Counselors deal with individuals and groups of people who are in need of counseling. Dealing with an individual is relatively easy, though it is associated with a set of ethical issues and challenges that the counselor has to deal with. Support groups such as AA deal with groups of people sharing a common problem and being ready to change their lives. The issue of dealing with a group of people from different backgrounds presents various challenges that counselors must overcome.
There are many support groups in different parts of the world that help their members deal with issues they face. The most common ones are those that deal with drugs such as AA and the ones that deal with terminal diseases. These groups provide a platform for members to share their problems and progress in overcoming them. There are some support groups that are managed by their own members who have successfully overcome their problems while others are run by professional counselors. The counselors do not share the problem the members have which creates some ethical challenges (Academic Mindfulness Interest Group, 2006). Some of the challenges are similar to those faced by counselors when dealing with individual patients.
Professional counselors must overcome their personal biases when dealing with support groups. Most of the counselors deal with individuals facing such problems as drugs or sexual addiction that the counselors have to deal with. Most of the counselors have their own perceptions about these issues. The counselor must ensure that they are aware of the challenges the group is facing and ensure that they overcome their personal biases towards such people before they start providing services (Cooper & Gottlieb, 2000). Failure to do this will affect the professionalism of the counselor and his or her judgment. The same case refers to counselors dealing with individual patients. Most of their clients have different challenges that the counselor must handle without any bias. Therefore, they must always ensure their feelings do not cloud their judgment or affect their relationship with the clients.
Support groups are expected to maintain confidentiality. Members share their problems which they do not expect to spill over to the public. This creates an ethical challenge that most counselors must deal with. Members of the group are likely to leave if they realize the information they have shared with their colleagues has found its way to their workplaces and areas to which it is not supposed to go. Members will likely be judged negatively by those who get this information, which will affect their recovery process. The counselors have the responsibility of reminding the group members to keep the secrets of their colleagues so that they do not derail their progress. However, it is usually inevitable that at one point some of the members share some of the confidential information with the public (Corey, 2011). Such an instance will result in a battlefield as the aggrieved member accuses the others of betrayal. The counselor must ensure that such an issue is resolved without taking sides. They must discipline the errant member if there is sufficient evidence showing they have done it. The counselor is also not expected to share any information obtained from the group with outsiders. They are also not supposed to let other members of the group get to know the information that some of the members may confide to them in private. The same case refers to counselors dealing with individual patients. They must maintain the confidentiality of the information they receive from their clients at all times. Leaked information can have devastating effects on the patients. Most of them are struggling with problems that are caused by issues they do not want other people to know. Therefore, they would be frustrated if people get to know their secrets.
Members in support groups are exposed to physical, emotional or psychological trauma. This risk emanates from the threat posed by their fellow members who might make fun of those struggling to overcome their problems or those who confess they have done evil things. There are those who are likely to be attacked physically because they have said something that other members perceive as offensive. There is also a risk of being emotionally and psychologically traumatized by other members if they feel that a given person is inferior to them (Eysenbach et al., 2004). This creates a huge challenge to the counselor who must ensure every group member is respected and treated properly. The most common challenge when dealing with this issue arises when one member poses a problem. The counselor must decide whether they will dismiss them from the group or gain control over them. Dismissing them will affect them negatively, which will likely force them to return to their old habits or succumb to their illnesses in case of support groups for terminally ill patients. Persisting with them might work if they reform and change their ways, but it might be detrimental if the members fail to change and make weaker members leave the group.
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The counselor must also treat all the members with respect without insulting them or using harsh language even when they misbehave. Counselors dealing with individual patients must also treat them with respect. They should refrain from using harsh language, which is likely to affect the recovery progress of a patient. Patients who are condemned or feel treated inappropriately take a longer time to recover while others fail to recover at all (Heaney & Israel, 2008). They also lose faith in counselors, which aggravates their problems since they no longer can neither share their burden with someone nor seek help from some institution. Therefore, counselors must protect their clients from the physical, emotional and psychological trauma that may emanate from the counseling sessions.
The relationship between the counselor and the client must be respected. The code of ethics stipulates that counselors must wait five years after the counselor-client relationship has ended before engaging in any romantic or sexual relationship with a client, his/her family members or romantic partner. This code is expected to protect the client from being exploited by the counselor. A counselor has access to personal information that exposes the frailties of their clients. They can use this information to their advantage and initiate romantic and sexual relationships with their clients. This is a huge challenge to counselors because they might have genuine reasons for establishing a nonprofessional relationship with their client (McLean & Jones, 2007). The client might also develop a liking for them, which they might be tempted to react to if they feel the same. Therefore, there are many instances where counselors end up developing relationships with their clients especially if they end up meeting in public places such as fundraisers and church, among others. Avoiding these relationships is usually hard but the counselor must ensure the established relationships do not compromise the professional attitude towards the client. Counselors dealing with support groups must refrain from developing nonprofessional relationships with their clients. Such relationships are known to destroy these groups if some members of the group interpret the relationship negatively. It might also make the group break apart if the counselor is unable to behave professionally during the counseling sessions. This relationship ends up ruining the lives of the group members affecting the work of the counselor and the recovery of the group members. Therefore, the counselors must avoid nonprofessional relationships whether they are dealing with groups or individuals.
