Ethics, we talkin’ bout ethics!

With the advent of e-learning, online schools, and distance education there is a growing need for online counseling to help guide and facilitate students’ online academic, personal/social, and career-related experiences. However, Hayden, Poynton, and Sebella (2008) stated the delivery of these counseling services needs to be done with prudence and framed within the ethical parameters of the fields professional associations. These associations include, the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), who were the first to adopt an ethics standard for online counseling as early as 1997; the American Counseling Association (ACA), the International Society for Mental Health Online (ISHMO), and the American Psychological Association (APA), all who are stakeholders in the field of ethics and online counseling.

However, according to Rummell and Joyce (2010), the APA has chosen not to take a stand for or against the ethical concerns in the online counseling environment. This contrived silence has left many to suggest that this is the reason many psychologists are unenthusiastic about entering into the field of online counseling.

Many of the ethical concerns revolving around online counseling are centered on student/client geographical location, credentialing, true identity, record keeping, confidentiality and privacy, and asynchronous/synchronous distinctions. One example of an ethical synchronous scenario given by Rummell and Joyce (2010), involved an online chat where the client states that she is depressed and wants to commit suicide; however before the counselor could respond, the student disconnected from the chat session. In addition, Haberstroh (2009) states that the ACA ethical code helps to explains that online counselors also consider, culture differences, time zone constraints, and legibility of online text communications.

Overall, the ethical guidelines within online counseling are vaguely translucent; moreover, Haberstroh (2009) found that many online counselors/clinicians did not follow ethical guidelines in their practices. Furthermore, because of the newness of online counseling, there are more than few undiscovered ethical concerns that need to be addressed. Hayden et al. (2008) briefly talked about how technological competency, for example, has become an ethical issue as online counselors in a school setting look for ways to keep students safe. This is difficult, however, because as Rummel and Joyce (2010) have asserted, the dearth of the debate has unfortunately rendered these ethical conflicts pointless, while causing practitioners in the field to carry on with the mindset of, business as usual.


Haberstroh, S. (2009). Strategies and Resources for Conducting Online Counseling. Journal Of Professional Counseling: Practice, Theory & Research, 37(2), 1-20.

Hayden, L., Poynton, T. A., & Sabella, R. A. (2008). School Counselors’ Use of Technology within the ASCA National Model’s Delivery System. Journal of Technology in Counseling, 5(1). Retrieved from

Rummell, C. M., & Joyce, N. R. (2010). “So wat do u want to wrk on 2day?”:The Ethical Implications of Online Counseling. Ethics & Behavior, 20(6), 482-496.

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