Last night was the last class session of my ethics and practicum orientation classes. In both places students were discussing matters related to mandated abuse reporting, dual relationships, and attitudes towards state and professional ethics codes.
Evangelical or conservative people tend to have several responses to ethics codes that I want to highlight here.
1. Fear. Actually almost every student has this reaction. The rules can be complex and their are vague rules about everything (barter, dual relationships, advertising, competency, etc) which may even seemingly contradict other rules. While they have been written to protect the client, following them often leads to both client and counselor having vulnerable feelings (i.e., abuse reporting rules) and feeling a bit out of control.
2. Rejection (or dismissal). One’s feelings about government regulation and whether submitting oneself to a secular agency (licensing board, professional organization) may tempt the counselor to think little of the codes. In particular, the heavy emphasis on avoiding dual relationships where possible seems wrongheaded to many ministry minded individuals. It would seem that sterile counseling relationships (no touch, no informality, no friendship, keeping mental health records, etc.) run counter to the values of brother/sister relationships in church settings.
3. Fastidiousness. Maybe this is really just as number one. But some respond to ethics codes by being ethics junkies. They fastidiously keep every iota and in so doing tend to suck the humanity out of the counseling relationship.
A better way?
The first time you face something completely new, fear is common. With repeated contact, comfort can develop. At least that is what I told myself after my 3rd statistics and research design class. Remembering that these rules are designed not merely to catch you doing wrong but to help protect you and your clients might help. The more you talk about them with others (including the spirit of the rule, not just the letter), the more you will relax.
Also, paranoia is not a good character feature for counselors. Thus, if you have a tendency to see the government as all bad all the time…if you think alarmist conservative talk radio is right from God’s mouth to your ear…if you look at every psychological ethics rule as anti-Christian, you may not be right for this field. In fact, such feelings may induce pride, arrogance and forgetting that the number one goal is avoiding client exploitation and increasing client protection (yes, even from themself). Further, 1 Peter 2 reminds you to submit to your authorities and governments–even if they are harsh…so you can silence ignorant talk and not use your “freedom as a cover-up for evil.”
Finally, don’t forget to be human. Cross your t’s, dot your i’s but do it while showing concern for the person in front of you. Some of your ethical standards may seem foreign to others. A kind explanation can do wonders.
Hey, and don’t forget to seek out consultation and/or supervision. There is NO reason you should be going this path alone.