Prior to beginning work on this discussion, please review the following websites, and read the following required articles:

Ethical Decision Making
The Difference Between Deductive and Inductive Reasoning
ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors
To Tell or Not to Tell: The Fine Line Between Minors’ Privacy and Others’ Right to Know
Play the expert in the following scenario and apply ethical decision-making to your rationale and actions. Be mindful of section F in the “ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors” (p. 8):

When faced with an ethical dilemma, school counselors and school counseling program directors/supervisors use an ethical decision-making model such as Solutions to Ethical Problems in Schools (STEPS) (Stone, 2001):

Define the problem emotionally and intellectually
Apply the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors and the law
Consider the students’ chronological and developmental levels
Consider the setting, parental rights and minors’ rights
Apply the ethical principles of beneficence, autonomy, nonmaleficence, loyalty and justice
Determine potential courses of action and their consequences
Evaluate the selected action
Implement the course of action
You are a school counselor at a rural high school. You have been counseling a student, and he confided in you that one of his friends has recently engaged in sexual relations with one of the teacher’s daughters. (She is a friend of yours.) He does not divulge the name of the other student and refuses to talk any further about the issue.

Address the following:

What ethical considerations must be considered in this situation?
How does confidentiality affect your considerations and actions?
What options might you have to address the situation?
Ethically, since this is hearsay, are you legally obligated to address?
Using appropriate citations and references, explain how the empirical research, theoretical models, and ethical standards presented in the assigned resources suggest the importance of applying ethical decision-making strategies to scenarios such as these.

Meiseller, D. (2020). Difference between deductive and inductive reasoning.

ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors. (2016).

Carlson, N. (2017). To tell or not to tell: The fine line between minors’ privacy and others’ right to know (Links to an external site.).

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Ethical Decision-Making In this module, we provide some guiding principles, and pathways to help guide ethical decision-making. These are a series of basic questions that should be asked when confronted with ethical dilemmas. These are often complex situations with no clear-cut resolution, and without a right or wrong answer. But these decision-making processes will go a long way towards helping all of us make informed decisions that can justify consequent actions.

Ethical Reasoning Can Be Taught: Ethical reasoning is a way of thinking about issues of right and wrong. Processes of reasoning can be taught, and school is an appropriate place to teach them. the reason that, although parents and religious schools may teach ethics, they don ot always teach ethical reasoning. See the article by: Sternberg, Robert J. Teaching for Ethical Reasoning in Liberal Education. Liberal Education 96.3 (2010): 32-37.

And, like learning to play baseball or play the violin, it’s important to practice early and often. So, let’s get started:


Beneficence is the concept that scientific research should have as a goal the welfare of society. It is rooted in medical research, the central tenet is “do no harm” (and corollaries remove harm, prevent harm, optimize benefits, “do good”). For a more expansive introduction to beneficence, see the essay on The Principles of Beneficence in Applied Ethics from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Some simple guiding questions in applying the concept of beneficence to ethical dilemmas include:

Who benefits? Who are the stakeholders? Who are the decision-makers? Who is impacted? What are the risks?

Take a look at the video on Causing Harm–“Causing harm explores the different types of harm that may be caused to people or groups and the potential reasons we may have for justifying these harms.” From “Ethics Unwrapped”, McCombs School of Business, University of Texas-Austin.

A 7-STep Guide to Ethical Decision-Making

The following is a summary of: Seven-step guide to ethical decision-making (Davis, M. (1999) Ethics and the university, New York: Routledge, p. 166-167.

1. State the problem. For example, “there’s something about this decision that makes me uncomfortable” or “do I have a conflict of interest?”.

2. Check the facts. Many problems disappear upon closer examination of the situation, while others change radically. For example, persons involved, laws, professional codes, other practical constraints

3. Identify relevant factors (internal and external). 4. Develop a list of options.

Be imaginative, try to avoid “dilemma”; not “yes” or” no” but whom to go to, what to say. 5. Test the options. Use some of the following tests:

harm test: Does this option do less harm than the alternatives? publicity test: Would I want my choice of this option published in the newspaper? defensibility test: Could I defend my choice of this option before a congressional committee or committee of peers? reversibility test: Would I still think this option was a good choice if I were adversely affected by it? colleague test: What do my colleagues say when I describe my problem and suggest this option as my solution? professional test: What might my profession’s governing body for ethics say about this option? organization test: What does my company’s ethics officer or legal counsel say about this?

6. Make a choice based on steps 1-5. 7. Review steps 1-6. How can you reduce the likelihood that you will need to make a similar decision again?

Are there any cautions you can take as an individual (and announce your policy on question, job change, etc.)? Is there any way to have more support next time? Is there any way to change the organization (for example, suggest policy change at next departmental meeting)?

[Having made a decision based on the process above, are you now prepared to ACT?]

Ethical Decision-Making Model based on work by Shaun Taylor.

A Seven Step Process for Making Ethical Decisions–An example from the “Orientation to Energy and Sustainability Policy” course at Penn State.

Additional Approaches to Ethical Decision Making

Shaun Taylor’s presentation: Geoethics Forums (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 380kB Jun11 14), given at the 2014 Teaching GeoEthics workshop, provided a simple model to help students engage Ethical Decision-Making that includes a) the context/facts of the situation, b) the stakeholders, c) the decision-makers, d) these inform a number of alternate choices, e) that are mediated through the evaluation of impacts and negotiations among the parties, that lead to f) selection of an optimal choice. Taylor provides guidance for what makes a good ethical dilemma discussion, including:

Trust, respect, disagreement without personal attacks Being judgmental vs. making a judgment Emphasize process vs. conclusion Uncertainty is OK Description then prescription

Teaching Activity: GeoEthics Forums–The Grey Side of Green (a guide for ethics decision making)

Daniel Vallero also addressed ethical decision making in his presentation at the 2014 Teaching GeoEthics workshop, and defines this 6-step approach to ethical decision making:

1. State or define the problem/issue 2. Gather information (“facts”) from all sides 3. Delineate all possible resolutions. 4. Apply different values, rules, principles, regulations to the different options. 5. Resolve conflicts among values, rules, etc. 6. Make a decision and act.

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University provides additional context and advice for ethical decision- making. They have identified five sources of ethical standards (the utilitarian approach, the rights approach, the fairness or justice approach, the common good approach, and the virtue approach.Their framework for Ethical Decision making includes: Recognize the Ethical Issue, Get the Facts, Evaluate Alternative Actions, Make a Decision and Test it, Act and Reflect on the Outcome.

Reviews of the literature on ethical decision-making can be found at:

O’Fallon, M.J., and Butterfield, K.D., 2005, A Review of the Empirical Ethical Decision-Making Literature: 1996-2003, Journal of Business Ethics vol 59 #4, p. 375-413; Robert C. Ford and Woodrow D. Richardson (2013) Ethical Decision Making: A Review of the Empirical Literature, In: Michalos A., Poff D. (eds) Citation Classics from the Journal of Business Ethics. Advances in Business Ethics Research (A Journal of Business Ethics Book Series), vol 2. Springer, Dordrecht Cottone, R. R. and Claus, R. E. (2000), Ethical Decisionâ€Making Models: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78: 275-283. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2000.tb01908.x

The American Counseling Association has published their A Practitioner’s Guide to Ethical Decision Making (Acrobat (PDF) 20kB Jun18 18) (1995) authored by Holly Forester-Miller, Ph.D. and Thomas Davis, Ph.D.

