Ethical and Professional Issues in Group Practice


Maintaining ethical standards while dealing with group members and counseling each individual is particularly difficult in a social service setting because of the prominence of ethical issues in such environments. Group therapy counselors sometimes are concerned about their abilities to provide adequate care, even when caring is confined to the group’s bounds. Every human service provider has a core ethical responsibility to act on behalf of the client in the best interest of that person (Arokianathan, Zakaria, & Subarimaniam, 2020).

The core element of doing good and causing no harm will be jeopardized if the counselor lacks the proper training to facilitate a group care session. Some of the ethical and professional issues that group counselors may face include informed consent, autonomy, equality, confidentiality, authority challenges, focusing on the group’s interest, and group problems.

In any profession, counselors must understand and maintain their ethical standards. Individualized counseling may present a greater challenge for certain counselors, such as group counselors. This is because leaders must be aware of their own and their group members’ actions to maintain and maintain an ethical group environment for all who are a part of it. However, meeting ethical standards for every group member’s actions may be difficult because it might be expected that individuals will follow orders when working in groups. Individuals can perceive their actions or statements as ethical or unethical based on their perspective.

The concept of informed consent is described as the permission of the client to do something as part of a specific process or procedure. The client is a critical element to the process and must be informed of the method’s attributes to consent to the procedure’s established details. For consent to occur, it is necessary for everyone involved to understand the facts, the risks, and the benefits so that everyone can make an informed decision. Each group member must adhere to the specific details of the consent they each signed when they were first enrolled in the group and the terms of the contract they agreed to throughout the group journey. Counselors are responsible for helping clients understand and obtain their consent and verify that all participants fully understand the consent terms.

The participant’s consent should include:

  1. Providing clear information about nature, possible risks, possible benefits, and the possible extent of the treatment to be employed.
  2. Gathering information on group members’ capacity to comprehend counseling information and ability to consent.
  3. A written statement issued by the client states they have been informed about the counseling and allows the counseling session to begin (Shah, Thornton, Turrin, & Hipskind, 2020).

Ethics in group counseling sessions is strongly associated with similar individual sessions. Everyone agrees to the treatment that is determined by their willingness to receive treatment. Each individual gets the confidentiality and respect they would receive in a counseling session within the bounds of the counseling session. However, group dynamics are a prominent component of group therapy, but all other variables are modeled after individual therapy and operate within the same ethical parameters.

One of the ethical considerations as a counselor is ensuring informed consent. The counselor should make sure that group members voluntarily join up and are well informed about the group’s goals, rules, fees, confidentiality, and other member rights and responsibilities. The new members must learn about the group’s rules since they could negatively impact the entire group. It is also vital to stress treating others with respect and avoiding disputes when counseling a group. The group counselor should reiterate the need for confidentiality by members of the group. A participant’s ability to make an informed decision is the main benefit of informed consent. In addition, we should include information if the participant shows signs of distress during their participation.


Autonomy is a way of treating people that acknowledges their need for freedom and self-determination. The main thrust of this philosophy is to grant individuals the ability to act and choose without constraint. It encourages counselors to empower group members to make their own decisions and apply their values when necessary. Encouraging group members to be autonomous has two key priorities. First, giving individuals an opportunity to understand how their choices and matters may impact others in their community and society and how those decisions and values infringe on others’ rights. Second, the client’s ability to make sound and rational decisions. It is unacceptable to allow children and people with mental disabilities to engage in behaviors that put their own or others’ safety at risk because they are not in a position to make appropriate decisions.

A counselor should help to ensure that the members of the group can retain their autonomy. Participation should be facilitated, but group members should be treated with respect and granted freedom to participate as much or as little as they want. Everyone should have the freedom to speak when they are ready and not be forced to share their experiences. This also applies even when the members are not participating of their own accord. The members’ independence is essential for group cohesion as the counseling process proceeds. Counselors should take precautions to protect members of the group from sustaining trauma if they go through any group sessions.

Encouragement should be given to the members to overcome their emotional problems and maintain their mental health. Additionally, measures should be put to prevent members from attacking each other when they share stories. Counselors should provide one-on-one sessions to the members as needed for support purposes.


