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Individual and group counseling remain the two common methods of therapy applied to various settings. Individual therapy largely focuses on developing personal interactions between the client and the therapists and ultimately solves an issue that may be either long or short term. Group counseling involves one or more individual therapists dealing with the needs of a group of people who may or not have any form of social or familial relationships. All counseling sessions are guided by strict adherence to ethical issues. Although group and individual counseling have some differences, they face the same ethical issues. These ethical issues include the protection of confidential information, the use of informed consent, defining the relationship between the therapists, abiding by the current legal and professional standards and the client, and the need to integrate religious and cultural beliefs of an individual. This paper discusses the difference between the various counseling methods and outlines ethical issues that each counseling method faces.

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Ethics on Group and Individual Counseling

Ethics refers to scientific, educational, cultural and professional values that are applied to specific environmental settings while counseling is a philosophical profession aimed at empowering people from different families and backgrounds. Counselling seeks to achieve professional, educational and career goals as well as ensuring mental health and wellness among individuals in the society. Counseling is a vital process aimed at ensuring that professional and personal goals are achieved. Counseling is largely classified into two different forms. Individual counseling involves direct interaction between the individual being counseled and the counselor while group counseling involves the interaction of a counselor and a group of individuals sharing a similar problem (Rao, 2013). The central goal of individual counseling is to ensure that the individual gains or achieves personal strength through the personal interaction with the counselor. This form of counseling is also commonly referred to as a collaborative therapy since the counselor and the individual are involved in the attainment of specific goals. Group counseling requires a therapist to use a collaborative approach to different clients simultaneously. Both individual counseling and group counseling assist individuals in attaining they required professional or personal goals (McLeod, 2013). However, both forms of counseling face numerous ethical issues. The American Psychology Association develops several ethical guidelines to be followed in any therapy session to ensure that the process adheres to some key values which do not hinder the attainment of specific goals. Individual and group counseling face a myriad of ethical issues during therapy related sessions.

Group and Individuals Counselling

In individual counseling different issues are brought back and forth with the therapist listening to the issues and then providing some form of feedback. There is a high form of communication exchange between the client and the therapist. The dynamics of the relationship between the therapist and the client normally take some time before they fully emerge. Only after the relationship has developed there will be some signs of therapeutic effect. Individual counseling may also deal with short-term therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which never relies on the relationship between the two parties. Advantages of individual counseling include high levels of confidentiality and the information disclosed, higher levels of personal concentration by the therapist, sessions based on individual needs, intimate client therapy relationships, and the ease of meeting the needs of the client. Disadvantages include less opportunities to hear how other people deal with the same issues and the cost

Group counseling involves the detection of simultaneous interaction between the therapists and the client outside the familial and social networks. The groups might be homogenously consisting of people with the same issues or heterogeneously based on the individual’s background history and concerns. There is less interest in the development of personal relationships such as those indicated in the individual counseling. Furthermore, it involves solving issues that currently affect an individual. A good example of group counseling may be a group of individuals attempting to cure their drug addiction and those battling terminal diseases such as cancer. Advantages of group therapy include improved communication in the sense of universality, a provision of information on how to handle different issues, a group altruism, an increase in self-awareness, and instilling hope among members. Other advantages include fostering modeling and sharing of experiences on issues that affect people with the same problem in the process of easing the burden. Disadvantages include less time for personal attention as well as less participation of other parties or entities.

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Ethics in Group Counselling

Group counseling involves psychiatric care in which several clients come together and interact with one or more therapists. In this case, each group formulates issue to be resolved though the major reason why they need to join the group is unknown. In most settings, these individuals join these groups for personal growth. Research indicates that group counseling is more effective than individual counseling based on the premise that learners can learn from different parties and at the same time share their experiences with other parties (Sarkar et al., 2010; Schwandt et al., 2013). Group counseling has both positive and negative effects (Amemori, et al., 2013; Cartier et al., 2012). Positive effects of group counseling include improved social skills among members of the group since they share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas (Sarkar et al., 2010). Another positive effect is that there is more positive feedbacks from the group as these individuals come from the same social group and are, therefore, more likely to have the same perspective on the same issue. In most cases, the individuals from the same age group are likely to view a problem from a similar perspective. Although these issues ensure that the process goes on as effectively as possible there are several different ethical issues that commonly arise from group counseling.

