Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is The ADF Defending First Ammendment Rights Or Expanding The Rights Of Christian Moralists?

The ADF is attempting to jam the Christian morality crayon in the secular counseling box

The Alliance Defense Fund has initiated a couple of law suits that have me intrigued.  They involve graduate level counseling students whose Christian views about homosexuality are deemed by their faculty supervisors to have compromised their ability to function with in today's professional counseling paradigm.
According to attorneys for the ADF:  “A public university student shouldn’t be threatened with expulsion for being a Christian and refusing to publicly renounce her faith, but that’s exactly what’s happening here. Simply put, the university is imposing thought reform,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French. “Abandoning one’s own religious beliefs should not be a precondition at a public university for obtaining a degree. This type of leftist zero-tolerance policy is in place at far too many universities, and it must stop. Jennifer’s only crime was to have the beliefs that she does.”

The ADF filed another similar suit against Eastern Michigan University which they lost in federal district court and are now appealing. This one has an additional wrinkle in that the Christian student was assigned a client for counseling whose major issues revolved around homosexuality.  After consultation with her faculty advisers she referred the client to another counselor.  This is standard professional procedure for any counselor who identifies a serious potential conflict which might impair their ability to help a given client.  The faculty at EMU then suggested a remedial program for the student which was designed to bring her 'belief' structures in line with the programs philosophy.  I don't know, but I suspect this had to do with helping her see the difference between a definition of mental illness based in 'morality' and one based in more objective standards.
I understand the ADF is a group of Christian lawyers defending the rights of Christians to be Christian in a secular society.  I just happen the think they are arguing for the sake of proselytizing.  Both of these students are enrolled in secular counseling programs which adhere to professional ethical standards and categories of diagnosis accepted across the mental health professional continuum.  In these standards homosexuality itself is not considered abnormal or a symptom of mental illness.  Nor is homosexuality considered a moral illness. 
One of the major attributes a counselor is supposed to accept in working in secular settings is not to operate out of counseling paradigm that is overly influenced by personal moral thinking.  If a given counselor is unable to conform there are religious settings that will encourage one to do this to their heart's content. And as I am quite familiar with,  there are no such restrictions on clients.  Many of them do seek to deal with their issues as moral illnesses rather than my notions of diagnostically derived mental illnesses.  I routinely referred these clients to counselors who shared their particular world view. 
The problem the ADF is going to have is they want to legally assert a Christian counselor has the right to assert their own definition of moral illness in secular settings.  I'm sure they would also be inclined to argue the opposite, that a secular counselor has no right to take their definition of what constitutes professionally accepted mental illness into a religious setting.  In this case freedom of religious speech trumps accepted secular professional practice and legally mandated non discrimination clauses across the board. 
In the EMU case these are the issues which fuel the ADF case:  The EMU speech codes enabling the university’s actions were challenged as part of the ADF lawsuit, Ward v. Wilbanks. One policy prohibiting “discrimination based on…sexual orientation” adds that counselors cannot “condone” what the university defines as discrimination. Another problematic policy states that EMU’s counseling department may discipline a student who shows a “failure to tolerate different points of view.”
It seems to me the ADF wants Christians to have their cake and eat too. Something I doubt they would extend to Muslims. I will give them some credit though, this is a clever way of attempting to introduce 'moral' illnesses back into secular practice. Beliefs dictate moral views and in my estimation, a professional secular program teaching current professional models and best practices,  has every right to determine a prospective professionals belief structure and determine if that belief structure is incompatible with it's professional code of conduct.  Or to put it differently, secular programs shouldn't be under any more pressure to professionally 'ordain' Christian moralizers than the Catholic Church is to 'ordain' women.


  1. Misusing the "power" of the therapy relationship is called "UNDUE INFLUENCE". And is UNETHICAL.

    Misusing diagnosis (as outlined above) could be called BIGOTRY. And is UNETHICAL.

