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When Personal Beliefs & Values Interfere with Counseling

Updated on May 14, 2015
Julea Ward
Julea Ward | Source

by Amber Maccione

The Eastern Michigan University defines that counseling is best if the counselor enters the client’s world, with respect to that client’s beliefs and values, therefore, creating an atmosphere where the client feels unjudged and worthy of the counselor’s care and concern (Rudow, 2013). In the case of Julea Ward vs. Board of Regents of Eastern Michigan University, this definition of how to best serve clients came under question. Was it acceptable for a counselor to refuse to counsel a client and then refer that client to another counselor because of religious beliefs? The case concluded that it was not acceptable to do so (Rudow, 2013). In another case, Bruff vs. North Mississippi Health Services, Inc., it was further stated that respecting diversity outweighed that of competency, meaning that it was for the greater good of the client for the counselor to put aside her religious beliefs in order to help the client and avoid harm (Rosik). Hence, in a situation where the administrator of a counseling center has been made aware of an individual who is referring gay and lesbian clients to other co-workers because of his or her religious beliefs, that administrator needs to refer to not only the APA code of ethics, which requires counselors to respect diversity and not discriminate against someone, but also to these types of cases where counselors have been told that personal religious beliefs are not a reason to turn away or refer a client elsewhere, especially when it refers to the person’s sexual preferences.

Decision Making

The scenario is this: Counselor A has been referring gay and lesbian clients to other co-workers for over a year now. The administrator had no idea that this was going on because not only was Counselor A lying to her about the referrals, but the other counselors taking on the referrals were also lying about it. Hence, the administrator has two issues to deal with: 1. the referral of gay and lesbian clients because of Counselor A’s religious views and 2. The deceit of all counselors. In this situation, there are four steps to decision making that the administrator would need to take: 1. perception of decision to be made, 2. formation of alternative solutions, 3. evaluation of these solutions, and 4. the solution for implementation (McManus, 2006, p. 55-58).

Perception

Before jumping to conclusions about what she thinks happened and how it happened, interviews should take place. Before one can make a decision about a problem, he or she needs to understand all the facts about the problem (McManus, 2006, p. 55). With this scenario, interviewing Counselor A as well as the other counselors involved will help the administrator see the pattern of referrals and also the extra workload places upon the other counselors. The interviewing will also help the administrator understand the why behind the actions.

Another important part to this step is to look up the codes for counseling behavior as well as any legal cases that may include information about this kind of behavior. The codes help with determining what is expected from the counselors and the legal cases help with understanding what could happen legally if a client, employee, or someone in relation to the company decided to sue. Understanding these aspects help the administrator complete step two, formatting solutions to the problem.

Formation

According to the Bruff vs. North Mississippi Health Services, Inc. case, solutions to a counselor referring a gay or lesbian client to another co-worker based on religious beliefs would be reprimand, filing counselor’s license with the board, suspension or revoking the counselor’s license, or suspension or expulsion from the professional organization (Rosik). The APA Code of Ethics requires that counselors do not discriminate against a person, “In their work-related activities, psychologists do not engage in unfair discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status or any basis proscribed by law” (American Psychological Association, 2010). This according to the Bruff case supersedes the APA Code of Ethics on competency, which states,

Where scientific or professional knowledge in the discipline of psychology establishes that an understanding of factors associated with age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language or socioeconomic status is essential for effective implementation of their services or research, psychologists have or obtain the training, experience, consultation or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services, or they make appropriate referrals (American Psychological Association, 2010).

Also, the code requires that counselors to treat every client with beneficence and avoid non-malfeasance, which means that counselors should do good for their clients and avoid causing harm to their clients (Rosik). The question here then would be: Does referring a client based on personal religious beliefs against a client’s lifestyle do the most good for the client and does it avoid harm to the client?

Evaluation

Evaluation would start with determining whether or not referring is the most good and avoids harm. According to the Bruff vs. North Mississippi Health Services, Inc. case, referring does not do this. Instead, referring can cause more damage because the individual feels judged for his or her lifestyle (Rosik). Therefore, the administrator in this scenario should set the standard straight that personal values and beliefs will not be a reason to refer a client. Instead, the counselor would need to be aware of his or her own values and issues, be able to put them aside during counseling, and have the competency to emerge oneself into the client’s world in order to fully help that client become his or her best (Rudow, 2013).

