Do no harm is a common phrase in the mental health profession. It is understood to mean, at the very least, don’t hurt anyone. The Hippocratic Oath in medicine essentially states the same. Of course, it is also expected that we in both professions will do much more—that we will help people in significant ways.
This is the most basic, simple statement of ethics and to most of us, seems like a no-brainer. We are in a helping profession. To do contrary would be the antithesis of our entire purpose.
And yet, we are human beings—fallible and far from perfect. We make mistakes. Sometimes we do so unwittingly, without malice or forethought. We make ethical miscalculations. Or do we know and forget? i.e. leaving confidential information out on our desks or entering into a dual relationship by participating in a lengthy conversation with a client in a grocery store? These are the mistakes or ethical dilemmas we encounter, especially as young professionals. Hopefully we catch these faux pas before it’s too late.
That’s what HIPPA and our Code of Ethics are there for, to keep us aware of and accountable to not engaging in such behaviors. Rules are good; they tend to keep us out of trouble. But I believe there is more for us to consider.
For me, it is even more important, not in place of, but in addition to such rules, to be ever cognizant of the quality and tenor of the relationships we have with our clients. What do really offer to them? My hope is that we offer our most genuine concern, compassion and respect.
In our current culture, it seems as though the concepts of compassion and respect have greatly diminished. As we learn more and more about the scope of sexual harassment and abuse, racial violence and mass killings, not to mention increased marginalization of the poor and disabled, it becomes even more pressing that these basic values of humanity are restored and maintained. As therapists, our opportunities to contribute to this end are particularly abundant. My greatest hope is that we rise to this calling. To do no harm and bring respect back into our world.
Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.