All the cool kids are cranky about ethics

21 06 2012

Julea Ward, a counseling (not social work) student in Michigan with an unfortunately misspelled name (I’m annoyed with her, I can be petty) got rather tetchy when asked to see a certain client during her internship. This was no ordinary client, you see. The young man was a…homosexual.

Are we all scandalized? Have your pearls been sufficiently clutched?

Ms. Ward said she couldn’t “affirm homosexuality” because it “goes against the bible.” And why shouldn’t she be able to avoid gay people all her life, including in her work? She’s not going to be a counselor at a Broadway musical or roller derby event, for god’s sake! It’s not as though the gays are three dimensional individuals you might encounter in, say, a high school, where Ms. Ward would like to work.

Now, Michigan has taken it upon themselves to say that anyone studying in a “counseling, social work, or psychology program” doesn’t have to deal with people who engage in behaviors that go against their sincerely held beliefs. Legislators, they know better than us silly helping professionals! It’s similar to how much I enjoy it when a judge tells me how I ought to be engaging a child in counseling.

Are we all done laughing?

Ms. Ward was not studying to be a social worker. But this ridiculous law extends to us. Even though it violates our own code of ethics. That makes it fair game for my righteous anger and sarcasm.

Our code of ethics calls upon us to “obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to” lots of things, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. We also are not to “practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of…sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”

Nothing in that code of ethics says, “unless the religion you choose to follow says not to. Then forget it, run as fast as your legs may carry you, but you can still totes be one of us!” No. We’ve got a profession to uphold. If you simply want to talk nicely to people and help them feel better, then do it on your own time without a title. As social workers, we don’t discriminate.

We’re also not supposed to discriminate based on religion, some clever, outside-the-box thinker always brings up. (I know I’ve been punching you in the face for hours, but you hit me back. That’s bullying!)

Ms. Ward’s beliefs were not being discriminated against. She can hold whatever misguided views she wants to. But she wants to be a professional and attend an accredited institution. Which means she can’t turn and run whenever a gay person walks in the door. What if the person isn’t totally gay, but experimented a little at a Boy Scout Jamboree? I mean, where exactly is the line? What if the person is being held as a slave and isn’t obeying his master, (Ephesians 6:5), would Ms. Ward still be willing to counsel that person? I’m just wondering, because she says she doesn’t go against the bible.

Not to mention that no one is telling a Christian counselor at a public agency or school to “affirm homosexuality.” It doesn’t need affirming, it just is. Ms. Ward was not being asked to sit with this client gabbing about his latest date, saying, “Ah, guy on guy action. Yes. Way to go!” She was supposed to help him in managing his depression. (Which I’m sure this debacle worked wonders for.) Even if his sexual orientation was a part of what he was working through, it doesn’t matter. You don’t say that you won’t deal with someone because a part of who they are just isn’t good enough for you. If a social work intern told me that they wouldn’t work with a Dominican family, or an interracial couple, I would think they were in the wrong profession. Just as I think Ms. Ward is.

I don’t have religious beliefs. But I have values. Violence, particularly against a weaker, defenseless person, goes against my values. Exploiting someone’s addiction goes against my values. Helping a child to decorate her jacket with Justin Bieber paraphernalia goes against my values. However, these are things that I have to work with.

We don’t get to be all that picky in our work. For one thing, the people who truly need our help typically have, you know, problems. Drug addiction, anger management, mental illness…you know, the kind of people Jesus would shun.

I’m being told that’s actually the opposite of what Jesus would do.

Clinical social workers, and other clinicians in private practice, can choose who they’re going to take on and who they won’t. They can have their reasons. They should be in line with our code of ethics, of course, but they have some leeway and control in terms of what populations they specialize in and who they take on. Every social worker, particularly every social work student, I know works for an agency. Ms. Ward, as I mentioned, planned to be a school counselor.

