What’s the difference between a trained therapist and a compassionate friend? Look at outcomes and you are likely to be disappointed. For example, meta-analyses of studies comparing professionals to paraprofessionals (or students) either find that the latter group achieve significantly better results or, at worst, the same!
A clearer difference can be found in area of ethics. Unlike one’s BFF, a therapist is bound by their commitment to a code of professional practice. Keeping confidences and doing no harm are two prime examples. Most clinicians spend a semester or two studying ethics during their training. Continuing education on the subject is mandated by most state licensing boards in order for therapists renew their license to practice.
Unfortunately, much of current ethics training is focused on staying up-to-date with laws governing the profession or minimizing the risk of malpractice suits. Even the occasional focus on ethical “dilemmas” misses the point, narrowing the focus to the unusual and acting as though once resolved, we can go back to doing what we do.
As my colleague and friend, Dr. Julie Tilsen, observed, “We have detached ethics from the whole of practice, made it an ‘add-on.’ But, whether we realize or not, everything we do—and don’t do—is a matter of ethics. There is always an ethical standard in place, and that ethic typically reflects taken-for-granted values and understandings.”
Julie, who also serves as the Director of Ethics and Practice for the International Center for Clinical Excellence, concludes, “Any approach to practice is incomplete if it fails to articulate a stance on the ethics of the work—and by this I’m referring to the effects of what we do, in every moment of every encounter, with every person—whether or not a “dilemma” presents itself.”
As readers of this blog know, becoming aware of the effects of our work is what Feedback-Informed Treatment (FIT) is all about. That’s why Julie and I will be co-teaching the first ICCE small group intensive on Ethics this summer. In it, we’ll answer the question, “How do we know when clinical practice is responsible and ethical?” holding the assumption that ethical practice requires that our work is engaging and effective—from our clients’ point of view. The course will venture far beyond the traditional focus on legal issues and policy matters, helping participants learn an ethical stance that is both consistent with and informed by FIT.
The workshop is appropriate for case managers, social workers, professional counselors, alcohol and drug treatment professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical supervisors and agency managers. It is open to all practitioners regardless of discipline or theoretical orientation but of special interest to FIT practitioners who are interested in highlighting their response to client feedback as central to ethical practice.
The course is limited to 35 participants so register today. If you need Ethics CE’s, this is the course to attend!
Until next time,
Scott D. Miller, Ph.D.
Director, International Center for Clinical Excellence