Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Ethics and Values in Psychotherapy: Introduction to Special Issue

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Ethics and Values in Psychotherapy: Introduction to Special Issue

Article excerpt

Ethics and character are at the heart of effective psychotherapy. Suppose you knew of a psychotherapist who had good therapy skills but had lapses in keeping confidentiality. Would you be inclined to refer a loved one to such a person? What if the therapist had poor boundaries? As important as the therapist's theoretical orientation might be, or their skill in some therapeutic technique, or their approach to psychology-theology integration, ethics and character are foundational. In selecting a therapist, "the kind of person the therapist is," is an important factor (Doherty, 1995). Character qualities such as genuine concern and respect for the client, honesty and dependability, wisdom in the face of stress, and a good balance of confidence and humility all come to mind.

This issue of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity considers the topic of ethics and values in psychotherapy. While this is a topic that is very important to the profession at large, I believe it to be a crucial topic for a Christian journal on integration to consider. The topic exists at the level of practical integration, the level at which faith principles are embodied in the real world of therapy practice. Ethics and values in psychotherapy are things every practicing Christian professional should be actively concerned with (Sanders, 2013a).

To do that, we must begin with a respect for the ethics codes of our professions and the people-many of whom have gone before us-who have developed them. As a psychologist and a Christian, I have come to have a deep respect for the ethics code of my profession and the professional literature that undergirds and interprets it. The APA ethics code (2010) has been developed over the years in a logical and reasoned manner. Its foundations are based on the experiences of practicing psychologists facing real-world ethical dilemmas in the therapy room. It has been hammered out of the crucible of therapy in everyday practice (Ford, 2006, pp. 57). It contains a balance of aspirational ideals and rules of practice. It is intensely practical.

At the same time, it must be noted that in something that is as interpersonally complex as psychotherapy, ethics codes do have their limitations. As a number of writers have pointed out, our ethics codes cannot do all our thinking for us (Pope & Vasquez, 1998). True ethical dilemmas are complex and often pit one ethical claim against another (Koocher & Keith-Speigel, 2008). And, as we have learned over the years, ethical rules are not written in stone. At times they must be revised, amended, or added to as understandings and issues emerge. The interpretation and application of ethical principles is an evolving process.

It also must be understood that professional ethics codes reflect the perspectives of people within a particular guild. Indeed, one of the criticisms of the mental health professions is that elements of ethics codes sometimes reflect the philosophical and cultural biases of the people who construct them. In the mental health professions in particular, ethics codes and principles are usually constructed from within the profession. The input of other disciplines such as philosophy and philosophical ethics, anthropology, the life sciences, medicine, sociology, and yes, theology and religion, may be inadequately considered. Indeed, some in the mental health professions might question on scientific grounds whether inputs from disciplines like philosophy or religion are relevant. A broader approach however, would recognize that one need not be "against science" to welcome input from others in a field such as ethics which has a long history of study by other disciplines (Tjeltveit, 1999). There has been a plethora of psychology ethics literature in recent years, but the first APA ethics code was published in 1953 (Jones, 2000, pp. 239-242), and it was 1979 before the APA mandated that all training programs accredited by the organization include ethics training for graduate students (Anderson, Schneller, & Swenson, 2013). …

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