Caring and the ethic of caring: Exploring the connection and importance in the counseling relationship
Kabell, Douglas R.
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The Occupational Outlook Handbook (U.S. Department of Labor, 2012) reports that there are approximately 653,000 counselors in the United States. These counselors are expected to maintain high ethical standards and core counseling components such as genuineness, unconditional positive regard, empathy, and caring. An area of counseling competency that is often overlooked, both in the literature and in counselor education, is caring and the ethic of caring. Researchers (Buber, 1923/1996; Gilligan, 1982; Heidegger, 1927/1962; Held, 2006; Noddings, 1984, 2003; Remley & Herlihy, 2010) defined caring as recognizing the needs of another individual and then meeting those needs in such a way that a connection is maintained with the individual. When thinking about caring and its many facets, it is difficult to think about caring without remembering the medical profession, education (Noddings, 1984, 2003), social work (Freedberg, 1993), rehabilitation (MacLeod & McPherson, 2007), physical therapy (Greenfield, 2006), psychology (Batson, 1990; Craig, 1987), psychiatry (Stiver, 1986), and counseling (Halstead, Wagner, Vivero, & Ferkol, 2002). This caring is based on natural caring. However, when natural caring is not enough, the ethic of caring takes over in the caring-one meaning that it is at this point that the caring-one recognizes an obligation to care. The ethic of care is defined as the obligation to care whereby the caring-one summons up a feeling of “I must do something” such that the caring-one not only sees the reality of the cared-for as a real possibility but also actively responds to the cared-for (Noddings, 1984, 2003). Caring and the ethic of care are a natural link to enhance successful counseling and most individuals would classify counseling as a caring profession. However, following a literature review, it became readily apparent that a paucity of research has explored caring and the ethic of caring of Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC). Thus, this qualitative study explores the connection and importance of caring and the ethic of caring in the counseling relationship. Twelve counselors who are LPCs and have practiced for a minimum of one year participated in the study. Six research questions were developed. A number of themes were identified for each of the six research questions which examined the concept of caring, the importance of the role of caring in counseling, ways caring is manifested within the counseling relationship, how LPCs maintain a caring professional presence under certain difficult circumstance, and the circumstances under which LPCs found caring for clients might lead to ethical dilemmas. A thematic strand analysis identified the following five themes: the therapeutic relationship, therapeutically helping clients, contours of care, ethical elements of care, and primary components of care. A preliminary definition of caring for the profession of counseling is also offered. Recommendations for additional research and professional practice are provided.