Book by Rita Sommers-Flanagan, John Sommers-Flanagan
Review by Ryan Scheckel
School of Art
Texas Tech University

While Drs. Rita and John Sommers-Flanagan (and their contributors) may “use the words counselor, therapist, mental health professional, and helper interchangeably, believing that the shared ethical domain is greater than the sum of the distinctions” (p. xxiii), the legal domain of the mental health professional, the training domain of counseling, and the content domain of therapy are typically not shared by the helper more often known as academic advisor. That said, it is easy to agree with the authors’ conclusion that “being completely unfazed by the topics covered in this book would be a symptom of either extreme naïveté or professional narcissism” (p. 332). This reviewer would add “ignorance” to that list of possibilities. From the perspective of an academic advisor, this mental health textbook must be read with one’s professional translator dialed up the entire time. When translated, however, there is a veritable smorgasbord of “food for thought” for the academic advisor. 

For those interested in ethics in academic advising, the text begins with a foundational first course in theory and moral philosophy that should whet anyone’s appetite for further discussion among advising colleagues. Topics presented for further consideration also include professional organizations and identity, ethics codes and policies, and motivation and values. 

The second course is a meaty discussion of ethical challenges facing the helping professions. These include familiar obstacles that the academic advisor must also negotiate on daily basis. From confidentiality and boundaries, to assessment and competence, the Drs. Sommers-Flanagan look at the work of helping itself and leave no stone unturned. This includes the seemingly mundane concerns of officing, technology, and record keeping, as well as the more apparent challenges brought to the helping relationship by both the client and the helper. Quotations from the codes of ethics of the APA, ACA, NASW, AMHCA, and ASCA are cited alongside relevant case studies. It is in some of these case studies and topics that the differences between the mental health domain and the academic advising domain may begin to seem most pronounced, but the work of translating to equivalent academic advising scenarios is well worth the effort.

Finally, the text concludes by detailing some of the specializations within the helping professions. Here the academic advisor finds the most palatable course. It includes the tenth chapter entitled “Counseling in the Schools”, the eleventh chapter that includes career counseling, the twelfth chapter that addresses working in groups and with families, and the thirteenth chapter that addresses supervision of helping professionals. This third portion of the textbook requires the least amount of translation and has led this reviewer into many interesting conversations on his campus. Whether you be a faculty advisor, a career counselor, a departmental staff advisor, or an advising administrator, read this section with due diligence.

If the effort of constantly translating from the metal health domain to the academic advising realm wears the reader weary, peppered throughout are application activities, “pauses for reflection”, “digressions for deliberation”, and thought-provoking quotations that provide opportunities to apply the concepts presented in the textbook to the work of helping students through academic advising. The student counseling professional on campus would be well advised to read this text, but so would the academic advising professional. If nothing else, all of the mental health profession references should lead the academic advisor to consider the academic advising professional’s translated equivalent and explore those publications.

Becoming An Ethical Helping Professional: Cultural and philosophical foundations (2007) Book by Rita Sommers-Flanagan, John Sommers-Flanagan. Review by Ryan Scheckel. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 432 pp., $70.00, (paperback), ISBN 978-0-471-73810-7
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