Mandatory vs Aspirational Ethics in a Professional Counselling Framework

Mandatory vs Aspirational Ethics in a Professional Counselling Framework

Note: This revision, dated February 25, 2024, includes the addition of an introductory section to better contextualize the analysis. Additionally, I cleaned up some grammatical errors and punctuation conventions.

Mandatory vs Aspirational Ethics in a Professional Counselling Framework

In the field of counseling, understanding the distinction between Aspirational and Mandatory Ethics is crucial for navigating the ethical landscape of the therapeutic relationship. Aspirational Ethics represent a counselor’s endeavor to exceed basic ethical standards, focusing on the spirit rather than the letter of ethical guidelines. This approach encourages personal growth, moral responsibility, and a client-centered decision-making process. Conversely, Mandatory Ethics outline the minimum ethical requirements for practice, emphasizing adherence to specific behavioral codes to ensure professional accountability.

This essay examines the contrast between these ethical frameworks, suggesting that while Mandatory Ethics provide essential regulatory guidelines, Aspirational Ethics offer a broader, more nuanced perspective that fosters professional integrity and enhances client outcomes. The integration of both approaches is advocated as a means to achieve a balanced and effective ethical practice in counseling, ensuring both compliance with professional standards and a commitment to ethical excellence. By comparing two levels of ethical functioning, Aspirational and Mandatory, we can illustrate the differences between externally and internally based moral and ethical behaviour in client counsellor therapeutic process.

Aspirational Ethics vs. Mandatory Ethics             

Aspirational Ethics can be described as the method of ethical adherence in which the Counsellor strives to uphold the highest level of ethical practice. It is a way of thinking and an attitude where emphasis is placed on the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. It requires careful interpretation of the ethical code instead of literal application. Aspirational Ethics focus more on achieving maximum moral and ethical outcomes such as accepting moral responsibility, personal growth, and moral development. They also encourage a more sophisticated process of decision-making necessitating careful reflection of the welfare of the clients served, their needs, and the effects of the counselor’s actions on the profession as a whole.

Personally, I find Aspirational Ethics to be the most important of ethical levels. In my opinion it should inherently and constructively push the boundaries of therapeutic practice. Pioneering and innovation are crucial to the evolution and improvement of sound therapeutic methods. This may sound cavalier, so I wound point out that regard for conventional theories is still important. Tried and true methods can be responsibly approached with aspirational employment of flexibility, experimentation, and diversified implementation.

The level of Aspirational Ethics I would consider better exercised after experience. A certain level of savvy is required to better implement this circular, internal and experimental decision-making process. Obviously, clients deserve out of respect, immediate and intuitive responses. As a counsellor we should strive for the very best which in a way, honours the Clients issues.

Aspirational Ethics will in my opinion better assist in meeting developmental goals such as integrity, competence, social responsibility, and refinement of moral practice. It would integrate better with the character of counsellors and in turn provide the culture of the practice. This level of ethical practice is unfortunately restricted by fear of legal implications because ethics codes can take on a legal dimension and counsellors can be more concerned with avoiding a lawsuit than what is right for the client. This leads to limits in their creative work and recesses the potential investment in the client’s therapeutic process.

By meeting only, the first level of ethics known as Mandatory Ethics; it seems to me that we would only be offering minimum effort in helping the client. As I read, I am starting to understand that the structure of ethical codes really does not lend that entirely well to the complex and existential nature of counselling. Mandatory Ethics provide the standards for behavioural conduct and seem to only offer the merest guidelines for professional performance. Exclusive reliance on Mandatory Ethics fosters meeting minimum standards for client and counsellor. The practice of mandatory ethical decision making negates the counsellor’s ability to apply their own beliefs and values to the conscious ethical decision-making process. This in turn inhibits their personal progress in terms of moral development and growth. I believe as a counsellor you have a responsibility to make those ethical decisions which result in maximum moral and ethical responses.

Mandatory Ethics although valid and useful source of guidance in an ethical decision-making process, has other limitations and can be characterized by reactive, short term and circumstantial responses. It is not always in the client’s best interest due to its limiting nature. A client’s issues can be skewed in order to conform to the constraints of a too literal application of mandatory ethical forms. Decision making mechanisms are more reactive, linear, and subjective. Along with careful self- monitoring, Mandatory Ethics should be considered prominently by neophyte practitioners. It allows for prescribed and conforming decision making which progresses from awareness, through reflection, to an action plan. Newcomers to therapeutic technique have not yet developed the traits, intuition, or motivational disposition to apply skilled ethical judgement as allowed by practiced Aspirational Ethics. With practice individuals should evolve beyond the reliance on external structures to a fuller use of internal structures.

Experienced practitioners who have developed a more advanced level of ethical decision making allowed by the convention of Aspirational Ethics would inherently retreat to the structures of Mandatory Ethics when challenged in a legal environment. Even though the application of ethics should exceed the legal constructs; the usefulness becomes apparent as an accepted source of conduct.

The usefulness is more of general guidance and a referenceable list of “musts” and “must nots.”  It would be the measure used to assess accountability in a legal setting and used by courts as an enforcement tool. A counsellor who restricts his or herself to mandatory ethical standards would be “playing safe” and minimizing exposure to ethical complaints and potential litigation. It is the legal aspects of an ethical complaint that dictates the counsellor’s behaviour. Most ethical codes originate from a legal foundation.

Legal liability and ethical methods are not the same, but a relationship exists. There is an overlap wherein what is illegal is unethical. Where they stand apart is in some instances, what is recognized as legal can be unethical or what is illegal is perceived as ethical.

In summary, Mandatory Ethics relate to the professional requirements that are put in place legally to keep professionals out of legal trouble. These formal ethics codes are restrictive in nature and represent only minimum requirements. They are anticipated to offer a thorough and structured reference for every feasible ethical predicament faced in professional use; the “musts” and “must nots” of ethical practice. Mandatory Ethics are an externally sought, easily relied upon, and provide the best protection against ethical complaints. Although a valid source for ethical decision making the restrictive nature impedes the moral and ethical development of the counsellor as they look outside themselves for prescribed resolution.

Aspirational Ethics is the understanding of the intent of ethical codes and living by these ethical standards as a way of professional life. The spirit and principals of the law is more importantly considered rather than the letter of the law. Aspirational goals incorporate competence, rectitude, and social obligations. Focus is more on the welfare of the client and their best interests. More complex in essence, it requires an internal reflection of beliefs and values of the counsellor calling for optimum moral and ethical responses. Aspirational Ethics lends more effectively to the counsellor’s developmental goals and inherently becomes more effectively practiced after experience. A downside of this level of ethical practice is the fear of legal implications and can hamper the potential of the counsellor.

The best safety net is to always demonstrate that you have the client’s best interest in mind through careful documentation and consultation.



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