Assessment of Ethical Reasoning, Values, Moral Thinking

Assessment–Measuring Students’ Moral Development — from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions (suggestions on types of graded assignments, advice on grading assignments, assessment of program effectiveness, and a bibliography) Assessment and Evaluation — from the National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science; — recommended criteria and rubrics for assessing student learning and an annotated bibliography! Ethical Reasoning Value Rubric — from the Association of American Colleges and Universities Ethics Assessment Rubric — from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, School of Business Ethical Reasoning in Action: Validity Evidence for the Ethical Reasoning Identification Test (ERIT)–Smith, K., Fulcher, K. & Sanchez, E.H. J Bus Ethics (2015). doi:10.1007/s10551-015-2841-8

Carpenter, D. D., Harding, T. S., Finelli, C. J., & Passow, H. J. (2004). Does academic dishonesty relate to unethical behavior in professional practice? An exploratory study. Science and Engineering Ethics, 10(2), 311—324.

Ethics and Environmental Justice resources from across Teach the Earth »

Ethics and Environmental Justice resources from across Teach the Earth »




daniel miessler

The Difference Between Deductive andThe Difference Between Deductive and Inductive ReasoningInductive Reasoning

How to tell the difference between these common approaches to problem-solving By DANIEL MIESSLER (HTTPS://DANIELMIESSLER.COM/BLOG/AUTHOR/DANIEL/) in PHILOSOPHY



Most everyone who thinks about how to solve problems in a for‐ mal way has run across the concepts of deductive and inductive reasoning. Both deduction and induction help us navigate real- world problems, such as who committed a crime, the most likely cause of an accident, or how many planets might contain life in the Milky Way galaxy.

But while they’re both practical tools for practical problems, but they approach problem-solving in opposite ways.

Deduction moves from idea to observation, while induction moves from observation to idea.

Deduction is idea-first, followed by observations and a conclu‐ sion. Induction is observation first, followed by an idea that could explain what’s been seen.

The other big difference is that deduction’s conclusions are bul‐ letproof assuming you don’t make a mistake along the way. The conclusion is always true as long as the premises are true. With induction you don’t get absolute certainty; the quality of the idea or model or theory depends on the quality of the observations and analysis.

Both deduction and induction are a type of inference, which means reaching a conclusion based on evidence and reasoning.



This third sentence is absolutely true because the first two sen‐ tences are true.


This gives some measure of support for the argument that the bag only has pennies in it, but it’s not complete support like we see with deduction.

Further clarification

All men are mortal. Harold is a man. Therefore, Harold is mortal.

Related mangling the evolution arguments ( arguments/)

I have a bag of many coins, and I’ve pulled 10 at random and they’ve all been pennies, therefore this is probably a bag full of pennies.

Deduction has theories that predict an outcome, which are tested by experiments. Induction makes observations that lead to generalizations for how that thing works.

If the premises are true in deduction, the conclusion is defi‐ nitely true. If the premises are true in induction, the conclu‐ sion is only probably true—depending on how good the evi‐ dence is.

Deduction is hard to use in everyday life because it requires a sequential set of facts that are known to be true. Induction is used all the time in everyday life because most of the world is based on partial knowledge, probabilities, and the usefulness of a theory as opposed to its absolute validity.

Deduction is more precise and quantitative, while induction is more general and qualitative.

More examples

Related the convergence of ai, iot, augmented reality, and drones ( augmented-reality-intelligence/)

There’s another type of reasoning called Abductive Reasoning, where you take a set of observations and simply take the most likely explana- tion given the evidence you have.

If A = B and B = C, then A = C.






Since all squares are rectangles, and all rectangles have four sides, so all squares have four sides.

Related everyday threat modeling ( modeling/)

All cats have a keen sense of smell. Fluffy is a cat, so Fluffy has a keen sense of smell.

Every time you eat peanuts, your throat swells up and you can’t breathe. This is a symptom of people who are allergic to peanuts. So, you are allergic to peanuts.

Ray is a football player. All football players weigh more than 170 pounds. Ray weighs more than 170 pounds.



We can see here that deduction is a nice-to-have. It’s clean. But life is seldom clean enough to be able to apply it perfectly.

Most real problems and questions deal more in the realm of in‐ duction, where you might have some observations—and those ob‐ servations might be able to take you to some sort of generalization or theory—but you can’t necessarily say for sure that you’re right. It’s about working as best you can within a world where knowl‐ edge is usually incomplete.


All cars in this town drive on the right side of the street. Therefore, all cars in all towns drive on the right side of the street.

1. Deduction gets you to a perfect conclusion—but only if all your premises are 100% correct.

2. Deduction moves from theory to experiment to validation, where induction moves from observation to generalization to theory.

3. Deduction is harder to use outside of lab/science settings because it’s often hard to find a set of fully agreed-upon facts to structure the argument.

4. Induction is used constantly because it’s a great tool for everyday problems that deal with partial information about our world, and coming up with usable conclusions that may not be right in all cases.

daniel miessler ( © Daniel Miessler 1999-2021


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5. Be willing to use both types of reasoning to solve problems, and know that they can often be used together cyclically as a pair, e.g., use induction to come up with a theory, and then use deduction to determine if it’s actually true.

6. The main thing to avoid with these two is arguing with the force of deduction (guaranteed to be true) while actually using induction (probability based on strength of evidence).


The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is a professional organization supporting school counselors, school counseling students/interns, school counseling program direc- tors/supervisors and school counselor educators. School coun- selors have unique qualifications and skills to address preK–12 students’ academic, career and social/emotional development needs. These standards are the ethical responsibility of all school counseling professionals.

School counselors are advocates, leaders, collaborators and consultants who create systemic change by providing equitable educational access and success by connecting their school coun- seling programs to the district’s mission and improvement plans. School counselors demonstrate their belief that all students have the ability to learn by advocating for an education system that provides optimal learning environments for all students.

All students have the right to:

• Be respected, be treated with dignity and have access to a com- prehensive school counseling program that advocates for and affirms all students from diverse populations including but not limited to: ethnic/racial identity, nationality, age, social class, economic status, abilities/disabilities, language, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, family type, religious/spiritual identity, emancipated minors, wards of the state, homeless youth and incarcerated youth. School counselors as social-justice advocates support students from all backgrounds and circumstances and consult when their competence level requires additional support.

• Receive the information and support needed to move toward self-determination, self-development and affirmation within one’s group identities. Special care is given to improve overall educational outcomes for students who have been historically underserved in educational services.

• Receive critical, timely information on college, career and postsecondary options and understand the full magnitude and meaning of how college and career readiness can have an impact on their educational choices and future opportunities.

• Privacy that should be honored to the greatest extent possible, while balancing other competing interests (e.g., best interests of students, safety of others, parental rights) and adhering to laws, policies and ethical standards pertaining to confidentiali- ty and disclosure in the school setting.

• A safe school environment promoting autonomy and justice and free from abuse, bullying, harassment and other forms of violence.

ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors

(Adopted 1984; revised 1992, 1998, 2004 and 2010, 2016)


In this document, ASCA specifies the obligation to the principles of ethical behavior necessary to maintain the high standards of integrity, leadership and professionalism. The ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors were developed in consulta- tion with state school counseling associations, school counselor educators, school counseling state and district leaders and school counselors across the nation to clarify the norms, values and beliefs of the profession.

