As I review textbooks on ethical, legal, and professional issues within the counseling profession I see almost identical lists of virtues and ethics that are the foundations of the profession. These lists all include the moral principles of justice, fidelity, and veracity. As counselors, we all know that a primary objective is nonmaleficence: to do no harm. The counterpoint to this principle of doing no harm is the principle of beneficence. Beneficence means to do good (a word with many meanings), and to promote well-being and health. Theodore Remley and Barbara Herlihy state “It could be argued that the obligation of ordinary citizens in our society ends with doing no harm to others, whereas professionals have a higher obligation to provide a service that benefits society. Thus, counselors actively do good or are helpful and work to promote the mental health and wellness of their clients”.
Last night when I got home from work I watched some news programs. One of the stories dealt with a free health care clinic held in New Orleans for which over 1000 people showed up for services. Many had not received any medical services since before Hurricane Katrina. Rich Stockwell has written a sobering piece about this clinic that challenges me regarding the moral principles of justice and beneficence. Stockwell writes that “health reform is not about Democrats or Republicans or who can score political points for the next election, it’s about people. It’s about fairness and justice…” According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health (2009) the lack of health insurance is associated with the death of 44,789 Americans yearly.
Currently more than 46 million Americans lack health care coverage. It is easy to lose sight in the midst of these numbers that we are talking about real people and not just statistics. Chances are that each of us knows at least one person who is uninsured. Focus on that person’s face as you consider this issue. The challenge, as I see it, is how as counselors we are going to promote beneficence both within and outside of our counseling sessions. How do we promote well-being and health for those who can not afford us? Please share about the counselors and programs that you know of, or ideas you have about promoting beneficence and justice.
Patricia Myers is a counselor, an associate professor of counselor education, and doctoral student.