Why Professional School Counselors Need to Pay Attention to Ethics


Adherence to ethics is an important component of success for professionals who work within the education system, dealing with students of different ages, sexes, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ethnicities. This paper explores the reasons why it is important for professional school counselors to pay attention to ethics in their work. People encounter situations in their everyday lives that require them to exercise ethics by making moral decisions.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), and the Kentucky Counseling Association (KCA) outline several guidelines that should govern the conduct of school counselors. However, at certain times, counselors encounter situations that are not solved by the simple application of ethical principles. This paper is divided into three main sections. The first section discusses reasons why counselors need to maintain professionalism in the execution of their duties. The second part discusses the reasons why counselors need to adhere to ethics in dealing with the issue of student confidentiality.

The third section discusses the reasons why it is important for school counselors to practice ethics when using technology to execute their duties. It also explores the impact that technology has on counselors and students. The three sections explore from different perspectives, the importance of professional school counselors paying attention to ethics in their interactions with students.


Ethics is one of the most important components of successful living, mainly in the areas of career, relationships, and the practice of personal morals. Common challenges in jobs include ethical dilemmas and the need for the maintenance of integrity in decision-making. One career that is governed by ethics is the professional school counselor; solutions to the ethical predicaments that are encountered does not involve the mere application of key principles.

Moreover, the various aspects of the profession are intertwined with the various principles of ethics. Professionals who practice in this field are required to adhere to a set of guidelines and regulations for the successful attainment of job objectives. Examples of these guiding principle are those provided by the American School Counselor Association and the Kentucky Counseling Association, as well as the statutes of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The reasons for professional school counselors abiding by the codes of ethics provided by their employers and the respective governing bodies are numerous.

First, professionalism is key because it governs how they are expected to work in their workplaces within school settings. Second, maintaining the privacy of the students they serve is important. Ethics provide guidelines regarding the type of discussions that they are allowed or barred from having with parents. Third, technological advancement has a huge impact on the attainment of success as a counselor. This paper will explore the application of ethics on the role of the professional school counselor, paying closer attention to three major aspects, namely professionalism, confidentiality, and the influence of technology.

The Importance of Professionalism in School Counseling

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) provides several ethical guidelines that govern the concept of professionalism in school counseling. There are five key aspects of professionalism that are linked with ethics that school counselors should adhere to during their careers. First, it is imperative for them to take care of their own emotional and physical wellbeing; it is recommended that they prioritize self-care activities that promote their overall wellness. School counselors spend many hours listening to students’ problems, which can be draining, both physical and emotionally (Dahir & Stone, 2012).

According to ethics, they have an individual role of monitoring and being honest with themselves. This is because failure to take of care of themselves would lead to failure to cater to the needs of students who are under their professional care. Second, professional school counselors are tasked with the responsibility of running an efficacious counseling program, as well as developing and maintaining cordial relationships with the school’s staff and management team. Successful, healthy, and effective relationships are based on trust and honesty; school counselors should treat everyone with respect and act professionally in all their interactions (Dahir & Stone, 2012).

Additionally, they should ensure that they sue the resources at their disposal to run an efficacious counseling program. Counselors have an ethical responsibility of providing the necessary psychological support that is needed for students to attain their goals.

Third, school counselors should provide novice professionals who intern under them the appropriate support, mentorship, and guidance services. It is their ethical responsibility to guide the young professionals on the most effective ways to incorporate and practice ethics in their profession. In that regard, the counselors should provide the young professionals with accurate, comprehensible, objective, and useful data on how they can evaluate students and offer meaningful guidance (Foxx et al., 2017). Ethics require that the data provided should be significant and precise in order to ensure that students are offered the best guidance possible.

If the information given does not guarantee or promote success in students, then it should be discarded; misguiding students is unethical (Dahir & Stone, 2012). Fourth, when a professional school counselor sees a student with a problem, they should offer appropriate help and resources for the resolution of the problem. Ethical professionalism requires school counselors to make quality resources readily available to every student for their use (Foxx et al., 2017). Lastly, paying attention to ethics helps school counselors to develop and maintain professional and mutual relationships with colleagues and novice professionals. It is their duty to maintain professionalism while dealing with students; this encompasses giving them appropriate advice and guidance, and proving them with resources that make them successful in life.

Student Confidentiality

Confidentiality and trust are two of the most crucial building blocks of counseling because acting ethically under all circumstances and contexts is very difficult. There are three reasons that necessitate the practice of ethics while dealing with students’ confidentiality that require strict adherence to confidentiality guidelines. First, it is important to recognize that school counselors have personal values, ethics, and morals that guide their lives.

However, when dealing with students, they should disregard their personal values and refrain from imposing them on the students (Foxx et al., 2017). This sentiment is supported by Dr. Stone who asserts that it is imperative for school counselors to disregard their prejudices in order to avoid subjugating the students’ intentions to their preconceptions (Stone, 2013). Students could want to act in ways that are contrary to the advice of the school counselor. However, professional school counselors should not compel students to adopt their values and beliefs if they find them unsuitable for their lives.

The disclosure of information to the parent or guardian regarding their child is another aspect of confidentiality that needs the practice of ethics. Concealing certain information from parents is very difficult, however, the counselor should act ethically and appropriately in all situations. Professional school counselors should be fully aware of the information that could be shared with families, and that which should be known only by the counselor and the student (Foxx et al., 2017). The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was enacted by the federal government as a measure to protect the confidentiality of student education records (Stone, 2013).

