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March, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 03

An Ethics Addendum

By James "Doc" Clay, MMH, NCTMB

In its recently issued Standards of Practice document, the National Certification Board offers two standards governing our treatment of each other namely, that we should:

  • respect the traditions and practices of other professionals and foster collegial relationships; and
  • not falsely impugn the reputation of any colleague.

These two areas of mutual respect deserve a closer look:

First, we are quite a motley assortment of practitioners, certainly more varied in our beliefs and practices than any other health profession.

We might be ridiculed for it from the outside, but the fact is, that is our greatest strength. Our approaches have not yet been so thoroughly researched, documented, codified and standardized that anyone can say that this, that or the other approach is uniform and universal. This state of affairs may make it a bit harder for the consumer to decide which therapy (or therapist) to choose, but it also makes a broad variety of choices available.

One of the problems that this variety presents, however, is a kind of intense denominationalism among therapists, often amounting to cultism. Each developer and teacher of a new approach tends to offer his or her system not as a way to do bodywork, but as the way. It's very reminiscent of the proliferation of psychotherapies with which we were inundated from the '50s through the '80s, and the devotion to these cults has persisted in spite of research showing that no single psychotherapy was significantly more effective than another.

On a broader level, whole categories of bodyworkers turn up their noses at each other: the energy workers see the clinical types as materialistic and reductionist, and the clinicians sneer at the unscientific "woo-woo" approaches of the energy workers.

Lost in this struggle for "truth" is the client. The client wants something, and each of us is bound and determined that our particular approach will fill the bill. We all know very well that we must refer medical conditions to physicians, and mental health problems to counselors, but how many of us think to refer a client to another bodyworker when our approach doesn't seem to fit the client's needs?

I remember putting a lot of time and energy into convincing a client that his applied kinesiology sessions were a bunch of nonsense. All I did, in fact, was to provide him with increasing amusement, because he knew very well that the approach worked for him. And if a client knows that he or she is being helped, who am I to say that the client is wrong? It's all very well to have our beliefs, and to practice within their framework - but we have an ethical obligation, both to each other and to the public, to show respect for each other.

The second aspect of our ethical treatment of each other has to do with gossip. The ninth of the ten commandments tells us that we are not to bear false witness against our neighbor, and it's my guess that, right after the one about not coveting, it's probably the most universally violated.

There is a wonderful story about a man who hated his rabbi so much that he spread false rumors about him. He later regretted this behavior, and went to the rabbi to apologize, and asked him what he might do to correct the results of his actions. Without saying a word, the rabbi picked up a pillow and led the man outside, where a stiff breeze was blowing. He handed the man the pillow and told him to rip it open and scatter the feathers into the wind. The man did so, and the wind carried the feathers far and wide. Then the rabbi said, "Now go and get all the feathers and bring them back to me."

"But that would be impossible!" the man exclaimed. "They are scattered to widely for me ever to find them all!"

"And just as impossible," responded the rabbi, "would it be for you to bring back all the rumors you have spread."

When we believe that another therapist has behaved unethically or illegally, we have various resorts available to us. The NCBTMB has an ethics committee to adjudicate complaints about unethical behavior. In states with licensure, there are boards to receive such complaints. For illegal actions, we have courts of law. There are also civil courts. When we believe a wrong has been done, we obviously have the choice of reporting or not reporting it to the appropriate authority. But one resort to which we are ethically obligated not to turn is rumor and gossip, in the attempt to destroy a therapist's reputation. Such vigilante justice is clearly unethical, because it offers the accused no opportunity to mount a defense.

There are four things to remember when we hear of some unethical behavior:

  1. If we were not there, we do not know exactly what happened.
  2. Whatever we hear from another person is colored by that person's feelings and biases.
  3. We have not yet heard the other side.
  4. Words spoken cannot be unspoken. We will never be able to recall any rumors that we propagate.

Our professional organizations can set forth codes of ethics and standards of practice, but these are never the last word. The last word is the code of ethics inside us - one of self-respect and respect for others. That code takes precedence.

Click here for more information about James "Doc" Clay, MMH, NCTMB.


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