The Ethics of Client Suicide

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Client suicide is one of the greatest fears of all counselors, and suicide prevention is a difficult and commonly avoided area of counseling. Suicide rates in the United States have steadily increased from 10.4 per 100,000 in 2000, to 13.4 per 100,000 in 2014. This is a 27.6 percent increase over 15 years. If this trend continues, the occurrence of suicide will be one issue that most counselors will unfortunately have to face at some point in their practice. There are many legal, moral, and ethical difficulties surrounding the topic that could ruin a career if not properly dealt with (Sommers-Flanagan and Shaw, 2017).

Client confidentiality is of utmost importance, but when a client indicates that he or she may be suicidal, counselors have a duty to report this to family members and authorities. Contrary to common belief, there are several effective suicide treatments for adolescents and adults. Using these techniques, first counselors must help clients out of the actively suicidal state. Next they encourage and teach the client to develop the skills needed to create and uphold fulfilling, rewarding, and enjoyable lives (Meyers, 2017). In this paper I will explore an ethical dilemma involving suicide and highlight some of the areas of greatest difficulty in the event of a client death.

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For most counselors, an ethical dilemma is apparent when they encounter a confounding situation in which they feel hindered in their decision-making due to various factors. There may appear to be conflict between, or inconsistency among, the ethical standards. The situation could be so compounded that the ethical codes offer unhelpful guidance. A discrepancy between ethical and legal standards could materialize, or there may seem to be a conflict between the moral principles that underlie most ethical codes. If the correct route to take in a counselling situation is unclear, the ACA’s ethical decision-making model may need to be employed (Forester-Miller & Davis, 2018). When making an ethical clinical decision, it is essential to consider both personal bias (ACA, 2014, A.4.b) and level of professional competence (ACA, 2014, C.2.a). How is a counselor to proceed if a client has many symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation and fits into one of the most likely demographic categories for a suicide, but denies all thoughts of suicide?

A 30-year-old client named John decides to speak to a counselor because he has been feeling down. His thirtieth birthday was a month ago, and since then he has been overwhelmed with the feeling that he is not where he expected to be at this point in his life. He married young and has been divorced for five years. He is estranged from his parents, who emotionally abused him for all of his childhood, and he does not have any siblings. He did not complete college and complains about his unrewarding and tiresome job.

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