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What Is Our Role in Reporting Unethical Practices in Our Peers?

By Joan Normandy–Dolberg, LPC, Chair, Public Awareness, Advocacy, and Marketing Committee

I first became aware that some of my peers were conducting themselves in ways that I considered questionable while I was under supervision. Even after several discussions with my supervisor, I was never very clear about where my responsibility lay. After 10 years in practice, I seem to face ethical decisions more often, but I still see many of these situations in shades of gray, rather than clearly black and white.

These peer-conduct dilemmas remind me of situations involving Child Protective Services. As mandated reporters, our first job is to protect a child, but what is the best way to do this? If, as author Stephen R. Covey suggests, I “begin with the end in mind, ” I must take into consideration that my primary goal is to improve the life of the child, not to humiliate or punish the parents. Might joining with the parents to teach them appropriate methods of discipline, rather than immediately calling CPS, be a better way to accomplish this goal? 

I have recently become aware of a questionable situation involving two licensed professional counselors. According to a colleague, a school counselor counted more than 3,000 of his hours working in the schools toward his state requirement of 4,000 clinical hours. Having worked as a school counselor for several years prior to licensure, I know that most of our work as school counselors does not involve direct service or individual counseling. Is it okay to count the hours when we are teaching class or proctoring exams or monitoring the cafeteria? In addition, he paid another licensed professional for supervision but seldom met with him or discussed cases. Are we mandated to report a “resident in counseling” who accrues hours in a way we find questionable? Are we mandated to report a licensed counselor who signs off on a form indicating that he performed direct supervision when he did not?

These questions led me to reread the AMHCA Code of Ethics, which states,

“When mental health counselors have knowledge of the impairment, incompetence, or unethical conduct of a mental health professional, they are obliged to attempt to rectify the situation. Failing an informal solution, mental health counselors should bring such unethical activities to the attention of the appropriate state licensure board and/or the ethics committee of the professional association.” 

So, as I evaluate this situation using my own values and ethics, and the AMHCA and ACA guidelines, I consider the conduct of these two professionals to be unprofessional, unethical, and immoral. But is the conduct illegal, and if it is, what am I mandated to do about it?

I have decided to consult with several other counselors during our weekly peer-supervision meetings, and brainstorm and evaluate various options and their potential consequences. I will “begin with the end in mind” and hope that the action I decide to take will get the result I am seeking, which is to share the title “Licensed Professional Counselor” with peers who conduct themselves professionally, ethically, and morally—so that we can all be proud to have them as members of our profession.