Ethical Behaviour -Sphere of competence

Use of effective supervision and professional consultations when faced with issues that fall outside of one’s sphere of competence.

CPD Assessments
Ethical Behaviour - Sphere of competence

Ethical Behaviour - Sphere of competence

Case Study

Karen is nineteen years old and made her way over to the career development office where she met with the career development practitioner, Mbali. Mbali is a highly trained practitioner who always works within her scope of practice. Karen tells Mbali what her plans are for the future and Mbali noticed that Karen was a little scattered in her thoughts. Upon enquiry, Karen tells Mbali that a few months ago she and her friends were going to the beach in a privately hired vehicle. They had planned to stay the weekend to spend time together before the matric exams.

On route to Durban, there was an accident and Karen lost her best friend. Nothing was the same after that. Karen missed her best friend terribly and often had flashbacks of the incident. She was afraid of travelling now as well. Mbali listened patiently to Karen, empathised with her gently and offered her thoughts. Mbali recognised that she was not equipped nor qualified to attend to the issue Karen had and needed to refer Karen for further assistance when it concerned her mental well-being.

Mbali asked Karen if she would mind being referred to a psychologist who would assist her with the feelings and flashbacks regarding the accident. She mentioned to Karen that it was necessary to get assistance on the matter as this would have implications for her in the future. Karen was happy to meet with a psychologist and said she would return for career information once she had met with the psychologist. Mbali assured her that she was welcome to come back at any time.


Being a career development practitioner implies that you provide services that help people of all ages manage their careers, make decisions for further study, plan job transitions and source career information.

The job of a career development practitioner can be in many different environments and some practitioners have advanced skills and qualifications or specialised knowledge that enables them to carry out an array of functions. This results in different levels between the core competencies that career development practitioners have. At the South African Career Development Association (SACDA), three types of differentiation occur. We will look at each one to determine their scope of practice.

This gives rise to different levels of career development practitioners, namely: 

1. Entry Level CDP (ELCDP)

An ELCDP is qualified to provide entry-level career information that relates to:

  • Information about financial aid, bursaries and scholarships.
  • Information about various educational institutions and their offerings.
  • Refer students to learning programmes.
  • Entry requirements per institute.
  • Labour market information and trends.
  • Information relating to job availability.
  • Trending careers in relation to the economy.
  • Information to clients about the National Qualification Framework (NQF) and Occupational Framework for Occupations (OFO).

The scope of practice for an ELCDP allows them to collect, evaluate and assimilate career-related information to clients. They are able to refer clients to various sites or sources of information. The ELCDP is able to conduct information-sharing sessions with both individuals and groups via workshops or individual sessions.

2. Advanced Level CDP (ALCDP)

An ALCDP is the next level of differentiation. An ALCDP has all the skills of the ELCDP, but they can also offer more specialised services. These services include, but is not limited to the following functions:

  • Provide career advice and guidance to clients of all ages.
  • Use career development theories and decision-making models during sessions.
  • Are able to administer non-standardised assessments.
  • Are able to assist clients in interpreting the results of these non-standardised assessments in relation to their personal circumstances.
  • Are able to co-design a plan of action for possible career and study options together with the client.

All ALCDPs are able to perform employability interventions such as helping clients construct a CV and cover letter. They check applications to measure the quality of the application, conduct mock interviews with clients and teach clients how to improve their job search strategies. An ALCDP conducts career development interventions with individuals and groups via workshops or individual sessions. They have more training, knowledge and experience than ELCDPs in order to facilitate more complex interventions. 

3. Specialist CDP (SCDP)

A Specialist Career Development Practitioner (SCDP) is the third differentiation. The SCDP has all the skills possessed by the ELCDP and ALCDP but is a specialist in one or more areas of career development. 

The areas within which they specialise include, but are not limited to:

  • Career counselling.
  • Coaching.
  • Career development research.
  • Develop course content for learning materials.
  • Assume the role of trainer or facilitator.
  • The only level qualified and able to conduct psychometric testing on clients. In this case the SCDP would be a registered psychometrist, psychologist, counsellor or psycho-technician. 

