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Disaster Crisis Counseling, Legal and Ethical Issues

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This paper explores "best practices" in the process of providing disaster crisis counseling (DCC) and some of the possible legal and ethical challenges presented both historically and in a contemporary practice.

Disaster Crisis Counseling, Legal and Ethical Challenges

Best practices are standards of ethical behavior a professional counselor should strive to maintain in the process of crisis-management counseling. A counselor should be conscious of the guidelines provided by the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics (2005), and compare, and contrast with legal standards of the community within which he or she works. A professional counselor should be aware of the methods, and risk factors of issues, which may arise between counseling and legal standards presented by the disaster. By creating and implementing informed guidelines, the counselor will have a general understanding of potential conflicts when a particular crisis occurs.

Disaster and crisis counseling should take into account the scope and complexity of the situation presented by the disaster. The delivery of services provided by the counselor will be unique and challenging. The counselor will not be in a familiar treatment location; in addition, the stresses on the mental health of the practitioner as well as the client(s) will have to be taken into consideration. Preparedness of the counselor for the unique situational stressors needs to be taken into account when the legal and ethical decision-making is being made in the wake of the disaster. Steps should be taken beforehand that will help the counselor with specific considerations when delivering the services under demanding disaster and post-disaster circumstances.

A disaster crisis counselor will be making ethical decisions using the ACA Code of Ethics; however, the code is simply a guideline, and it is up to the counselor to behave ethically. It is clear from prior readings that it is impossible to presume that all ethical issues are captured in the ACA code. Room for personal professional decision-making, depending upon the complexity involved in the disaster crisis, will ultimately determine the position taken in a disaster situation. Ethical principles and standards to which disaster crisis counselors will be confronted with must include legal and philosophical concerns. It is anticipated that determinations will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Having set guidelines beforehand is helpful in a professional disaster crisis counselor's effort to aspire for the best practices under the circumstances presented by particular circumstances.

One approach that is a valuable tool in any disaster is well outlined by Karin Jordan's, PhD, ten steps of ethical decision making for crisis counselors: (1) identify the ethical concern within the context of the disaster, (2) consider personal (crisis counselor's) beliefs, values, skills, and knowledge, (3) identify the code(s) of ethics involved, (4) determine possible ethical traps, (5) frame a preliminary response, (6) consider the consequences, (7) prepare for an ethical resolution, (8) get feedback/consultation from other crisis counselors, (9) takes action, and (10) review the outcome (2010).

A counseling relationship in a disaster crisis would (at a minimum), consist of four phrases that include: (1) initiation, (2) ongoing counseling, (3) dangerousness and crisis concerns, and (4) termination (Cottone & Tarvydas, 2007). Each phrase and acceptable responses on the part of the counselor(s) will depend on the circumstances. As a disaster crisis counselor the concerns (most in the forefront), is core competence, informed consent of those being counseled, confidentially, privileged communication, exceptions to confidentiality, record keeping, dangerousness,



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