Ethics and Psychotherapy – 10


We are in the home stretch with Tjeltveit, and in Chapter 11 (“Profession and Professional Ethics”) he describes how psychotherapists are professionals, by which he means: 



When psychotherapists assert that they are professionals, they announce, they profess, they make public testimony that they possess specialized knowledge and technical skills that help people with psychological problems. (p. 255) 



More is expected of psychotherapists. This includes beneficence, because the work of the therapist is characterized by concern and service, as well as client welfare and social responsibility. It is in this chapter that Tjeltveit talks about an ethic for “moral strangers” (p. 262). He recognizes that psychotherapists work with moral strangers. Further, that psychotherapists are part of “ethical communities” that (drawing on Doherty and Cushman here) “encourage clients to consider their progressive political agendas, as do feminist therapists and therapists from particular religious communities” (p. 262). Tjeltveit says it is “appropriate only when client autonomy is preserved, clinical sensitivity employed, and informed consent obtained” (p. 262).  




Tjeltveit also points out a few weaknesses pointed out by others in various professional codes of ethics – as being too cautious or not validated or for failing to articulate their ethical foundations. He believes most psychotherapists draw upon even deeper ethical sources in the process of providing psychotherapy rather than rely on the minimal standards often articulated in codes of ethics.


For reflection: Do you agree that psychotherapists are part of ethical communities that have ethical claims that may be relevent to their clinical work? Is this best handled with sensitivity and informed consent? Should codes go “deeper” as an ethical source or is their current depth sufficient?

Social Contract or Covenant Love?

In Family Therapy this spring we are reading theological reflections on the family drawn from On Being Family: A Social Theology of Family by Ray Anderson and Dennis Guernsey. Here is a quote:
Is marriage, then, a social contract that can be broken when one or both of the contracting parties violate the contract, or is it a covenant partnership that, once entered into, can never be dissolved? Well, it is both. While a social contract based upon mutual conditions of good will and reciprocity does not contain within it the quintessential aspect of covenant love, covenant love can come to expression through a social contract. It is our opinion that all humans can express a dimension of covenant love because they are created in the divine image and likeness. But God is the source of covenant love, which he expressed through his actions of bonding with Israel and then with all humanity through Jesus Christ. From the human perspective, the essence of a marriage is the social contract explicitly grounded in a relation of human sexuality, male and female, which in finds its implicit source of covenant love in God’s own commandmenat and gift of love. (p. 90)

The Psychology of Judgmentalism – 4


In his discusssion of a psychology of judgmentalism (as contrasted with the capacity to make moral judgments), Terry Cooper compares and contrasts responding and reacting. He sees it as critical that people learn how to respond to one another rather than react to one another. He sees reactance as giving control to others, while the capacity to respond is coming from a person’s “centeredness in grace” (p. 67). (These various distinctions come from Table 4.1 on page 69.)  


He says reacting comes from being self-centered, while responding is from a more centered self. Reacting focuses on controlling others and combines thoughts and emotions and is often impusive, coming from both external triggers and internal compulsion. In contrast, responding distinguishes between thoughts and feelings (like differentiation of self?) and is an internal decision from conviction and an awareness of the context surrounding one’s behavior (rather than confusing a person with their behavior).  

Cooper encourages the reader to examine themselves to see when they respond and when the react to others. He acknowledges that we may find ourselves reacting more than we would like to admit.

Ethics and Psychotherapy – 9


In Chapter 10 (“Rethinking Psychotherapy’s Location in a Society”), Tjeltveit discusses the role of psychotherapy in society, including its relationship to politics, ethics, and law. He is for a public philosophy for psychotherapy. He also sees psychotherapy as too individualistic and not as focused on benefiting the broader society: “If psychology is to become recognized by the public and managed care as a major player in the mental health marketplace, we must be seen as proficient in addressing the nation’s social concerns” (p. 234). 
For reflection: How do we balance the focus on the individual with a focus on what is best for society? Where are the tensions in this?