Confidentially remains the cornerstone of any therapeutic process in counseling. It is based on the principles of fidelity and autonomy. To a lesser degree, it also encompasses aspects related to nonmaleficence and beneficence. Autonomy ensures that all the clients or individuals attending the sessions have the right to choose with whom they share their personal information (McLeod, 2013). Confidentiality of the information obtained in the above case is based on individual ability to choose what they disclose to other parties. Fidelity requires psychologists to be faithful to the client and keep their promises to their clients. They are not supposed to reveal any information provided by the client. Psychologists are supposed to be honest about the limits of confidentiality so that they can make informed decisions regarding self-disclosure. A key ethical issue in the above case is whether the information discussed among the group members will remain confidential considering that personal opinions are being shared with other members of the group (Feltham & Horton, 2012). In addition, numerous issues arise on the question whether the therapists are supposed to release confidential information of an individual once it has been discovered that such information could help in the treatment and management of any condition related to one of the group members.

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Therapists face numerous different issues since they have to balance between disclosure of information that could help the management of one of their group members and confidentiality of the information that was provided and which they are bound to keep. Clients provide such information because they trust their therapists. The disclosure of such information may hinder future progress especially if the client is unaware that such information was disclosed. Group leaders are supposed to provide the required information related to the confidentiality of information to all participants so as to prevent conflict (Gazda, 1969). This information acts to ensure that the group members make informed choices about the nature of their association. Professional honesty and openness serve to create a meaningful and trustful environment for the achievement of all goals. In dealing with issues relating to confidentiality of information the group leader is supposed to ensure that a thorough explanation is provided to all group members on what are the standards associated with confidentiality of the information that they provide during their interactions. The group is supposed to be informed that their confidentiality might not be adequately provided under the current state laws and that such privileges cannot be guaranteed.

Another major ethical concern in group counseling is whether individual goals are satisfied in group settings. Different members come to the group with an overall goal. However, the overall goal may not be aligned with the individual intrinsic goal since all member share different issues. There is a likelihood that the psychologists might get interested in achieving specific goals of certain members, especially when some individuals in the group are more aggressive in comparison to others. Equal attention may also not be provided to all clients in their respective setting based on the nature of their problem. As a result, the group members are likely to benefit differently from such sessions as ones will fully attain their goals while the others will fail to attain their goals. One of the most effective ways that ensure that the goals of the group are reached is through the selective use of participants. Screening of participants allows for the selection of a group of an individual whose goals and needs are in line with the needs of the group and do not serve to jeopardize the arrangement at hand (Kyriacou, 1999). The use of such approaches decreases situations in which the goals of different individual members are different. The screening process is supposed to cover all the concerned aspects.

All therapists are supposed to uphold the specific code of conduct that defines their interaction with members of the group. When therapists immediately fail to adhere to the required code of conduct they increase the likelihood of facing numerous different civil penalties. The group members can prove that some form of personal injury or psychological harm was due to the actions of the group leader failure to either provide more pop care, negligence or ignorance. Negligence occurred when the group leader departs from the accepted standard of care. For example, when the therapists breached their duty by not utilizing the commonly accepted practices in handling various issues within the society and that this action resulted in an injury to the client (Larsen, Stege, Edey, & Ewasiw, 2014; Rao, 2013). In such cases, clients might claim the presentation of new symptoms, emotional harm, job loss, increased suicidal thoughts, and self-inflicted injuries. When such conditions have never been present in the individual and have been observed after attending the therapist’s session, then the methods utilized by the therapists to achieve certain goals may be questioned since they might have had a negative effect on the condition of an individual significantly.

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Ethics in Individual Counselling

Unlike group counseling during which one therapist or group leader deals with issues concerning a specific set of people, individual counseling provides an opportunity for an individual to be in touch with a therapist on a one-on-one basis and provides specific information on the issue to be discussed. In this case, the settings are restricted to the only two parties. This increases the chances of the preservation of personal and confidential information. In this case, both the therapists and the counselee should agree to keep the information confidential. In this case, the therapists are not only bound by their word and the code of ethics but also by the specific law that guides the relationships between the two parties (Feltham & Horton, 2012; Rao, 2013). It is only in specific circumstances that the therapists are allowed to release such information. A good case would be in any criminal related case or in cases where the life of counselee is in danger.

