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What Would an Ethical Counselor Do?

Note: I've pushed my original article for this page down
below this topic in light of more pressing issues:


Transsexual Anti-Conversion Campaign: What is Conversion Therapy?

Generally the term, “conversion therapy” is short hand for Sexual orientation conversion therapy refers to counseling and psychotherapy to attempt to eliminate individuals’ sexual desires for members of their own sex.  “The terms reparative therapy and sexual orientation conversion therapy refer to counseling and psychotherapy aimed at eliminating or suppressing homosexuality. The most important fact about these “therapies” is that they are based on a view of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions.”

My interest in conversion therapy was renewed by reading my recent copy of NASWNEWS (October 2017, Volume 62, No. 9 ),and was fascinated to read about Julie Kempner, LMSW, becoming, in January, the executive director of MASW’s New York City Chapter.   

Kempner and her team have be advocating for a number of campaigns such as:

  • Close Ryker’s Campaign: “Ryker’s is a NY prison notorious for significant violence, as well as isolation, deprivation and health hazard…”
  • Campaign to raise the age:  Until recently, “New York was …one of the only two states in the nation that automatically processed all 16- and 17- year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, no matter their offense.”

And of special interest to me,: the ANTI-Conversion Campaign: “The Chapter continues to campaign in support of a bill that would prevent mental health professionals from providing sexual orientation change efforts to minors, by defining such activities as professional misconduct.”

My first thought was, “this is similar to Washington State banning reparative therapy as Un-professional conduct, and I went to look at the applicable RCW but unable to find any mention in state law.  The only reference I could find, indicated that change in the law had failed in Washington State, see the Seattle Times, link #5, below.

I also discovered the ACA’s opinion on the matter.   “…The ACA Ethics Committee strongly suggests that ethical professional counselors do not refer clients to someone who engages in conversion therapy or, if they do so, to proceed cautiously only when they are certain that the referral counselor fully informs clients of the unproven nature of the treatment and the potential risks and takes steps to minimize harm to clients (also see Standard A.2.b., "Types of Information Needed"). This information also must be included in written informed consent material by those counselors who offer conversion therapy despite ACA's position and the Ethics Committee's statement in opposition to the treatment. To do otherwise violates the spirit and specifics of the ACA Code of Ethics.”

See:  Ethical issues related to conversion or reparative therapy

On March 4, 2018 the Seattle Times reported that the Washington State legislature has agreed on a bill to ban conversion therapy for any minor under the age of 18.  This bill includes penalities up to possible license revocation for any licensed or non-licensed mental health professional using conversion technigques particularly on minors.  Changes made in the House also include applying the measure to nonlicensed counselors operting as a part of a religious organization, religious denomination or church..  So watch for new laws regarding this situation.

Floyd Else, MA, LMHC (ret.)


What Would an Ethical Counselor Do?

We all believe we are ethical. However, in 1985, I graduated with a masters degree in counseling without ever taking a class in the ethics of counseling. I went out in the world to work as a counselor in supervised agency settings. The policies and procedures of the agency governed much of my behavior, but I made ethical mistakes without realizing it. For example, I became friends with a man in one of my groups, talked to him about buying a used car from him and we had dinner together one evening. When I subsequently called him at home and his girlfriend answered, I was confused by her critical comment to me, "You sure don't seem to understand ethical behavior!"

I had always considered myself to be a very moral person--guided by what I believed was normal behavior among "good" people. I drew on the example of my father, who was the owner of a drug store in a small Nebraska village and worked in the store as the professional pharmacist. In that capacity, he was both a source of advice and confidant of many (most?) of the people in town. He certainly felt free to have lunch or dinner with any one of his customers or to buy a car from one of them.

It was only later--when I took my first course in counselor ethics as part of my counselor continuing education--that I discovered that counselors, especially in an urban setting, are guided by standards that the general public might consider strange and unreasonable. Basically, counselors are seen to have an unequal relationship with the clients who have confided in them. Counselors are therefore ethically prohibited from doing business with their clients in most circumstances (because that creates a confusing "dual-relationship".)

It helps that now Washington State counselors are required to take ethics courses on a regular, recurring basis--but there are still counselors making terrible mistakes in judgment.

I invite counselors and the public to send examples of situations that would help counselors and clients to better understand professional counseling boundaries. Perhaps other counselors will have stories to share anonymously. Stories with good ethical content will be presented on these pages.

To the counselor, client or interested member of the public -- Please feel free to email your feedback regarding any of the published counseling situations on this page OR to submit an ethical situation or question of your own. Submissions may be edited for reason of clarity or length.

Floyd Else, MA, LMHC, Webmaster

See Also: Ethical vs. Unethical Counselors


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