What Does the NCDA Code of Ethics Call For?

By Edward Mainzer and Abiola Dipeolu

Writing about higher education in the 21st century, Zakaria and Warren (2016) state “in the journey of becoming a professional, a person learns skills important for the specific profession. Counseling ethics education is one of the most important areas of knowledge acquisition in the counseling profession” (p. 83). Codes of ethics must evolve to meet changing times, such as developments in information and communication technology (compare Sampson and Makela, 2014) and serving different populations, such as those with special needs (compare Mainzer and Dipeolu, 2015), but as Welfel (2016) wrote, “the [ethical] codes and guidelines are not dry, intellectual documents, but rather, they represent the passion and commitment of the profession to serve the public well” (xvii).

What does it mean to be a professional? Do you know what the NCDA Code of Ethics calls for in any given situation? Do you know when to consult the Code or seek assistance? The NCDA revised its Code of Ethics in 2015, and while every NCDA member should consult the entire code on an ongoing basis, this article provides a brief overview.

The first section covers Professional Relationships. Differentiating between career planning and counseling, it notes career professionals’ obligation to only provide services within the scope of their professional qualifications and to keep appropriate records. The Code also reminds us of the importance of developmental and cultural sensitivity, and of the need to assure that clients understand confidentiality and its limitations, including involving in the decision making process individuals who may be unable to give consent because of their age (which is particularly common in K-12 school settings) or other factors.

Other ethical obligations include requesting consent to share information when assisting clients also served by others and being aware of our own values. Sexual or romantic relationships with clients or their families are prohibited, as are such relationships with former clients for at least five years, at which time they still require careful consideration, as do nonprofessional relationships, even though non-sexual or romantic, with clients families at any time. The Code requires us to obtain client consent prior to engaging in advocacy. Career professionals are ethically bound not to abandon or neglect clients, and should avoid entering into a relationship with a client who they will be unable to assist. If it is necessary to terminate, pre-termination services and recommendations for other practitioners should be provided when feasible and necessary.

Confidentiality as a Matter of Ethics
Regarding confidentiality, we are called on to recognize different cultural views toward information disclosure and to engage in ongoing discussions with clients regarding information sharing. Career professionals are also reminded to solicit private information only when it is beneficial to the working relationship. There are confidentiality exceptions in accord with state laws, such as suspected child or elder abuse or when a client has a communicable life threatening condition and may infect an identifiable third party. If faced with court-ordered disclosure we should take steps to limit it as narrowly as possible and whenever possible inform clients before disclosing.

Career professionals are also responsible to make every effort to assure that client confidentiality is maintained by others in their workplaces, and to strive to work only in settings which reasonably ensure client privacy. In the absence of such a setting, career professionals have an ethical obligation to discuss the limitations with clients and seek their consent to proceed. We’re also obligated to take precautions to assure confidentiality of information transmitted through any medium. Special obligations around explaining the parameters of confidentiality arise when providing services to groups and/or families. Practitioners should clearly identify “the client” and discuss expectations and limitations of confidentiality. When serving minors or adults who lack the capacity to voluntarily consent, providers discuss their role with parents or other legal guardians and are as always sensitive to issues of culture as well as client welfare.

Working Within Our Competencies
Career professionals must provide reasonable access to records, limiting access only when there is compelling evidence that it would cause harm and in accord with relevant statues, which must be accordingly documented. When providing access we additionally provide assistance in interpreting records. Following service termination, records should be stored in a manner that allows reasonable access, but providers are also encouraged to purge and dispose of files in time frames called for by governmental and/or institutional regulations. The Code also has sections regarding research and consultation, including obtaining consent and assuring privacy.

There is an ethical obligation to only practice within the boundaries of our competence and only accept positions for which we qualify. Ethical providers must continually monitor their effectiveness, consult and engage in continuing education. We must take care if advertising and take reasonable measures to assure the accuracy of other’s statements about us; we are prohibited from using our places of employment or institutional affiliations to recruit clients without permission. We are also mandated to disclose if using our own products or training events and must accurately represent such matters as credentials, educational degrees and professional memberships.

