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The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of BehaveNet, Inc.

04/28/2016

For the good of the client, governments and professional organizations should allow professional and client to choose one another freely with few exceptions. Tennessee’s new law explicitly allowing religious discrimination by counselors has focused attention on the American Counseling Association’s anti-discrimination language in its code of ethics:

A.4.b. Personal Values Counselors are aware of—and avoid imposing—their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.

A.11.b. Values Within Termination and Referral Counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor’s personally held values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.

C.5. Nondiscrimination Counselors do not condone or engage in discrimination against prospective or current clients, students, employees, supervisees, or research participants based on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/ partnership status, language preference, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or any basis proscribed by law.

I applaud ACA for promoting freedom from discrimination and striving for objectivity, but we professionals remain flawed human beings. Despite our best efforts we cannot always treat clients or patients with objectivity, and when we recognize that we cannot, for the good of the client, we should let them seek professional services elsewhere. This applies just as much when the professional believe an overly positive attitude might interfere.

Medical ethics has long recognized the benefit to the patient of free choice in the physician-patient relationship, except in emergencies, and that only the professional and the client can make this choice.

Rather than prohibiting discrimination professional organizations should encourage transparency, so a Jew will not risk unknowing treatment by an anti-semite, a native American by a racist. Who would want treatment from someone who felt forced to provide it, and feared the consequences of refusing?

I will resist the temptation to start listing potential anticipated adverse consequences, not to mention unintended consequences that I cannot yet imagine.  

Government should stay out of the counseling/psychotherapy office (though perhaps not the restroom). This also applies to so-called gay conversion therapy which should remain between psychotherapist and patient (except perhaps where it involves children). ACA ethics precepts constitute an open invitation for government intrusion and should be repealed.

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