Imagine that you are hungry and went to a restaurant to have a meal. The meal is served, be it a cultural or foreign dish. Now you are salivating with eagerness to eat watching how the meal appears beautiful. That is the ideal part. Now you are testing the meal but it is not as you expected it; there is something missing. Then you ask for help to fix what is missing, be it spices, salt, sugar – anything, based on your preference to make the dish delicious and to ultimately enjoy your meal.
Using the above metphor, my intention is to start-off discussion about the helping profession, specifically about counseling services in our country’s (Ethiopian) context.
The helping ‘profession’ existed in Ethiopia for a long time. When people faced challenges in their life, they receive help from parents, friends, elders, responsible community leaders, religious people and the like. However, the help people get from these sources are basic, unscientific and lack theoretical underpinnings. Nevertheless, many people seek and get help from traditional sources, since they lack access and understanding of modern helping professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists.
Historically, counseling psychology came into existence in the Ethiopian educational system since 1967 when it was introduced into the curriculum of the then Haile Selassie I University (HSIU) (present-day Addis Ababa University). However, the field counseling psychology as a specialization did not exist in any of the higher learning institutions of the country then. Graduates of educational psychology from HSIU used to work as school counselors and in different institutions. Now it has been around 48 years since the introduction of psychology in the curriculum of higher institutions in Ethiopia. Every year, more than 30 state universities graduate hundreds of psychology professionals at undergraduate and graduate level. Is the profession booming or still in infancy? If it is in its infancy, is it’s growing healthy? This requires further investigations and I leave it for the concerned for my readers.
Meanwhile, nowadays, especially in Addis Ababa there are emerging ‘professionals’ who are providing counseling services for a fee. This is really appreciable and personally I would like to encourage them to keep helping others. Although there is a fertile ground to introduce their services, I am of the view that these individuals should ask themselves as to what is missing on their table of counseling while providing counseling services. I am not daring blindly to judge them but it is easily observable that they are missing something which might mar the service they are providing, creating misunderstanding and confusion on the vast majority on the concept of counseling.
My personal observation is that the concept of ethics is given less emphasis to the extent that some are even violating the confidentiality of their work by airing live on the cases of their clients (e.g. mentioning the clients real names and interviewing them) via FM radio stations without the consent of their clients. Even if the clients give their consent to do so, what is the importance of airing the clients’ case for the public and how would this help the clients anyway? Furthermore, it creates confusion as people start to think of counseling as unveiling the secret of others publicly. In addition, it might also affect the clients’ families when they listen to their family members’ problems discussed in public. The above is the simplest example that can be contentious and there are many more to talk about. So, don’t you think that something is missing on the table of counseling service?
In conclusion, at any circumstance counselors should abide by the principles of professional code of ethics. Confidentiality is one of the most powerful pillars of counseling services. One’s professional strength is measured by not only the knowledge and in depth understanding he has in dealing with problems but the ability to work ethically and keep the secrets of his clients. Thus, violation of code of ethics by professionals like counselors costs a lot and hampers the future trustworthiness of their work. Abide by code of ethics for mutual understanding and help!