The purpose of this document is to:

• Serve as a guide for the ethical practices of all school counsel- ors, supervisors/directors of school counseling programs and school counselor educators regardless of level, area, popula- tion served or membership in this professional association.

• Provide support and direction for self-assessment, peer consul- tation and evaluations regarding school counselors’ responsi- bilities to students, parents/guardians, colleagues and profes- sional associates, schools district employees, communities and the school counseling profession.

• Inform all stakeholders, including students, parents/guardians, teachers, administrators, community members and courts of justice of best ethical practices, values and expected behaviors of the school counseling professional.


A.1. Supporting Student Development

School counselors:

a. Have a primary obligation to the students, who are to be treated with dignity and respect as unique individuals.

b. Aim to provide counseling to students in a brief context and support students and families/guardians in obtaining outside services if the student needs long-term clinical counseling.

c. Do not diagnose but remain acutely aware of how a student’s diagnosis can potentially affect the student’s academic success.

d. Acknowledge the vital role of parents/guardians and families.

e. Are concerned with students’ academic, career and social/ emotional needs and encourage each student’s maximum devel- opment.

f. Respect students’ and families’ values, beliefs, sexual orienta- tion, gender identification/expression and cultural background and exercise great care to avoid imposing personal beliefs or values rooted in one’s religion, culture or ethnicity.

g. Are knowledgeable of laws, regulations and policies affecting students and families and strive to protect and inform students and families regarding their rights.

h. Provide effective, responsive interventions to address student needs.

i. Consider the involvement of support networks, wraparound services and educational teams needed to best serve students.

j. Maintain appropriate boundaries and are aware that any sexual or romantic relationship with students whether legal or illegal in the state of practice is considered a grievous breach of ethics and is prohibited regardless of a student’s age. This prohibition applies to both in-person and electronic interactions and relationships.

A.2. Confidentiality

School counselors:

a. Promote awareness of school counselors’ ethical standards and legal mandates regarding confidentiality and the appropri- ate rationale and procedures for disclosure of student data and information to school staff.

b. Inform students of the purposes, goals, techniques and rules of procedure under which they may receive counseling. Disclo- sure includes informed consent and clarification of the limits of confidentiality. Informed consent requires competence, volun- tariness and knowledge on the part of students to understand the limits of confidentiality and, therefore, can be difficult to ob- tain from students of certain developmental levels, English-lan- guage learners and special-needs populations. If the student is able to give assent/consent before school counselors share confidential information, school counselors attempt to gain the student’s assent/consent.

c. Are aware that even though attempts are made to obtain informed consent, it is not always possible. When needed, school counselors make counseling decisions on students’ behalf that promote students’ welfare.

d. Explain the limits of confidentiality in developmentally appropriate terms through multiple methods such as student handbooks, school counselor department websites, school coun- seling brochures, classroom lessons and/or verbal notification to individual students.

e. Keep information confidential unless legal requirements demand that confidential information be revealed or a breach is required to prevent serious and foreseeable harm to the stu- dent. Serious and foreseeable harm is different for each minor in schools and is determined by students’ developmental and chronological age, the setting, parental rights and the nature of the harm. School counselors consult with appropriate profes- sionals when in doubt as to the validity of an exception.

f. Recognize their primary ethical obligation for confidentiality is to the students but balance that obligation with an under- standing of parents’/guardians’ legal and inherent rights to be the guiding voice in their children’s lives. School counselors understand the need to balance students’ ethical rights to make choices, their capacity to give consent or assent, and parental or familial legal rights and responsibilities to make decisions on their child’s behalf.

g. Promote the autonomy of students to the extent possible and use the most appropriate and least intrusive method to breach confidentiality, if such action is warranted. The child’s develop- mental age and the circumstances requiring the breach are con- sidered, and as appropriate, students are engaged in a discussion about the method and timing of the breach. Consultation with peers and/or supervision is recommended.

h. In absence of state legislation expressly forbidding disclosure, consider the ethical responsibility to provide information to an identified third party who, by his/her relationship with the student, is at a high risk of contracting a disease that is com- monly known to be communicable and fatal. Disclosure requires satisfaction of all of the following conditions:

1) Student identifies partner, or the partner is highly identifi- able

2) School counselor recommends the student notify partner and refrain from further high-risk behavior

3) Student refuses

4) School counselor informs the student of the intent to noti- fy the partner

5) School counselor seeks legal consultation from the school district’s legal representative in writing as to the legalities of informing the partner

i. Request of the court that disclosure not be required when the school counselor’s testimony or case notes are subpoenaed if the release of confidential information may potentially harm a student or the counseling relationship.

j. Protect the confidentiality of students’ records and release per- sonal data in accordance with prescribed federal and state laws and school board policies.

k. Recognize the vulnerability of confidentiality in electronic communications and only transmit student information electron- ically in a way that follows currently accepted security standards and meets federal, state and local laws and board policy.

l. Convey a student’s highly sensitive information (e.g., a student’s suicidal ideation) through personal contact such as a phone call or visit and not less-secure means such as a notation in the educational record or an e-mail. Adhere to state, federal and school board policy when conveying sensitive information.

m. Advocate for appropriate safeguards and protocols so highly sensitive student information is not disclosed accidentally to individuals who do not have a need to know such information. Best practice suggests a very limited number of educators would have access to highly sensitive information on a need-to-know basis.

n. Advocate with appropriate school officials for acceptable encryption standards to be utilized for stored data and currently acceptable algorithms to be utilized for data in transit.

o. Avoid using software programs without the technological capabilities to protect student information based upon currently acceptable security standards and the law.

A.3. Comprehensive Data-Informed Program

School counselors:

a. Collaborate with administration, teachers, staff and decision makers around school-improvement goals.

b. Provide students with a comprehensive school counseling program that ensures equitable academic, career and social/ emotional development opportunities for all students.

c. Review school and student data to assess needs including, but not limited to, data on disparities that may exist related to gen- der, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and/or other relevant classifications.

d. Use data to determine needed interventions, which are then delivered to help close the information, attainment, achievement and opportunity gaps.

e. Collect participation, Mindsets & Behaviors and outcome data and analyze the data to determine the progress and effec- tiveness of the school counseling program. School counselors ensure the school counseling annual student outcome goals and action plans are aligned with district’s school improvement goals.

f. Use data-collection tools adhering to confidentiality standards as expressed in A.2.

g. Share data outcomes with stakeholders.

A.4. Academic, Career and Social/Emotional Plans

School counselors:

a. Collaborate with administration, teachers, staff and decision makers to create a culture of postsecondary readiness

b. Provide and advocate for individual students’ preK– postsecondary college and career awareness, exploration and postsecondary planning and decision making, which supports the students’ right to choose from the wide array of options when students complete secondary education.

c. Identify gaps in college and career access and the implications of such data for addressing both intentional and unintentional biases related to college and career counseling.

d. Provide opportunities for all students to develop the mindsets and behaviors necessary to learn work-related skills, resilience, perseverance, an understanding of lifelong learning as a part of long-term career success, a positive attitude toward learning and a strong work ethic.

