes in assisting counselors in understanding the standards for the profession and the mission of each organization.”
Much of the presentation looked at recent national trends, says Hargett. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we saw an increase in telemental health. We focused on what ACA and NBCC’s policies say about that, such as NBCC’s Policy Regarding the Provision of Distance Professional Services.”
Concerningly, there has been an increase in suicide in the last few years. The presenters encourage counselors to be alert to this trend and in tune with the risks facing their clients. Another worrying trend is an uptick in boundary violations.
“Hopefully we can do what we need to do individually or as organizations to curtail unethical behaviors,” says Hargett. “Ultimately the responsibility for us is to protect the public. Unethical behavior can impact others directly or indirectly. We need to protect the public and our credibility as a profession.”
For the final part of the presentation, Hargett and Woodson opened it up to audience discussion. “We took questions, but we also posed the question: As a profession, how do we begin to shift some of these trends? These are things that we certainly want to be more intentional to avoid.”
If audience members took away one thing from the presentation, Hargett hopes it is the value in revisiting ethical codes regularly.
“Professionals don’t always revisit the ethical codes as often as they should, which leaves space for error. The more informed and well-versed we are about the code, the more these things will be highlighted. By individuals, universities, and organizations being better versed in the NBCC or ACA Code of Ethics, hopefully that will create some sensitivity and avoid unethical practices.”
“I hope the audience reflected on how the Code of Ethics is key to public protection and the importance of collaborating with colleagues when an ethical issue arises,” says Woodson. “It’s also important for counselors to engage with their professional member organizations and credentialing bodies to stay up to date on changes in the profession that may impact the great work they do daily.”
Hargett and the Ethics Department have been working to update NBCC’s Code of Ethics. This new edition includes additional provisions on telemental health. Additionally, care has been taken to divide the Code by subtopics to make it easier to quickly find information on a specific subject. The updated Code of Ethics will be available in the coming months.
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