25 October 2005

A Random Survey from an Ethics Student

Recently a student taking an ethics course at Colorado State University asked for my contribution to a survey on "Ethics and Counseling", she was looking for a "faith-based" perspective. Hopefully these answers stimulate some thinking. (My answers are in bold)

The following questions are asked in order for graduate students who are studying ethics to become more aware of the many different conflicts that different populations in counseling might confront. We thank you in advance for your time and if you need clarification on a question please feel free to ask. We don’t ask for anyone’s name, if you need to reference a situation to better explain the answer to your question please feel free to do so. Thank you again.

The underlying question is…Is it ethical to allow your own values and morals interfere with the counseling relationship?

Great question. It leads to some pretty heavy territory.

"Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."
 Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), British writer, critic

First the concept of ethics implies something, namely a universal standard. Without this underlying, universal standard any conversation of “ethics” is wasteful. I say this because if we do not believe in some universal standard then what is ethical for me may not be ethical for you. Whether culture, time, race, economy or gender influence my standard is irrelevant – if I can have one standard and you another, then we are wasting our time discussing ethics at all.

From this line of thinking, I presume you can infer my view of ethics in counseling. The only way I would ever counsel anyone is if I was convinced of a “right” way to live. For instance, if my client is experiencing marital problems, I will only offer a suggestion if I think it is a right one. Why offer a solution that we know, or even suspect, is wrong? To counsel, I must assume that there is a right way to live - that some standard, some worldview is absolute and true. I also must assume that I understood this worldview. I must assume that I can know what is right and what is wrong.

Where do we go to find such a worldview? Answer: Faith. All of us have faith. Yes, every one of us is a person of faith. “Where did the world come from”? “Why am I here”? “Where will I go when I die”? “What is good and what is evil”? If I have an answer to any of these questions, then I have faith because these questions are not friendly to empirical evidence. There is no empirical evidence for these questions, no matter what any one tells us. You cannot test and repeat the creation of the earth. You cannot visit death and record your experience. The lab will not tell you why you are here.
I need faith to believe that an Intelligent Being created the world and faith to believe it developed through random chance. Faith tells that there is an after life and faith there is none.

Therefore because faith and worldview (my values and morals) are connected and they are intrinsic to developing advice, I must include them in my counseling or I am a sham – spouting suggestions I don’t believe in myself. This would be a most horrible crime for the counselor.

1. How often do your own values/morals affect counseling, for yourself and the client?
Answer: Every single time.

2. What does it look like? (your values affect your counseling?) The emotions and thoughts going through your head.
Being a Christian, I have developed a worldview that leans on the Bible. As I counsel, I am running the situation through a biblical filter. I am consistently asking questions like:

“What does the Bible have to say to this situation”?
“What are God’s interests here”?
“What is blocking God’s interests here”?
“How can this person appropriate the proper truth”? “What is blocking the truth”? (Because Jesus tells us that we should know the truth and the truth will set us free – John 8:32)

3. What then are the limitations of the relationship?
Answer: The client must accept the authority of my worldview – which I must share at the onset in order to establish the authority on which I am relying.
4. What do you think is unhelpful about letting your values affect the relationship?
Answer: Going back to the opening statement, if I feel that something is unhelpful about my “standard” or worldview than I need to modify that standard until I reach the one that is most helpful. The result is a new standard that I believe will be the most helpful.
If I have the audacity to counsel at all then I have the audacity to claim that my values are correct and helpful – if I don’t then I shouldn’t counsel.

5. How could someone justify to you that this is unethical?
Answer: They couldn’t. To do so would be to convince me that there is no such thing as absolute truth (a correct worldview) and if I were convinced of that, I wouldn’t waste someone’s time by counseling them.

6. What are your personal experiences and how does this allow you to relate better to the client?
Answer: People do not show up in my office hoping that I will tell them that there are no answers and life is a mystery. They want something to hope in, something unchanging and true. When we allow the Scriptures to be the source of that unchanging hope, we have ballast and foundation for the conversation that goes beyond my own intellect or ability. Biblical advice is advice that people trust without concern for my qualifications. The most I can do is point to the truth and to the things that may be blocking belief in the truth.
The client, if the/she submits to the authority of the Scriptures, has a confidence in something well beyond my frailty. They have less to second-guess.

The other benefit is that I, as the counselor, am far less anxious. I am not there to do a lot of convincing. I point and I pray. If it is believed, appropriated and turned into action, fantastic, but if it is not, it is not a reflection on my identity or ability. This independence prevents a destructive co-dependence with the patient where I need results or I am insecure about my identity. This allows me to be truly selfless and caring. I can give freely without the need to take from the client.

The practical examples of this are too numerous to recall but I can provide one for immediate reference.

“We met in January 2000 in Fort Collins. I (Paula) had recently moved to the area from Minnesota. I (Todd) had grown up in Lyons, Colorado and had returned to the area after living out of state for eight years. We met through the local rugby clubs.

Our common interests were rugby and partying. We had spent a lot of time with each other, mostly on the rugby pitch and in bars. We had a lot of fun together, but as we spent more time together drinking we also spent more time fighting. Not physically, but verbally. We didn’t leave bruises or scars on each other’s bodies, but we did leave bruises and scars on each other’s hearts.

In 2002 we were engaged. As we considered marriage, we realized changes needed to be made. It wasn’t until four months before our wedding that we recognized God’s plan for our relationship.

In June 2003 our drinking reached its darkest moment. It resulted in a night of violence and fear. Nobody was hurt, but the damage was done. We turned to God for help. We were introduced to Mitch Majeski, a pastor at Summitview Community Church, who opened his heart and sacrificed personal time to help two broken and hopeless strangers.

Mitch counseled and encouraged us, through God’s Word, to quit drinking and forgive each other. The counseling and friendship provided by Mitch not only led us closer to each other, it led us closer to God.

But despite the renewed strength in our relationship and faith in God, the story did not end happily ever after. We were sober for four months when we decided we could not control our drinking. We both demonstrated some control, thus reinforcing the lie: that alcohol couldn’t damage us, and we were in control. God tried to intervene, but we would not listen. In June 2004, only eight months after our wedding, I (Paula) got drunk and made a life altering decision. I was forced to turn to God, and it was then that He stole my heart. Todd chose to forgive me and make our marriage work. He remembered Jesus’
sacrifice on the cross which saved all of us from our sins- even me. Todd demonstrated a love for me that I had never known. Todd’s forgiveness exemplified to me the amazing love that the Lord always
wanted to give me. I finally chose to accept it.

We now choose to lead a life free from addiction. We continue to attend Summitview and remain close to Mitch and his wife Shelli. We know that life won’t always be easy. We know that there will always be tough times, even with Jesus standing by our sides. What we understand now is that with Jesus at our side, there will always be hope and we will never be alone.”

-Todd and Paula Gates, Fort Collins, Colorado

7. How could you argue to someone that this is ethical?
Answer: See opening statement.

8. Who do you contact?
Answer: I contact about 80% of my “clients” from within the congregation and 20% from the community outside the congregation.
9. When do you proceed with the counseling relationship and when do you terminate?
Answer: I will terminate a counseling relationship when I am no longer helpful in pointing to the truth and the roadblocks to its appropriation. If the situation is unchanged over the course of about a month and I am pointing to the same truth and the same roadblocks, my counseling is impotent and the client needs a change.

10. If you decide that your behavior has become unethical or has the potential to become unethical, what do you do?
Answer: Recuse myself from the situation, discuss the behavior and its unethical nature, seek forgiveness (if need be) and work to find a new counselor.


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