A.5. Dual Relationships and Managing Boundaries

School counselors:

a. Avoid dual relationships that might impair their objectivity and increase the risk of harm to students (e.g., counseling one’s family members or the children of close friends or associates). If a dual relationship is unavoidable, the school counselor is responsible for taking action to eliminate or reduce the poten- tial for harm to the student through use of safeguards, which might include informed consent, consultation, supervision and documentation.

b. Establish and maintain appropriate professional relationships with students at all times. School counselors consider the risks and benefits of extending current school counseling relationships beyond conventional parameters, such as attending a student’s distant athletic competition. In extending these boundaries, school counselors take appropriate professional precautions such as informed consent, consultation and supervision. School counselors document the nature of interactions that extend beyond conventional parameters, including the rationale for the interaction, the potential benefit and the possible positive and negative consequences for the student and school counselor.

c. Avoid dual relationships beyond the professional level with school personnel, parents/guardians and students’ other family members when these relationships might infringe on the integrity of the school counselor/student relationship. Inappropriate dual relationships include, but are not limited to, providing direct discipline, teaching courses that involve grading students and/ or accepting administrative duties in the absence of an adminis- trator.

d. Do not use personal social media, personal e-mail accounts or personal texts to interact with students unless specifically encouraged and sanctioned by the school district. School coun- selors adhere to professional boundaries and legal, ethical and school district guidelines when using technology with students, parents/guardians or school staff. The technology utilized, including, but not limited to, social networking sites or apps, should be endorsed by the school district and used for profes- sional communication and the distribution of vital information.

A.6. Appropriate Referrals and Advocacy

School counselors:

a. Collaborate with all relevant stakeholders, including students, educators and parents/guardians when student assistance is needed, including the identification of early warning signs of student distress.

b. Provide a list of resources for outside agencies and resources in their community to student(s) and parents/guardians when students need or request additional support. School counselors provide multiple referral options or the district’s vetted list and are careful not to indicate an endorsement or preference for one counselor or practice. School counselors encourage parents to interview outside professionals to make a personal decision regarding the best source of assistance for their student.

c. Connect students with services provided through the local school district and community agencies and remain aware of state laws and local district policies related to students with special needs, including limits to confidentiality and notification to authorities as appropriate.

d. Develop a plan for the transitioning of primary counseling services with minimal interruption of services. Students retain the right for the referred services to be done in coordination with the school counselor or to discontinue counseling services with the school counselor while maintaining an appropriate relationship that may include providing other school support services.

e. Refrain from referring students based solely on the school counselor’s personal beliefs or values rooted in one’s religion, culture, ethnicity or personal worldview. School counselors

maintain the highest respect for student diversity. School coun- selors should pursue additional training and supervision in areas where they are at risk of imposing their values on students, es- pecially when the school counselor’s values are discriminatory in nature. School counselors do not impose their values on students and/or families when making referrals to outside resources for student and/or family support.

f. Attempt to establish a collaborative relationship with outside service providers to best serve students. Request a release of in- formation signed by the student and/or parents/guardians before attempting to collaborate with the student’s external provider.

g. Provide internal and external service providers with accurate, objective, meaningful data necessary to adequately assess, coun- sel and assist the student.

h. Ensure there is not a conflict of interest in providing referral resources. School counselors do not refer or accept a referral to counsel a student from their school if they also work in a private counseling practice.

A.7. Group Work

School counselors:

a. Facilitate short-term groups to address students’ academic, career and/or social/emotional issues.

b. Inform parent/guardian(s) of student participation in a small group.

c. Screen students for group membership.

d. Use data to measure member needs to establish well-defined expectations of group members.

e. Communicate the aspiration of confidentiality as a group norm, while recognizing and working from the protective posture that confidentiality for minors in schools cannot be guaranteed.

f. Select topics for groups with the clear understanding that some topics are not suitable for groups in schools and accord- ingly take precautions to protect members from harm as a result of interactions with the group.

g. Facilitate groups from the framework of evidence-based or research-based practices.

h. Practice within their competence level and develop profession- al competence through training and supervision.

i. Measure the outcomes of group participation (participation, Mindsets & Behaviors and outcome data).

j. Provide necessary follow up with group members.

A.8. Student Peer-Support Program

School counselors:

a. Safeguard the welfare of students participating in peer-to-peer programs under their direction.

b. Supervise students engaged in peer helping, mediation and other similar peer-support groups. School counselors are respon- sible for appropriate skill development for students serving as peer support in school counseling programs. School counselors

continuously monitor students who are giving peer support and reinforce the confidential nature of their work. School counsel- ors inform peer-support students about the parameters of when students need to report information to responsible adults.

A.9. Serious and Foreseeable Harm to Self and Others

School counselors:

a. Inform parents/guardians and/or appropriate authorities when a student poses a serious and foreseeable risk of harm to self or others. When feasible, this is to be done after careful delib- eration and consultation with other appropriate professionals. School counselors inform students of the school counselor’s legal and ethical obligations to report the concern to the appropriate authorities unless it is appropriate to withhold this information to protect the student (e.g. student might run away if he/she knows parents are being called). The consequence of the risk of not giving parents/guardians a chance to intervene on behalf of their child is too great. Even if the danger appears relatively remote, parents should be notified.

b. Use risk assessments with caution. If risk assessments are used by the school counselor, an intervention plan should be developed and in place prior to this practice. When reporting risk-assessment results to parents, school counselors do not negate the risk of harm even if the assessment reveals a low risk as students may minimize risk to avoid further scrutiny and/or parental notification. School counselors report risk assessment results to parents to underscore the need to act on behalf of a child at risk; this is not intended to assure parents their child isn’t at risk, which is something a school counselor cannot know with certainty.

c. Do not release a student who is a danger to self or others until the student has proper and necessary support. If parents will not provide proper support, the school counselor takes neces- sary steps to underscore to parents/guardians the necessity to seek help and at times may include a report to child protective services.

d. Report to parents/guardians and/or appropriate authorities when students disclose a perpetrated or a perceived threat to their physical or mental well-being. This threat may include, but is not limited to, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, dating violence, bullying or sexual harassment. The school counsel- or follows applicable federal, state and local laws and school district policy.

A.10. Underserved and At-Risk Populations

School counselors:

a. Strive to contribute to a safe, respectful, nondiscriminatory school environment in which all members of the school commu- nity demonstrate respect and civility.

b. Advocate for and collaborate with students to ensure students remain safe at home and at school. A high standard of care includes determining what information is shared with parents/ guardians and when information creates an unsafe environment for students.

c. Identify resources needed to optimize education.

d. Collaborate with parents/guardians, when appropriate, to establish communication and to ensure students’ needs are met.

e. Understand students have the right to be treated in a manner consistent with their gender identity and to be free from any form of discipline, harassment or discrimination based on their gender identity or gender expression.

f. Advocate for the equal right and access to free, appropri- ate public education for all youth, in which students are not stigmatized or isolated based on their housing status, disability, foster care, special education status, mental health or any other exceptionality or special need.

g. Recognize the strengths of students with disabilities as well as their challenges and provide best practices and current research in supporting their academic, career and social/emotional needs.

