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Ethical Maturation

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Ethical Maturation: A Journey without End

Alfred Adler Graduate School

Cris Roman

Submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for Course #521: taught by Dan Haugen, Ph.D.
The timing of this one-credit add-on to the course on Values, Ethics and Legalities could not come at a better time for me, given the imminent approach of the completion of my coursework at AGS and the necessity for me to make decisions about what I am going to do following my graduation from the school.

In truth, the commencement of my studies at Adler almost two years ago stemmed from far different goals and aspirations than those I have now. I was neither a fresh-faced young grad student trying to carve out a niche for myself in a bewildering array of psychological vocational opportunities nor was I mid-career professional looking to make some course corrections. Instead, I was an older guy, arguably in the midst of some adjustment disorder due to the dissolution of a 21-year marriage and dislocation from decades of corporate work, looking to reconnect with youthful ideals and the sense that my greatest work lay in the service of others. Adler seemed the perfect place to build upon my undergraduate psychology credentials and perhaps reposition me for career advancement in an altruistic, as opposed to purely profit-motivated, environment. More importantly, it was a place where I thought I could rediscover a sense of purpose and start to piece together my broken shambles of a life.

Adler has done all that, and more, for me and I now find myself ready to move forward, certainly feeling more prepared and cohesive than I did two years ago. At the same time, I find my specific goals and aspirations more elusive than ever in terms of what I have both learned and experienced during the course of my studies. That is my ethical quandary. This paper is supposed to be about plans or goals for ethical maturation in pursuit of my specific chosen discipline and yet the choice of that discipline is much less clear to me today than it was two years ago when I commenced this journey.

I came to Adler after a year of dipping my feet in the rather muddy waters of Minnesota social services, having been working with disabled and disordered children and adults in waivered services and/or on Medical Assistance. I had the notion that furthering my education would make me both more marketable and more competent in pursuing this work. Ultimately, I thought that the pursuit of an LMFT would lead me into a world of private practice where, though I would probably never get rich, I could ply a trade which would both allow me to survive an old age in which retirement is not an option while hopefully helping others who might benefit from my wisdom and experience gained from both academia and an interesting life-odyssey.

What I was not counting on was the reawakening of an activist social conscience that was nurtured in the mid-sixties and exploded in the anti-Vietnam protests and counter-culture of that time. The activism subsided and sublimated as I entered the seventies with a new, serene Buddhist faith and the desire to make a life within the context of a society that teaches vocational success as a prelude to making a family and owning property – the American Dream. I never, like so many of my colleagues, sold out on the hippie ideal altogether (probably because the Buddhist thing kept me somewhat perpetually skewed from the cultural mainstream), but I did at least drop back to society enough to make a living and own a home.

A confluence of circumstances – ranging from my divorce and subsequent loss of everything, including my home, my vocation and my children, to my education at Adler to my past three years of working in an impossibly complex and seemingly ineffectual social services milieu to what I perceive as a critical disintegration of American culture and civility – has seemingly moved me back to my youthful radicalism. This, combined with my ever more deeply ingrained spiritual belief, leaves me wondering if I am ethically prepared to be an individual therapist.

Here’s the quandary… Gemeinschaftefuhl! What initially drew me to the Adlerian paradigm was its seemingly perfect congruency with the Buddhist notion of bodhisattiva. In the latter, Greater Vehicle, teachings of Buddhism, there exists a core belief that the greatest good a human being can do is to work for the betterment and happiness of his or her fellow humans. Indeed, our enlightenment (kind of a Buddhist notion of heaven, yet predicated in the here and now on this planet) is absolutely dependant on our social interest – our manifesting of our own unique capabilities in ways that enhance the lives of those around us, the effect of which simultaneously enhances our own life.
My problem here is that, at least in the majority of therapeutic work I have engaged in so far, I have found myself continually, and perhaps inappropriately, allying with my clients in their struggles. I empathize with their efforts to conform to the consensual norms mandated by society, an unresponsive and under-funded educational system, a bureaucratized social services system and an increasingly dumbed-down, consumerist culture. With this empathy, often comes a shared disdain for the fact that many consensual societal norms are both stressful and irrelevant to their lives.

I have posed the following question in several papers I have written at Adler. In the case of the Third Reich, were the atrocities committed by the individuals in Germany a result of their own mental dysfunction or a more overriding disease of the society itself? My ethical conundrum is that if a client comes to me, or is mandated to come to me, simply in order to fit in with societal expectations, I am not at all sure I can bring enthusiasm to that task.

