Practicing with Integrity: 5 Questions You Should Never Ignore

I can’t think of a day in my professional life that I did not have to make decisions with ethical implications. Decisions like:

  • no longer working with a client (closing a case);
  • collecting fees and managing agreements;
  • advising others on their practice;
  • assessing risk factors in clients or other professionals.

One of the biggest mistakes that a person can make in any industry is basing their work process on “doing things the way that someone else has been doing it” without questioning that process or seeking source information for training or guidance.

Yet, we can’t stay on the sidelines and totally avoid the risks of practice. Instead we must seek information and learn to interpret it. Without interpretation and analysis, we could come to the wrong conclusions because we are not asking the right questions. 

Below are some questions that I consider. They are based on teaching ethics classes and consulting with others regarding professional ethics.

1. Am I embarrassed by these actions: mine or others? Embarrassment is a feeling we want to rush through. But it not a feeling that should be ignored. Everyone makes mistakes. Embarrassment can push us towards shame; then shame can lead to hiding and seclusion.

2. Is there someone I should be informing or talking to about the situation and I have not done so? We often have people we can go to for help or guidance. It’s a personal and professional decision not to do so. At its best the decision not to inform could be negligent. At its worst it could be illegal.

3. Have I cultivated knowledge in this area of practice?  Am I developing competency? Missteps are most likely to occur when we don’t know what we don’t know. It can be tempting to take on a task that is unfamiliar and try to learn as you go. But the serious pitfall is the potential harm that can come to others. We don’t have the right to gain experience by putting others at risk.

4. Are there laws that govern this particular area and what do I know about them? Sometimes it is difficult to understand all of the regulations that govern a profession. But it doesn’t mean that one can’t still be held responsible.

5. Will I regret this action or inaction? Sometimes we must project ourselves into the future and ask ourselves what are the risks associated with acting or not acting. Will there be harm? Are we promoting the highest good? Am I being honest? Am I being fair? Am I taking advantage?

If you are a counseling professional, check out the 2014 American Counseling Association Code of Ethics. In it, you will find many of the principles I have addressed above. I will be covering some of the updates in the ethical codes in my workshop, An Overview of the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics.

What are some of the questions you ask yourself when challenged with an ethical dilemma?

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