No big deal. Most high schools have at least fifteen different counselors, so someone could pick up the cases that Ms. Ward felt squeamish about. Right?

Oh, no. That’s not how it works. In this field you get what you get, and you do the work on yourself to make sure you can deal with it. I didn’t think I would be able to work with sexually abused children. I wouldn’t go to an agency that serves this specific population exclusively. But I’m part of a team, and this is an issue that comes up all the time. I can’t say, “sorry, I don’t do that. I’m special and I get to choose.” I got my shit together, and I do my job.

We can’t say that we’re only going to work with people who do things our way. Of course we try to help people to change their harmful behaviors. But if you think living openly as the gay person you were born to be is harmful, then you need to do some research. Research that isn’t sponsored by Focus on the Family or the National Organization of Marriage. Research by or supported and accepted by the organizations you supposedly have enough respect for that you want to attend their accredited institutions and be a part of their body of professionals–National Association of Social Workers, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, all those guys.

That’s what pisses me off, in addition to the blatant homophobia hidden in religion. Educate me, legitimize my work, but let me do whatever I damn well please, because I have beliefs. No. You can’t have it both ways.

We know our profession, and we know our values. We need to have enough respect for it to stand up for it to those who don’t.



12 responses

21 06 2012

Just in case Ms Julea wishes to come north, here are the first two values cited in the Canadian Association of of Social Workers Code of Ethics…

Value 1: Respect for the Inherent Dignity and Worth of Persons
Social work is founded on a long-standing commitment to respect the
inherent dignity and individual worth of all persons. When required by law
to override a client’s wishes, social workers take care to use the minimum
coercion required. Social workers recognize and respect the diversity of
Canadian society, taking into account the breadth of differences that exist
among individuals, families, groups and communities. Social workers
uphold the human rights of individuals and groups as expressed in The
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) and the United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

Value 2: Pursuit of Social Justice
Social workers believe in the obligation of people, individually and
collectively, to provide resources, services and opportunities for the
overall benefit of humanity and to afford them protection from harm.
Social workers promote social fairness and the equitable distribution of
resources, and act to reduce barriers and expand choice for all persons,
with special regard for those who are marginalized, disadvantaged,
vulnerable, and/or have exceptional needs. Social workers oppose
prejudice and discrimination against any person or group of persons, on
any grounds, and specifically challenge views and actions that stereotype
particular persons or groups.

I mean really, what the sam hill do the legislators think they are talking about???

22 06 2012

I love codes of ethics. I mean that seriously. Thanks for sharing that. (In answer to your question-no damn clue!)

21 06 2012
Judy Gibson

You might want to read the 6th Circuit Court’s appellate decision on the matter. It has the details left out of the blog posts and news stories. No, I don’t think she should be a high school guidance counselor either, but she didn’t exactly refuse to work with the client because he is gay. In fact, she didn’t exactly refuse to work with him at all.

21 06 2012

I have in fact read it. And I just reread it at your suggestion to ensure I wasn’t missig anything 🙂

Ms. Ward asked that the client be either referred to another worker immediately, or for it to be referred to another worker if the client’s same sex relationship became the subject of any of their work. I suppose some might see a major distinction there, but I really do not. In my counseling experience, the idea of referring someone away as soon as their relationship or sexual orientation comes up is so impractical (and unethical) that it amounts to a refusal.

21 06 2012
Comedy central team member

Word. There are many reasons I love this blog, but your ability to make the news serious yet laugh out loud funny is unmatched.