All counselors are supposed to have adequate training before they choose to engage in any form of activity. All counselors are expected to have five-year experience. This ensures that the counselors have the requisite skills in dealing with the needs of the individual being examined. Counselors or therapists are not allowed to engage in any sexual relationship with their clients (McLeod, 2013). The chances of therapists or counselors engaging in any romantic or sexual relationship with their client have largely been reported in individual counseling as compared to group counseling. A clear boundary is supposed to be established by what is discussed between the two parties. In case, any party shows any form of sexual or romantic interest in the party, the association between the two parties is supposed to be stopped, and the client should be referred to another therapist. This is commonly done so that the goals of counseling are achieved. The code of ethics does not allow any counselor to be engaged in any romantic relationship with their clients and if such cases happen then, the counselor loses their position (Bond, 2009). The code of ethics related to personal relationship indicates that counselors cannot engage in any form of romantic or sexual relations with the client, his/her partner or a client’s family member for five years after counseling starts. In most cases, building relationships and avoiding any form of non-professional contact is not always possible. In some cases, it has been indicated to be more beneficial for the client since the therapists become part and parcel of an individual’s life. Attending formal ceremonies, commerce activities, and hospital visits have been indicated to benefit the client and improve their health outcome though counselors are restricted from becoming a part and parcel of the client’s life.

Counselors or therapists are supposed to obtain an informed consent before they engage the client in any form of new technique, goal or procedure. The potential benefits and risks are supposed to be carefully explained to the individual. Overall, the therapists are supposed to use a method that has been proven to be effective in the past and those which have no negative effects on the client (Bond, 2009; Woolfe, 2010). The exclusive use of a specific method that is intended to harm the client is not allowed even if it achieves a positive outcome. In addition, counselors are supposed to take adequate time in dealing with their clients and limit the emphasis on outcomes since this is what commonly forces many different counselors which is to adapt to the use of extreme techniques. Just like in group counseling, once a patient indicates that the resultant negative condition is associated with the therapist’s work then there is a need to investigate the method currently utilized by the counselor.

Informed consent also applies to other specific aspects such as when sessions should be continued with a client after taking a break and whether the client is willing to continue attending the sessions. Consent information is also required in cases when the counselor becomes incapacitated and when the client refuses to take treatment for a specific period. In such case, the consequences of such actions are supposed to be investigated by the counselor and the advice should be provided for the right course of actions. It is also imperative that the client is never forced to engage in any counseling process against their wishes. In the case when the client is a minor, the parent reserves the right to provide consent. In addition, the progress of the child is supposed to be reported to the parent on a specific basis. In case the child asks for some form of information to be kept confidential the therapists or counselor is supposed to adhere to such instructions unless such activities threaten the life of the child (Bond, 2009; Woolfe, 2010). There are different methods that are available today that could ensure that confidentiality is retained. The use of methods such as electronic mail and voicemail should be applied in dealing with the condition. Maintaining confidentiality of a deceased client is supposed to be consistent with all of the legal requirements and other policies.

Counselors are also supposed to consider the cultural and religious practices of an individual during the counseling sessions.Their sessions are supposed to have factored in the developmental stages of an individual and their respective beliefs about specific aspects of their life. The main aim of counseling individuals is not to shift their thinking process but to accommodate their views.These views are supposed to be used in the treatment and management of the condition. In addition, the counseling sessions are supposed to provide a platform for the client to express their views (McLeod, 2013; Rao, 2013). The environmental setting in which the two parties interact is supposed to be conducive. More emphasis is to be put on the information that is provided by the client rather than the counselor. The counselor’s title role is to listen to the needs of the client, note some solutions and ask the client how they feel about the whole process.


Group and individual counseling remain the two most common methods utilized in therapy to assess the professional and personal needs of the client. There are significant differences between the two types of counseling with the individual counseling emphasizing on the development of intimate relationships between the therapist and the client while the group one places less emphasis on personal attention and interaction. Furthermore, the group counseling largely deals with current issues affecting an individual while the individual counseling focuses both on long-term and short-term issues affecting an individual. The two approaches have varying efficacy levels. However, counseling is affected by numerous ethical concerns with key issues in group counseling being an alignment of group goals to individual intrinsic goals. Other key ethical issues include maintaining confidentiality and developing relations with the client. The use of informed consent and creating a good environment that allows the client to provide the required information also remains a key issue.

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