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Ethical Vignette Assignment: The Case of Helpful Receptionist


The case of a helpful receptionist addresses the question of whether privacy and confidentiality were violated when a receptionist revealed to a husband that his wife came to the counselor. The receptionist shared the information unintentionally, yet they should not disclose private personal information about a client when working with the counselor. For both counselors and people who work with them, clients’ right to confidentiality must be prioritized. The problem is both legal and professional, as it violates the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics, particularly section B which refers to privacy and confidentiality. Moreover, it also violates the state laws of North Carolina.

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Applicable ACA Code of Ethics

With regards to the specific ACA Code of Ethics, the receptionist violated several codes in section B. Firstly, it is evident that the receptionist did not follow B.1. c., which is respect for confidentiality. Here, the counselor has to ensure that any private information would be kept private, which was not true in the case of the helpful receptionist. (2014 ACA Code of Ethics, 2014). Secondly, there is also B.3. code which is information shared with others that were also violated.

Specifically, B.3.a. subordinates in which a counselor “should make every effort to ensure that privacy and confidentiality of clients are maintained by subordinates, including employees, supervisees, students, clerical assistants, and volunteers.” (2014 ACA Code of Ethics, 2014). Additionally, B.3.c. the confidential setting, which states that a client’s personal information should be only discussed in a professional setting, was violated (2014 ACA Code of Ethics, 2014). One more code that was neglected is B.3.d. third-party payers. This states that professionals should only disclose information to third-party payers only when clients give authorized permission (2014 ACA Code of Ethics, 2014). It is seen that the counselor failed to control the receptionist’s behavior, suggesting that they did not communicate about ethics in the workplace.

States Laws of North Carolina

In terms of state laws of North Carolina, the receptionist also neglected similar codes with that of the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics. There is a violation in article 24, which is the Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors Act. Particularly, § 90-343, disclosure that states without a Professional Disclosure Statement professionals are not allowed to share personal information (Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors Act, 2015, p. 11). Third-party reimbursements, § 90-344, including that there is no need for a third-party presence in addressing clients’ treatment and private information (Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors Act, 2015, p. 11). Such violations not only negatively affect the counselor and their career but also a client’s mental health.

Autonomy and Beneficence

Moreover, in the case of a helpful receptionist, the moral principles of a counselor were undermined, causing trouble to the client. The receptionist did not consider autonomy and beneficence professional values when sharing the personal information of the client. The wife had the right not to tell her husband that she was going to the counseling center. When the information was revealed, it suggests that the client’s autonomy in keeping private information secret was neglected. Groot and Hoek (2017) argue that professional values, particularly autonomy, should be the top priority for specialists as preserving this value increases the credibility of a professional. Furthermore, showing that the counselor follows their values can significantly improve a client’s perception of the counseling practice. In terms of beneficence, the receptionist did not consider how the disclosure of private information would affect the client, hence neglecting the value. Although the receptionist was not affected, the whole situation was not beneficial to the client.

Applicable Federal Laws

With regards to Mental Health Federal Laws, several laws apply to the case of a helpful receptionist. Specifically, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is dedicated to addressing the issues of privacy of individuals who receive professional help (Understanding What HIPAA Means, 2014). This shows how a professional should take all the responsibilities for the privacy and confidentiality of the individuals getting help from them.

Potential Course of Action

Some people may think that there is no act of violation of those above-mentioned laws and code of ethics since the receptionist acted unintentionally. Yet, it is not acceptable that the client was put in a not favorable situation that could potentially affect her mental health. The counselor who is in charge of the patient should have to ensure that no private information will be shared and that nothing would influence the well-being of the patient. This is because an individual’s both physical and mental health is the top priority of mental health professional. Considering this, I would solve the issue by communicating with the patient about the situation that had happened. Groot and Hoek (2017) suggest that effective communication can lessen the stress of a client if a sudden unpleasant situation has taken place. I will try to provide all the information regarding what the client can do and that I would be ready to accompany them in their every concern. I will be on the client’s side and will try to do my best to support them. I will ensure that the client is in stable mental health and that my workers will have been punished accordingly to their violations.

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Groot, J., & Hoek, M. E. (2017). Contemplative listening in moral issues: Moral counseling redefined in principles and method. Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, 71(2), 106-113.

Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors Act, § 90. (2015).

National Allience of Mental Health. (2014). Understanding What HIPAA Means for Mental Illness | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Nami.Org.

2014 ACA Code of Ethics. (2014). ACA Governing Council.

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