Ethical Issues in Group Counseling


Various ethical issues are involved in counseling. Although some ethical issues are common to all counseling, some are unique to group counseling. Group counseling makes use of multiple relationships to assist individuals with psychological problems. The paper looks into the ethical issues that are unique to group counseling. These ethical issues result from the relationship between a counselor and individual group members, as well as the relationship between members. The role of confidentiality, relationships, screening, multicultural issues, and spirituality to ethical issues in group counseling is looked at. Confidence is essential to any psychological counseling. Inability to maintain confidentiality in counseling not only raises ethical questions but also affects the efficiency of the counseling. The paper also looks at the personal leadership approach that helps to overcome ethical issues. Confidence and trust between the group members are important to group counseling success. As a leader in group counseling, a counselor has the responsibility for ensuring confidence and open sharing of a problem. In addition, a counselor has to provide leadership in ethical conduct.


There is an increase in the number of individuals requiring counseling in our society. Both personal and group therapy is being used to offer assistance. As in other professions, various ethical issues arise in the process of giving out counseling. Ethical issues in counseling arise as a counselor tries to offer assistant to a patient. Ethical issues may involve the relationship between a counselor and a client as well as the information revealed to a counselor or the relationship between clients. The use of group counseling is on the increase in the country. Group counseling takes the form of college, school, community, and mental health, amongst other groups. As group counseling increases, various ethical issues relating to group counseling are encountered.

Overview of ethics in counseling

There are various ethical issues in counseling. In a counseling relationship between a counselor and a client, counselors are always advised to use the principle of beneficence. The relationship between a counselor and a client should help the clients to overcome their challenges (Black & Foster, 2007, p221). Unlike other ethical practices in other fields, counseling involves individuals who have a dire need for help. The ability of counselors to know whether their actions may lead to harm to a client is challenging. In personal counseling, counselors have direct contact with their clients. In this case, a counselor may know the issues that affect their client and thus avoid harm (Black & Foster, 2007, p221). Avoiding harm in Group counseling is challenging; the clients have contacts with a counselor as well as other group members (Fallon & Brabender, 2009, p135). In this case, there is the likelihood for a well-intended therapy to harm a client. This likelihood is higher in group counseling due to the number of clients involved. In addition, a counselor may lose control of the therapy to a member, leading to unintended results.

Group counseling

Group counseling as a tool in counseling is relatively new. Group counseling borrows from support groups but in Group counseling, a professional is involved. Group counseling constitutes a small group of individuals. These individuals meet frequently, maybe once a week, to share their problems and help one another to overcome individual problems. Group counseling has been successful in solving various social challenges in society (Abrahams, 2007, p. 242). Group counseling in the form of Alcoholic Anonymous is one area where this field has been successful.

Just like in personal counseling, various ethical issues are encountered in Group counseling. Group counseling involves a group of individuals who are unified by similar problems or common experiences. A counselor in Group counseling offers counseling services to the group as a whole. In some cases, a counselor only acts as a leader by giving guidance to the trend of the counseling session (Cole, 2008, p.432). There are various sources of ethical issues in Group counseling. The relationship between a counselor and individual client, a counselor and the group, interactions between clients, information revealed to the group, multicultural issues and religion are some of the sources of ethical issues in Group counseling (Frame & Williams, 2005, p213). The American Psychology Association recognizes the possibility of ethical issues in counseling and has developed codes for ethical issues in counseling.

Confidentiality is very essential in counseling. In most cases, people with counseling needs are concerned about the confidentiality of the information they share. In private counseling, a counselor is ethically required to maintain the information shared by a client in confidentiality. The healing effect of counseling depends much on the trust that clients have in their counselors (Black & Foster, 2007, p225). Group counseling is however different from private counseling. The responsibility for confidentiality is not only to a counselor but also to each member of a counseling group. Ensuring confidentiality in Group counseling is not an easy task (Fallon & Brabender, 2009 p.127). Each member has to be dedicated to maintaining the confidentiality and overcome temptations for sharing information discussed in the group with other individuals who are not part of the group. In most counseling groups, each member makes a personal pledge to other members, promising to maintain confidentiality under all conditions. Despite this, group members are not bound by any formal ethical codes. Very sensitive issues are shared in Group counseling. When such information is leaked outside the group, great damages can be done to a client, family, or a counseling group. In large counseling groups such as school counseling, maintaining confidentiality is close to impossible.

In personal counseling, the major contact is between a client and a counselor. On the other hand, Group counseling involves not only an individual client and a counselor but also other members of the counseling group. A counselor in group counseling has to determine who would be allowed to a counseling group and who would not (Herlihy & Hermann, 2006, 156). This process of screening is a major source of ethical issues in group counseling. Group counseling starts with the formation of a counseling group. Such Group counseling as school and college counseling have predetermined group members. Although a school may predetermine a counseling group, a member cannot be forced to co-operate. For Group counseling to be successful, voluntary membership is always important. In a case whereby a member is forced into a counseling group, ethical questions arise.

Voluntary membership is always emphasized in group counseling. Members of a counseling group sign consent to voluntary membership. Despite this, the efficiency of group counseling is determined by the confidence and trust that each member has in the other members. Each member should have confidence with the group for them to be able to disclose their problems to other members. Building confidence in a counseling group is a major challenge to group counselors and a source of ethical issues in group counseling (Bausch, 2008, p.81). Group members may resist a group member while a client may refuse to join a certain counseling group. In this case, a counselor has to decide whether to retain a member in the group or look for a better solution to the dilemma they are faced with. Asking a client to leave a counseling group is equivalent to denying service to such a person while retaining some clients may compromise the efficiency of a counseling group.

