“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning




Ethical Dilemmas



An ethical dilemma can be described as a moral conflict between our actions and the resulting outcomes. These dilemmas may be complex, and may have no clear course of action. Dilemmas require a greater depth of decision making on our behalf.



Ethical dilemmas can arise for a variety of reasons. Ethical dilemmas may include conflicts between rules and values; issues in relation to informed consent, disclosure or confidentiality.  Ethical dilemmas, by their nature, cannot be ‘solved' but we can take systematic steps to ensure the best, or least harmful outcome.  One example of an ethical dilemma is where there are dual relationships.  This could include a professional and personal relationship taking place simultaneously or where the practitioner has a relationship with a person closely related to or connected to their client.  Practitioners should be mindful of dual relationships and proactively address them. In particular, any such dual relationship which could causes harm to the client or impair the practitioner's competence needs to be so addressed.

 Key Steps in Engaging with an Ethical Dilemma:-

  • Identify the problem;
  • Look to guidelines and ethical codes;
  • Generate ideas;
  • Consider implications;
  • Implement.

Compile as much information as you can about:-

the nature and parameters of the dilemma.

Be objective and avoid speculation or assumptions

Having clarified the problem refer to:-

organisational guidelines and

professional ethical codes in order to determine if there is a recommended course of action.


the five ethical principles and their definitions:-




justice and


Autonomy refers to an individual’s right of freedom of choice and self-determination. There is an inherent requirement to respect the individual’s right to privacy with this ethical principle. 

Non-maleficence requires the practitioner to “above all”, do no harm. 

Beneficence refers to promoting human welfare and is also defined as ‘contributing to the welfare of others’. 

Justice is about treating people fairly. 

Fidelity by its nature prohibits lying and exploitation. It requires the practitioner to esteem client confidentiality and the contract between client and counsellor.


In looking at any ethical dilemma or decision, it is important to consider all five principles equally.



Think back to an ethical dilemma in your work where you were being pulled in two conflicting directions. Can you identify the steps you might take to resolve the dilemma? Can you identify sources of information and guidance to enable you to make ethical decisions in relation to this issue? 

Give consideration to:-

a variety of perspectives (to see if any potential solutions or courses of action emerge);

the implication of each course of action and seek advice and guidance if necessary;

the fact that there is rarely a single right answer to an ethical dilemma;

finding an appropriate course of action;

your own professional judgment.




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