A.11. Bullying, Harassment and Child Abuse

School counselors:

a. Report to the administration all incidents of bullying, dating violence and sexual harassment as most fall under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 or other federal and state laws as being illegal and require administrator interventions. School counselors provide services to victims and perpetrator as appropriate, which may include a safety plan and reasonable accommodations such as schedule change, but school counselors defer to administration for all discipline issues for this or any other federal, state or school board violation.

b. Report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to the prop- er authorities and take reasonable precautions to protect the privacy of the student for whom abuse or neglect is suspected when alerting the proper authorities.

c. Are knowledgeable about current state laws and their school system’s procedures for reporting child abuse and neglect and methods to advocate for students’ physical and emotional safety following abuse/neglect reports.

d. Develop and maintain the expertise to recognize the signs and indicators of abuse and neglect. Encourage training to enable students and staff to have the knowledge and skills needed to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect and to whom they should report suspected abuse or neglect.

e. Guide and assist students who have experienced abuse and neglect by providing appropriate services.

A.12. Student Records

School counselors:

a. Abide by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which defines who has access to students’ educational records and allows parents the right to review and challenge perceived inaccuracies in their child’s records.

b. Advocate for the ethical use of student data and records and inform administration of inappropriate or harmful practices.

c. Recognize the difficulty in meeting the criteria of sole-possession records.

d. Recognize that sole-possession records and case notes can be subpoenaed unless there is a specific state statute for privileged communication expressly protecting student/school counselor communication.

e. Recognize that electronic communications with school offi- cials regarding individual students, even without using student names, are likely to create student records that must be ad- dressed in accordance with FERPA and state laws.

f. Establish a reasonable timeline for purging sole-possession records or case notes. Suggested guidelines include shredding pa- per sole-possession records or deleting electronic sole-possession records when a student transitions to the next level, transfers to another school or graduates. School counselors do not destroy sole-possession records that may be needed by a court of law, such as notes on child abuse, suicide, sexual harassment or vio- lence, without prior review and approval by school district legal counsel. School counselors follow district policies and proce- dures when contacting legal counsel.

A.13. Evaluation, Assessment and Interpretation

School counselors:

a. Use only valid and reliable tests and assessments with concern for bias and cultural sensitivity.

b. Adhere to all professional standards when selecting, admin- istering and interpreting assessment measures and only utilize assessment measures that are within the scope of practice for school counselors and for which they are licensed, certified and competent.

c. Are mindful of confidentiality guidelines when utilizing paper or electronic evaluative or assessment instruments and pro- grams.

d. Consider the student’s developmental age, language skills and level of competence when determining the appropriateness of an assessment.

e. Use multiple data points when possible to provide students and families with accurate, objective and concise information to promote students’ well-being.

f. Provide interpretation of the nature, purposes, results and potential impact of assessment/evaluation measures in language the students and parents/guardians can understand.

g. Monitor the use of assessment results and interpretations and take reasonable steps to prevent others from misusing the information.

h. Use caution when utilizing assessment techniques, making evaluations and interpreting the performance of populations not represented in the norm group on which an instrument is standardized.

i. Conduct school counseling program assessments to determine the effectiveness of activities supporting students’ academic, career and social/emotional development through accountabil- ity measures, especially examining efforts to close information, opportunity and attainment gaps.

A.14. Technical and Digital Citizenship

School counselors:

a. Demonstrate appropriate selection and use of technology and software applications to enhance students’ academic, career and social/emotional development. Attention is given to the ethical and legal considerations of technological applications, including confidentiality concerns, security issues, potential limitations and benefits and communication practices in electronic media.

b. Take appropriate and reasonable measures for maintaining confidentiality of student information and educational records stored or transmitted through the use of computers, social media, facsimile machines, telephones, voicemail, answering machines and other electronic technology.

c. Promote the safe and responsible use of technology in collabo- ration with educators and families.

d. Promote the benefits and clarify the limitations of various appropriate technological applications.

e. Use established and approved means of communication with students, maintaining appropriate boundaries. School counselors help educate students about appropriate communication and boundaries.

f. Advocate for equal access to technology for all students.

A.15. Virtual/Distance School Counseling

School counselors:

a. Adhere to the same ethical guidelines in a virtual/distance setting as school counselors in face-to-face settings.

b. Recognize and acknowledge the challenges and limitations of virtual/distance school counseling.

c. Implement procedures for students to follow in both emergen- cy and nonemergency situations when the school counselor is not available.

d. Recognize and mitigate the limitation of virtual/distance school counseling confidentiality, which may include unintended viewers or recipients.

e. Inform both the student and parent/guardian of the benefits and limitations of virtual/distance counseling.

f. Educate students on how to participate in the electronic school counseling relationship to minimize and prevent potential mis- understandings that could occur due to lack of verbal cues and inability to read body language or other visual cues that provide contextual meaning to the school counseling process and school counseling relationship.


B.1. Responsibilities to Parents/Guardians

School counselors:

a. Recognize that providing services to minors in a school setting requires school counselors to collaborate with students’ parents/ guardians as appropriate.

b. Respect the rights and responsibilities of custodial and noncustodial parents/guardians and, as appropriate, establish a collaborative relationship with parents/guardians to facilitate students’ maximum development.

c. Adhere to laws, local guidelines and ethical practice when assisting parents/guardians experiencing family difficulties inter- fering with the student’s welfare.

d. Are culturally competent and sensitive to diversity among families. Recognize that all parents/guardians, custodial and noncustodial, are vested with certain rights and responsibilities for their children’s welfare by virtue of their role and according to law.

e. Inform parents of the mission of the school counseling pro- gram and program standards in academic, career and social/ emotional domains that promote and enhance the learning process for all students.

f. Inform parents/guardians of the confidential nature of the school counseling relationship between the school counselor and student.

g. Respect the confidentiality of parents/guardians as appropri- ate and in accordance with the student’s best interests.

h. Provide parents/guardians with accurate, comprehensive and relevant information in an objective and caring manner, as is appropriate and consistent with ethical and legal responsibilities to the student and parent.

i. In cases of divorce or separation, follow the directions and stipulations of the legal documentation, maintaining focus on the student. School counselors avoid supporting one parent over another.

B.2. Responsibilities to the School

School counselors:

a. Develop and maintain professional relationships and systems of communication with faculty, staff and administrators to support students.

b. Design and deliver comprehensive school counseling pro- grams that are integral to the school’s academic mission; driven by student data; based on standards for academic, career and social/emotional development; and promote and enhance the learning process for all students.

c. Advocate for a school counseling program free of non-school-counseling assignments identified by “The ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Pro- grams” as inappropriate to the school counselor’s role.

d. Provide leadership to create systemic change to enhance the school.

e. Collaborate with appropriate officials to remove barriers that may impede the effectiveness of the school or the school counsel- ing program.

f. Provide support, consultation and mentoring to professionals in need of assistance when in the scope of the school counselor’s role.

g. Inform appropriate officials, in accordance with school board policy, of conditions that may be potentially disruptive or

damaging to the school’s mission, personnel and property while honoring the confidentiality between the student and the school counselor to the extent feasible, consistent with applicable law and policy.

h. Advocate for administrators to place in school counseling po- sitions certified school counselors who are competent, qualified and hold a master’s degree or higher in school counseling from an accredited program.

i. Advocate for equitable school counseling program policies and practices for all students and stakeholders.

j. Strive to use translators who have been vetted or reviewed and bilingual/multilingual school counseling program materials rep- resenting languages used by families in the school community.

k. Affirm the abilities of and advocate for the learning needs of all students. School counselors support the provision of appro- priate accommodations and accessibility.

l. Provide workshops and written/digital information to families to increase understanding, improve communication and promote student achievement.

m. Promote cultural competence to help create a safer more inclusive school environment.

n. Adhere to educational/psychological research practices, confidentiality safeguards, security practices and school district policies when conducting research.

o. Promote equity and access for all students through the use of community resources.

p. Use culturally inclusive language in all forms of communica- tion.

q. Collaborate as needed to provide optimum services with other professionals such as special educators, school nurses, school social workers, school psychologists, college counselors/ admissions officers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, administrators.

r. Work responsibly to remedy work environments that do not reflect the profession’s ethics.

s. Work responsibly through the correct channels to try and remedy work conditions that do not reflect the ethics of the profession.

