Ethical Codes On Counselor Impairment Assignment

Counselor impairment can be caused by a sudden, unexpected event, or it can sneak up on a counselor, unnoticed. The ACA code of ethics in Section C.2.g states that counselors should always be aware of his or her physical, mental and emotional wellness. If his or her emotional, physical, or mental wellness is compromised, he or she should seek assistance when the impairment conflicts with his or her professional responsibilities. He or she may seek assistance through other professionals or colleagues if harm may come to clients (2014).

Signs of Impairment

Signs of impairment may be easily noticeable or not noticeable at all. A couple of signs of impairment are emotional distress and the potential exploitation of clients (Everall, Paulson, 2004). Emotional distress could come at a time of family illness, death of a family or friend, conflict with a family or friend, or personal struggles like an addiction. The exploitation of a client could result in personal, selfish gain.

Case Example and Solution 

A case example of a counselor with emotional distress would be a counselor who is faced with the death of his or her child. The issue could intensify for the counselor when he or she is counseling a client that is having issues with his or her child and may have feelings of resentment. The counselor could face emotional conflict when he or she is counseling a woman who is thinking about getting an abortion. These situations would impair the counselor from thinking clearly due to his or her emotional distress from the loss of his or her own child.

The best step for the counselor to take here would be to first recognize his or her emotional distress. This step would help the counselor recognize and admit he or she is not able to help his or her client’s at his or her best ability. This would be the most difficult step, in my opinion. The next step would be to seek assistance from a colleague or fellow counseling professional. The outside advice from a colleague/professional that is not impaired from emotion would be in the counselor’s best interest.


American Counseling Association (ACA). (2014). 2014 ACA code of ethics [White Paper]. Retrieved from http.//

Overall, R. D., & Paulson, B. L. (2004). Burnout and secondary traumatic stress impact on ethical behavior. Canadian Journal of Counseling, 38(1), 25-35. Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

2.  K-John

Within every field when you are dealing with social issues and working with people it can lead to burnout within a worker or counselor. It is important to have the counselor understand that this will happen in their life. As I read the code of ethics it clearly states in Section C.2.g “that counselors should always be aware of his or her physical, mental and emotional wellness”.

Two signs of counselor impairment are compassion fatigue and a decrease in clinic skills (Laureate Education, Inc,2012).  When a counselor takes on compassion fatigue they are experiencing extreme tension. This can lead a counselor to be less empathetic, physical pain, emotional pain and become withdrawn (Pfifferling & Gille, 2000).  The decrease in in-clinic skills can be a variety of things such as lack of case notes, lack of direction in a counseling session, or lack of being active in a session.

A counselor has a high stressed filled caseload and is not being able to spend the time she needs with her clients because of the time restriction her company and insurance places on the counselor. The counselor’s clients are mostly sexual assault clients. The counselor begins to take on the burden of the clients she sees. The counselor begins to have daily headaches, muscle aches, tires, cannot sleep and is not eating well.

My solution for the counselor is to take the many different tests that are free on the internet to self-evaluate what she is experiencing. I also would recommend seeking her own therapist to help learn coping skills. I would also suggest the counselor speaks to her supervisor to gain support and learning coping skills. Lastly, I would recommend the counselor have a regular schedule to properly eat and maintain some type of exercise and mindful meditation.

American Counseling Association (ACA). (2014). 2014 ACA code of ethics [White Paper]. Retrieved from http.//

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2012). Clinical mental health counseling: Counselor impairment [Video]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Differing, J Ph.D. & Gilley, K MS (2000) Overcoming Compassion Fatigue, Family Practice Management

Retrieved from

3.  C-Bin

The counseling profession requires a significant amount of emotional energy. It is our professional responsibility to monitor our well-being and how it impacts our effectiveness. The ACA Code discusses the importance of counselors monitoring themselves for impairment, refrain from offering services while impaired, seek assistance when necessary, and offer assistance to colleagues who may be impaired (ACA, 2014). The ACA also requires counselors to prepare a plan for the care of their clients when they are unable to provide services (ACA, 2014).

Signs of Impairment

Common signs of distress in counselors could range from irritability to feelings of helplessness but signs of distress do not always indicate impairment, it is when the distress remains unalleviated that a counselor becomes impaired (Remley & Herlihy, 2016). One major sign of impairment that I would like to discuss is the sense of entrapment that can manifest into a negative attitude towards self, work, and life itself (Everall & Paulson, 2004). I feel that a major character trait of our profession is the ability to remain positive and hopeful and when a counselor loses this ability, they are unable to perform the job competently.  Another sign of impairment that I feel could be very dangerous is a sense of omnipotence.  When the counselor negates the client as a person and struggles to maintain a sense of empathy and respect for the client they are unable to responsibly care for the client (Everall & Paulson, 2004). I feel that this can lead to the counselor feeling that they are better than the client and exploit the client to meet their own personal needs.

Impairment Scenario

Jack is a mental health counselor who has been experiencing symptoms of burnout. He is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted and has little energy left to care for his clients (Remley & Herlihy, 2016). One of his clients is a young woman who he has been seeing for the past few weeks and is experiencing symptoms of distress due to a recent sexual assault. Jack has recently been through a nasty divorce. During one of his sessions with the young woman, she begins to experience difficulties becoming aroused sexually. Jack begins to talk with her about arousal and begins to touch her inappropriately. Jack feels that he is superior to his client and that his sexual needs are more important than the client’s recovery, this feeling has led him to take advantage of his already vulnerable client. Jack has violated the ACA Code standard C.6.a. by sexually harassing his client (ACA, 2014). The client has been traumatized a second time and now is afraid to seek treatment from another counselor for fear of being assaulted again.

Had Jack sought out treatment for his burnout symptoms, he may not have developed a sense that he was better than his clients and thus would not have assaulted his client. Jack was already in distress due to his divorce and the added stress of his job contributed to his burnout.  Some strategies that can be useful to counselors when they recognize that they need a change are (1) seeking counseling themselves; (2) seeking supervision; (3) taking a break or vacation from practice; (4) joining a peer support group; (5) getting regular exercise, meditating, and taking time to enjoy hobbies; and (6) seeking support from family and friends (Remley & Herlihy, 2016). Implementing one or more of these strategies could have been extremely helpful to Jack. It is also important that as professionals, we not only look for symptoms of impairment in ourselves but in our colleagues as well. It is our responsibility to provide assistance to our colleagues who are in distress, we must be able to both provide feedback and receive feedback (Everall & Paulson, 2004).


American Counseling Association (ACA). (2014). 2014 ACA code of ethics [White Paper]. Retrieved July 31, 2017, from

Overall, R. D., & Paulson, B. L. (2004). Burnout and secondary traumatic stress impact on ethical behavior. Canadian Journal of Counseling, 38(1), 25–35.

Remley, T. P., Jr., & Herlihy, B. (2016). Ethical, legal, and professional issues in counseling (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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