Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Teaching Professional Ethics in a Faith-Based Doctoral Program: Pedagogical Strategies

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Teaching Professional Ethics in a Faith-Based Doctoral Program: Pedagogical Strategies

Article excerpt

Teaching professional ethics in faith-based doctoral programs is similar to teaching this subject in secular programs, with some exceptions. Defining what is meant by "faith-based program," this article discusses unique issues relevant to teaching Christian psychologists in training, as well as two specific pedagogical strategies: inviting students to assess their ethical decision-making heritage, and creative use of vignettes.

What is a Faith-Based Clinical Psychology Program, Anyway?

The usual readership of the Journal of Psychology and Theology may find this question painfully obvious. However, I believe a discussion of what is meant by the term faith-based may provide a helpful context for the discussion on training professional ethics in such a program. In providing this context I am seeking to address concerns that secular colleagues may harbor regarding programs that integrate faith and profession. Possibly, such a brief discussion might benefit a reader who is historically unfamiliar with faith-based clinical psychology programs and particularly concerned with the ethical training and behavior of psychologists.

In faith-based ("integrative") clinical psychology programs tenets of faith are integrated with the tenets nets of the field of psychology. Examples of the APA-Accredited Christian doctoral programs are Regent University, Biola University, Wheaton College, George Fox University, Azusa Pacific University, Seattle Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary. Sometimes this integration is even rooted in a very specific faith tradition such as at The Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS) in Arlington, Virginia. At IPS, clinical training and training in ethics takes place "in a manner consistent with the Catholic understanding of the person, marriage and family, as well as being equally consistent with the science of psychology" (Scrofani and Norcling, 2011, p. 121). In their article describing the clinical training at IPS the authors, both professors at IPS, go on to state that, "our identity as a Catholic institution is central to our mission..." (p. 121).

My experience in the higher education arena is that integrative models of education in the training of clinical psychologists, such as those programs listed above, raise concern as to how, in actuality, students from these programs are being trained. Specifically, are they being trained to impose their faith agenda on clients? Are they being trained only to work with clients who believe as they do? Ultimately, are they being trained to act ethically? Those of us who teach in integrative programs are used to these questions, and quite frequently find ourselves responding to these concerns both verbally, and as evidenced by this current discussion, in scholarship. Hathaway (2010) makes the point that a Christian who enters the profession of psychology voluntarily commits to upholding the tenets of the profession as defined by their professional colleagues. Hathaway goes on to state, "that Christian psychologists, resourced by the treasures of divine revelation and of the Christian faith, [should] be known for excellence in all they do" (p. 227). While acknowledging the repetitiveness of this task, hopefully these questions are engaged with grace and a thankful heart for the opportunity to dispel some persistent myths among those with little exposure to Christian integration.

In my many interactions with concerned colleagues on the subject of integration I have found that quick encounters addressing these questions do not result in any lasting schema change regarding what those from "religious schools" with their conservative agendas are "really up to." Typically, what is achieved is a kind of temporary relief on the part of these colleagues when they find out that faith-based programs must submit to the same American Psychological Association (APA) standards and rigor of accreditation that all accredited programs must meet. …

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