Answered By: Kristie Keuntjes, Learning Services Coordinator
Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018     Views: 1682

Elizabeth Welfel developed a model for ethical decision making.  The steps of the process have been summarized below.

Step 1: Develop ethical sensitivity, integrating personal and professional values.

It is important to develop an ethical identity through education, insight into your own personal values and beliefs, and experience.  You must be aware how these issues will impact your decision-making process.

Step 2: Clarify facts, stakeholders, and the sociocultural context of the case.

You must take the time to complete fact-finding.  Not taking the time to identify the facts can lead to a mistaken line of reasoning or unsatisfactory outcome.  Determine who the stakeholders are in addition to the client.  You must also take into consideration the culture of the client to determine the ethical options for the sitatution.

Step 3: Define the central issues and available options.

What are the ethical issues present?  What are the available options?

Step 4: Refer to professional standards, guidelines, and relevant laws/regulations.

Refer to the code of professional standards and guidelines.  If you are part of more than one professional association, you need to consult more than one code.  These codes can help develop the important questions to ask 

Step 5: Search out ethics scholarship.

Identify relevant resources and ethics literature to help inform your decision.  Conducting research provides the perspectives of experts to help inform any decision.  Reading can help remove the emotional aspect involved in difficult decision making.

Step 6: Apply ethical principles to the situation.

Professional literature narrows and clarifies the options available to you.  Understanding ethical principles can help you see patterns among unconnected situations.

Step 7: Consult with supervisor and respected colleagues.

Be sure to describe the facts of the situation, your understanding of relevant ethical standards, your understanding of the ethics literature, and current options.  Here are some questions you can ask:

  • What facts seem to be the most important?
  • What did I miss?
  • What cultural factors am I not addressing?
  • How is my background influencing my decision?
  • Am I interpreting the code of ethics correctly?
  • What laws may apply to this situation?
  • Do you know of any other readings that may apply to this situation?
  • Does my analysis of the situation seem correct?
  • How would you resolve this dilemma?  Why would you resolve it that way?

Step 8: Deliberate and decide.

You have collected all of the information you need to make a decision at this point.  It is time to personally deliberate to decide which alternative is the most ethical option and develop a plan to implement your alternative.

Step 9: Inform supervisor, implement and document decision-making process and actions.

When you are ready to carry out an ethical decision, you need to inform your supervisor.  Supervisors have a legal and ethical right to hear the choice and the reasons behind it.  Remember, the client's right to privacy must still be honored to the fullest extent possible.

Step 10: Reflect on experience

It is important to take the time to reflect to provide insight.  Reflection increases ethical sensitivity so the next ethical issue to arise will be addressed quickly and effectively.  Here are some questions you can ask yourself in this step:

  • Did I act quickly?
  • Was I able to distinguish between clinical issues, ethical issues, legal issues, and risk management issues?
  • Was I able to apply and use the code of ethics effectively?
  • What do I need in my library for easier access for the next ethical issue?
  • Was my consult effective?  What could I have improved or done differently?
  • How well did I identify factors affecting my decision making?
  • What am I proud of doing?  How did I behave according to my ethics and values?  How has this situation changed me both personally and professionally?
  • What can I use from this experience to help others in a similar situation?


Welfel, E.R. (2016). Ethics in counseling and psychotherapy. Retrieved from

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