Other ethical issues involved in group therapy also deal with the question of equality. Every person should be treated fairly and equally regardless of who they are. As is the norm in the counseling profession, upholding this value is extremely important at all levels. The most current BACP Ethical Framework emphasizes that we must also keep these values concerning our colleagues (Jenkins, 2017). When people are aware of the importance of equality and diversity in counseling, they also reflect on and uphold ethical principles of respect and justice.

People claim that groups members should be confident that they will use the resources available in the group in the most efficient manner (Corey & Corey, 2011). The group’s leader’s responsibility is to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to advance and guard against group resources monopolized by one group. One of the monopolization concepts is a feeling of scarcity and an increase in the desire for acquisition. Every member of the group has the freedom to expect equal use of all available resources, with the expectation that the leader models and encourages such equity.

Counselors should ensure equal access to services for all members without violating the rights and dignity of the individual. Since counseling professionals should appreciate people’s differences while shunning discrimination, they must possess the ability to respect an individual or a group of people based on their social or personal characteristics. Counselors should encourage active engagement in the social development of people, as well as enhancing their lives. Therapeutic counseling involves full participation on the part of the counselor, who should limit such involvement to the act of providing professional assistance. When counselors need to enhance their professionalism in providing counseling services, they recommend working with other counselors.

When choosing an intervention strategy, a counselor should also be aware of the intervention strategy and decide to employ it in helping the members deal with their disorders. In addition, counselors should use techniques suited to each individual despite the sessions being for the group. Therefore, counselors should be acquainted with the members individually and utilize appropriate and well-defined remedial methods to connect with them. Confidentiality is an essential consideration in group therapies. Members should be reminded of these issues each time the group meets, but they should be brought up in each screening of group members. The counselor needs to be vigilant about keeping members’ confidences confidential outside of group sessions.


Confidentiality is a complex ethical and legal issue and a standard of practice for psychotherapists. Counselors must uphold this standard of practice while maintaining the confidentiality of information shared in the group. Therapists are required to inform members of a group about perceived harm to their own or another’s well-being. This fosters open dialogue and trust in the group as instruction is adhered to by group members. Confidentiality can be modeled by the counselors, who demonstrate the necessity of privacy. To ensure privacy for group members, counselors should avoid addressing individual group members in group sessions and in sessions with others who are not part of the group.

There are numerous situations in which confidentiality is necessary and opposed by other principles, such as law and ethics. To maintain the integrity of the relationship with the client, counselors are expected to maintain confidentiality. Before beginning therapy, the counselor should alert the client about the necessity of breaching confidentiality to ensure it doesn’t become necessary in the future. The counselor must obtain written consent from each member of the group before proceeding.

Focusing on the Group’s Interest

The counselor should have a strong desire to assist the group members in succeeding. Before joining the group, the counselor should analyze each group member to determine their individual needs. When a counselor opens the door to a new person in the group, one should only welcome them to help them deal with their problems. Group members should not expect to improve their problem-solving abilities simply by joining the group each time, as they would have different issues each time. The counselor should strive to help the client to realize their greater potential to be a better person in society. Since the group members will need a counselor, the counselor should be well-versed in dealing with the problems faced by group members. The counselor should be able to provide members of the group with straightforward advice.

For an effective counselor, no one must impose their values on the group. When the group counselor acts in a manner that attempts to meet personal needs and assist one in advancing one’s agenda at the expense of the other group members, it is unethical. Using coercion or threatening reprisals to impose one’s values on others is an insult to their character. Although it is essential to show one’s values to build up others, this must be done for the individuals involved. Having an accurate and genuine understanding of the situation members are in is equally important because they must believe that the counselor gets them and has an empathetic understanding of their predicament. As a result, they can recognize and relate to their issues and commit to solving them.

Authority Challenges

Members who challenge authority or norms within the group should be dealt with well by the counselor. In dealing with them, one should never see it as punitive but rather as a method of helping people get accustomed to the group. Additionally, the counselor should control how other members may react to a person who suffers from various problems. When dealing with unruly members, a counselor should restore order and cohesiveness within the group. The counselor’s responsibility is to lead everyone on the team to transform their negativity into positivity to benefit everyone involved.