Happy Easter


Today Christians around the world are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Easter is the highest church holiday, and we celebrated it last night by attending an Easter service at our church. As we were reminded of the person and work of Christ, and as I think about the practice and profession of psychology, I was reminded of the title of Eric L. Johnson’s compelling article, “Christ, the Lord of Psychology.” Here is the abstract:


Explores how Christ’s lordship relates to the field of psychology. The lordship of Christ over all of a Christian’s life is an assumption basic to Christianity. The acknowledgment of his lordship in psychology is especially problematic today because of the pervasive naturalism and neo-positivism of modern psychology. Nevertheless, an understanding of the kingdom concept in Scripture suggests that Christians are inevitably called to work toward the expression of Christ’s lordship in psychology. This occurs as the Christian pursues psychological knowledge and practice before God, aware that all true truth about human nature is an expression of God’s mind, that sin and finitude limit one’s ability to grasp the truth, that the Scriptures are needed to properly interpret human nature, and that kingdom activity involves a faithful response to Christ’s lordship in one’s work with others and one’s knowing of human nature.





It was published in Journal of Psychology & Theology, 25 (1), Spr 1997, pp. 11-27. It was also recently reproduced in a volume titled Psychology & Christianity Integration: Seminal Works that Shaped the Movement edited by Daryl H. Stevenson, Brian E. Eck, and Peter C. Hill and published by the Christian Association for Psychological Studies.



Ethics and Psychotherapy – 8

In our ongoing discussion of Alan Tjeltveit’s book, Ethics and Values in Psychotherapy, we turn to Chapter 9, which is titled “Ethical Dimensions of the Goals and Outcomes of Therapy: Therapy as Means to Which (Ethics-Laden) Ends?” You have to just pause and appreciate the titles of these chapters…. Okay, Tjeltveit wants to press the issue that psychotherapy has ethical dimensions in its goals and outcomes, and that “normal” people can vary in how they are “normal,” suggesting that good outcomes or positive outcomes in psychotherapy can vary and be normal simultaneously. It is part of the heterogeneity of being “normal” (p. 208). He suggests that ideals can be evaluated based on how they affect the individual, others, and over time. They can be assessed with respect to humanity in general, therapy itself, or for a specific individual at a set point in time. Tjeltveit suggests we discuss (and choose) desired outcomes and then work toward those, selecting goals that will lead to the desired outcomes.

Tjeltveit identifies a number of unsuitable solutions when thinking about outcomes in psychotherapy. They include ignoring the outcomes; denying that any assertions can be meaningful; insisting on one and only one answer to what is best; making no universal assertions; judging an oucome on whenter it works (pragmatism); and improving psychological functioning (please note the qualifier that “improving psychological functioning” may be defined differently for different parties).  

For reflection: How about the quote on page 97: “… if the goals of therapy are based on conflicting ethical sources, and therapy’s effectiveness is evaluated in ways that vary with evaluators’ ethical ideasl, is psychotherapy (or in what sense is therapy) a coherent professional practice?



The Psychology of Judgmentalism – 3

Terry Cooper goes on to distinguish between critical thinking and thinking critically. He offers ten features that distinguish the two. Although I won’t cover each here, let me say at the outset that they are from Table 2.2 on page 38 of his book. He says critical thinking is a rational process, one that is capable of both affirming and correcting. It is patient and scrupulously fair, able to critique its own position. Critical thinking can avoid or refrain from emotionality and recognizes when it crosses the line and ceases to be critical (and moves into being “hypercritical”). In contrast, thinking critically is presented as an emotional process that looks to condemn and dismiss, often rushing to judgment, which involves but is not limited to blurring ideas and personalities together in its condemnation of the person rather than the idea or behavior. It is “emotional reactivity masquerading as rationality,” that is “restless until it demolishes” and sees its own process as “above criticism” (p. 38).
For Reflection: Does the distinction Cooper makes between Critical Thinking and Thinking Critically seem helpful to you? How so? In what areas have you seen these differences highlighted?