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American Counseling Association and the American Association

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The American Counseling Association and the American Association of Christian Counselors both contain a Code of Ethics. This paper will discuss the differences and similarities between a Christian Counselor and a non-Christian Counselor. The differences and similarities range from general to specific. General differences include their overall view of the helping profession, yet the codes are quite similar in the pursuit to do no harm to those they serve. Upon further inspection, it is evident the differences and similarities as they refer to competence, reporting of colleagues and sexual intimacies. As stated in the introduction to the Code of Ethics for the American Association of Christian Counselors, may God grant grace for the task to discern the differences and similarities of each code, and the courage to live accordingly.

Even though the American Association of Christian Counselors and the American Counseling Association has the same title for their Code of Ethics does not imply that they have the same standards nor does it mean that they have many differences. However difficult it might be for a counselor to follow a Code of Ethics, it is imperative. It is the role of each Counselor to read through their Code of Ethics, to discern the truth from the falsities and to model their life and practice accordingly. The differences and similarities of each Code of Ethics range from general to specific. The general difference is the overarching view of helping profession in each code. The introduction, mission and foundations of each code define their overall stances on the counseling profession, and it is in these three areas that the differences of the ACA and the AACC are so clearly defined. The ACA’s mission is as follows, “The mission of the American Counseling Association is to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.” (ACA, 2005).

In contrast the AACC’s mission is “The mission of the Code is to help advance the central mission of the AACC-to bring honor to Jesus Christ and promote excellence and unity in Christian Counseling; promote the welfare and protect the dignity and fundamental rights of all individuals, families, groups, churches, schools, agencies, ministries, and other organizations with whom Christian counselors work; provide standards of ethical conduct in Christian counseling that are to be advocated and applied by the AACC and that can be respected by other professionals and institutions.” (AACC, 2004). Even at first glance, one can realize the in depth nature of the AACC’s Code as opposed to the ACA’s Code. Where as, the ACA’s Code is general and amiable; while, the AACC’s Code dives deeper into the standards of a Counselor and could be considered aggressive. Rather than a broad and vaguely worded Code of Ethics, the AACC chooses, “A more comprehensive and behavior-specific ethical code.” (AACC, 2004).

This view is extremely biblical. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2 ESV) A Christian is called to a higher standard. The AACC supports this by having four streams of influence: “(1) the Bible (Old and New Testaments) and historic orthodox Christian Theology; (2) accepted standards of counseling and clinical practice from Christian counseling and the established mental health disciplines; (3) codes of ethics from other Christian and mental health professions; and (4) current and developing standards derived from mental health and ministry-related law.” (AACC, 2004). Where as, the ACA’s Code of Ethics were not. “Do no harm” is the primary responsibility of every counselor. While this phrase could be carried out in different ways, it is a universal sentiment seen universally in the counseling profession.

The AACC explains, “Affirmatively, Christian counselors recognize and uphold the inherent, God-given dignity of every human person, from the pre-born to those on death’s bed. Human beings are God’s creation-in fact, the crown of His creation-and therefore due all the rights and respect and ordered logic that this fact of creation entails… Christian counselors will express a loving care to any client, service-inquiring person, or anyone encountered in the course of practice or ministry….God’s love is unconditional and, at this level of concern, so must that of the Christian counselor.” (AACC, 2004). With a much more direct statement, the ACA explain “do no harm” by saying, “The primary responsibility of counselors is to respect the dignity and to promote the welfare of clients.” (ACA, 2005). As well as general differences and similarities, there are also specifics of the AACC and ACA. Comparing and contrasting specific codes vary, but are not limited to, the competence, reporting of colleagues and sexual intimacies.

The American Association of Christian Counselors expounds their discussion of the topic of competence by saying, “We [Christian Counselors] know and respect the boundaries of competence in ourselves and others…We make truthful, realistic statements about our identity, education, experience, credentials, and about counseling goals and process…” (AACC, 2004). This practice of competence stretches to when to refer a client and when to seek outside help. Likewise, the ACA considers it a professional responsibility to apply the same ethics to their boundaries of competence. Both ACA and AACC consider it the responsibility of the counselors to be actively assessing themselves, to monitor effectiveness, to continue in education and to strive to improve. If at any point a counselor should feel as though they are no longer contributing to the growth of their clients or begin to allow personal problems impair the counseling process, “a counselor will seek out and use those reparative resources that will allow for problem resolution and a return to a fully functioning ministry, if possible.” (AACC, 2004).

Forming relationships and teamwork are essential to any organization, but conflicts with other professionals and employers are inevitable. It is how one decides to resolve the conflict that makes the difference. The ACA and AACC recognize that peaceable and respectful conflict resolution is key to the harmony of any organization. The differences lie in how each association chooses to peacefully and respectfully resolve a conflict. The ACA encourages that under negative conditions, “counselors alert their employers of inappropriate policies and practices.” (ACA, 2005). However, the AACC encourages “resolution of conflicts with employers or colleagues shall honor this process: (1) first attempt direct negotiations, (2) then meditation, and (3) then arbitration and/or binding arbitration. Litigation (4), when considered at all, shall be only as a last resort and only in cases of gross injustice when the offending party refuses or disdains all reasonable offers of non-litigated dispute resolution.” (AACC, 2004). Sexual intimacies with clients are directly forbidden in the ACA and AACC’s Code of Ethics. The wording of the AACC is more specific than the ACA by providing an exhaustive list of sexual behaviors that are forbidden.

The AACC allows for little leeway whereas, the ACA allows for romantic relationships five years after appropriate termination or if an inappropriate counselor-client interaction becomes beneficial to the client. Not only are former clients forbidden, but also sexual intimacies that are outside a marriage honored and blessed by God. Marriage of a former client are acceptable, “so long as (1) counseling relations were properly terminated, and not for the purpose of pursuing marriage or romantic relations, (2) the client is fully informed that any further counseling must be done by another, (3) there is no harm or exploitation of the client or the client’s family as a result of different relations with the counselor, and (4) the marriage takes place two years or more after the conclusion of a counseling or helping relationship.” (AACC, 2004). In the eyes of the ACA sexual intimacies outside marriage are acceptable.

The helping profession is riffed with ethics and standards that one must implement into everyday life. Ethics are not to be taken lightly. It is imperative to comfort those who are searching for fulfillment in a way that will lead them to the truth of the gospel. “May God be exalted, the Holy Spirit invited and Jesus Christ be seen in all of our counseling and helping endeavors. If done, our clients and parishioners will be blessed and not harmed, their wounds will be healed, their sins forgiven, and they will be given hope for the future. If done, we will participate in a wonderful adventure-one that will likely never grow old or stale-and we will fulfill our call to excellence and ethical integrity in Christian counseling.” (AACC, 2004).


American Association of Christian Counseling Law and Ethics Committee (2004). AACCCode of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.aacc.net/about-us/code-of-ethics/ American Counseling
Association (2005). ACA Code of Ethics. Retrieved fromhttp://www.counseling.org/Resources/CodeOfEthics/TP/Home/CT2.aspx

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