February 15, 2010 - 8:11 PM
About a year ago I took an ethics class. I learned a lot about the unfortunate situations that can come up when you are working with clients. I dug into Oregon's laws the national ethical standards for Marriage and Family Therapists and made sense of all of the legal language. The basic principles are simple: to do no harm, to act in the best interest of our clients, to uphold confidentiality, and ultimately, to respect clients. However, there are times when safety is an issue, and when that is the case, it is considered the ultimate goal and supersedes all other ethical standards.
Ethics can be messy. They are subject to interpretation, are hazed with gray areas, and there are times when the standards are in direct conflict with one another in various situations. So what's a therapist to do? Document! Document everything that might seem a bit sticky ethically and provide the reasoning behind the decisions made.
I have watched my friends and peers get stuck in ethically sticky situations with clients from time to time for a multiplicity of reasons. I had a lot of compassion because there is no easy way to wade through all of the different options and necessary though and action process. It is a stressful to be in a place where one is obligated to act in certain ways.
I know this is part of the job. I've learned about it, I've watched others go through the process, and I've heard and received lots of good supervision from my professors on ethical dilemmas with clients. However, I ran into a situation I was absolutely NOT prepared for and neither were my supervisors. My recent experience did not relate to a client but rather another therapist. I was privileged to some information about another therapist that indicated a potentially serious breach of our ethical obligations as therapists. So I am now obligated to take action. This is very stressful and very VERY uncomfortable! After all, I am only an intern and this individual has years and years of experience and more credible certifications.
On one hand, I wish I could take back what I heard and on the other I am glad that this information was disclosed so I can help in a situation that looks very wrong. I get to help protect the rights of clients and this feels good. Being a tattle-tale doesn't feel so good. In fact, it feels very mean and I wish I could do my own investigation and find out the "facts" and understand the context to make sense of the situation. I guess this is just the therapist in me. : ) But as things sit, I am keeping close connection with my supervisors as they too try and figure out how the information needs to be handled and then follow the directions they give me. What I do know for sure is that I will have no part in asking and trying to understand the situation. I will be reporting it to some ethics investigator for Oregon's licensure board and leave the investigation up to them. I most likely will not learn what the outcome of the information I share will be and although I am curious, I am glad that I won't know.
This is so hard! I know I am doing the right (and necessary) thing but it feels yucky. I guess that's why ethics are in existent. There has to be some governing principles to keep us all in line and obligate us to act when needed because left to our own morality, often it is easy to excuse ourselves out of acting. At least this is the case for me anyway. It's not that I don't have good intentions; it's that these situations are hard and it's difficult to follow through without the have-to standard out there. I am certainly learning and growing through this and I am so thankful for ethical standards that hold me accountable!