The Code of Ethics specifically prohibits sexual harassment. It calls on career professionals to use techniques/procedures/modalities that are grounded in theory and considered to be established professional practices. Nonetheless, we are also called upon to be respectful of different approaches to career services. Additional obligations include alerting employers to inappropriate policies and practices and attempting to change them; however, when it is not possible to do so, providers are called upon to take additional steps, including if necessary voluntary termination of employment.

Assessment, Evaluation, and Resolving Ethical Conflicts
Further, the Code covers evaluation, assessment and interpretation, calling upon professionals to only use assessments for which they have training and which are in the best interests of clients who have given informed consent and for whom providers have considered the personal/developmental, cultural/diversity and socioeconomic implications of each assessment. A more recent addition to the Code looks at online service provision and technology and the implications of social media for career service providers. It requires consideration of technical, ethical and legal dimensions, including assuring that clients are free to choose whether to engage in online services and that confidentiality and security are provided. Supervision, Training and Teaching are covered in their own section as are Research and Publication.

The Code of Ethics concludes with a section on Resolving Ethical Issues, explicating the need to incorporate ethical practice into daily work through understanding of the NCDA Code and those of other applicable professional or regulatory organizations. These ethical obligations include the duty to consult when ethical questions arise and to take appropriate action when there are doubts as to the ethical practices of another career professional. The NCDA Code of Ethics also makes particular note that those professionals who affiliate with other organizations, such as school counselors who are members of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), should consult their codes of ethics as well. The ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors were last issued in 2010 and are currently under revision. As Makela (2009) wrote in her casebook study on the previous revision of the NCDA Code of Ethics, “Codes of ethics have considerable educational and advocacy value. Yet, harnessing that value requires an active reflection and integration of the code within practice” (p. 10).


American Counseling Association. (2014). 2014 ACA Code of Ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf

Mainzer, E. A., & Dipeolu, A. (2015). Doing right by those we serve: Law, ethics and career services for individuals with disabilities. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, 31(4), 131-141.

Makela, J. P. (2009). A case study approach to ethics in career development: Exploring shades of gray. Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.

National Career Development Association. (2015). 2015 NCDA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/asset_manager/get_file/3395?ver=738702

Sampson, J. P. & Makela, J. P. (2014). Ethical issues associated with information and communication technology in counseling and guidance. Florida State University Libraries Faculty Publications. Retrieved from http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:210480/datastream/PDF/view

Welfel, E. R. (2016). Ethics in counseling and psychotherapy, standards, research, and emerging issues (6th ed.). Boston: Cengage Learning.

Zakaria, N. S. & Warren, J. (2016). Counseling ethics foundation: Teaching and learning development reformation. In I. H. Amzat and B. Yusuf (Eds.), Fast forwarding higher education institutions for global challenges, perspectives and approaches (Chapter 8). Singapore: Springer.



Edward MainzerEdward A. Mainzer, EdD, LMHC, served as a counselor and educator for over three decades. He is a member of the National Career Development Association Ethics Committee and also serves on the American School Counselor Association Board of Directors. In addition to counseling law, ethics and professional organizations, his professional interests include supporting the inclusion of individuals with different (dis)abilities and the Differently Abled. His blog and other writings are available at www.eamainzer.com; he can be reached at eamainzer@outlook.com.


Abiola DipeoluAbiola Dipeolu, Ph.D., LP, pursues research interests encompassing career development of individuals with disabilities, including LD, ADHD, and HASD. Dr. Dipeolu has presented her work in a number of countries, namely China, England, Canada, and throughout the USA. Dipeolu’s work has been published several academic journals, including the Journal of Vocational Behavior, Career Development Quarterly, Journal of Career Assessment, Journal of Career Development, Family Journal, and the Journal of College Counseling. Dipeolu is very active at the national, state, and local levels and is the immediate past president of the New York State Career Development Association. She was honored with the National Career Development Association 2014 Leadership Academy award, and 2016 Career Development Teaching and Research Award. She can be reached at Dipeolua@gmail.com



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