[This is the second guest post I am making over on the www.christianpsych.org. You’ll have to click the link to read the whole post…]
Every counseling ethics code in existence includes this principle: Do no harm. This maxim is drilled into the heads of counseling students (and any other medical professional as well). Our work should help, not hurt. Who could disagree?
But pause for a minute and consider how you might evaluate whether an intervention helps or harms. What criteria will you use? From what vantage point will you evaluate the criteria you choose? If a medical treatment extends life for an ill patient that would seem good—unless it keeps them alive and in a vegetative state with no possibility of recovery. Some would then wonder if the treatment was indeed best. Or, is it harmful if marriage counseling encourages truthfulness between spouses leading to the revelation of a terrible betrayal leading on to divorce and financial ruin? If honesty is your criteria for helpfulness, then the intervention is sad but helpful. If stability is your criteria, then such counseling is harmful. We could go on and on. Do we use client interpretation of whether treatment is helpful or counselor observation? Do we consider the difference between short and long term evaluation? And importantly for Christians, do we consider only statistical analyses or do we also consider biblical categories (e.g., intervention “A” leads to increased positive affect but encourages clients to pray to another deity).
Despite the muddy water I just churned up, I want to argue that Christian psychology is well poised to help Christian counselors provide treatment that does not harm. This society includes some of the best philosophers, theologians, sociologists, clinicians, and researchers of our day. These members are interested in looking at how people grow and change, how the bible connects with everyday life, common human struggles and effective interventions, etc.
How then do we go about refining our practices and avoiding harm? Let me suggest some steps we might take:
[rest of post on www.christianpsych.org.]