One of the main guidelines for a counselor, when involved in group counseling, is to avoid having dual relationships with group members, which may hinder an individual from participating in the full extent of group counseling. Compromising professionalism encompasses all forms of relationships, including romantic relationships and friendships. These actions are as laid out in the ninth group worker guidelines.

When a counselor provides group and individual counseling to a single individual, the relationship is dual. Counselors who find themselves in this situation must adhere to the confidentiality code. The individual may have disclosed certain information at one of the previous sessions, and the counselor may have forgotten. Group and individual counseling should both avoid using simultaneous therapies and instead opt for sequential therapies.

Group Issues

While group therapy sessions should not be used exclusively for the counselor to work through personal issues and conflicts with the participants, they should also not be solely used for that purpose. Personal problems of members should be kept private from the rest of the group, and group therapy sessions should not become forums for everyone to air their personal lives (Murphy & Hecker, 2016). As the group leader, one should always maintain a professional demeanor and keep group members’ personal lives out of the picture. If group leaders have personal relationships with group members, avoid providing services to them (Berg, Landreth, & Fall, 2017).

When the group is a family, the counselor should be able to recognize and define the members. The more people there are, the more sensitive they are. As the counselor’s first and most important responsibility, it is critical to treat clients and other parties with respect; however, everyone should be given a voice.

Counselors should also check in with each client after therapy to see how they apply what they learned in therapy in their daily lives. It should not be discriminatory, and individuals should always be informed or given the option to opt-out of being included. When counseling someone who is taking part in a group therapy session, a counselor should avoid acting in a way that could be considered harassment. Because both use a client-centered approach to treatment and deal with autonomy, respect, confidentiality, and justice, group therapy’s ethical concerns are comparable to those surrounding individual counseling.

Rather than discussing ethical quandaries with just the counselor, ethical dilemmas are openly addressed in group therapy. Simply put, a group counselor’s job entails providing support and maintaining control over a group of people.

In conclusion, it is essential to avoid ethical problems that may arise in group counseling. Leadership can carry out this assignment mainly by the group’s leader. According to ethical studies, this is commonly referred to as moral managing. Ethical leadership is vital for group members to follow in the footsteps of their leaders. The qualities of a leader are: being honest, being fair to all members, and fostering trust within the group (Brown, 2007). Rewards and punishments for ethical and unethical behavior in the group should also be employed. This empowers the team to make a conscious effort to see what ethical behaviors are permitted while at the same time identifying those things that should be avoided.

Ethics is present in all professions, and as a result, the counselor in group counseling is also expected to uphold professional ethics. Counselors who work with groups must be constantly aware of ethical and legal standards to address ethical and legal difficulties. Group counselors must be considered intellectual problem solvers to help members with their mental health needs, and they must see themselves as such (Brown, 2007). The complexity of group problem solving necessitates a higher level of understanding among group members. Researchers must look for up-to-date information on any issues that may arise in their work. It is possible to have a professional, consistent, and trouble-free counseling process if these guidelines are followed.


Arokianathan, N., Zakaria, N. S., & Subarimaniam, N. (2020). Ethical issues in counselling: A systematic review of literature. Journal of Critical Reviews, 7(13). Web.

Berg, R. C., Landreth, G. L., & Fall, K. A. (2017). Group counseling: Concepts and procedures. Routledge.

Brown, M. E. (2007). Misconceptions of ethical leadership: How to avoid potential pitfalls. Organizational Dynamics, 36(2), 140–155. Web.

Corey, G., & Corey, M. S. (2011). Ethical issues in group counseling. PsycEXTRA Dataset. Web.

Jenkins, P. (2017). Professional Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy: Ethics and the Law. SAGE.

Murphy, M. J., & Hecker, L. (Eds.). (2016). Ethics and professional issues in couple and family therapy. Taylor & Francis.

Shah, P., Thornton, I., Turrin, D., & Hipskind, J. E. (2020). Informed Consent.; StatPearls Publishing. Web.

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ChalkyPapers. "Ethical and Professional Issues in Group Practice." October 16, 2023.