When the American Counseling Association last completed and released a revised version of its Code of Ethics in October 2005, issues of multiculturalism and diversity received special focus because they were increasingly coming to the forefront of counseling practice but had not been addressed in much depth in previous versions of the ethics code.

The 2005 revision also highlighted the ethical use of technology applications, including guidelines for a then-burgeoning movement by counselors to launch and maintain professional websites. Fast forward roughly six years, and a technological revolution that wasn’t on many people’s radar screens in 2005 — social media — has opened up a new frontier of ethics questions and implications for counselors.

Not coincidentally, ACA announced this spring that it would again be undertaking a major revision of the ACA Code of Ethics, which began with an April call for participants to serve on the Ethics Revision Task Force. The process of revising the ethics code is expected to take three years, with a goal of presenting a final draft for approval by the ACA Governing Council in March 2014. The rapid rise of social media in and of itself did not determine the need for a revised code of ethics — in practice, ACA reviews and revises the code every seven to 10 years — but the widespread use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media applications did have some influence in getting the latest revision process started sooner rather than later.

“There definitely are some newer areas of concern within our profession that need to be addressed by the ACA Code of Ethics,” says ACA President Marcheta Evans. “Social media stands out as one of those areas. With Twitter and Facebook, there are some ethical boundary issues just floating out there with counselors.”

Even so, the revision process will focus on far more than social media. The Ethics Revision Task Force will be reviewing and updating all sections of the existing ACA Code of Ethics as appropriate, while also trying to anticipate emerging issues that could present counselors with ethical dilemmas down the road.

“The ACA Code of Ethics helps to define who we are, how we operate and how we function as counselors,” Evans says. “Revising our ethics code periodically is part of our professionalization. We want it to be as extensive and as inclusive as it can be while also looking at issues that may pop up in the future. It’s a positive for the public to see us examining ourselves as a profession as we move forward.”

In appointing ACA members to serve on the Ethics Revision Task Force, Evans says she will be “looking for diversity of thought. That diversity covers everything from ethnicity to gender to background and experience. I’m really open to having a lot of color and flavor on this task force so we can perhaps uncover some things that we may have missed or that hadn’t become apparent yet when we did previous revisions.”

The desire is to assemble a task force composed of counselor practitioners from varied settings and specialties who have experience applying the ACA Code of Ethics in their work as well as counselor educators who have engaged in scholarly activities pertaining to the ethics code. “I’m excited to be able to have a hand in moving this very important process forward,” says Evans, who will review applications and appoint eight to 10 ACA members to the Ethics Revision Task Force before she concludes her term as ACA president at the end of June.

“It’s important to get a cross-section of counseling professionals, inclusive of those teaching and practicing, involved in the revision process because it will make for a richer review and update,” says ACA Executive Director Richard Yep. “The ACA Code of Ethics is a central part of the counseling profession, and it helps define who our members are at their very core, while also reflecting ongoing changes in society. I would encourage every member of ACA to participate in this process in some way.”

The proposed timeline for revising the ACA Code of Ethics calls for ACA to solicit input from its members this coming fall regarding new areas that the code needs to address as well as existing standards that may need to be changed in some way. After collecting and reviewing this input, the Ethics Revision Task Force will turn its attention to composing a draft revisedCode of Ethics between April 2012 and March 2013. Once the draft revision is released, ACA will issue a call for feedback from its members, and the task force will then consider this feedback in developing a final draft to be presented to the ACA Governing Council.

“The ACA Code of Ethics provides the counseling profession with our framework for acting in the best interests of clients, students and supervisees,” says ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan. “As such, we have taken its revision very seriously, and President Evans has mapped out a comprehensive three-year approach for updating the code that includes expert practitioners and scholars and multiple layers of input and feedback from a variety of constituencies — the most important being the ACA membership.”

All ACA members agree to abide by the ACA Code of Ethics when they join the association, and more than 20 state licensing boards use the ACA code as the basis for their standards of practice and the adjudication of client complaints.

Jonathan Rollins is the editor-in-chief of Counseling Today. Contact him at jrollins@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org.



Editors note: the revised ACA Code of Ethics was approved and released in March 2014. See: ct.counseling.org/2014/03/2014-aca-code-of-ethics-approved-by-governing-council/