Every counselor, social worker, psychologist, and other mental health workers get professional ethics education. Such training is designed to teach us to “do no harm.” What mental health professional gets into the field to do harm? We all believe we are going to work for the betterment of our clients.
So, why do we sometimes fail to act in accord with good professional ethics?
Rarely is it because we don’t know the rules. Consider the most recent issue of the APA Monitor on Psychology and the short ethics piece by Alan Tjeltveit (a colleague of mine and fellow CAPS member) and Michael Gottlieb. (You can read the electronic version here; turn to page 68.) In it, the authors nail the reason why with this quote,
Too many professionals complete their training without the emotional education and awareness needed to avoid self-deception and to act in the prudent, considered manner that society expects and that represents professional ethical excellence. (p. 72)
We fail to take a skeptical (note…not fearful) stance toward our own thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. Since we know we are going to work for the good of others we often stop considering that some other values that we hold might get in the way. For example, I might value avoiding conflict and so not address a safety concern with my client for fear they will get angry with me. Or, as the authors of the article point out, I might practice when I am too distressed to help others–because I believe I can still manage the situation (see page. 70).
The One Protection You Most Need
As necessary as it is to keep taking ethics updates from continuing education providers, it is even more important to have a close colleague who doesn’t take you too seriously and is willing to ask the hard questions. Yes, we need an operating sense of values. We need to be tuned to our conscience. We need the Holy Spirit’s help in loving our neighbor as ourself. But, more importantly, we need to stop trusting in our own judgment and acknowledge that hidden values sometimes operate more powerfully than we expect. Desires to be liked, to avoid conflict, to maintain power, to satisfy longings have ways of creeping in. One of the reasons God puts us in community is that we need others to speak into our lives.
Do you want to avoid ethical missteps? Who exists in your life who has the access and capacity to speak into your life; to ask questions others might not think to ask?