Ethics in the Helping Professions: Moving From Swats to Consciousness

The teachings of Kohlberg and Gilligan offered us new ways to understand that our behaviors can be motivated from a number of directions on the moral compass. Any given action might be driven by fear of punishment, or nobility of purpose, each creating radically different personal and social meanings.

It is to be hoped that licensed helping professionals make decisions based on the guidance of the higher self. At Southwestern College, we teach in that direction. Our mission is "Transforming Consciousness through Education"; we think the cultivation of more evolved "Consciousness" is the collective's best bet for effecting world change.

I'm not so sure our professional organizations are of the same mind. Professional "Codes of Ethics" in the helping professions (and perhaps in your field as well?) appear to embrace the notion that the lowest Kohlbergian levels are appropriate positions from which to guide its people. Reflecting back on my old high school days, the codes feel kind of like an updated version of "swats." Hmmm.

How did these governing bodies write, or talk themselves into such positions? Well, I found myself harkening back to the Ten Commandments, (the version I learned, anyway), where 8 of 10 contain "Thou Shalt Not" as a central proposition. Imagine if God (or even Moses) had been a Positive Psychologist. Probably the Ten Commandments would have been the "Ten Reflections on Evolved and Happy Living." I don't think we would get "thou shalt not'ed" even once. So I think this stuff started a long time ago in our culture.

I did a little more research, starting with our State Board. Its code is absolutely full of threats and warnings and fiats and mandates and finger-wagging and fire and brimstone. Thou shalt not. We will ground you, swat you, take away the car keys, kick your backside. It's kind of primitive, actually. I have half a notion that Sister Mary Redempta is in the next room, waiting to unleash her ruler on my knuckles (again).

One could wish they were encouraging our higher selves a bit more. Ok, a lot more.

I also looked at two national boards' codes of ethics, and found that although they are significantly better, they are still laced with literally dozens of thou shalt nots.

Even the oft (mis)-quoted Hippocratic Oath chides us to "Above all, do no harm." Pretty low bar. Yikes. How about "Serve your patients to the best of your ability, with an open heart."

How about instead of "Thou shalt not kill", we go with "Please show the utmost in reverence and appreciation for all forms of life."

"Above all, have the best interest of your clients in mind during the entire time of your work together and beyond."

"Always be as conscious as possible about your motivations in all of your interactions with others."

I like it. "Thou shalt not" carries a certain energy that casts a dark shadow over our relationship with the matter under consideration. It would be like walking into a classy store and sales guy yells "Don't even THINK about stealing stuff from this store, Jack." Mood gone.

Most schools of metaphysics argue that, energetically, the universe is likely to manifest more of what we focus upon, and does not process the negation of it. Thus, allegedly, Mother Teresa turned down an invitation to an "anti-war rally," saying some variation of "When you decide to hold a 'peace rally,' let me know -- I'll be happy to come to that." This teaching seems particularly relevant here.

Can we lead our students and mentees, indeed our selves, and our colleagues, with visions of a nobler world? I think we can. But we must begin with codes of ethics that call on our higher self to start driving the bus, rather than with threats of being thrown under it.