Journal of Counseling & Development


Journal of Counseling & Development ■ April 2014 ■ Volume 92154 © 2014 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved.

Received 05/22/12 Revised 10/04/12

Accepted 10/25/12 DOI: 10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00143.x

The articles in this special section of the Journal of Counseling & Development, along with recent legal cases (e.g., Keeton v Anderson-Wiley, 2010; Ward v. Wilbanks, 2010), highlight the challenges professional counselors face when confronted with what they perceive as conflicts between professional codes of ethics and their own values. Although even the most experienced professionals find such situations difficult, the process of learning to make value-laden, ethical decisions is even more challenging for students. As a counselor educator, I see students struggle to let go of their needs for black/white, right/wrong answers and to reconcile their long-held beliefs with the standards set by the profession. In this article, I de- scribe my approach to teaching ethical decision making and share observations about the process that one group of students went through as they learned to grapple with these challenges.

Learning Ethical Decision Making Becoming an ethical professional has been described as a developmental process (Neukrug, Lovell, & Parker, 1996) that involves movement from memorizing standards toward learning to integrate professional ethics with personal values (Handelsman, Gottlieb, & Knapp, 2005). To facilitate this movement, training programs need to help students develop the “philosophical sophistication” to reconcile personal and professional values (Mintz et al., 2009, p. 644). Similarly, Basche, Anderson, Handelsman, and Klevansky (2007) noted that students enter graduate programs with preexisting ideas of right and wrong professional behavior, based in large part on their own backgrounds. For students, learning to make ethical decisions is a developmental process of acculturat- ing to the ethics of the profession and eventually integrating professional ethics with their own values and beliefs.

Handelsman et al. (2005) adapted Berry’s (2003) model of social or ethnic acculturation to describe four strategies

Irene Mass Ametrano, Department of Leadership and Counseling, Eastern Michigan University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Irene Mass Ametrano, Department of Leadership and Counseling, Eastern Michigan University, 304 Porter Building, Ypsilanti, MI 48197 (e-mail:

Teaching Ethical Decision Making: Helping Students Reconcile Personal and Professional Values Irene Mass Ametrano

Because conflicts between personal and professional values can interfere with ethical decision making, a goal of counselor education must be helping students reconcile such conflicts. This article describes one counselor educator’s experience teaching ethical decision making and the effects on student learning. Growth was observed in increased tolerance for ambiguity, awareness of how values influenced decision making, use of multiple factors in decision mak- ing, and emphasis on the welfare of clients. Implications for teaching and future research directions are discussed.