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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Friday, February 8, 2019

Relational Ethics in Therapeutic Practice

Kenneth J. Gergen
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 2015, 36, 409–418


A therapist’s ethical values will not always match those of his/her clients; nor may the values they share be congenial with those central to their acquaintances outside. To whose values should a therapist then be responsible?  Here it is useful to think in terms of first and second order ethics. First order ethics are those common to everyday life; they are under continuous production, and may or may not be fully articulated. They are also in frequent conflict, inciting animosity and hatred. A second order ethic, however, is one that places the supreme value on the relational process from which all ethics spring. It is thus an ethic that prizes those actions that can bring multiple and conflicting voices into productive communication. Illustrative therapeutic practices are provided.

Here is part of the conclusion:

As I am proposing, the ethical posture of the therapist extends far beyond the therapeutic relationship. The therapeutic life-world ripples across an extended sea of relationships. It is in this respect that the relational ethic explored here is also one that incorporates – without condoning – all traditions of moral value. It seeks to move beyond the local worlds in which we dwell and to build bridges among them. This does not mean sacrificing one’s values as a therapist, nor sympathising with all those
proclivities from which clients draw satisfaction. But it does mean resisting the temptation to be right; to know the good. It means enabling the process by which multiple worlds become mutually infused.

A pdf can be downloaded here.