Finishing up the Ethics course in the next week. There are two kinds of ethical errors in counseling: conscious violations of ethical practice and blunders.
Forrest Gump’s quotable line, “Stupid is as stupid does,” is ringing in my head as I write this post. We do stupid stuff–stupid as in without thinking. Most of our blunders are just that–things we never intended but did absent forethought. Example? Oh, I don’t know, like walking through a dark room while talking on a cell phone and resulting in a face plant over an unseen chair. That kind of thing…and the real reason why I’m hearing Gump in my head.
We all go through parts of our life in unthinking auto-pilot. Consider the equivalent in counseling: Starting a first session but forgetting to cover informed consent because you are focused on helping the person in front of you. Or, handing out personal contact information because the client asked nicely (but never considering ulterior motives). Or, calling back a spouse of one of your clients and discussing issues but failing to remember you do not have a release to speak to them. These are some of the unthinking blunders we may make.
Are there root causes to blunders? Try on some of these:
1. Naiveté. Taking the comments of others without considering context or motives. I am not suggesting that good counselors need to be suspicious. Rather, we need to be realistic, critical thinkers who employ wisdom. We need to consider motives, consequences, impact, etc. We need to think beyond the immediate moment.
2. Reactivity. Some of us are just more reactive or instinctive driven. This may be personality driven. However, it may also indicate that we are being driven by unexamined desires (e.g., “I want this person to like me”; “I want to defend myself from an accusation”).
3. Over-confidence. Sometimes our blunders come from overconfidence. We’ve all heard the evidence that talking on the cell phone while driving raises our risks of having an accident. But most of us do it anyway. Why? We don’t think or perceive ourselves as compromised. We consider ourselves better than the rest. Sometimes, blunders in counseling come from an unsupported confidence in self–I will act right because I am an ethical person. When we are overconfident we have placed our trust in something that may be good but not right in a particular situation.
4. Fear. Yes, fear. It can lock us up causing us to stop using our training and intellectual capacity. This is the counseling version of driving right into the thing you were trying to avoid. Fear paralyzes.
5. Group think. Group think happens when we stop asking questions and as a whole foreclose on other hypotheses. An agency may create this problem by how it manages staff meetings, supervision. As a group we may become comfortable with an ethical breach in such a way that it becomes normal–unseen.
Can you think of other root causes of unthinking ethical blunders?