Anyone contemplating an occupation in correctional counseling, or is currently practicing should fully understand the multitude of legal and ethical issues required in order to be an effective counselor. Understanding legal and ethical issues is necessary for several reasons. First, individuals in correctional institutions use litigation indeed, and it is prudent for counselors to fully understand the legal parameters they have to work with to avoid consequences or manipulation by their clients.
Second, by understanding the legal and ethical issues and utilizing ethical practices, the counselor establishes an authentic rapport between the counselor and the client. Third, by not understanding the ramifications of all the legal and ethical issues in counseling, the counselor is basically ineffective (Hanser and Mire, 2011). Two of the most important legal and ethical issues that counselors need to fully understand are confidentiality in counseling and case notes as well as session recording in a correctional environment
Obviously, confidentiality is important for the counselor and the client relationship, because it provides the client with security that conversations during sessions will not be promulgated outside the counseling setting. Confidentiality is a key factor for a counselor to be successful. Confidentiality in counseling is highlighted in the U. S. Supreme Court case of Jaffee v. Redmond (1996). The Court found that an atmosphere of confidence and trust is essential for the client to be secure enough to reveal his or her emotions, memories, and fears (Hanser et al, 2011).
Furthermore, the Court felt that clients who possess issues that result in the seeking of counsel, humiliation and shame may occur if information is not properly kept confidential. However, confidentiality conflicts with institutional security in a correctional environment (Hanser et al, 2011). For example, if an offender informs the counselor his or her intent to escape, the counselor must decide negate confidentiality protocol. Clearly, in such a situation, the counselor must decide whether to divulge the information to the authorities, or more likely administrative or security personnel.
Most correctional institutions have policies that dictate a requirement for the counselor to reveal information that could comprise of a threat to institutional safety and curity. Moreover, there are numerous court cases regulating the concept of confidentiality when it comes to information concerning the safety of third parties. One leading court case involving counseling and the safety of third parties is Tarasoff v. Regents (1976). This case dictated that mental health professionals are obligated to protect a third party when there is reasonable belief a client might endanger the third party (Hanser et al, 2011).
Additionally, ethical standards from the American Counselor’s Association maintain that counselors report to proper authorities when clients reveal an intention to harm themselves or others. Since there are relatively strict limits on an offender’s privacy and confidentiality, a more important argument exists in ethical issues for a counselor is to ensure all clients are fully aware of such limits. Clearly, informing offenders of limits and restrictions on privacy and confidentiality should transpire before engaging in any counseling process.
At a minimum, counselors should make clear for themselves and with the offender exactly what communications will be kept confidential and what protections they do and do not have in the counseling relationship (Hanser et al, 2011). This is known as informed consent, which is another critical component in the counseling process. This process involves the counselor educating the offender on all legal and ethical boundaries controlling the counseling relationship. Basically, the offender is informed that here is a possibility that any issue or topic discussed during counseling could in certain situations be revealed to the courts (Hanser et al, 2011).
Masters stated, “It is ethically indefensible to assure the client of confidentiality, or have the client assume that privacy exists when it does not” (Hanser et al, p. 22, 2011). Any offender receiving counseling has the right to know the kind of treatment he or she is receiving, the associated risks, the benefits, and alternatives. other important component of correctional counseling is the precise recording of all notes involved in the activities of a counseling session.
The requirement of accurate notes is mandatory by ethical codes of conduct, ACA, Section A. 1. b (2005) (Hanser et al, 2011). Case notes and session recording are required due to not only the litigious nature of society, but also the nature of offenders to utilize litigation frequently. The accurate recording of notes provides the counselor from potential liability. Additionally, case notes enable the counselor to maintain the sessions focused on the important issues that are a concern of the offender.
Providing a tool to monitor, counselors utilize case notes to measure the offender’s progress, or lack thereof, and ensure the counseling sessions are focused on the particular goals of the offender (Hanser et al, 2011). When counselors begin with a new client, they must evaluate the needs of the offender, and how those needs can be obtained. In order to accomplish identifying and obtaining those needs, the counselors need an organized method of planning, evaluating and recording the counseling services rendered. One of the most viable methods of recording counseling sessions is the utilization of the acronym SOAP.
Originally developed by Weed (1964), SOAP notes provide an organized method of collecting and documenting information that enables the counselor to identify, prioritize, and track what is required for the offender. Additionally, SOAP notes ensure that the offender’s goals are accomplished in a timely and systematic method (Hanser et al, 2011). By utilizing SOAP, counselors can tailor the sessions to any type of session, which will accomplish both the medical needs for the continuing care of the offender and the source documentation required for the session.
Below is a definition for each letter which denotes a specific component of the record keeping method: Subjective (S) – A component of analyzing observation centered on one’s own mind. The counselor provides his or her feelings of a particular offender. Pertinent to this section, the offender describes his or her expression feelings, concerns, plans or goals, and the levels of passion for each (Hanser et al, 2011). Objective (O) – This component is straightforward and includes elements of the offender that are observable.
These elements may include appearance, certain behaviors, abilities, documentation of physical examinations and other items. The counselor’s observations should be precise and factual terms which are quantifiable. In this component, the counselor should avoid using labels, judgements and opinions (Hanser et al, 2011). Assessment (A) – For this component, the counselor evaluates information that incorporates the subjective information gathered during the interview with the offender and the objective observations.
Findings in this component usually contain diagnostic findings such as depression, anxiety, antisocial behavior, bi-polar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (Hanser et al, 2011). Most important to the counselor, this component is the one predominantly read by outside examiners and auditors. Plan (P) – This component provides the actions that will occur as a result of the assessment. Items normally in the plan would include specific interventions utilized, education items used to enable comprehension, progress made by the offender, and the focus that will be in the next session, and the dates of the next session (Hanser et al, 2011).
Imperative to the counseling process is accountability. This component must be adhered to, and in order to ensure accountability, is accurate and ethical note taking by the counselor, and recording into appropriate files. The SOAP process in only one of many tools, counselors can use to ensure the proper recording of necessary information. This procedure allows for the proper goal obtainment for the offender, and guards against potential liability issues for the counselor.
Legal and ethical issues are very important in counseling because counselors are obligated to protect the rights of their ese issues are most important when they involve the client’s confidentiality and developing case notes and session recording. In the corrections environment, counselors experience additional challenges that are normally not found in traditional counseling. Most important, the correctional counselor should understand the legal environment involved in correctional settings. Correctional counselors have an important responsibility for their clients. They must foster dignity and welfare of their client, regardless of the client past behavior.