    A person is free to practice his or her own religion. But one is not free to practice one's religion on one's clients. Doing so would subject a client, who is in a dependent position vis a vis the therapist, to "undue influence" by the therapist. And that is wrong.

    A therapist must be someone who is capable of setting aside oneself on behalf of a patient. Viewing this from a spiritual perspective this is a form of "giving up your self" as Jesus taught or your allowing your self to grow smaller as Christ grows larger, according to Paul.

    A therapist is not a dictator. A therapist, from a spiritual point of view, would be more like a servant - like a foot washer. Of course I do not mean this literally as we keep our clothes on in therapy and of course we exercise independent clinical judgment. But I mean that a therapist has got to be a person capable of setting aside ones personal framework in order to give room for a client to grow in.

    If a person is so wedded to their faith tradition or religious outlook that they feel unable to do what I have described above, then they need to be counseled to find another line of work. If their religious faith overrides their ability to adhere to a code of ethics, then their faith alone should tell them to find another line of work - because ethics codes are based on both sound clinical judgment and judicious risk management. If someone really wants to proselytize, then let them become a minister. But not a counselor. Not in a secular setting anyways.

    Otherwise, the therapist is setting themselves up for a combination of ethics complaints, licensing complaints, and lawsuits. And believe me, if the therapist tries to convince someone their sexual orientation is wrong and should be changed, that is a lawsuit the client will win!

  2. Colleen, you bring up a really good issue and there is a parallel issue in which a Calvary Temple High School (is trying?) has tried to get its creationist curriculum accepted by the University of California as a science pre requisite. I know that Calvary Temple lost the initial court case but I do not know if it is in an appeals process. This High School and others have renamed creationism as intelligent design and are teaching it in their science curriculum and feel since they also pay taxes that public universities should except their curriculum. There have been and will continue to be many court battles about morality vs. science or secular ethics. I hope that this country can accept separation of Church and State in the foreseeable future.

    TheraP I agree with so much you said about this issue but I have a hard time with what you say a therapist is “from a spiritual point of view.” From my perspective from both a spiritual and a scientific point of view a therapist does not follow the medical model but has a different one that is of course non dictatorial. I think a good therapist is a trained individual that works with a patient for the patients’ growth and development rather than cure as in the medical model (or would be in the moral counseling model). A personal development that grows people not to be held captive by shame and so many other emotions but that helps a patient grow and develop her or his own creativity. This involves working with the very primitive emotional states that are at the core of each of us. As we work with these patient we also grow our own emotional states by learning from our own counter transferences. In other words it is not pure service to another but also personal growth for both.

    There have been recent studies at UCLA that show the first 8 months of a baby’s life to be the most important post uterine growth period for it is a time when myelin sheaths either get laid down or they just don’t. There can then be no cure but people can always grow and develop into something better (or worse!) So a good therapist is interested in watching and helping people grow into better more creative selves. dennis

  3. I'm totally with you, rdp. When I mentioned spiritual point of view, I meant that if a therapist is a Christian, for example, as apparently we're discussing, and if that person views their work from a spiritual persective... (as I have done myself), THEN the Gospel does indeed have things to say about how the person can conceive of their role - and it is not a dictatorial role.

    I hope this clarifies what I mean. I myself have never held myself out as a spiritual counselor. Nevertheless I have felt that doing therapy has been a "calling" - a kind of ministry (although that is never overt on my part - just part of my own spiritual outlook, and I suppose it holds a sense of selflessness as well).

    So to double-clarify. I was not asserting that any therapist has to have a religious outlook, but that if a person does, then they can finds ways of doing good therapy which accord with a gospel values. And the gospel was never shoved down people's throats, nor was anyone urged to cast even one stone.

  4. Dear TheraP, Your clarification is good! From my point of view weather we are spiritual, religious- Christian, Jewish, Hindu, atheist and etc., that frame of mind becomes part of our own counter transference.

