Tag Archives: Therapy

E is for Ethics (and also, a bit, for Exam)

So, I wrote in yesterday’s blog that I had taken and passed my licensure exam. The state licensing exam is also the exam used for those counselors who want to be recognized as Nationally Certified Counselors. It measures competence in several areas: Research, Theories, Assessment, Ethics, and a few other categories. Overall, I did okay on the exam. I didn’t ace it, but I  did far better than the minimum requirements for licensure. Also, I totally rocked the Ethics section.

I love Ethics. Ethics, like counselor self-care, permeate every aspect of counseling. Ethics play such a critical role in counseling that the ACA (American Counseling Association) has its own handbook on ethics. Every branch of health practitioner has a code of ethics by which its members choose to abide. Nurses have a code of ethics, as do doctors and nursing assistants and pharmacists. All health care professionals in Washington state have an ethical code, including chemical dependency professionals, massage therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, and so on. Strong ethics provide safeguards and protect clients at their most vulnerable: when they are sick and/or seeking help.

The ACA Code of Ethics covers everything from whether or not to accept a gift from a client (if it cost less than $20 and to not accept the gift would cause the client more harm)  to how and when to refer a client to a different therapist (when the therapist has to leave her practice or if a client is just not making progress after many sessions).

Abiding by an ethical code isn’t just good for our clients. Counselors risk losing their licenses and livelihoods if they don’t adhere to robust ethical standards. Holding firm boundaries keeps us out of trouble. I subscribe to a Dept. of Health newsletter that lists the practitioners who have run afoul of the ethics board. This list is a good reminder of the possible costs of boundary crossing, no matter how well-intentioned.

We have ethical codes governing the use of electronic devices such as smart phones, laptops, tablets (must have passcodes if client information is stored there) and software:  videoconferencing, electronic health records, email, text and voice messages, social media, and the like (ethics dictate don’t engage with clients as “friends” on social media, and we must only use text and email messages for scheduling. Personally, I’ve mostly gotten offline since becoming a counselor).

Last spring, I attended a day long workshop on the ethics of marijuana in counseling. The surprisingly diverse range of topics included whether or not a counselor or therapist could ethically accept weed as a form of payment from a client who might be strapped for cash but has a job at a pot farm and is thus awash in weed (in states where marijuana is legal, of course, and NO, NOT OKAY for many reasons, primarily because legally, in Washington at least, one can only possess a certain amount of weed at a time, and a therapist would cost more weed than she could legally possess). Also, whether or not a group of therapists and counselors could sit around a campfire, pass around a bong while discussing cases (a resounding NO, but not for obvious reasons. Turns out, sharing weed is illegal in Washington State. Even sharing a joint or giving a friend an edible is illegal). Violating these laws means losing ones license. This was one of the liveliest and most well-attended workshops I’ve been to since I got into this field. Everyone had so many questions.

We have ethics around multicultural counseling (ethical counselors have multicultural awareness training), staying within our scope of practice (only provide services you are trained in), and self-disclosure (does sharing personal information with the client, help the client? What is the point of sharing the personal stuff? Personal gain or therapeutic?)

Most importantly, ethical counselors and therapists do not engage in personal relationships, sexual or otherwise with clients. The ACA Code of Ethics states a counselor must wait five years after a client has discontinued treatment before becoming personally involved with that client. Washington State law says two years. A counselor must be able to relate to a client without the client having any worries whatsoever about the counselor’s motives. The counselor is there strictly for the client, not for themselves (except as related to salary or fees). Personal and intimate relationships with a mental health provider become problematic as boundaries get blurry. Counselors should always avoid dual relationships, i.e. providing counseling to your neighbor’s husband or to your child’s teacher.

The counseling office is a sacred space and a strong code of ethics maintains the integrity of that space. We are not there to befriend our clients, but to assist them in becoming better friends to themselves. We are there to hold up a mirror and to simply reflect.

B is for Beliefs, or We Can Choose what We Believe

One of the primary strategies I use with clients is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. CBT posits that we too often believe our own thoughts. Think about it! Our minds generate bazillions of thoughts every day. And generally, we chose to believe what we think. And most of the time, what we believe is not even true. We make decisions based on faulty beliefs. And then we’re surprised when trouble ensues.

CBT Triangle

CBT works like this (more or less):

  • Something happens (this is called an Activating Event)
  • I have a thought about the Event (I tell myself something)
  • I have a feeling based on my thought and what I believe
  • I do something based on my feeling (behavior)

Here’s the deal. We don’t have to believe our thoughts. Ninety-nine percent of the time what we believe isn’t actually true. Now, that doesn’t mean that our feelings are real. They are, but we can change the way we feel if we can change our beliefs.

Here’s an example (and one that I continually struggle with):

The Activating Event: Some jerk cuts me off in traffic, just doesn’t even look and pulls right out in front of me. And then, THEN, has the audacity to drive five miles an hour under the speed limit all the way into town!

My Thoughts: What a jerk! You idiot! Don’t you know how to drive? Don’t you know I have places to go and things to do? You must be high. Or stupid.  Every driver in this town drives like they’re high.

My Belief based on my thought: Every driver is high or stupid and every driver drives as if they are stoned. Every driver is in my way and has nowhere important to go, at least not as important as what I have to go to.

My Feeling based on my Belief: Anger. Rage. An inflated sense of self-importance.

My Action: Flip them off. Gun my engine and veer dangerously around them. Tailgate.

The Result: Best case scenario, I arrive at my destination in a foul mood, grumpy and bitter, muttering about people’s terrible driving habits. Worst case scenario: I get a ticket for tailgating or, worse yet, end up rear ending someone because I can’t brake in time.

OR, I could choose to NOT believe my thoughts. Because, really. I don’t know what is going on with the person driving the vehicle in front of me. Instead of getting mad, I can pause and bring some awareness to the moment. “Pam, you do not know what is happening for that other driver. Breathe. Have some compassion. You’re okay. Breathe.”

My Feeling now? Low level agitation, dissipating into calm acceptance. Maybe they’re just learning to drive. Maybe they just did not see me. Maybe they’re tired. I can accept the humanity they just demonstrated and I can let it go (oh, trust me, I get to this point only sometimes, but I am improving with practice).

My Action: I slow down, ease my foot off the gas, and take a deep breath. Turn up the radio. Tap my fingers on the steering wheel and choose to be grateful I was paying attention to the road.

The Result:  I arrive at my destination much less grumpy, much less agitated. My day is not ruined by one driver who did not see me. I save myself time and money.

I dare you to choose NOT to believe your thoughts. What is it costing you to cling tightly to faulty beliefs?