The Tennessee Senate’s Senate Health and Welfare Committee members have overwhelmingly approved a proposed bill that seeks to protect therapists from 2014 changes in the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics. The Code decrees that “counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor’s personally held values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.” The bill, however, will allow practitioners to refuse to accept a patient without legal or professional penalties as long as they refer the individual to another qualified professional.
The Tennessee Association for Marriage and Family Therapists opposes the legislation, saying “This bill is in direct opposition to the ethical code of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy and potentially harmful to clients,” the group said in a statement. “Our mandate to do no harm to the consumer, we believe, would be violated.” A therapist who testified before the committee opined that “they can keep their belief system and still offer good counseling but not based on their religious beliefs.” Others have objected to a legislative body dictating professional ethics.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today is…
Is the proposed bill reasonable and ethical, or just a way to allow bigoted counselors to discriminate?
For me this one’s easy, and I am shocked that the issue even came up.
The new American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics rule is the unethical provision here, and a horrible example of a professional organization compromising good practice to kowtow to political correctness and irrelevant political agendas.
I have a close friend, a recovering alcoholic, who saw a therapist to address several emotional and psychological issues. After months of frustrating and ultimately useless sessions, the psychologist finally revealed that he had a long-standing problem with alcoholics and the issue of alcoholism, and couldn’t effective deal with them. Usually, he said, he refused to take alcoholics as patients. Of course, alcoholism is linked to many other conditions, like clinical depression. How dare this quack take on a patient he knew he was biased against and unable to treat compassionately— alcoholism was a major factor in his family—and then only reveal the bias after a few thousand dollars or so in fees?
Yet this situation is what the American Counseling Association is mandating, I suppose to curry favor with the LGBT furies, and avoid their wrath. It cannot possibly be in the best interest of any patient to be treated by a counselor or therapist who harbors a bias against him or his sexual preferences. A very least, the Ethics Code should require a counselor holding such biases, religion-based or not, to be transparent, let the potential patient know about them, and explain how these feelings could impede treatment. A counselor or therapist with a personal objection to a client’s sexual orientation has a personal conflict of interest. It is amazing to me that any professional organization would require that a counselor ignore the likely effects of conflict to the detriment of the patient, just so the association can grandstand its progressive support for the LGBT cause, when its result may be detrimental to LGBT patients.
For contrast, see the legal ethics rules, one of which (Rule 1.7) says…
…a lawyer shall not represent a client if …there is a significant risk that the representation…will be materially limited by ….a personal interest of the lawyer.
The only way this rule can be ethically overcome is if the client consents with full knowledge of the lawyer’s adverse interests, and if the lawyer sincerely and reasonably believes that his personal interest or biases will not adversely effect the quality of the lawyer’s representation client. This is how the situation should be handled in any relationship of dependence and trust.
That witness who said that “they can keep their belief system and still offer good counseling but not based on their religious beliefs” is full of malarkey. How does he know what “they” can or can’t do effectively? Only the therapist holding the beliefs and bias can know. That “do no harm” argument from the Association reinforces my biases against counselors and therapists. It isn’t harmful to patients to force therapists to treat people whose conduct and sexual preferences they find reprehensible, or who they think are engaged in willful sin? What is the matter with these people? The whole profession needs an ethics counselor.
The Code of Ethics in question is dead wrong, and embarrassingly unethical. Thus Tennessee’s proposed bill is necessary, and LGBT advocates should be supporting it.
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.