    I once had a patient that I as I listened to, I found myself saying- Jesus, Lord, over and over again in my mind- the same two word I used for meditation. Yet this was not meditation, but I had to interpret it to myself in my own counter transference before I said anything to the patient. It certainly was helpful to think of what my meditation words were doing in the therapy and I think helped the patient when my own interpretations were made. dennis

  5. In the past few years we've seen several young girls start out with an ambition to become veterinarians only to discover that putting down animals is part of the job. They decided, according to their own morality, or perhaps just personal preference, that they could not or would not become veterinarians.

    What's the difference here? The grade 8 students know more about ethics, morality, professionalism and what it takes to live in the world than these aspiring therapists.

    Do Buddhists enter the butcher trade? Do Hindus raise beef cattle?

    If they can't practice according to professional standards then they should not practice at all.


  6. This ADF legalism stinks of Taliban catholicism. They want the world to conform to their image and likeness. Will somebody please tell them that there is separation of Church and State for a good reason?

  7. Dennis the counter transference aspect is so important. I used to refer to it as button punching, and some of my clients were especially adept at punching mine. I too would monitor what was repeating in my head because I knew it was a message I needed to hear.

    TheraP I'm so glad your explanation of the professional ethical questions these ADF suits bring up. Their website skirts around any of this in describiing their suit as a freedom of speech issue. The fact of the matter, as you point out, these faculty members actually have these students interest at heart because in a secular setting they are a law suit waiting to happen.

  8. p2p The difference seems to be that these students didn't know that there was a huge difference between their morality and professional counseling ethics. Sometimes this isn't quite as black and white as it seems. I can remember spending hours in various classes arguing morality problems so we could get a real grip on our hidden agendas and personal belief systems, precisely so we wouldn't inflict them on clients.

    Butterfly I think separation of Church and state in the case of ADF means separating other faith systems out of the United States.

  9. TheraP and Colleen et al,

    What the ADF is calling for is religious counseling to be taught instead of therapy. If people wish to do therapy and be licensed for doing so, it cannot be religious counseling. This in effect is a shame promoting mechanism that calls clients to do as the church wants but not as there on critical thought processes would do. This should be classified as counseling indoctrination. It certainly is not therapy in any sense, as perceived by academics or good therapists. TheraP already pointed out the ethical and legal ramifications for this type of neo-professional behavior.

    Perhaps these religious counselors would also try to convince others that intelligent design is indeed science.

  10. In these cases I always change "homosexual/gay" to "Black" or "Women" or any other socially oppressed group. Imagine these students saying they would not work with Blacks because they believe they were inferior, or went into therapy with the goal of having female clients accept their "God-given inferior role." Tell me if the ADF would be rushing to their defense.

  11. Upon further reflection, it seems to me that any therapist who would would sue for such a "right" (as explained in the article) is guilty of countertransference acting out of the most egregious sort. It makes the therapist appear as if they view therapy as an arena to assert themselves, not as an arena where a client needs a sense of safety for self-exploration and growth. If a person sued while in training, I honestly doubt they would ever qualify to be licensed. If they are already licensed, a licensing board might decide to initiate, on its own, an investigation to yank that person's license.

    Long and short of it, I think anyone in training or already practicing, who decides to participate in a lawsuit like this, is committing professional suicide. It's insane!

  12. I was thinking about that as well Therap. Maybe these two students realized they were up a creek with out a paddle as far as references and licensing. It may all turn out that the ADF is really attempting to lay a case for some sort of civil suit as well.

  13. Colleen, lawyers and therapists think so differently. Lawyers are simply unable to realize what therapists do and what the issue are. Nor are they able to foresee the jeopardy into which they are placing potential therapists who might sue. Lawyers are used to skirting ethics. They simply do not think in those terms.