I can certainly help to uncover mistaken beliefs. I can very surely help him or her to challenge insufficiency in the conduct of various life tasks. Finally, I think he or she will find in me an empathetic non-judgmental ear in which can be confided the very deepest of life’s secrets and tortures. What I cannot guarantee is that my ethics will allow me to work toward the “measurable outcomes” and “behavioral change” that seem to comprise so much of today’s medically oriented, HMO mandated behavioral health milieu.

In the ongoing debate about psychology as art or science, I continue to come down on the art side. Do I hate pharmaceutical and disparage all that they can do? Absolutely not – in my own family, with my chronically depressed spouse, I see the wonders of modern chemistry even as I realize it provides only relief, not cure. Do I dispute the fact that chemical imbalance or synaptic malfunction lies at the heart of so much SPMI? Absolutely not. However, at the same time I question to what extend our toxic environment, poor nutrition and unnecessary technological integration (vis a vis nanosecond cybernetic demands, mind-numbing video games and rapid-cut MTV editing) have created these imbalances and/or malfunctions.

I don’t know exactly what the statistics exactly are today, but I do know that the United States is way down at bottom of the list of advanced nations in terms of our ability to educate our young, provide health care for our people, and create a safety net for our disenfranchised. On the other hand, we lead the world in the percentage of our population that is obese, drug-addicted and/or in prison. Additionally, we are the only “civilized” country in the Western Hemisphere that retains the death penalty – a nation that pursues vengeance and violence with all the fervor of an Islamic fundamentalist. And I, as a therapist, am expected by social services and insurance companies to bring my clients to a state of mental health as measured by the norms of this society? I think not. I cannot. This is my ethical dilemma.

As I understand it, the gist of this paper was supposed to be to develop a plan for ethical maturation that would best suit my chosen discipline. The problem is that, having come this far at Adler, my chosen discipline is more in question than ever. I would love to work with individuals in therapy, but my concern is that at age 58 (as opposed to ages 25-45) my options are running out. To jump through the state-mandated hoops that will eventually allow me to garner full LMFT or LPC licensure will require several more years of enervating internship in a system with which I am rapidly losing faith. To commence a practice in my early sixties (and one in which insurance will probably not be a major source of revenue) is looking less and less appealing. In a best-case scenario, I may have 25 to 30 good, vocationally active years left to me, but worst case could make things significantly shorter. Therefore, I feel my ethical and vocational choices must be tempered by a certain degree of pragmatism. Of course, none of us knows what tomorrow may hold, but I do know I will not be amenable to certain kinds of social service silliness in my mid-sixties.

I know I will not be sleeping with my clients, inappropriately socializing with them, breaking their trust or treating them at levels beyond my competency. These are in line with the ethical codes of my profession and, more importantly, these are life lessons I have learned in the nearly forty years of my adulthood. I am certain I will make all kinds of mistakes, but at this point in time, I’m pretty sure those mistakes won’t be ethical. I guess what I’m saying is that the ethical question right now is bound up in my decision about what I intend to do with this wonderful gift from Adler.

In the final analysis, given what my didactic therapist as described as my penchant to take a “global view,” it occurs to me that my ethical foundation may best be suited to a vocational pursuit that is more oriented to change in the community than the individual. It is not that I wouldn’t love to help individuals. It is just that, at this time, for the sake of both my clients and my children, I believe it is critical for me to address the dysfunction that is at the heart of society. I have always believed that true social change can only be accomplished one step, one person at a time. However, since time is of the essence, for both my country and me, I think it may be through writing, teaching, or perhaps even consulting within an organization that is in congruence with my radically progressive beliefs, that I make my best contribution as an Adlerian and as a Buddhist.

In the final analysis, it is in this integration of psychology and spirituality that I find my greatest comfort level. I want to emphasize here that I am talking about spirituality, NOT religion. Religion implies teachings, dogma, ritual and practice. Spirituality simply implies the belief in some universal truth that ties us humans together. It is often said that Adler did not address spirituality in his teaching. However, I believe he that he did in his advancement of the concept of social interest as being critical to mental health. What he did not address was religion and that’s just fine.

