School counseling has been presented in popular media, in various TV-shows, movies, programs, and more. This subject tends to be fascinating to scriptwriters, as it helps develop characters from a more in-depth perspective or to portray school counseling issues. The TV series 13 reasons why tells a story of Hannah Baker, a high-school student who commits suicide (Yorkey & Alvarez, 2017). The series instead provides a glimpse at the imperfections of school counseling through Mr. Porter who is presented as one of the reasons for Hannah’s suicide.
Hannah visited Mr. Porter a few times throughout the first season of the show; however, he had the most significant role during the last moments of the protagonist’s life. Hannah went to talk to a counselor after a series of traumatizing events that occurred in her life with the hope of changing her mind from killing herself (Yorkey & Alvarez, 2017). ). Ultimately, Mr. Porter could not correctly assist Hannah following the American Council Association code of ethics (ACA) and American School Counselor Association (ASCA) standards.
Ethical Dilemmas Present in Movie
Practicing counselors have to act within the standards provided by the ethical and legal codes of their field. A counseling job requires the ability to balance “ethical obligations and administrative boundaries” (Springer, 2016, p. 2). It appears that Mr. Potter’s attitude towards the case violates the ACA’s first and foremost valuable code of ethics, A.1.a. Primary Responsibility (American Counseling Association, 2014).
Mr. Porter perceives suicide as inevitable in Hannah’s case, saying, “if she wanted to end her life…we weren’t going to stop her” (Yorkey & Alvarez, 2017). The councilor’s primary role is to make sure that the student is safe, as the welfare of patients should remain the specialists’ primary concern. Therefore, accepting or considering suicide as a possible option for a client is unethical.
Furthermore, the most primary ethical concern with Mr. Porter’s session with Hannah was the lack of necessary steps to prevent the risk of suicide. During the meeting, Hannah identified her problems as very alarming and high-risk. When Hannah was answering the question about her current needs, she stated that “I need it to stop…I need everything to stop. People. Life.” (Incaprera & Alvarez, 2017).
This statement is the direct implication of Hannah’s desire to end her life; however, the councilor did not consider it enough evidence. The Counselor’s lack of consideration of the seriousness of Hannah’s problem violates the ASCA code A.9., which is describing the necessary actions during severe and foreseeable harm to self and others (American School Counselor Association, 2016).
The first important step during this situation is to inform appropriate authorities, as this is not only an ethical but also a legal obligation of a school councilor (American School Counselor Association, 2016). Whereas, Mr. Porter did not inform anyone about the concerning situation during the session with Hannah Baker.
Despite not informing the authorities, the councilor did not involve Hannah’s parents in any way before the last session of after, which violates ASCA A.9.b. The code advocates sharing the risk assessment results with student’s caregivers to prevent a potentially dangerous situation (American School Counselor Association, 2016). The non-disclosure of personal information does not act within the school council context, especially as a part of the severe foreseeing harm to others or themselves.
Moreover, as Hannah shared that she was sexually abused, the lack of action from Mr. Porter violates the code ASCA A.9.d., as a counselor had to legally report a rape to the guardians (American School Counselor Association, 2016). Moreover, rape falls under the jurisdiction of Title IX of the Education Amendments, stating that all such cases have to be legally reported (American School Counselor Association, 2016). Overall, Mr. Porter was not able to assist with the risk prevention counseling plan, as he failed to give Hannah a safe space, report the case of abuse and danger to the authorities or caregivers.
Ethical Decision-Making Model Application
To be as productive as possible in critical situations, it is essential to follow an ethical decision-making model. The model presented by Forester-Miller and Davis in 2016 Practitioner’s plan to assist ethical decision making involves seven necessary steps (Forester-Miller & Davis, 2016). At first, it is vital to identify the problem that the student has by obtaining all possibly valuable information in a moral, objective, and legal way (Forester-Miller & Davis, 2016).
In the situation in 13 reasons why will be the details of Hannah’s feelings, whether she tried getting help from her parents, how safe does she feel herself in school, and more. The second step is to refer to the appropriate professional code of ethics, which in the case of Hannah Baker, is the A.9. section in the ASCA ethics code.
The third step is to examine the ethical dilemmas in the situation, which in the case of Hannah is non-maleficence, meaning minimizing the harm to a student with further actions. The fourth step is to create a course of action for the given situation concerning the codes of ethics. As Hannah’s case is high-risk, the steps should include informing the authorities and parents and providing a student with a safe environment (American School Counselor Association, 2016).
The fifth step is to consider all the potential consequences and choose one that minimizes the harm. The sixth step is to evaluate the plan with consideration to justice, publicity, and universality (Forester-Miller & Davis, 2016). Lastly, to implement the planned course of action within the ethical and legal standards of counseling. Thus, the ethical decision model appropriate to the case includes seven steps with deep consideration of the ASCA code of ethics.
Potential Inherent Bias
As a professional, I need to ensure that all possible bias and prejudice are eliminated while communicating with clients. For instance, Mr. Porter may have allowed his bias, in this case, Hannah’s age, to offset his responsibility, as he did not take her words seriously (Yorkey & Alvarez, 2017). Such behavior is not acceptable for the practicing specialist. To eliminate the bias, I would treat each individual with respect and with consideration of the appropriate ethical standards for the setting. In high school, students are not fully independent as they rely on their caretakers, teachers, and the approval from their peers.
Unlike Mr. Porter, I would treat students as mature human beings and would not have allowed bias through using appropriate code of Ethics. I find it crucial to refer to the ACA and ASCA standards as my primary source of counselling. Mainly, the code of ASCA A.4.b., which states that counselors have to avoid forcing personal values, views, opinions, and actions (American Counseling Association, 2016). Therefore, it is essential to prioritize students’ safety and well-being within the framework of an appropriate decision-making model to avoid prejudice.
In conclusion, school counseling in the TV series 13 reasons why is represented as unprofessional, unethical, and illegal. The issue derives from the councilor Mr. Porter neglecting the ACA and ASCA codes of ethics that are essential to every practicing school counselor. Besides violating the A.1.a. Primary Responsibility, Mr. Porter does not follow any necessary steps of the ASCA A.9 ethics code, proving the procedures for when the situation is particularly risky. Therefore, by implementing the ethical decision-making frame by Forester-Miller and Davis, a counselor would be able to have a better chance of preventing fatal consequences in the 13 reasons why.
American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics [PDF document]. Web.
American School Counselor Association. (2016). The ASCA ethical standards for school counselors. Web.
Forester-Miller, H., & Davis, T. E. (2016). Practitioner’s guide to ethical decision making (Rev. ed.). Web.
Springer, S. I. (2016). When values blur the lines: Navigating an ethical dilemma in school counseling. The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision, 8(2), 1-16. Web.
Yorkey, B. (Writer), & Alvarez, K. (Director). (2017). (Season 1, episode 13) [TV series episode]. In J. Incaprera (Producer), 13 reasons why. Netflix.