21 06 2012

I’m gong to play Devil’s Advocate here and st that there are many reasons that someone in the helping professions may choose (and should have that right) not to provide a service to someone. Counselors, therapists, social workers etc often refer a client to someone else if their particular needs are outside of that clinicians’ expertise, experience or comfort zone. I am not an expert on substance abuse and would be doing my clients a huge disservice if I didn’t seek another professional to help my clients that struggle with substance abuse issues. I also know helping professionals that can not bear to work with men who have molested children. Or don’t feel comfortable counseling women considering abortions. I think it is important that we, as professionals, recognize our limitations (religious or otherwise) and figure out how to ensure that those limits do not harm out clients. This includes knowing when we need to step back and redirect a client to someone who can better meet their needs. Obviously, its completely inappropriate to stop a client mid conversation and say “sorry, my religious convictions prevent me from discussing this with you further.” That is insane and unethical. But to say all social workers must “stuck it up” and completely dismiss their own values, beliefs, part experiences, limitations, etc really just puts our clients at higher risk by backing professionals into a corner. Id rather train social workers on how to manage their biases and keep them from becoming barriers than to try to insist they pretend not to have any to avoid shame and condemnation from their peers and/or supervisiors.

22 06 2012

The thing is, the university tried to mediate the issue with Ms. Ward, and she refused. So she was really doing the opposite of what you’re saying. Her solution was that she either not work with gay clients, or do just what you said would be totally unethical–stop a client and refer to another worker–if the client’s relationship or sexuality came up in some way. She felt that she should be allowed to hold on to her bigotry. We all have prejudices and biases, but we need to work to eliminate them, not expect our profession to cater to them.

Also, I said that I felt that we all needed to do some work on ourselves. Not to simply get over it, but if something is really holding us back from serving our clients effectively, we need to deal with it. That’s what I was saying I did. That’s what this woman was unwilling to do.

There is also a difference between recognizing that something is outside our expertise and making an appropriate referral for additional services, and saying that we don’t work with a certain group of people, which is what Ms. Ward’s actions amount to.

21 06 2012

That last comment is actually mine – apparently wordpress still remembers my email as an old blog (iamthisgirl). 🙂 Just wanted to claim my comment!

27 06 2012

Blecch, people are icky – what a ridiculous person! I agree that she absolutely should not be counseling high school students; what if someone came out to her and she rejected/passed on them?? Whether it was done subtly or not, teens would know that she disapproved of them, and I can’t imagine how devastating that would feel.

I have to say though, I’m not a fan of your comment about the “blatant homophobia hidden in religion.” Not all religions incorporate elements of homophobia, and although some do, not all religious people subscribe to those vestiges of past discrimination. There are also plenty of religious people who lobby for the separation of church and state rather than trying to smother laws with their values. Just something that caught my eye – I guess that BA in religious studies (academic study of a bunch of religions, not theology!) was good for something!

27 06 2012

Oh no, I was referring to *Ms. Ward’s* homophobia hidden in religion. As in, not admitting and dealing with the messed up fact that she doesn’t like gay people, but rather hiding behind “not my fault, it’s my religion!” *This* is an instance of blatant homophobia hidden in religion. I have a huge issue with how many religions treat LGBT people (particularly Catholicism, as that’s what I grew up in) but that homophobia certainly isn’t hidden.

I minored in religious studies, which I certainly wouldn’t have done if I thought all religions or religious people were virulently homophobic. Though I’m now an atheist, most people I know are religious to some degree and think that this situation is ridiculous, so I certainly wasn’t saying what you thought I was saying.

Thanks for reading.

3 07 2012

Thanks for your clarification! I definitely misunderstood. I adore your blog, and I hope to be a young foster parent in a few years, so maybe someday we’ll meet 🙂

27 06 2012

I am just dumbfounded. How dare a school of higher learning encourage its students to think beyond their own perspectives! How dare a profession focused on helping people dealing with challenging situations encourage its practitioners to deal with their own challenged ideas! How dare they!!

I dunno…I think Ms. Julea needs a new profession that allows her to only work with people who think exactly like she does and only live their lives the way she wants them to… What does that leave us with… Cult leader?

So, if I move to Michigan and become a ‘counselor’, does that mean that I can tell all homophobic, republicans to get bent because I don’t believe in their beliefs?

Don’t lets get started on that whole counseling program thing. Oy.

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