B.3. Responsibilities to Self

School counselors:

a. Have completed a counselor education program at an accredit- ed institution and earned a master’s degree in school counseling.

b. Maintain membership in school counselor professional orga- nizations to stay up to date on current research and to maintain professional competence in current school counseling issues and topics. School counselors maintain competence in their skills by utilizing current interventions and best practices.

c. Accept employment only for those positions for which they are qualified by education, training, supervised experience and state/national professional credentials.

d. Adhere to ethical standards of the profession and other official policy statements such as ASCA Position Statements and

Role Statements, school board policies and relevant laws. When laws and ethical codes are in conflict school counselors work to adhere to both as much as possible.

e. Engage in professional development and personal growth throughout their careers. Professional development includes attendance at state and national conferences and reading journal articles. School counselors regularly attend training on school counselors’ current legal and ethical responsibilities.

f. Monitor their emotional and physical health and practice wellness to ensure optimal professional effectiveness. School counselors seek physical or mental health support when needed to ensure professional competence.

g. Monitor personal behaviors and recognize the high standard of care a professional in this critical position of trust must main- tain on and off the job. School counselors are cognizant of and refrain from activity that may diminish their effectiveness within the school community.

h. Seek consultation and supervision from school counselors and other professionals who are knowledgeable of school counselors’ ethical practices when ethical and professional questions arise.

i. Monitor and expand personal multicultural and social-justice advocacy awareness, knowledge and skills to be an effective cul- turally competent school counselor. Understand how prejudice, privilege and various forms of oppression based on ethnicity, ra- cial identity, age, economic status, abilities/disabilities, language, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity expression, family type, religious/spiritual identity, appearance and living situations (e.g., foster care, homelessness, incarcera- tion) affect students and stakeholders.

j. Refrain from refusing services to students based solely on the school counselor’s personally held beliefs or values rooted in one’s religion, culture or ethnicity. School counselors respect the diversity of students and seek training and supervision when prejudice or biases interfere with providing comprehensive ser- vices to all students.

k. Work toward a school climate that embraces diversity and promotes academic, career and social/emotional development for all students.

l. Make clear distinctions between actions and statements (both verbal and written) made as a private individual and those made as a representative of the school counseling profession and of the school district.

m. Respect the intellectual property of others and adhere to copyright laws and correctly cite others’ work when using it.


School counselor administrators/supervisors support school counselors in their charge by:

a. Advocating both within and outside of their schools or districts for adequate resources to implement a comprehensive school counseling program and meet their students’ needs.

b. Advocating for fair and open distribution of resources among programs supervised. An allocation procedure should be devel- oped that is nondiscriminatory, informed by data and consistent- ly applied.

c. Taking reasonable steps to ensure school and other resources are available to provide appropriate staff supervision and training.

d. Providing opportunities for professional development in cur- rent research related to school counseling practice and ethics.

e. Taking steps to eliminate conditions or practices in their schools or organizations that may violate, discourage or inter- fere with compliance with the ethics and laws related to the profession.

f. Monitoring school and organizational policies, regulations and procedures to ensure practices are consistent with the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors.


Field/intern site supervisors:

a. Are licensed or certified school counselors and/or have an un- derstanding of comprehensive school counseling programs and the ethical practices of school counselors.

b. Have the education and training to provide clinical supervi- sion. Supervisors regularly pursue continuing education activities on both counseling and supervision topics and skills.

c. Use a collaborative model of supervision that is on-going and includes, but is not limited to, the following activities: promot- ing professional growth, supporting best practices and ethical practice, assessing supervisee performance and developing plans for improvement, consulting on specific cases and assisting in the development of a course of action.

d. Are culturally competent and consider cultural factors that may have an impact on the supervisory relationship.

e. Do not engage in supervisory relationships with individuals with whom they have the inability to remain objective. Such individuals include, but are not limited to, family members and close friends.

f. Are competent with technology used to perform supervisory responsibilities and online supervision, if applicable. Supervisors protect all electronically transmitted confidential information.

g. Understand there are differences in face-to face and virtual communication (e.g., absence of verbal and nonverbal cues) that may have an impact on virtual supervision. Supervisors educate supervisees on how to communicate electronically to prevent and avoid potential problems.

h. Provide information about how and when virtual supervisory services will be utilized. Reasonable access to pertinent applica- tions should be provided to school counselors.

i. Ensure supervisees are aware of policies and procedures related to supervision and evaluation and provide due-process procedures if supervisees request or appeal their evaluations.

j. Ensure performance evaluations are completed in a timely, fair and considerate manner, using data when available and based on clearly stated criteria.

k. Use evaluation tools measuring the competence of school counseling interns. These tools should be grounded in state and national school counseling standards. In the event no such tool is available in the school district, the supervisor seeks out rele- vant evaluation tools and advocates for their use.

l. Are aware of supervisee limitations and communicate concerns to the university/college supervisor in a timely manner.

m. Assist supervisees in obtaining remediation and professional development as necessary.

n. Contact university/college supervisors to recommend dismiss- al when supervisees are unable to demonstrate competence as a school counselor as defined by the ASCA School Counselor Professional Standards & Competencies and state and national standards. Supervisors consult with school administrators and document recommendations to dismiss or refer a supervisee for assistance. Supervisors ensure supervisees are aware of such decisions and the resources available to them. Supervisors docu- ment all steps taken.


When serious doubt exists as to the ethical behavior of a col- league(s) the following procedures may serve as a guide:

a. School counselors consult with professional colleagues to discuss the potentially unethical behavior and to see if the professional colleague views the situation as an ethical violation. School counselors understand mandatory reporting in their respective district and states.

b. School counselors discuss and seek resolution directly with the colleague whose behavior is in question unless the behav- ior is unlawful, abusive, egregious or dangerous, in which case proper school or community authorities are contacted.

c. If the matter remains unresolved at the school, school district or state professional practice/standards commission, referral for review and appropriate action should be made in the following sequence:

• State school counselor association

• American School Counselor Association (Complaints should be submitted in hard copy to the ASCA Ethics Committee, c/o the Executive Director, American School Counselor Associa- tion, 1101 King St., Suite 310, Alexandria, VA 22314.)