  14. I think the ADF is happy to take anything that they can to court. They are hoping to get it to very conservative judiciary who would in the future change the role of this profession to counseling (indoctrination), as they generally are fearful of the workings of the mental profession. This mind set does not give up. It still wants to teach creationism and does not believe in critical thought by the average Joe or Josephine.

    This mind set believes in a religious oligarchy that would rule. It will be interesting when one day, those who believe in oligarchy who are not religious but want only to control, get into arguments with this group. Right now society's problem is that these groups are united.

    ThepaP, I do not look at coutertransference as a bad think or anything that one can be guilty of. It is merely the feelings of the therapist and I try to use it as one of the very powerful tools for analysis of the effects and affects that the patient has on me. I then try to respond to it in the patient's best interest. dennis

  15. rdp:

    Countertransference, when not acted out, is a source of information for the therapist. But acting-out, based on one's countertransference, is something else entirely. And participating in a lawsuit, based upon the therapist's needs - vis a vis how they interact with a client, to my mind that is egregious acting out. It has left the realm of feeling or fantasy and entered into action. And yes, actions can be unethical. Not always. But in this case. At least in my view.

    To me this crosses a line. In a disturbing way.

    Actually I think the therapist trainees are pawns in a legal game here. But still... they are ill-advised to pursue this. They are acting-out. Not only contrary to the needs of their clients but acting out against a training program and a set of professional ethics. (And I say these things having spent 7 years on the ethics committee of our state psychological association. With a longstanding interest in ethics going back to college. Not that you have to agree with me, of course. In my view we're having a friendly professional discussion and I immensely respect you as a contributor here.)

  16. It seems to me you are both essentially saying the same thing. If you actually understand counter transference as a defense mechanism and are consciously aware of it's operation in yourself, it can be very 'ego enlighening'.

    If you only see it as an intellectual construct that applies to others, and need to believe that you yourself are not susceptible to it, or still subconsciously need it as a defense mechanism yourself, you will act out and it won't serve a healthy purpose for the other in any interaction.

  17. TheraP and Colleen,

    I think we all have very different ideas of countertransference!  I don't think we would be able to agree without a more detailed discussion probably not possible on this board.  I am giving you my view as a formally trained Child and Adult Psychoanalyst that has studied in the Classical (Freudian), Middle School and Relational models of Psychoanalysis. There has been an evolution in thinking about countertransference.  In the Freudian technique, almost exclusively taught in the US prior to the mid 1970's, countertransference was thought to be something that a therapist MUST avoid because it brought the feelings of the therapist into the therapy which was thought always to be a mistake. The Middle School of Analysis that almost never was taught in the United States until the mid 1970’s began to think about this issue differently. Like the transference, the countertranference is unconscious to the therapist, but it causes the therapist to have thoughts and actions and feelings that come from his or her own primitive unconscious.  (My saying the words Jesus Lord to myself was an action coming from a deep set feeling.  I interpreted this feeling inside my self to be from a projection of desperation coming from the patient. I interpreted to the patient that perhaps he/she felt a jumbling of the mind and things were not very clear at that moment and this seemed to be frightening. The patient said to me that I was the only one that would listen to his/her worries. This patient then began to discuss more freely what was on his/her mind, and over the next few weeks made progress in her social life.)

    When countertransference is used in this way, it has nothing to do with therapist defense mechanisms or with guilt for having thoughts and feelings or actions that come from the therapist and not the patient. I have found that countertransference is one of the most powerful tools that I can use as a therapist or analyst.

    There are therapists that are untrained to use their own feelings in a productive way and they project into patients their own needs and I see this as a lack of training and would think that therapist needs more of their own personal analysis and more supervision when this occurs. As a supervisor I have found that actions, and emotions of the candidate therapist are very important to examine and I hope that I have helped future therapists examine their own feelings so as not to project them into the patient. When therapists that I supervised had problems projecting his/her feelings or actions into a patient, I told them to take it back to their own training analysis.

