Paper on a Contextual Perspective in the Application of the ACA Code of Ethics

Today, counselors work in increasingly diverse environments characterized by multiple forces that influence treatment philosophies. Segments like the public system of criminal justice and child welfare involve a wide range of professionals, making it difficult for counselors to maintain ethical practice. It is, therefore, important for counselors to have the working knowledge of ethics to ensure professionalism. In her article, Promoting a Contextual Perspective in the Application of the ACA Code of Ethics: The Ethics into Action Map, Nancy G. Calley provides insights on the application of the ACA Code of Ethics. While the Action Map is a helpful tool, its use is only limited to counseling environments with many counselors.

Calley’ work promotes context-specific focus on the application of ethics for professionals in the public human system. Ethics are “beliefs about behavior and conduct that guide professional practices.” (Calley, 2009). Ethical standards aim at guiding professional behavior, upholding autonomy of counselors, protecting clients, and enhance clients’ trust. Ethical codes also guide professionals on how to interpret specific forms of conduct in practice. Counselors working in diverse settings, particularly the new professionals transitioning from graduate school, often find themselves in ethical dilemmas in which ethical standards become ambiguous. Although an existing large body of literature focuses on helping counselors to understand ethics, the application has mostly concentrated on general counseling practice, limiting those working with specific populations.

Calley’s Action Map offers five steps of enhancing contextual understanding of the ACA Code. Firstly, counselors are required to review ethical codes and analyze the broad dimensions of every standard. Secondly, counselors are called upon to identify two or three forms of each standard’s application in practice. For standard A.1.c., for instance, Calley identifies the client’s treatment planning protocol that embraces the client’s initial goal, the collaborative goal development by the client and counselor, and the client’s signature on the treatment plan (2009). When unable to identify the applications in the above step, the Action Map dictates that professionals explore various dimensions of the standard, which will include discussions with the client and other counselors. Basing on the identified standards, the fourth step is the development of two or three forms of their applications in practice. The last step is incorporating the identified methods into standard processes.

Calley’s Action Map is a helpful tool that helps professionals, especially those working in complex environments, to navigate ethical issues and uphold professionalism while promoting the clients’ interests. The outlined steps are clear and easy to follow, with contextual examples that enhance the understanding of the standards’ application. However, the action map is only effective in organizations with several counselors. The third step, which is the most crucial step of the Action Map, requires collaborative discussions among teams of counselors. However, some organizations in communities only have one counselor. The limited number of counselors in communities is attributed to the societal and individual neglect of mental illness (Benett, 2018). Furthermore, the guide is time consuming, which might be a setback since time in counseling settings is limited and the clients might grow impatient.

Although the Action Map provides steps towards making ethical standards explicit in the counseling, the practice is limited to settings with two or more counselors, limiting counselors who work independently. Additionally, the described steps are time consuming yet counseling sessions are normally limited to short time frames. There is, therefore, need to develop a more convenient strategy to promote the contextual understanding of the ACA Code of Ethics.


Bennett, T. (2015, April 16). Changing the way society understands mental health. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from

Calley, N. G. (2009). Promoting a contextual perspective in the application of the ACA Code of Ethics: The ethics into Action Map. Journal of Counseling & Development, 87(4), 476-482. Retrieved from