When faced with an ethical dilemma, school counselors and school counseling program directors/supervisors use an ethical decision-making model such as Solutions to Ethical Problems in Schools (STEPS) (Stone, 2001):

a. Define the problem emotionally and intellectually

b. Apply the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors and the law

c. Consider the students’ chronological and developmental levels

d. Consider the setting, parental rights and minors’ rights

e. Apply the ethical principles of beneficence, autonomy, nonma- leficence, loyalty and justice

f. Determine potential courses of action and their consequences

g. Evaluate the selected action

h. Consult

i. Implement the course of action


Advocate a person who speaks, writes or acts to promote the well-being of students, parents/guardians and the school counseling profession. School counselors advocate to close the information, opportunity, intervention and attainment gaps for all students.

Assent to demonstrate agreement when a student is not competent to give informed consent to counseling or other services the school counselor is providing.

Assessment collecting in-depth information about a person to develop a comprehensive plan that will guide the collaborative counseling and service provision process.

Boundaries something that indicates or affixes an extent or limits.

Breach disclosure of information given in private or confidential com- munication such as information given during counseling.

Competence the quality of being competent; adequacy; possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification or capacity.

Confidentiality the ethical duty of school counselors to responsibly protect a student’s private communications shared in counseling.

Conflict of Interest a situation in which a school counselor stands to personally profit from a decision involving a student.

Consent permission, approval or agreement; compliance.

Consultation a professional relationship in which individuals meet to seek ad- vice, information and/or deliberation to address a student’s need.

Conventional Parameters general agreement or accepted standards regarding limits, boundaries or guidelines.

Cultural Sensitivity a set of skills enabling you to know, understand and value the similarities and differences in people and modify your behavior to be most effective and respectful of students and families and to deliver programs that fit the needs of diverse learners.

Data Dialogues inquiry with others around student information to uncover ineq- uities, promote informed investigations and assist in understand- ing the meaning of data and the next steps to have an impact on data.

Data Informed accessing data, applying meaning to it and using data to have an impact on student success.

Developmental Level/Age the age of an individual determined by degree of emotional, mental and physiological maturity as compared with typical behaviors and characteristics of that chronological age.

Disclosure the act or an instance of exposure or revelation.

Diversity the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, gender/gender identity, color, religion, socio-economic stratum, sexual orientation and the intersection of cultural and social identities.

Dual Relationship a relationship in which a school counselor is concurrently partic- ipating in two or more roles with a student.

Empathy the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experi- ence of another without having the feelings, thoughts and expe- rience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

Emancipated Minor a minor who is legally freed from control by his or her parents or guardians, and the parents or guardians are freed from any and all responsibility toward the child.

Encryption process of putting information into a coded form to control and limit access to authorized users.

Ethics the norms and principles of conduct and philosophy governing the profession.

Ethical Behavior actions defined by standards of conduct for the profession.

Ethical Obligation a standard or set of standards defining the course of action for the profession.

Ethical Rights the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention or ethical theory.

Feasible capable of being done, effected or accomplished.

Gender Expression the ways in which students manifest masculinity or femininity in terms of clothing, communication patterns and interests, which may or may not reflect the student’s gender identity.

Gender Identity One’s personal experience of one’s own gender. When one’s gender identity and biological sex are not congruent, the student may identify as transsexual or transgender.

Harassment the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted disturbing or troubling persecution.

Informed Consent assisting students in acquiring an understanding of the limits of confidentiality, the benefits, facts and risks of entering into a counseling relationship.

Intervention to provide modifications, materials, advice, aids, services or other forms of support to have a positive impact on the outcome or course of a condition.

Legal Mandates a judicial command or precept issued by a court or magistrate, directing proper behavior to enforce a judgment, sentence or decree.

Legal Rights those rights bestowed onto a person by a given legal system.

Mandatory Reporting the legal requirement to report to authorities.

Minors persons under the age of 18 years unless otherwise designated by statute or regulation.

Perception A mental image or awareness of environment through a physical sensation. A capacity for understanding or a result of an obser- vation.

Peer Helper peer-to-peer interaction in which individuals who are of approx- imately the same age take on a helping role assisting students who may share related values, experiences and lifestyles.

Peer Support programs that enhance the effectiveness of the school counseling program while increasing outreach and raising student aware- ness of services.

Privacy the right of an individual to keep oneself and one’s personal information free from unauthorized disclosure.

Privileged Communication conversation that takes places within the context of a protected relationship, such as that between an attorney and client, a hus- band and wife, a priest and penitent, a doctor and patient and, in some states, a school counselor and a student.

Professional Development the process of improving and increasing capabilities through access to education and training opportunities.

Relationship a connection, association or involvement.

Risk Assessment a systematic process of evaluating potential risks

School Counseling Supervisor a qualified professional who provides guidance, teaching and support for the professional development of school counselors and school counseling candidates.

Serious and Foreseeable when a reasonable person can anticipate significant and harmful possible consequences.

Sole-Possession Records exempted from the definition of educational records and the protection of FERPA, are records used only as a personal mem- ory aid that are kept in the sole possession of the maker of the record and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record and provide only professional opinion or personal observations.

Stakeholder a person or group that shares an investment or interest in an endeavor.

Supervision a collaborative relationship in which one person promotes and/ or evaluates the development of another.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 a law that demands that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Virtual/Distance Counseling counseling by electronic means.

The ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors (2016) are copyrighted by the American School Counselor Association. For reprint permission, visit the Copyright Clearance Center,

1101 King Street, Suite 310, Alexandria VA 22314

W orking with children and adolescents can be tremendously rewarding

because early intervention can stave off a multitude of major issues down the road. Minors do not always make for the most communicative of clients, however, and sometimes counselors find themselves at a loss for how to move teens past their knee- jerk “I don’t know” responses to get to the real work that needs to be done.

As is the case with all clients, the establishment of trust is crucial when working with minors. One way a counselor can build that trust is by not telling others — especially parents — every last detail of what was said in a counseling session. Trust can take weeks or even months to build, but it can be shattered in a moment — and possibly forever.

Counselors working with children and adolescents in any setting often find it challenging to balance their obligation to keep private the information disclosed in confidence to them with others’ right to know. Professional school counselors are no exception, and in addition to having to answer to parents, they also have obligations to others, including teachers, building administrators, school districts, school boards and the community.

Fielding requests for confidential information

Over the course of a single day, school counselors may have to carefully navigate requests for confidential student information from others. Sometimes the pressure can feel overwhelming. What complicates the situation is that the legal right to confidentiality usually resides with parents and guardians, not with students, although counselors have an ethical duty to maintain students’ privacy.

Once a relationship of trust has been established with the counselor, students may reveal information that they absolutely do not want getting back to

their families. This information may range from the seemingly benign, such as secretly wanting to be a stand-up comedian rather than taking over the family business, to more serious issues such as drug use, sexual activity or breaking the law.

It is understandable and natural for parents to want to know personal details about their children. Often, the motivation is well-meaning, such as wanting to better protect their children. Chances are great that if the counselor is hearing one-word answers to his or her questions to the student, so are the student’s parents, which make them all the more driven to find out what their child really thinks and feels. Indeed, parents could rightfully complain to the principal, or even the school board, should they discover that the school counselor was privy to prior crucial information that might have enabled them to intervene before serious consequences occurred.

In addition, sometimes parents distrust the counseling process and are fearful that family secrets will be uncovered in the counseling session. They may even have instructed their child not to talk about such topics as an impending divorce or an incarcerated parent, perhaps because they fear they will be judged by the counselor or that the counselor will share this information with others. More recently, in light of changes to immigration policies, parents have become particularly guarded around school officials when it comes to discussions about their immigration status or that of their children.

