The Seductions of Informality

Why Ethical Standards are More Important Now than Ever Before

Rich Simon

Rich SimonWe may like to think that as good-hearted, moral, upright, caring people, we don’t really need formal codes of ethics. After all, we aren’t going to rob our clients, sleep with them, gossip about them, or manipulate them for our own advantage. In fact, we’d never hurt anybody—intentionally. But there’s the rub. Nowadays, personal and social boundaries have become so loose and blurry that it’s possible to transgress them without even realizing it. In the salad days of psychoanalysis, professional ethics—particularly those having to do with boundaries, dual relationships, and confidentiality—were largely in synch with the times. Even into the '60s and '70s, we lived in a relatively buttoned-up culture where clear demarcations between the personal, the social, and the professional were the norm. Today, all those old notions have pretty much gone out the window.

The seductive informality of our current times has transformed even our most basic ideas of when our “office” hours end and where therapy takes place. A few months ago, attending a psychotherapy conference held at a seaside resort town, I was hanging out by the pool with an old therapist buddy who refused a second glass of wine because he said he had to get on the phone for a therapy session. Indeed, therapy now regularly takes place via Skype, cell phone, email, and even in little therapy smidgens via texting. Do I hear the sound of Freud & Co. collectively rolling over in their graves?

The inspiration for relaunching our popular Webcast series, Ethics in the Age of Informality: Protecting Yourself When Boundaries Blur, is the recognition that in the absence of clear guidelines in so many circumstances, ethical standards—particularly those related to boundaries—matter now more than ever because the culture we live in makes it so easy to disregard them. Rather than existing as formal codes of ethics—antiquated sets of rules periodically reviewed in mind-numbing CE trainings so we can meet our licensing requirements—they make psychotherapy as we know it possible. In fact, it might be said that whenever we conduct a therapy session—whether in person, on the phone, or in cyberspace—those rules are always implicitly present, insuring that whatever therapeutic space is being created is truly a safe haven in a world in which circles of emotional safety and protection are in exceedingly short supply.

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Protecting Yourself When Boundaries Blur
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Tags: ethical issues | code of ethics | ethics in therapy | online therapy | professional boundaries

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4 Comments

Monday, May 26, 2014 3:49:01 PM | posted by magi cooper
I would like to add to the list of references/related posts, Cedar Barstow's excellent books, Right Use of Power: The Heart of Ethics and Living in the Power Zone, co-authored with Reynold Ruslan Feldman. She also has a very helpful website with many useful articles www.rightuseofpower.com.

Sunday, May 25, 2014 6:24:56 PM | posted by Melinda Blau
danab, you must look further than Wikipedia Shakespeare gave us "salad days," not Rich Simon. From Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra, 1606:

CLEOPATRA: My salad days,
When I was green in judgment: cold in blood,
To say as I said then! But, come, away;
Get me ink and paper:
He shall have every day a several greeting,
Or I'll unpeople Egypt.
Source: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/salad-days.html

Sunday, May 25, 2014 4:20:20 PM | posted by WAYNE BRAZIL MA
Simon would use Freud as a model of ethical boundaries? ? Tsk, tsk.

Sunday, December 1, 2013 5:51:05 PM | posted by danab
"Salad days" stopped me in my tracks... here is a reference, found in that awful old Wikipedia no less, although I must admit I really enjoyed the article:
"Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage summarizes several other possible meanings of the metaphor:
Whether the point is that youth, like salad, is raw, or that salad is highly flavoured and youth loves high flavours, or that innocent herbs are youth's food as milk is babes' and meat is men's, few of those who use the phrase could perhaps tell us; if so, it is fitter for parrots' than for human speech.[4]"