Merging, Not Colliding

Ethics and Multiculturalism: Where the Rubber Hits the Road makes the very powerful observation that there are multiple intersec- tions that may lead to collisions between traditional clinical training and newer approaches acknowledging the central role of culture. It provides examples of how interpretations of our ethics code can lead to conflicts between meeting minimal standards and treating clients from a culturally responsive perspective. At these intersections, inter- pretations should merge rather than collide. Providing culturally in- formed treatment is meeting the minimal standard.

The American Psychological Association’s ethics code is internally consistent; its principles and standards are not in con- flict. Where the principles call for fairness and justice entitling all persons to access to and benefit from the contributions of psychol- ogy (Principle D) and respect for cultural, individual, and role differences (Principle E), they are not in competition with stan- dards calling for competence in the provision of services. The standards and principles are equally valid, simply not equally enforceable. Adhering to one aspect of the code does not place one in jeopardy with another.

As Miguel Gallardo points out, difficulties arise when therapy conditions are unclear. In such situations he states that the ethics code may be used as a measure of self-protection. It often feels safer to travel traditional routes rather than to take a course that might require one to learn different skills and maneuvers. It has been said that all interactions are cross-cultural (American Psychological Association, 2003, p. 382) Are we less likely to retreat to the safety of a “minimum standard” when the cross- cultural variable is age, gender identity, or religion? Is the “road less traveled” more often the multicultural road? Practitioners more readily avail themselves of learning opportunities related to treatment innovations, diagnostic tools, or mandated ethics pre- sentations than of training in culture-centered approaches.

How do we make multicultural competence as appealing, as nec- essary, or perhaps even as “safe” as we do meeting the minimal standards? Regarding the latter, ethics boards can help. They might consider developing consultation documents (e.g., publishing formal responses to real or potential conflicts that psychotherapists identify), addressing these cultural versus clinical, principles versus standards dilemmas. Such documents may provide additional guidance (safety) in arriving at an ethical course of action, decreasing the probability of what Gallardo describes as “a decision-making process that potentially sets up well-intentioned practitioners perpetuating unin- tentional violations in cross-cultural encounters”

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