Counselling in Oxfordshire

Bill Imlah :: Counselling in Oxfordshire

Blog » What is an ethical dilemma?

10 Feb 2013

di-lem-ma [n]. A situation that requires a choice between options that are or seem equally unfavorable.

A dilemma is a situation where you have to choose between two or more alternatives, each of which has problematic consequences.

An ethical dilemma in counselling presents me with a choice between alternatives where each one has consequences that are difficult ethically.

Some hypothethical examples of situations that would create an ethical dilemma are:

  • I am working with a relatively new client, and realise that they are someone that one of my other clients has a crush on.

  • my client discloses that they have felt like harming their children, and I'm not sure how real this threat is.

  • I'm required by the court to turn over my client notes, but am aware that if I do so my client may be in danger of being deported to a region where they could face torture and imprisonment without trial.

What makes these constitute a dilemma is that there is may not be an ethically clear-cut choice as to what decision to take. Do I continue to see my client, once I've discovered that there are connections between me and them other than our relationship in the room? Do I breach confidentiality to ensure safety, knowing that this may be damaging to the therapeutic relationship? Do I comply with the law, even though I feel very strongly that it would lead to injustice?

When faced with an ethical dilemma, my first step, as a professional practitioner, would be to consult with my supervisor. I'd also refer to my ethical code or framework, to determine how it may relate to this particular case. In more complicated cases I may also work through the steps of an ethical decision making model, such as that of the ACA, and to assess which of these moral principles may be in conflict.


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