Ethics Rounds

Landing in St. George, Utah, takes one around a mountain and then onto the top of a several thousand-foot high mesa where the airport sits. While the ride through the air currents is bumpy, the landscape below is stunningly beautiful in its drama. I arrived to see a Saturday night full moon casting shadows across bluffs that shoot seemingly straight from the ground into the desert sky. Against this backdrop, as a guest of the Utah Psychological Association, I had the opportunity to spend several days talking about ethics and learning about the great efforts our colleagues in Utah have made in their fight against discrimination and on behalf of improving relations in their community.

'Healing the Great Divide'

On the evening I arrived, I attended a program inspired, developed and sponsored by the Utah Psychological Association in collaboration with other community groups as part of the association's "Healing the Great Divide" initiative. The Healing the Great Divide initiative is a vehicle through which the Utah Psychological Association has addressed divides in the Utah community that have been very painful for members of the association, yet which the association has chosen to address as challenges to be talked about, understood and worked through, rather than as insurmountable obstacles and irreconcilable differences. While the original impetus for the initiative arose from a particular constellation of incidents involving the formation of a club for lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students, the initiative has grown to address issues of diversity and discrimination of all kinds.

The evening's program, titled "Perspectives on Prejudice," featured four Native American speakers discussing their experiences as Native Americans. I was especially taken by the ceremony before the program, which my host and I happened upon by virtue of our early arrival, when one of the speakers blessed the auditorium in preparation for what would follow (an occurrence not often seen in advance of panel discussions here in Washington, D.C.). This theme, of attending to the relationship between us and the space we inhabit, continued through the evening as the main speaker, Arvol Looking Horse, related Native American spirituality to our treatment of the environment. In interesting and compelling ways, each of the evening's four speakers explored a variety of dimensions along which we become divided from our colleagues and neighbors, from our physical surrounds and even from ourselves.

My first evening in Utah set the tone for the rest of the trip, which, following ethics workshops in Salt Lake City and St. George, culminated in a day with clinical and counseling faculty and students at Brigham Young University. I was impressed by the quality and extent of the clinical training and wondered how many students applying for internships and postdocs around the country realize what opportunities Brigham Young University has to offer. As I expressed surprise, that the program was not inundated with clinical applicants, a discussion began in which members of the faculty related hearing of students actively discouraged from pursuing training there. As I pressed them to speak more fully about their experiences, a number of anecdotes emerged in which the Mormon faith had been part of a discouraging message conveyed to potential applicants. This message, which has been felt acutely by the community of psychologists in Utah belonging to the Mormon faith, can be seen as inconsistent with antidiscrimination aspects of the Ethics Code.

3.01 unfair discrimination

In their work-related activities, psychologists do not engage in unfair discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.

Psychologists from other APA communities will point out, in turn, that tenets of the Mormon faith risk discrimination against them based on factors identified in Standard 3.01-for example sexual orientation. The tension between factors identified in Standard 3.01 has provided the impetus and energy for the Healing the Great Divide initiative. Through this initiative, the Utah Psychological Association offers a way for the community of psychologists to think about the deeply felt and painful divides that can separate and keep communities apart.

It is impressive that while the Utah Psychological Association has brought in people from outside to speak about many facets of diversity and discrimination-this past December the International Journal and Association for Applied Psychoanalytic Studies and the International Psychotherapy Institute organized a conference as part of the Healing the Great Divide initiative-the association has approached this problem as its own to solve and consequently looked first to internal resources. Attempting to resolve divides within the community by looking first to collegial and collaborative resolutions is entirely consistent with the APA Ethics Code. Collegial and collaborative resolutions, while often the most challenging to bring about, may ultimately prove to be the most productive and rewarding. But of course, this point would be obvious to any clinical or counseling psychologist.

Boards, associations and ethics consultations

As our discussion at Brigham Young University unfolded, I discovered another divide that had been bridged by psychologists in Utah. In our group was a member of the Utah psychology licensing board, as well as the chair of the Utah Psychological Association Ethics Committee. I asked these two psychologists about the relationship between the board and the ethics committee and who was available to provide ethics consultations. The member of the licensing board explained that although the board did not offer ethics consultations, it felt very comfortable referring psychologists to the association ethics committee for this purpose. He then remarked that no psychologist who had received an ethics consultation from the association's ethics committee had ever subsequently been the subject of a board complaint. Now, dear reader, variety is the spice of life and people find excitement in very different places and ways, but I must tell you that for an ethics director, it really doesn't get any better than that.

This exchange between a member of the licensing board and chair of the association ethics committee eloquently underscores the centrality of consultation in the ethical practice of psychology. The Preamble to our Ethics Code ends by stating:

The development of a dynamic set of ethical standards for psychologists' work-related conduct requires a personal commitment and lifelong effort to act ethically; to encourage ethical behavior by students, supervisees, employees, and colleagues; and to consult with others concerning ethical problems.

Consultation can serve to promote the ethical practice of psychology, enhance clinical care and minimize exposure to legal liability. That a licensing board and association ethics committee collaborate around the process of obtaining ethics consultations bodes well for the ethical practice of psychology in that state.

As with all my trips to state associations, I felt that I took away more than I had brought with me. My visit to Utah renewed my confidence in psychologists' ability to use our own resources to heal our wounds and impressed upon me once again the value of ethics consultation. I make some attempt to thank my hosts at the Utah Psychological Association for their hospitality by sharing the lessons I learned in Utah with you.

Further Reading

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