The give parents the permission to access their children’s school information, including disciplinary records, transcripts, report cards, family information among others. The Act does not protect nay information that is gathered through observation or personal knowledge. For example, the notes taken by a school counselor during a session with a student is not protected, and therefore, it should not be shared with parents (Stone, 2013). The possession of this knowledge protects the integrity of the counselor and prevents them from legal liability for violating confidentiality laws, hence the need for the practice of ethics. It is important for professional school counselors to increase their awareness regarding professional ethics so that they can be able to handle ethical dilemmas appropriately.

Concealing certain information to parents or guardians regarding their children that was shared during counseling sessions is very difficult. Ethics demand that such information that is shared in confidentiality be kept private (Stone, 2013). However, in cases where revealing certain information is the only way of ensuring the safety of the student, then in such special instances, confidentiality can be broken.

For example, if the student tells the counselors about being subjected to abuse or domestic violence, then the counselor has the responsibility of reporting to the school administration or to the appropriate authorities. In such cases, the student’s reservations about the issue are insignificant because the protection of their safety is one of the counselor’s major ethical responsibilities. In case a student shares their intention of harming themselves or another individual, then the counselor has an ethical obligation of helping the student by informing the school and the parents.

The Impact of Technology on Counseling Ethics

The number of ethical issues that professional school counselors encounter have been multiplied by the increased incorporation of technology into students’ lives. The strict adherence to ethics when dealing with technology is critical for three major reasons. First, cyberbullying is one the rise, especially among school-age children and adolescents. Research has shown that more than 40% of students have reported a case of cyberbullying, mainly from the use of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram (Foxx et al., 2017).

The disclosure of the occurrence of cyberbullying in a school environment should be taken very seriously; administrators, school counselors, parents, teachers, and other shareholders should work together to find solutions to the problem. Dahir & Stone (2012) concurred with the need for concerted efforts in handling the situation when they remarked that “school counselors are not the only people in the school who are responsible for the safety of students, but they may be the primary contact person for the parents and students seeking information or help.” School environments are characterized by so many activities that it is very difficult to bring to attention every challenge that the students encounter.

It is unfair for society to blame schools for their lack of awareness about everything that goes on within their precincts or everything that affects the students (Stone, 2013). However, it is an overt violation of ethical principles for counselors and school administrations to ignore reports of cyberbullying taking place among their students. It is important for counselors to be fully aware of how cyberbullying can affect the overall wellbeing of the students; it has a negative impact on their academic pursuits and their mental health (Foxx et al., 2017).

Professional school counselors also have an ethical obligation of maintaining the confidentiality of sensitive student information. The use of technology in communication renders the process of disseminating and sharing information easier and faster. School counselors do not have to labor to send information because applications such as instant messaging, voicemail, email, and fax simplify the work. In that regard, it is important for school counselors to be fully aware of the type of information that could be sent using technological gadgets and applications without breaking the confidentiality of student information (Stone, 2013).

The increased cases of security breaches are proof that cyber criminals can easily access sensitive information that is transmitted online without authorization. Therefore, school counselors should avoid the legal liability that comes from breaching confidentiality by paying close attention to the type of information that they share or send using technology.

Another aspect of technology that necessitates a strict adherence to ethics is the sharing or posting of information on social media. In traditional settings, school counselors did not experience this challenge because technology was not as advanced as it is today. It was easier to separate personal and professional life facets back then than it is now. In contemporary society it is very difficult because of the role that technology plays in people’s lives.

Many professional counselors have been sued or dismissed from their jobs because of the information they posted on social media. It is unethical to post information about one’s students online (Stone, 2013). Moreover, sharing personal content that contains offensive or criminal behavior with others is unethical. Professional school counselors are role models, and as such, they should refrain from sharing information that tarnishes their names.


This paper has discussed the areas that require the practice of ethics with regard to the role of professional school counselors. The first area that was explored and that should be governed by ethics is professionalism. Ethical professionalism entails many aspects: prioritizing self-care activities, acting professionally within school precincts, providing the most appropriate mentorship and guidance, creating and maintaining cordial relationships with staff members, and providing accurate and meaningful information to students and novice professionals. The second areas explored the need for ethics when dealing with student confidentiality.

School counselors need to avoid forcing their values on students by being objective. Moreover, they should know about what information to share with parents and guardians and which not to share. The third area that was discussed involved the practice of ethics in the use of technology. School counselors have the responsibility of addressing any case of cyberbullying by reporting it to the appropriate authorities. It is also important for them to be attentive to the type of information they disseminate through various technologies because cyber criminals can access it without authorization. Finally, professional counselors need to act ethically when using social media; they should refrain from posting any student’s information. The paper discusses exhaustively the various reasons that necessitate the careful observance of ethics by professional school counselors.


Dahir, C., & Stone, C. (2012). The transformed school counselor. (2nd ed.). Brooks/Cole.

Foxx, S. P., Baker, S. B., & Gerler, E. R. (2017). School counseling in the 21st century (6th ed.). Routledge.

Stone, C. (2013). Ethics and law: School counseling principles (3rd ed.). American School Counselor Association.

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