SCDPs are  qualified practitioners who may have a professional membership with professional bodies such as The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), the Federation of African Professional Staffing Organisations or the Institute for People Management (IPM). 

As you may have noticed, the scope of practice for each level is slightly different and requires more advanced skill-sets as you progress. It is therefore important to understand you might not be in a position to deal with every enquiry that an individual has. It is your ethical responsibility to ensure that the individual is referred to the correct and most qualified person to assist him or her. Do not be tempted to keep the client to yourself and give information which you are not authorised to provide. Being aware of the boundaries of your scope, competence and experience is an essential skill required of career practitioners; not adhering to this is considered unethical. 

Knowing when to refer the client

A practitioner can refer a client if the issue the client is experiencing is outside of their knowledge base or scope of practice. For example, the practitioner may have knowledge of certain eating disorders but will refer a client to a psychologist because they would have specialised knowledge on the subject. Similarly, the practitioner can refer the client if they feel that the client needs medical attention or mention that they are depressed. The practitioner supports the client through the process of referral.

Refer a client if a specialist would better serve them

You might find that a client has mental challenges and you do not have the training or qualification to deal with this. Medical conditions or mental health issues require specialised treatment and these matters must be referred to specialists.

Even trained psychologists might need to refer clients. For example, if a client is suffering from severe depression, it might be useful to the client to be referred to a psychiatrist for further attention or medication. 

Being mindful of the limits of your competence and boundaries of your scope of practice are key in deciding whether you can support the client sufficiently.

Refer the client if continuing engagement poses an ethical risk

There could be times when you are confronted by clients who have different beliefs from your own. This could be strong political views or perhaps strong views on gender roles or religious beliefs that may clash with yours. These views might be problematic and create barriers to your providing the best service to the client. In this case, the client may be referred to another practitioner. In another instance, a client may persistently flirt with the practitioner and make romantic gestures; in this case, continuing with sessions might not be in the interest of both parties. It is advised that practitioners consult with their supervisors if they need support in evaluating referrals. Sometimes the practitioners might have an issue to deal with, like a loss or illness and the client might have similar issues. In this case, if the sessions become too emotionally painful then a referral can be made.

Another reason why referrals can be made is if the client has threatened you with physical violence. Practitioners who fear for their safety might not be able to provide the best assistance, and it is therefore wise to refer such a client.

It is important that in each instance the practitioner is mindful of their own feelings, thoughts, triggers and comfort level with each client. Evaluating this is ongoing and not just at the start of the practitioner-client relationship. It is also what may be explored and discussed as part of ongoing supervision and development. Thus, arranging for a supervisor that acts as a mentor and guide in your ongoing growth as a practitioner, can be helpful and supportive. 

Refer if the client is not benefiting from sessions 

A practitioner may refer a client who does not wish to actively participate in their own process. If a client seems unwilling to talk about their goals or situations, shows no interest in take-home activities or does not attend sessions, then the client may be referred to another practitioner if they wish to work with someone else.

As an entry-level or advanced level practitioner, you may find that clients receive the information and may not return until more information is needed. The specialist level practitioner may have situations where they are engaged with clients in repeat sessions for other reasons, like therapy or coaching for example. In this case, referring the client who is not benefiting from the interactions may be acceptable. However, this is a discussion that takes place between the practitioner and client in an open, honest and transparent manner. The practitioner may raise what they are noticing and ask for feedback from the client as to their thoughts, feelings and actions they feel would be appropriate. It is thus a joint discussion and decision, rather than one made by the practitioner alone. It is important to include the client, as upon exploring this, there may be many reasons that emerge that could be impacting their level of engagement in the sessions. Knowing this may also support you as the practitioner, in making the best recommendations for referral. 

Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 2.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ZA) 

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Kindly attribute as follows:

Beukes, C. J., Mahadave, K., & Kanhai, K. (2022). Professional Development Portfolio for Career Development Practitioners (1st ed.)CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ZA, 



Karuna Mahadave

Christopher John Beukes

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