Ethical issues within human services

When considering the area of student services in higher education, Kitchener (1985)suggested five ethical principles to guide individuals in their work with students. Theseprinciples are to (1) respect autonomy, (2) do no harm, (3) help others, (4) be just, and(5) be trustworthy. In comparison with the complex codes of ethics established by someprofessions, these five principles seem rather simple at first glance. However, they canoffer flexibility and permit consistency without being rigid. Because real-life situationsmay be unpredictable, it is possible that conflicts among the five principles may resultand that the practitioner may need to consider the situation from several perspectivesbefore taking action.

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Whether the question is one of role, relationships, boundaries, confidentiality orreferral, a professional must first acknowledge that there is an ethical question, and beable to define the issue clearly. He or she must then be willing to explore his or her ownconscious or unconscious motives, and all the possible long and short-term consequences ofthe issue. Next, the professional must review existing laws and codes of ethics, andconsult with colleagues and supervisors to obtain objective perspectives on the issue.

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It is important for professionals to uphold their code of ethics, as well, as personalboundaries between clients, colleagues and supervisors. If professionals in the humanservices field get their own professional needs met outside of their work setting, theywill be better able to focus on clients. If professionals do not take the time and energyto fulfill their personal needs outside of work, people will try to get those needs met onthe job.

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The American Psychological Association (APA) struggled between two ethical positionsregarding contact between former clients and therapists. They recommended a waiting periodof perhaps two years of no contact, or to forbid absolutely all romantic entanglementswhatsoever between therapist and former client. They finally decided to recommend nosexual relationships, regardless of time(no phone calls, no greeting cards) after someinitial reluctance of appearing too rigid on the issue. Experience shows that suchrelationships are rarely, if ever, healthy.

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Our personal values affect our ethical boundary decision making. We all have boundaryquestions and have to recognize this and talk to other professionals about this. Forexample, what ethical issues arise when a client gives a therapist a gift? How do youhandle the situation if you get a gift? How do you acknowledge the need for clients togive back something? What are the ethical dilemmas that this raises? First you get a rose,then a dozen roses, then a rose bush, then an offer to tend to your rose garden. Where andwhen should professionals draw the line. The issue of gift giving is further complicatedwhen you add factors such as cultural differences. For example, if you turn down a smallgift in some cultures, this may mean total rejection of the individual or can beinterpreted as lack of respect. Setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries iscomplicated.

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These situations are called ethical dilemmas; they can cause a great deal of inner conflict and concern. Common ethical dilemmas encountered within disability work include issues relating to gift-giving and sexual behaviour. Youth workers should be particularly aware of issues relating to professional boundaries.

Ethical Guidelines for Human Resources - Cornerstone

Different professions have to consider unique issues that may arise. For example,counselors who are in drug or alcohol recovery need to examine all relevant codes andregulations that apply, and be careful about how they plan to use self-disclosure of theirpersonal recovery. Each person should establish their own personal code of ethics thatthey adhere to at all times.

Thinking Ethically - Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Another example might be a Deaf therapist whose own unresolved issues with theirhearing parents affect how that person perceives his/her Deaf clients' relationships withtheir parents, or a hearing therapist whose unresolved issues with his/her Deaf parentscolor their perceptions of Deaf clients who have hearing children.