In addition to parental pressure to disclose the content of counseling sessions, principals and others in the school building may request that counselors reveal information shared in confidence that could incriminate a student for breaking school rules or being involved in illegal activity on or outside of school property. Principals may insist that counselors reveal any information they have learned

about underage drinking parties taking place off campus or possible gang activity in the school district. They might insist that counselors report the HIV status of students, making the argument that school safety is at stake.

Counselors may be tempted to break confidentiality for fear of being written up by an administrator, but in doing so, they run the risk of destroying any trust that they have built with these students. Students may choose never to share private information with the counselor again. As a result, they may lose the only adult figure in their lives to whom they can turn to get a perspective that is different from that of their peers. Furthermore, other students may also lose trust in the counselor as news of the breach of confidentiality “gets around.”

Judgment calls Of course, even when they are not being

asked to tell someone else what a student has shared in confidence, counselors must still make those judgment calls depending on the nature of what the student has disclosed. Sometimes the decision is made for them. For example, it is mandatory for counselors and other school personnel to report all suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, with or without proof.

Most counselors are well-versed in the “classic” reasons that they must breach confidentiality, likely because these reasons are emphasized in almost every counseling graduate program and are found in most ethical codes. The 2014 ACA Code of Ethics highlights the need to breach confidentiality when counselors are ordered by a court or when protecting counselees or identified others from “serious and foreseeable harm.” Many states and school systems have gone a step further and have designed strict protocols that counselors must follow in special circumstances, such as when they learn that a student is suicidal. These exceptions to confidentiality must

16 | | October 2017

To tell or not to tell: The f ine line between minors’ privacy and others’ right to know

Ethics Update – By Nancy Carlson

be communicated to students early and often, along with making them aware that sometimes the counselor will need to share information with parents. School counselors must be particularly adept at explaining these limits to confidentiality without using such a heavy-handed approach that students are afraid to share anything of a personal nature.

As straightforward as these exceptions may seem, in reality they can be tricky. For example, “serious and foreseeable harm” may differ from one student to the next. It must be looked at in a context that considers a minor’s developmental and chronological age, as well as the exact nature of the threat and the setting (e.g., on or off of school property). For instance, there may be a difference in the way a counselor handles a fifth-grader who confides that he sometimes drives his uncle’s motorcycle as compared with a senior in high school who tells the counselor the same thing.

Checking the ethical codes, following an ethical decision-making model and consulting with appropriate school personnel or others are key when choosing a course of action. The necessity for consultation becomes even greater when circumstances are less straightforward, often requiring the counselor to balance student privacy with the needs of parents, the school and the community. For example, counselors may be unsure how to respond when students reveal that they have been intercepting report cards and interim progress reports sent home in the mail. Or that they have been skipping sixth period to go smoke near the fence at the back of school property. Or that they’ve spray- painted the school water tower with their graduation year as a senior prank. To tell or not to tell?

Even the decision “to tell” is not the end of the story, however. Should counselors believe that it is necessary for them to breach student confidentiality, they must do everything in their power to limit the disclosure and educate the parties concerned about the benefits of maintaining student confidentiality. In a perfect world, the counselor would have already introduced parents to the counseling program, the role of the counselor and the importance of confidentiality as a means of building trust with students. Again, in a perfect world, the counselor would have already informed students about the limits of confidentiality and would have made an

extra effort to let the student know about any breach before it was made. After explaining the rationale for the breach, the counselor might want to share with the student the exact content of the information to be released and might even seek input from the student concerning which details should be left in or out.

Diverse populations Decisions regarding confidentiality may

become even more complicated when working with diverse populations, and counselors must be especially mindful of being culturally sensitive when explaining the purpose of confidentiality in the schools. When working with parents with limited English proficiency, the potential for misunderstanding is greatly increased. Consider the following scenario:

Maritza is brand new to your high school, having recently moved here from Nicaragua. You have noticed that she sits by herself in the cafeteria, and teachers have been telling you that she doesn’t seem to have any friends in her classes.

After a few weeks of sending passes for her to come to your office, she finally makes it to the counseling suite. She tells you that she is having a hard time adjusting to life in

America and that she is fearful someone will send her back to her county.

A few days later, at Back to School night, you see Maritza sitting next to her father. You are excited to meet him, so you walk over, introduce yourself as Maritza’s school counselor and say, “I’ve heard so much about you from your daughter.”

Maritza’s father immediately bristles, then turns to his daughter and demands to know what she has been saying to you. Maritza begins to cry, and the father sharply tells you, “In our family, we don’t tell strangers our business. Tell me what she has been telling you!” To tell or not to tell?

Counselors may find that managing difficult ethical dilemmas will bring the need for counselor advocacy to the forefront so that issues can be addressed not only from an individual level but also from a systemic level. The advocacy role for counselors is highlighted in the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics in Standard A.7.a.: “When appropriate, counselors advocate at individual, group, institutional and societal levels to address potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients.”

Several avenues of advocacy seem possible

October 2017 | Counseling Today | 17

that would help Maritza and all other Latino/a newcomer families in the building. For example, counselors could plan a summer orientation to introduce newcomer families to one another and to families that have resided in the United States for a longer time. Counselors could use this opportunity to help newcomer families become more comfortable with the school, including giving a detailed explanation of the school counseling program and the role of school counselors.

Conclusion School counselors must keep in mind

that the legal right to confidentiality usually belongs to the parents and guardians of minors and not to the minors themselves. Counselors may also find that their ability to protect student privacy is limited by school or district policy. However, counselors have an ethical obligation to keep information disclosed by students confidential whenever possible. After all, trust is one of the hallmarks of developing an effective counselor-student relationship.

Whenever counselors are asked to disclose sensitive information and are unsure how to proceed, they should first consult the ethical codes, follow a sound

ethical decision-making model and seek consultation regarding a course of action. They should try to educate the requester about the negative consequences that might result from a breach of confidentiality, including possible irreparable damage to the counseling relationship. If there is no choice, the counselor should limit the information shared and try to let the student know beforehand what the counselor is going to say. Ideally, the counselor would have already explained the limits of confidentiality to students — both early and frequently in the counseling process — to increase the likelihood of keeping the counseling relationship intact.


For additional information, consult the following standards in the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics:

v A.1.a. Primary Responsibility

v A.2.c. Developmental and Cultural Sensitivity

v A.7.a. Advocacy

v A.7.b. Confidentiality and Advocacy

v B.1.a. Multicultural/Diversity Considerations

v B.1.b. Respect for Privacy

v B.1.c. Respect for Confidentiality

v B.1.d. Explanation of Limitations

v B.2.a. Serious and Foreseeable Harm and Legal Requirements

v B.2.d. Court-Ordered Disclosure

v B.2.e. Minimal Disclosure

v B.5.b. Responsibility to Parents and Legal Guardians

v I.1.b. Ethical Decision Making v

Graduate Admissions 601.925.7367


Dawn Ellison Director

Spring and Fall admissions

18 | | October 2017

Nancy Carlson is both a certified K-12 school counselor and a licensed clinical professional counselor. She worked in the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools for more than 30 years, was a counselor educator and now serves as the counseling specialist for the American Counseling Association. Contact her at

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