Counselors should screen prospective group members. This is an important process to ensure that those who join the group have similar goals and problems. This ensures that there are no members in the group who are impeding the group activities. The screening process creates an ethical challenge for the counselor. The screening process must be carried out without any form of bias. A counselor must apply a high level of professionalism to ensure that they do not lock out some people from the group based on frivolous reasons. There are individuals who do not meet the profile of the group members but might benefit from the counseling sessions offered to the group (Miller et al., 2003). The counselor might be inclined to dismiss them but then must critically evaluate the effect they will have on the group if they join it. Accepting some people’s opinions and declining that of the others poses a threat of some members claiming they are discriminated. The counselor must explain the procedure followed and in most cases engage the members in the decision-making process. They should also explain to the rejected members why they have done so and offer them assistance. They can decide to deal with their issues individually or address other groups that handle issues similar to the ones troubling the individual. Counselors are dealing with individual patients and may also reject them if they feel they will not handle their cases successfully. In such instances, they should explain to them why they have opted to do so and direct them to a counselor who can offer them the assistance they need. This is very important because researchers have found out that the patients who have been turned down by counselors often feel deteriorated because most of them think that they are beyond redemption (Post, Puchalski, & Larson, 2000). Therefore, a counselor must consider the role of screening critically due to its sensitivity.
Vulnerabilities and Weaknesses
Most people are not comfortable when revealing their problems to strangers. This is a challenge that most counselors dealing with groups encounter. They meet people who cannot express themselves the way they should because they are afraid of revealing their troubles and are vulnerable to the threat of being laughed at. Most of these groups consist of people talking about common problems but not the main reasons behind their troubles. Eventually, they get frustrated when they realize they are not benefiting from the group in any way. Some members have been found to use veiled attacks to address members of the group they think are hypocritical. This eventually leads to tension in the group. If the counselor fails to handle the situation at this stage, it erupts creating enmity and leading to the withdrawal of some members (Sheu & Sedlacek, 2004). The intervention of the counselor must be done in a sensitive manner without accusing some members of causing the problem. The counselor must encourage the members to open up so that they can benefit from the sessions. They must convince them that everyone has issues troubling them, and sometimes they are even worse than their own. They should do this without accusing the members of failing to diverge from the real problems they are faced with. This should be done early enough before members get frustrated or before some people feel vulnerable and develop fear when they realize they have more serious issues than most of the other members. The counselor has the responsibility of encouraging members to reveal their innermost troubles from the beginning so that they do not struggle against the issue of how much they should reveal without fear of being laughed at.
The same happens when the members are expressing their feelings. They experience feelings of happiness and sorrow when they triumph and fail respectively. The counselor must encourage the members to express their feelings at all times but specifically when people are in the right mood. Expressing feelings of happiness when everyone else is sad might not have the desired effect. Furthermore, most members are likely to share their joys but conceal their sorrows. This is retrogressive because it deprives them of an opportunity to learn how to deal with their failures. The counselor has to step up and encourage them to share all of their feelings at all times. They should avoid coercing them especially if it is something that might lead to some of the members making fun of the affected member. Therefore, the counselor must ensure that trust and confidentiality on top of the values of sharing thoughts and emotions are inculcated in the group. Members feel motivated and encouraged when their colleagues share their failures and sorrows without feeling vulnerable (Winzelberg et al., 2003). This is important for weak members and introverts who might take a long time to embrace this attitude. It is the responsibility of the counselor to motivate everyone and ensure that in the end, everyone feels courageous enough to express his or her feelings and fears. Individual counseling might also be associated with this challenge. Some of the patients take time before they gain courage and become able to express themselves properly. Some patients are known to feel uncomfortable because they feel they are telling a counselor everything but the counselor is not revealing any of his or her problems to them. They must be encouraged and told that the counselor is not supposed to share any of their own problems with them. Their role is to listen to what is troubling the patient and then help them recover.
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Counselors must maintain professional conduct at all times when dealing with their clients. There are myriad challenges that emerge during the counseling sessions and result in ethical issues and challenges. The focus is put on the counselor dealing with the challenges with the help of the code of ethics and discretion wherever it is necessary.