I once saw a title of a text, “Statistics without tears.” Few people are in tears in my Ethics class but most have looks of fear. Thus, my question. Is it possible to teach ethics to counselors without incurring fear?
Counselors, by nature, want to do what is right for their clients. They want to solve problems. They also want to avoid harming clients AND facing lawsuits or licensing board complaints. So, you can understand that my students take great interest in a course where we discuss standards of care and the bases for ethical practice.
I try to focus on the underlying values that guide counselor behavior. I try to remind students that suicide and lawsuits are extremely rare (as long as you aren’t trying to do things that are controversial or fail to consider the wise counsel of supervisors). But, bottom line, you have to discuss practical cases where errors matter–breaches of confidentiality, failure to warn or protect in the face of imminent harm, dual relationships, practicing outside of competency, etc. It is these vignettes that raise our fears.
I’ve tried to reduce student fears but in the end some fear is good. Fear that leads us to be careful, to ask for supervision, to double-check our motives may not be a bad thing. When fear paralyzes or leads to self-protection alone, then it is not helpful.
In the end, we must trust that God will not abandon us, even if we make mistakes. We must remember that humility will take us a long way and that every path we take has risk associated with it. Our job is to remain learners as we walk with others in their difficulty. As soon as we stop asking good questions about our clients or about our actions, we now enter risky practice.