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  20. My area is Object Relations and I got excellent training in psychodynamics (over a 7 year period). I've also read widely and have attended for a number of years the local psychoanalytic society monthly lecture/discussions (with analysists from all over). I know all about making use of one's countertransference (feelings, fantasies - and Clara Thompson wrote about making use of that as long ago as the 50's as I recall) to benefit the ongoing therapy. Nevertheless I still maintain that participating in a lawsuit - for the benefit of the therapist (who is suing to insist s/he MUST be able to diagnose non-existent "maladies" and urge nonstandard, probably detrimental treatments) is NOT THE SAME as you or I, sitting in our office, with a specific patient, calmly tuning into both our own flow of thoughts of feelings as well as listening to the patient and observing non-verbal info, and interacting in view of that person's best interests (NOT OUR OWN personally selected rights!).

    As far as clinically making use of our countertransference, I think you and I are on the same page completely.

    So, benefiting the therapy via one's countertransference (which you may or may not share with the patient, depending) is one thing. ACTING OUT, based on an assertion of PERSONAL RIGHTS - without respect for the needs of a patient - that is VERBOTEN! And such a therapist needs consultation and perhaps should leave the field.

    I'll even check with my analyst friends on this. But I am SURE I am firm ground!

  21. 4“ACTING OUT, based on an assertion of PERSONAL RIGHTS - without respect for the needs of a patient - that is VERBOTEN! And such a therapist needs consultation and perhaps should leave the field.”

    This type of activity is certainly a misuse of ones position just as would be a clerical action to use mental reservations to deny a lie. It may come from an unconscious place or from a truly conscious attempt to change the ideas of what therapy should be. I have seen this type of action in young candidates and it would be a reason to delay progress of that person in this field. Your expertise as a therapist is good when you say that a therapist may or may not choose to use personal feelings from the unconscious. Every therapist is not for every patient. For me I attempt to analyze my own feelings and try to understand what is going on in a patient. In some relationship models of therapy this is a give and take situation. I think it takes a lot of therapy sometimes before a patient can come to this level of discernment. Many analysts believe that this is the point that analysis begins when two unconsciousneses begin to effect each other with these types of feelings.

    There has been a lot of disagreement about the meaning of countertransference particularly with the evolution of the Classical model. The Middle School model particularly the Kleinians, think that the countertransference is one of the most basic tools used in working with the unconscious.

    TheraP, I don’t mean to offend you, in fact I respect you very much as a person and a empathetic professional but we do have a basic disagreement about a technical issue. Countertransference may be thought of as a different mechanism to you than it is to me. We certainly agree that therapists should not act out putting their own unrefined primitive feelings into another. I think that this can happen when a therapist has the best intentions for his or her patient but it may also be an attempt at controlling a person or a society to do as one wants and I see this as something that often happens in the work of a religious counselor. So I do not think this type of counseling is the same profession as a therapist and those counselors that call them selves therapists are acting as pseudo therapists and our field, as you have passionately pointed out, reject them as professionals. They are not therapists just as creationists are not scientists because they believe they already know what is correct and not correct and what is right and wrong.

    I have no doubt that working with the countertransference is in a state of flux and therapists will learn even more about how to use it in the future as individuals and as a technique that is taught. dennis

  22. Based on your latest comment, rdp46, I'm not seeing any conflict over a technical issue. Granted, it's difficult to talk about these things in the abstract. But I bet if we were discussing a particular case and situation, we could have a fruitful discussion that would be helpful for either of us. Countertransference is so helpful to therapy when you make productive use of it. I think on that we're agreed. I also like how you're making a distinction between a religiously oriented "counselor" (who is more of a proselytizer, I guess) and being an analyst or psychodynamic therapist.

    I also have immense respect for you. I wish you well. So good to see you here!

  23. Yes, theraP,

    If we were discussing this subject in person with give and take, i think we would actually have a good time. dennis