Coleman (n.d) suggests ten (10) barriers to the ethical problem solving process. They are:

  1. Lack of knowledge of Ethical Standards
  2. Financial Incentives
  3. Perfectionism
  4. Fear of Criticism/Scrutiny by Others
  5. High Affiliative Needs
  6. Personal and/or Professional Immaturity
  7. Counsellor Substance Abuse
  8. Lack of Personal Values Clarification
  9. Limitations of Codes of Ethics and Conduct
  10. Lack of a Decision Making Model

Lack of Knowledge of Ethical Standards

Society is fast paced and ever changing. Counsellors are obliged to remain committed to ongoing learning and development within the profession. This includes continuing awareness of relevant ethical codes and standards.

It also incorporates knowledge of legal standards and laws. Ignorance is not a defence. Counsellors can overcome this obstacle through personal commitment to professional development and maintaining professional memberships.

Financial Incentives

  1. Ethical dilemmas often present in the form of gifts or rewards offered to the counsellor either directly by the client, or indirectly through an agency.
  2. A counsellor may justify the acceptance of such gifts/rewards by undervaluing the monetary value of their role.
  3. Coleman (n.d) considers that counsellors rationalise this behaviour by telling themselves that they are underpaid and deserve it.
  4. This barrier often inhibits the counsellor at the beginning of the ethical decision making process stopping them from adequately clarifying the problem.
  5. Reaffirming the reason for entering the counselling profession may assist the counsellor in overcoming this obstacle.


  1. A large barrier at the implementation stage of the ethical problem solving process is the counsellor’s fear of not making a good decision.
  2. A counsellor may become over concerned with ‘doing the right thing’, so much so that they are unable to put the decision into practice. Coleman (n.d) proposes that counsellors acknowledge that there is rarely one ‘right’ choice and to look beyond self.

Fear of Criticism/Scrutiny

  1. No one likes to be criticised and counsellors are no different.
  2. It is however, inevitable that the decision taken will not be popular with all.
  3. To overcome the fear, a counsellor needs to accept that the choice they have made is the correct one for the situation and that not everyone will be pleased.

High Affiliative Needs

  1. This barrier often accompanies perfectionism.
  2. Many counsellors have a need to be liked and ethical decisions may not always be popular.
  3. This need can leave the counsellor open to manipulation.
  4. Personal awareness can help the counsellor overcome this barrier.

Personal and/or Professional Immaturity

  1. Coleman (n.d) identifies immaturity as acting impulsively without any conviction.
  2. Immaturity involves acting on and implementing decisions that satisfy the counsellor first, often without any consideration to the client.
  3. The use of an ethical problem solving model can assist in conquering this barrier.

Counsellor Substance Abuse

Stress within any profession can lead to substance abuse, counsellors too are vulnerable.The counsellor who acts under the influence of alcohol or other substances is putting themselves, their client/s and the profession at harm. Counsellors need to be aware of the effect personal issues may have on themselves, how it transcends to their professional life and how they deal with said issues (Corey, Corey and Callanan 2007).

Lack of Personal Values Clarification

  1. Commitment to ongoing professional growth is facilitative and required.
  2. Counsellors also need to be dedicated to personal development and knowledge of self/values.
  3. As with professional development this is an ongoing reflection.
  4. Failure to do this could result in the counsellor becoming stuck and lacking the maturity to undertake sound ethical practice.

Limitations of Codes of Ethics and Conduct

Stein (1990) identifies a number of limitations pertaining to ethical codes. They are:

  1. Written in broad, general terms not specific to any one particular situation.
  2. Can conflict with other Codes or regulations
  3. Reactive rather than proactive
  4. Silent or blind to some situations/problems
  5. Vital to remain alert to the Ethical Codes offered by professional memberships and acknowledge limits.

Lack of a Decision Making Model

Decisions that are made impulsively fail to acknowledge the extent of the dilemma and the process. A clear structure to follow means that the decision made is more likely to be ‘morally acceptable, clinically appropriate and suit both the client and the counsellor’s interests’ (Coleman, n.d., p9).

In summary

  1. Barriers exist to the ethical decision making process.
  2. These barriers may be due to the agency a counsellor works for or barriers within the counsellor themselves
  3. Barriers may be overcome through (a) continual counsellor self reflection, (b) ongoing awareness of professional ethical codes, (c) solid application of a systematic decision making model.