Ahhhhh summer!  A time to relax, rejuvenate, and prepare for the next school year.  Hopefully you are doing some activities this summer that will recharge your batteries (I am going to ASCA14!).  As you prepare for next year, consider creating documents and brochures that explain your role as a counselor and your ethical responsibilities to your clients.

E-T-H-I-C-S…the word makes me roll my eyes.  I have been to so many ethic workshops in my career that I feel that I could recite the content word for word.  However, there are those workshops that make your heart skip a beat and cause you to reevaluate your procedures.  Recently, I attended our school’s end of the year professional development workshop which featured five hours of ethics.  In this workshop, the focus was on client information, the ethical role of the school counselor, and guidelines for case notes.  In this post, I would like to share some information with novice and seasoned school counselors so that you can make sure that you stay out of trouble!

Client Information

The way we communicate in today’s society is primarily by email.  In schools, we can receive an email that has a thread a mile long and contains information about a student that could be potentially harming to the student.

Tip: When you communicate by email, be careful not to use students’ names or even initials. My suggestion is to use the term “student” or make a comment that you would like to talk about this student in person. Anytime your name is attached to an email, you become part of potential legality. It is important to note that when you respond in an email that you use professional language because emails can be subpoenaed for court. 

 Here is an example of an inappropriate email from a school counselor.  I hate to admit that I have replied to teachers with too much information.

Here is a more appropriate response to the teacher’s email by the school counselor.

Ethical Role of the School Counselor

At the beginning of the year, it is important that you spell out your role as the school counselor, explicitly state your credentials, identify your professional memberships, name the services you provide, expose the limits of your confidentiality, and your office hours.

Tip: My suggestion is to type up a letter to your clients (parents, students, and staff) and include it in your school handbook.

Here is an example of a school counseling introductory letter.

In addition to your letter, print out a copy of your ethical codes and so you can have immediate access to them.  Remember your counselor’s ethical codes trump educational codes. Also, you should create an elevator speech for what you do you and how you accomplish these goals.

Guidelines for Case Notes

There are two types of case notes: sole possession notes and counseling case notes.  What is the difference?

  • Sole possession notes: these are personal notes that you never reveal or share with anyone that you have them.  REPEAT…do not acknowledge or show them to anyone!
  • Case notes: notes that serve as a memory aid and include observations and your professional opinion (do not use labels or diagnoses). 
Remley & Herlihy (2014) give guidelines for keeping case notes for school counselors.  
  1. Do not hesitate to keep notes if they help you remember specific situations.
  2. It is considered unusual if counselors do not have case notes.
  3. Always write notes as if they will be shared with your client, the newspaper, radio, or television.
  4. Separate your notes into objective and subjective categories.
  5. In the objective section, record precisely what was said, what you said, and what you observed. Do not draw any conclusions or enter speculations (you can put these items under observations). For example write down verbatim what occurred in a bullying, abuse, or attempted suicide situation. 
  6. In the subjective section, record any thoughts that you may need for the future (impressions of the client, reminders of your present thought, or plans for the next session).
  7. Keep your case notes locked!
  8. Keep notes on projects, counseling accreditation standards, and agency procedures according to those standards.
  9. Regularly destroy your case notes by shredding them.
  10. Keep your case notes as long as you think you will need them.
  11. When destroying your notes, do not include notes in which you have documented steps you have taken to protect yourself in the event your are accused of wrongdoing.
  12. Never, destroy case notes after you receive a subpoena or if you think you might be receiving a subpoena in the future. 

Tip: It is important to remember that all educational records belong to the parents or guardians according to FERPA and they have the final say of what happens to those notes.  One other tip, always write down when you conduct a consultation and who you consulted on a case…this is very important!

So today, we have learned that ethics is our friend and gives school counselors a rationale for why we do what we do (not that we just heard this from someone and it worked for them… aka — WA-LA).

Why Ethics:

1. Helps school counselors to stay out of legal trouble (I like this one the best!).

2. Enhances your obligations and responsibilities to students.
3. Heightens your sense of awareness when sending email, discussing confidential information, etc.
4.Represents your counseling profession…remember, you do not get a day off!
5. Helps us to perform a standard of care to avoid negligence.

I hope this post reminds you about potential issues in school counseling and how to avoid them!!


ASCA School Counselor Ethics
NBCC Code of Ethics
ACA Code of Ethics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.