Secondly, since the referring had been going on for over a year and Counselor A had been lying about it, a reprimand would not be an adequate solution. The lying signals that the counselor already understood that referring a gay or lesbian client based on religious preferences would be wrong. If Counselor A did not think it to be wrong, then Counselor A as well as the other counselors would not have been lying about it. Hence, the appropriate action would be to file with the board and allow the board to determine the appropriate course of action: suspension or revocation of license and/or suspension or expulsion from the professional organization. As for the other counselors who had also lied, a reprimand and formal write-up would be acceptable for them since they were not the ones doing the referral.

Implementation

Once the administrator has come to the conclusion about the actions needed to handle this scenario, a meeting of all counselors should be held. Individual meetings should be held first to inform the counselors involved in the problem of what actions will be taken against them. Also, a company meeting should also be held involving all employees to discuss the codes applicable to this scenario as well as outline the company’s course of action when these things are broken. Each employee should have to sign the outline so that they legally acknowledge their understanding of it and the consequences involved.

Opposite Perspective

Religious Beliefs & Referring

Do you think that religious beliefs classify under being incompetent for counseling someone?

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Conclusion

The APA Code of Ethics is a guideline created to ensure the best quality of care for those who seek counseling. It is to help counselors understand their role and duty to the profession and the clients they serve. It is imperative that counselors respect the client above all else. The client is the most important. Personal preferences and personal opinions should be left at home. These things do not deal with competency of the counselor, but rather biases of the counselor. Biases can be seen as discrimination when used as reason not to counsel. They can also cause more harm when acknowledged and made evident to the client. When counseling, the counselor is to put the client’s world at the forefront and help that client walk through their world and come out of it a better person than when they first entered it. Respecting a client’s diversity is the most important part of counseling and helping a person become the best they can be.

References

American Psychological Association. (2010). “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.” Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/

McManus, J. (2006). Leadership: Project and human capital management. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

Rosik, C. H. (n.d.). Review of “Legal & Ethical Implications of Refusing to Counsel Homosexual Clients.” Retrieved from www.narth.org/docs/refusing.html

Rudow, H. (9 Jan. 2013). “Resolution of EMU case confirms ACA Code of Ethics, counseling profession’s stance against client discrimination.” Counseling Today. Retrieved from http://ct.counseling.org/2013/01/resolution-of-emu-case-confirms-aca-code-of-ethics-counseling-professions-stance-against-client-discrimination/

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    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 2 years ago from Florida

      ambercita04...Any Healthcare professional should be able to counsel someone regardless of personal beliefs..

      however... People are people and some are so strong about their convictions, it is impossible be unbiased.

      There has been prejudice in many aspects for years, even against women and health/mental issues, then there was the issue of HIV patients and others. I personally found this to be disgusting and fought against it for years..

      All needed both physical and mental counseling dealing with their issues. As a retired Medical professional speaking for myself, I would not feel comfortable being counseled by someone who has animosity towards me due to their beliefs.. better they refer patient to someone else due to the fact they could do more harm than good...but they should be relinquished of their status, as they are an insult to the profession.

      After all they are supposedly in "HEALTHCARE "..

      Just my thoughts...great article.

    • ambercita04 profile image
      Author

      Amber 2 years ago from Winter Park

      For me, my fascination with the human brain and the how and why behind why we do things supersedes revulsion or any religious belief. I want to work with the criminal and most damaged persons within our society. I think asking questions and probing the so called monsters of our society (which I do not think are monsters, just people like you and I who need help) to help myself and more importantly themselves so that treatment can happen and they can become better than what they began. But each person is different. Some could not handle what I can.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      You got that right--bias has no place in a therapeutic setting.

      Yet, there are the issues of certain counselors not being able to deal with certain situations. For example, where the client is a child molester or where the client is a murderer. This is not bias, but revulsion.

      I never thought I could deal with those two issues. But I learned and it worked out OK.