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Does Evolution Exist?
Rhonda Williams, Ed.D., LPC, NCC
Sunday July 01, 2007
by: Rhonda Williams, Ed.D., LPC, NCC

Section: Inside Insight

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“There is no such thing as evolution.” This was a declaration made a few years ago by a state board of education. The mandate that evolution couldn’t be taught in schools was based on the concept that evolution was merely a theory and not fact; it could no longer be used as an explanation of how the world, dare we say, progressed. Fortunately for the students in that state, the mandate has been amended.

The dictionary describes evolution as an unfolding; a process of continuous change. Our society is ever changing and we, as individuals, are all a part of that change otherwise known as evolution. As people evolve, change, unfold, so do organizations.

As any profession changes or evolves in order to effectively respond to current issues, so must the ethical standards of that profession. ASCA’s Ethical Standards for School Counselors are no different in the evolutionary process. In 1988, Wayne Huey, Ph.D., and Ted Remley Jr., J.D., Ph.D., initiated the first ethics book specific to school counselors, “Ethical and Legal Issues in School Counseling.” Although some of the ethical issues have certainly changed over the years, these authors’ sage advice has not changed. “The ‘right’ answer in one situation is not necessarily the ‘right’ answer in a similar case at another time.” Every ethical case must be evaluated on its own merits.

Despite the ongoing evolution of the school counseling profession, there remain no black and white answers. Absolutes don’t exist, and school counselors must evaluate the circumstances in each situation within the context of each individual case.

The history of ethical standards for our profession goes back as far as 1981 when practitioners expressed their dissatisfaction with the applicability to the school counselor setting of the Ethical Standards from the American Association of Counseling and Development (AACD), now known as the American Counseling Association (ACA). In 1983, ASCA validated those concerns and adopted the first school counseling ethical standards at the delegate assembly on March 19, 1984. In 1992, ASCA’s Ethical Standards for School Counselors were revised and again in 1998 and 2004. As Huey and Remley indicated in their book, these standards were not intended as a replacement for the AACD ethical standards but “developed to complement the AACD standards, [now ACA] by clarifying the nature of ethical responsibilities of counselors in the school setting.”

Many ethical questions that pervaded school counseling in the earlier years continue to be concerns even today. These issues such as confidentiality, duty to warn, parents’ rights, maintenance of confidentiality for school counseling records and dealing with minors certainly continue to be prevalent in the profession. This doesn’t imply, however, that the late 1980s were in the stone age. However, articles from that time discuss the potential impact of “microcomputers” in the counseling setting. Understanding race, ethnicity and gender was beginning to make its way into the ethical discussion, but little was mentioned yet about gay and lesbian considerations or culturally responsive counseling. The focus seemed to be directed to the one-to-one counseling, with more of a mental health spotlight.

Same Profession, New Issues
Certainly the school counseling profession has evolved beyond the above-mentioned issues. Now our profession has evolved into a standards-based, data-driven program, integral to the academic success of students. Our societal evolution has also contributed to school counselors having a plethora of different issues through which we must help students. Current issues now on the front burner include utilization of data and confidentiality of data, school violence and crisis management, differentiated instruction for students, response to intervention, MySpace.com, online predators, student diagnosis such as Aspersers Syndrome and response to children of military families in a war to name a few.

Negotiating all of these new issues can feel overwhelming to the school counselor who is attempting to make ethically sound decisions. Because ethical standards are intended as guidelines, not every potential issue and topic can be directly addressed within the standards. Built into the ethical standards is the flexibility to evaluate individual circumstances in order to make appropriate decisions. However, in order to address many specific and contemporary topics, ASCA delegates have developed position statements over the years. The initial position statements included: The School Counselor and Confidentiality (1986), The School Counselor and Peer Facilitation (1984) and The School Counselor and Students Rights (1982). These statements have now been revised and have proliferated into 36 position statements based on the current situations arising as our profession evolves.

Some of the newer position statements cover: Bullying, Harassment and Violence Prevention; Supporting Safe and Respectful Schools; Equity for all Students; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered and Questioning Youth; Retention; Social Promotion and Age-Appropriate Placement; Student Safety and Technology; Student Recruitment; High-Stakes Testing; Critical Incidents and Response in the Schools. These position statements are revised on a rotating basis to keep our professional awareness in line with the current educational trends. The listed position statements allow us to reflect on the number of societal and political changes that affect the educational system.  As our professional evolution continues, so will the expansion and revision of the ASCA position statements and the revision of our ethical code in an effort to accommodate the needs of the contemporary practitioner.

Although many of the topics that were concerns in the ’80s, such as minor’s rights, parent’s rights, confidentiality and duty to warn, continue to exist into the new millennium, school counselors must also address the more contemporary issues in an ethically responsible way. One of the most important ethical expectations for a practitioner in this ever-changing, ever-evolving profession is continued professional development regarding current issues and ethical responses to those issues. It is vital for practitioners to remain vigilant about current issues so we can be prepared for the arising concerns of the students and their families.

Utilizing the established ASCA position statements, and any newly developed ones, is a form of professional consultation, a component of effective ethical practice. School counselors should be aware of the organization’s position on the many current educational issues.

Another aspect of making ethical decisions is the expectation that the professional school counselor will base daily decisions on the five moral principles introduced by Kitchener in 1984. These professional moral principles serve as the fundamental guidelines for all we do on a daily basis: allowing for the autonomy of each student to create their own path; promoting the good or the beneficence of students; doing no harm or nonmaleficence to any of the students with whom we work; providing equal treatment or justice to all: and honoring the fidelity and loyalty to the students we serve.

These ethical principles are the foundation of our profession and the underpinnings of every decision made by a school counselor. Professional school counselors must continue to utilize these moral principles and reflect upon them when called on to make those tough ethical choices.

Ethical practice also entails maintaining a professional identity through membership in a professional organization. This type of networking offers the support necessary to maintain professional effectiveness. As the organization grows so does the practitioner’s support base.

The profession of school counseling continues to evolve as does the educational system and the world in which we live. Recognizing and responding with ethical prowess to the changing world marks the maturity of the any profession. Evolution of this professional organization does indeed exist as evidenced by the many changes and progress made over the past decades. ASCA’s professional maturity is reflected by the ongoing commitment to our professional moral principles while at the same time allowing for the evolution of the ethical standards to meet the needs of our profession. We continue to evolve.

Rhonda Williams, Ed.D., LPC, NCC, is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and chair of ASCA’s Ethics Committee. She can be reached atrwilliams@uccs.edu.