There is an increase in the use of spirituality in counseling. Spirituality is being used in most components of counseling but most of all, in the preparation process. The use of spirituality is a source of ethical dilemmas in both personal and group counseling. The ethical dilemma includes a counselor imposing his or her personal beliefs on clients or a member in group counseling imposing his or her personal beliefs on other members. Although spirituality is an important element in every person, the ethical dilemma raised by spirituality in counseling hinders mental health counselors, counselor educators, school counselors, and group counselors from exploring the use of spirituality in counseling.

Counseling groups may consist of individuals with divergent religious beliefs and values. When spirituality is allowed in Group counseling, divergent religious views may be raised (Engels, Rheta & Steen 2006, p 111). For example, some members may believe in the efficiency of prayer in a counseling session while others may not. While some members may insist on prayers before the start of the group counseling session, the use of prayers may annoy other members (Eriksen, & Weld, 2007, p 126). While prayer and spirituality may work for some members, the use of spirituality in some members may lead to the failure of a counseling session. The use of spirituality in Group counseling may provide an opportunity for some members to domineer over other members (Engels, Rheta & Steen 2006, p 113). As group counseling is based on the principle of disclosure, when an individual member domineers on others, the efficiency of the counseling session may be compromised.

The relationship between a counselor and individual group members, and the relationship between group members is a major source of ethical issues in group counseling. In personal counseling, the tendency for intimate relationship between client and counselor is a major source of ethical questions. Most counseling clients lack strong relationship and emotional support in their lives (Edwards, Merrill, Desai & McNamara, 2007, p11). When clients find understanding and support in a counselor, there are high chances for intimacy to develop. Ethical issues arise when a counselor exploits the state of their clients for sexual relationship or other relationships beyond the objectives for counseling (Edwards, Merrill, Desai & McNamara, 2007, p16). Similar cases to those in personal counseling are likely to happen in Group counseling. There is likelihood for members in counseling group to develop intimate relationships among themselves. These relationships may lead to ethical issues that may compromise counseling.

A multicultural element in some counseling groups is a source of ethical issues in Group counseling. Cultural diversity requires more effort not only ensure harmony in counseling group but also being sensitive to multicultural elements (Frame & Williams, 2005, p219). Although multicultural issues are important in counseling, the presence of more diversity in Group counseling increase chances for ethical issues in Group counseling.

Leadership and personal approach to Group Counseling

Although various ethical issues challenge group counseling, group counseling is an important tool in counseling. Group counseling has been observed to be very successful in such areas as marriage and family therapy, school counseling and alcoholic and substance abuse counseling. For groups counseling to be successful, leadership qualities are required. To deal with ethical issues in group counseling, my approach includes group management strategies.

The main ethical issue that I face in group counseling is ensuring confidentiality. I understand that confidentiality is the greatest motivation to personal disclosure. Group members disclose their problems in confidence that the information will not be revealed to a third party. I ensure that each member is aware of common responsibility to confidentiality. As a counselor, I have the responsibility for controlling the group therapy and ensure that the intended results are met (Frame & Williams, 2005, 79). As each member joins a counseling group, he or she is informed that information shared in the group is to be kept secret in the group. Each member has to pledge to maintain confidentiality. In addition, each member is informed of the consequences for revealing information discussed in the group to a third party. Although I consider individual counseling needs as important, I make more effort to ensure trust and harmony in counseling groups.

I consider screening of the counseling group membership as the first step to successful Group counseling and as the initial step to avert ethical issues in Group counseling. Before allowing an individual into a counseling group, I consider the individual’s psychological need and advice on the most appropriate group. This helps me avoid unnecessary conflict in counseling groups and ensure confident disclosure.

The relationship between counseling group members and dependence on counseling are some of the ethical challenges that I face in group counseling (Pipes, Holstein & Aguirre, 2005, 217). Although a strong relationship is necessary for the healing process of the client, some relationships become uncontrollable. To avoid this, I prefer a small group of less than ten members and ensure that issues discussed in the group are only those that are related to the counseling objectives. My counseling groups have time limit depending on the counseling needs of the members. The time limit helps to overcome the tendency for dependence on counseling.

Despite the ethical issues that surround the use of religion and spirituality in counseling, I explore on the benefit of spirituality in counseling (Eriksen, & Weld, 2007, p 127). Spirituality is very important to many people; when used responsibly, spirituality has important effect in counseling. Spirituality rather than individual personal values is emphasized in my Group counseling.


Various ethical issues are encountered during counseling. Counselors are required to conduct themselves in an ethical manner that does not add harm to a client or exploit the psychological needs of a client for personal benefit. Just as in personal counseling, group counseling is faced by various ethical issues. Ensuring confidentiality in group counseling is not just the responsibility of a counselor but also of each member in a counseling group. Screening and controlling members in a counseling group may bring about ethical issues. Use of spirituality in Group counseling and dependence on a group are other ethical issues in group counseling. As a leader in a counseling group, I ensure that each member take his or her responsibility in maintaining confidentiality. Time limits for the counseling groups enable me to control the groups and avoid dependence on groups counseling.


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