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AQUINO, Mary Michaela Grace L.

100242 PAP Code of Ethics

There were many times when I was unsure if what I was doing was ethical. Off the top of
my head would be when I accepted the Level 2 case from OWWA. When it was offered to me,
the case officers were frantic. They had been trying to get in touch with UGAT for a while but
had no replies. They were also unsure about who could take the case. For some reason, I
thought of it as an emergency. I knew then that we are provisioned by our code of ethics that
even those undertrained can provide a service in case of emergencies, but must immediately
discontinue service and refer to necessary services when the emergency has passed. At that
point, I had contacted Doc Ginj and asked if I should take the case. She gave the go ahead, and
we set up a schedule for a debriefing at a later date, when she was free. I also asked her to see
the client. I am unsure if she was able to. Until now I wonder if what I did was acceptable. I
really don’t think it was. It was a selfish move on my end because I wanted the experience and
the growth. I’m sure my client got something out of it too, but I am unsure if it was what she
really needed.
There are other things I wonder about. Training in counseling poses an ethical question,
yet I find it befuddling too because counseling is something you get better at through
experience. We just start undertrained and unsure. I guess that’s where the ethical issue is.
However, we do also offset that with research. Perhaps that is where qualitative literature may
provide guidance. For me, that was how I prepared for my case in OWWA. I read literature on
rape and trauma. What I knew of them was rudimentary information. Upon my research, I found
about a therapeutic style called solution-focused brief therapy for sexual assault that
incorporated narrative techniques. It’s aim was to cultivate a client’s agency and ownership over
their experience by dismantling notions of victimization and survivorship-- two kinds of roles
that, according to the technique, described people as passive elements that events can happen
upon. When I juxtaposed this to the literature on the experience of rape and trauma, it fit.
People who were raped felt as if they had no control and that others could do what they wanted
with them. The nature of their relationships in the community was shame-filled, and again they
become receivers of that shame. And I word it in such a way because these people are molded
by their surroundings and by others into being; thus, the person loses a sense of control over
who they are and what they could be. The narrative technique weaved through the SFBT helped
to address that.
I guess I also struggle with the idea of “multiple relationships” or the many hats we have.
I find that my personal relationship with any person is a twofold thing. I have my personal hat
but the counseling hat is also ever-present and ready to jump on my head. Slowly, I realize that
I must develop my boundaries. I use techniques I learned in Counseling to talk to my friends. I
use them on myself as well. I find that the skills are applicable anywhere. So now, I end up
somehow confused about which hat I am wearing. It’s a subtle issue, but it became more
palpable when a friend of mine opened up about her depression. I did not know which hat to
wear. The counseling hat wanted to research, use skills, and psychoeducate my friend. In other
words, it wanted to practice beneath the guise of concern. The personal hat already did
something at that point. It reached out to my friend, opened up about its own experiences and
just had a dialogue with that friend about experiences, fears, feelings, triggers. The personal hat
wanted to understand and show the friend that it was empathizing and that it also went through
similar things before. I found myself feeling something strange. It was a very ambiguous
emotion. There was guilt. If my friend succeeded and my counselor hat did nothing, would that
be my failure? And for personal hat, there was also fear for my friend’s life and sorrow for they
were already at the precipice. There was also frustration because I knew I couldn’t act on
counselor hat’s desire to take lead and “help” and learn (it was a selfish thing) and because I
lacked resource as personal hat. The best decision I could make at that point was to use
resources I had as a counseling student and connect them there and just provide emotional
support as a friend. It was hard not to be responsible. It was hard not to want to be an “expert.”
I have a lot of pride. I realize that now after writing about these issues on hats and
experience. I look back now and wonder about the number of times I allowed my pride and my
desire to learn to get in the way of ethical practice. I think it is so easy to breach those limits of
ethics. One just has to be ignorant about the deleterious effects of unsupervised and untrained
counseling.
I also wonder about the nature of emergencies that would allow students to handle
cases and about the level of supervision needed for students to go on field. There are seminars
and programs where the undertrained are allowed to coach and run modules. Supervision
happens after program delivery. The trainee is then told, “just stick to the protocols and you will
be fine. Try not to invent anything.” But there are moments for spontaneity and I wonder if such
moments leave significant effects on people. Perhaps it’s not such a good design then. Maybe
some programs would adhere to the ethical standards more closely if the supervisor is also
onsite and the trainee shadows. However, I do acknowledge that there is a dearth of personnel
capable of providing such commitment. Demand for services is high too, and I guess this need
would make it an emergency. But what would that say about the quality of service being
offered? Would it really benefit participants? Perhaps that is where evaluation and process
observation come in; they are checks and balances to ensure fidelity to the program and to
investigate its impact.
Part of our code is a provision on respect for cultural identity and beliefs. I laughed when
I read it because I remember stories of friends who experienced being given advice by their
counselors to seek God (this was when I was in college). My friends are atheists. They were
transparent about that before they proceeded with the session. These experiences turned them
away from seeking help that, to begin with, they found so hard to do. It was just a simple
comment. “Pray ka, iho/iha. Baka kinulang ka sa dasal.” But it spoke volumes. It carried the idea
that this person they had just been so vulnerable to did not understand what they had just
shared. It made them feel incompatible with their counselor. In a way, it was akin to betrayal too.
There was trust between them at first, but it was broken when the counselor told them to seek
something that they were personally averse to. It also made them feel as if it was a personal
characteristic of theirs that caused their problem.
Beyond security and confidentiality, the code provides a way to protect us, our clients,
and our relationships, as well as a delineation between our personal life and professional one.
It’s important to have a provision on our professional boundaries, especially because slipping
down and spiraling along our client’s experiences is possible. The nadala feeling. If we cannot
delineate our personal life and professional one, then secondhand trauma may be likely.
Compassion fatigue may also happen. We may also end up engaging with our clients in less-
than-professional ways. The counseling situation is an intimate one. A person is vulnerable
during such moments. Others are in desperation. It would be so easy for us to become their
emotional anchors, upon which they may cling to so firmly that the relationship evolves.
On a side note, when Rogers talks about empathy, authenticity, and a non-expert
stance, I realize these may protective functions. Maybe it is why we have beneficence. The
nature of our work gives us power over another person. Some of us dismantle beliefs and help
put in a new one. Others reframe how clients view the world. If I were a bad person and I had
counseling skills, it would be easy to manipulate people for my own gain or for the benefit of
other stakeholders. I know people who like to gain trust and gather information from others’
disclosures or heart-to-heart talks so that they can later on use it as “dirt.” A knife in the back
given a twist. I do not want to be them. Sometimes I think we are manipulative with how we use
our questions to guide clients to insight. I guess I can say I’m a good person then. I just hope I
am not misguided and that I would never stray.