Ethical decision making plays a key role in much of a professional counselor’s work. Imagine a 14-year-old client who is threatening to commit suicide but pleads with the counselor not to tell her parents. How would this counselor decide what to do? What factors should this counselor consider in order to make a sound decision? How might this counselor's feelings about suicide, or about parental rights, influence the decision? Is this a situation in which disclosure of confidential information is justified? Clearly there is no absolute, correct decision here, and two counselors could come to different, yet sound, conclusions. While the most experienced professional counselors are challenged in situations such as this one, those who have yet to enter the profession often find the process of learning to make ethical decisions equally, if not more, challenging.

As a counselor educator who has taught a counseling ethics course for many years, I have often wondered how students learn to deal with the ambiguity inherent in ethical decision making. Their need for black/white, right/wrong answers has been somewhat frustrating for me, and I've often thought about how they learn to move beyond that. This chapter focuses on an exploratory study in which I set out to observe my students as they learn to grapple with the ambiguity inherent in ethical decision making.