Monday, 5 July 2021

Process Model for Ethical Problem-solving

There are many models for thinking through problems, however, there is an added layer of complexity when tackling problems with ethical issues or dilemmas. Most models don't take ethics into account (NB: read about Cavanagh, Moberg and Velasquez's 1981 model here).

In career practice, when considering ethical issues, there are few models which have been created specifically for the field. We tend instead to borrow from counselling. Bond (2000, 2005) has a great chapter on ethical problem-solving, which I have summarised below. The six steps are clear, and simple enough to be worked through quickly.

  1. Write a brief description of the problem or dilemma. This minimises confusion and is helpful when discussing the situation with your supervisor or colleague (Bond, 2005, pp. 227-228).
  2. Whose problem or dilemma is it?
    1. The counsellor’s?
    2. The client’s?
    3. A joint problem (if so, then you and your client need to discuss, thoroughly clarifying and negotiating relationship boundaries. Consult your professional supervisor - and possibly your manager - to facilitate this process)?
    4. An agency/organisation problem? (pp. 228-230)
  3. Consider ethics, codes and guidelines. What appropriate sources of guidance, e.g. (CDANZ Code of Ethics; NCDA Code of Ethics) do you need? Think about:
    1. What actions are prohibited or required according to available ethics codes?
    2. What actions are prohibited or required by law?
    3. What moral principles underlying counselling are appropriate?
      1. Beneficence: what will achieve the greatest good?
      2. Non-maleficence: what will cause the least harm?
      3. Justice: what will be fairest for all parties involved?
      4. Respect for autonomy: what maximises opportunities for choice for all concerned?
      5. Fidelity (trust): what actions ensure that you remain faithful to the relationship? Breaking the client’s trust is a serious relationship violation, and reparation and redemption may not be possible (pp. 230-231)
  4. Identify possible courses of action. Brainstorm all possible actions. Depending upon circumstances, do this with the support and co-operation of the client, your professional supervisor, a colleague, or - if appropriate - your manager (p. 231)
  5. Select the most appropriate course of action. Consider the preferred course of action from the following perspectives. Ask yourself (NB: Answering no to any of these indicates a need to reflect and reconsider, and to talk to your supervisor):
    1. Universality - would I recommend this action to others? Would I condone it if a colleague did this?
    2. Publicity - could I explain my chosen action to colleagues? Supervisor? Would I be willing to have it exposed to scrutiny in court, to the media or other public forum?
    3. Justice - would I take the same action with other clients? If the client were well known or influential, would my decision have been the same? Different? (p. 232)
  6. Evaluate the outcome. Ask yourself: Was the outcome as I hoped? Did I consider all relevant factors so that no new factors emerged? Would I do the same again in similar circumstances? If you answered no to any of these questions, reflect on what you would do differently (pp. 232-233).

Try Bond's model, and see how you find it!



  • Bond, T. (2000). Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action (Counselling in Action series) (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Bond, T. (2005). Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action (Counselling in Action series) (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Cavanagh, G. F., Moberg, D. J., & Velasquez, M. (1981). The Ethics of Organizational Politics. Academy of Management Review 6(3), 363-374.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Thanks for your feedback. The elves will post it shortly.