Ethically, I would never attempt to foist my religious beliefs upon a client; however, I would not hesitate to let them know that I have a spiritual dimension – an abiding belief that we, as humans, are all moving toward a greater purpose. I think this is very much in accordance with Abraham Maslow, who derived much from Adler, and his concept of actualization. It also takes to heart Eric Fromm’s contention in his Man For Himself: An inquiry into the psychology of ethics (1947, Rinehart, New York) that:

Unlike the other animals, human life does not flow automatically from predetermined instincts, but to live humans must have some system of orientation and devotion. Having some orientation in life and finding devotion to motivate the living, coming up with and maintaining an ever acceptable set of beliefs and values – this is the distinctively human challenge… It is a spiritual quest… the point here being that any meanings and values, any beliefs and ethics, are spiritual by their very nature.

Returning to the question of what I intend to do to develop and insure my ethical maturation, the answer must be found in a determination to find the right “fit.” In treating clients over the past couple of years, I have often felt that my superiors were often asking me to put a round peg in a square hole. So, too, must I avoid doing the same thing to myself.

Whether it be in teaching, writing, consulting or perhaps even doing therapy, I believe that the highest ethical commandments for me are to first, do no harm, and second, be true and authentic to both myself and those whom I service. To assure I follow those commandments, it is my intent to never become self-satisfied, never stop the process of education I have rediscovered in this sixth decade of life, and always seek out the advice and encouragement of respected colleagues and mentors.

I realize I have referred to my age several times in this paper, but I should clarify that it is not because I am feeling it, but only that I am feeling tempered by it. This has been, by definition, a course on values and ethics. If I had come into it in my twenties, thirties or even forties, it would have resonated in a completely different way. In our younger years, we can all pay lip service to what is right or theoretically moral, even if we ourselves have not experienced the myriad of situations that will ultimately test our ethical mettle. Ultimately, time is the greatest teacher.

In my life, I have lied, stolen, been unfaithful, been deceitful, been slothful and been uncaring. If nothing else, I have a pretty good brain and I have learned many lessons. Presently, my ethical questions now are not about the kind of person I am and what kind of care I will deliver. They are much more questions about how to assure that the rest of my life is as meaningful as it can be and how to best position myself to make a difference in this potentially great nation which has turned its founders magnificent, transcendent dreams into a shallow, materialistic echo of what those dreams were meant to be.

For me, the ultimate ethical question is: do I spend the time remaining to me addressing the ills of the world and my fellow man on a microcosmic or macrocosmic level? Can I do both? Is it even arrogant to think I can make a difference on a larger scale? The sin of pride may very well be the last ethical hurdle I have to clear and yet, as Arthur Nikelly said, “Therapists must strive to bring about economic and social equality rather than merely treating the symptoms caused by inequality.” [1]

More than anything, after completing this coursework, I would love to be considered a true Adlerian. It always irritates me when assignments ask us to compare Adler to other later, derivative, teachings. To me, Adler, Jung and Freud were all original thinkers of the first order. None of their teachings were completely perfect, but each provided a great river of theory with regard to understanding that which had not been investigated (at least in Western society) before – the human mind and its workings. I believe all who have followed, no matter how great their constructs and clarifications, are tributaries feeding off those main rivers. For me, finding Adler was like finding the river that has, as its source, the ocean of human life and connectivity in which I have always believed. The only question remaining is where will this river lead? Any input would be welcome.

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[1] Individual Psychology, Vol. 46, No. 1, March 1990…...

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Ethical

...Ethical Paper Ethical dilemmas are common issues that every person faces in a daily base especially in the work area. It is not an easy task for anyone to have an ethical decision making, to choose what is right, and what is wrong. There are many stories we hear about police brutality, and misconduct. I was reading on a story of a Lieutenant in the New York police department who arrested a Mail Carrier while on duty. This young man by the name of Glen Grays, 27 years of age was making his rounds in the Brooklyn, New York area when he was taken into custody, leaving his mail truck unattended. “On this afternoon, Mr. Grays was descending the steps of his mail truck backward, as postal workers often do to minimize wear and tear on the knees, when out of the corner of his eye he noticed a car making a sharp right turn onto President from Franklin Avenue. Mr. Grays shouted at the driver, climbing back up the steps to avoid getting sideswiped. The black car, in Mr. Grays’s telling, came tearing back his way in reverse. The driver said to him, Mr. Grays recounted, “I have the right of way because I’m law enforcement.” The unmarked car held four plainclothes police officers, according to the Brooklyn borough president’s office, which has taken an interest in the case. By the time Mr. Grays arrived at the front door of 999 President Street, the police were approaching him. A video of the incident, taken by an observer on the street, begins at this point and shows Mr. Grays...

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