Ethics in Psychotherapy Part 1 – Personal Philosophy

For as long as I can remember, throughout my many lives, I have been a counselor and a friend, offering acceptance and encouragement to those around me, especially those who have been emotionally, physically, socially, environmentally or spiritually- wounded. Moreover, I have long been a counselor-friend to myself, learning to accept myself (my changing self, for nothing is constant), cheering on my own heart to grow, allowing for my own wounds to heal, and challenging my soul to reveal itself to my conscious, that I might be aware of my individuality and my motivations. I seek to live with purpose and passion, with oneness with others and the environment, and my professional orientation is humanistic. Furthermore, as a helping professional and a wounded healer, I seek to provide services from a holistic and phenomenological perspective. My orientation maintains an optimistic, hermeneutic-constructive view of humans and our capacity to be self-determining.

I have learned from my years as a helping professional that no one is as good as their best moment or as bad as their worst, and there is no such thing as perfect. I continue to learn that each and every person is unique, regardless of shared characteristics or contexts, and I embrace multiculturalism. Moreover, I believe that multiculturalism is a subject that every helping professional should thoroughly explore before setting off to provide therapeutic services; this is one of my identified biases. Therapists should begin by identifying their own cultural values, biases, beliefs, and world view, before they try to explore or analyze another’s. This is an ongoing process, since cultural identity is dynamic and fluid.

Subsequently, we should be curious about current theories of counseling and psychotherapy, seeking to understand where they may have fallen short in their attempts to recognize cultural diversity… perhaps even contributing to encapsulation. We need to seek relevant cultural knowledge/awareness in multicultural settings and participate in multicultural training that will develop competencies. I feel this is our ethical/moral duty, that is… if we sincerely intend to help without harming.

Perhaps, cultural factors are more easily understood and responded to in terms of values and respecting diverse value systems. Professional values ought to include respecting human rights and dignity, ensuring the integrity of therapist-client relationships, enhancing the quality of professional knowledge and its application, alleviating personal distress and suffering, increasing personal effectiveness, enhancing the quality of relationships between people, appreciating the variety of human experience and culture, and striving for fair and adequate provision of counseling and psychotherapy services. These are the values that I personally choose to embrace. Additionally, I believe that it is essential that we recognize how being “human” limits our ability to provide “flawless” treatment for the clients that seek our services. Our humanness, or our inability to be omniscient, can be both our greatest reward, in terms of discovery, and our greatest source of stress, in terms of the unknown.

As therapists, we seek to understand our client’s clinical needs, but there may be factors that are unknown to us, making it difficult to make the appropriate assessment. In addition, there may be competing obligations that pull and/or push us to a course of action that is incongruent with our personal sense of justice, and yet, we must take responsibility for all of our actions and frequently, our inactions as well. Although codes of ethics can provide us with appropriate boundaries to guide us, we cannot expect the codes to tell us how to process our feelings, formulate our responses, nor do our thinking for us. Every client represents a new experience; their unique situation based on their individual context and their subjective view of the issues that bring them to therapy can never be exactly replicated. The fact that there are no absolute answers and no one-size-fits-all formulas to meet the vast and often complex needs of the client, can and will cause the caring therapist to struggle with professional judgments. Therefore, being committed to the individual client and being committed to working ethnically requires balance and consultation from professional sources.

Achieving this complicated equilibrium is even more essential when doing research in psychology. In our research in psychology, I believe all research participants must be treated with respect and in a way that maintains their rights and dignity. As I seek to develop research ideas, I will consider the perspective of the participant. Besides taking all necessary steps when to ensure that the participant’s psychological and physical dignity, health and safety are preserved, reciprocity will be a key issue to address. Further, the principles of participant consent and participant information are paramount. Participants should be fully informed of the study, its aims, objectives and their role, prior to giving consent, as well as being able to withdraw at any point in the research. In terms of research methodology, I have developed a curiosity for research that focuses on understanding, rather than predicting or controlling phenomena. As I seek to understand, I will honor my responsibility to be a trustworthy clinician, maintain respect (for self and others), continue to grow my capacity for self-awareness, and consult-consult-consult; only then can I consider myself to have the makings of an ethical practitioner.