Prejudice and Ethics in Counselling

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Prejudice

Examples of types of prejudice: religious affiliation, class, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, sexual practices, mental health diagnosis and physical disorders.

Stereotypes of every kind could serve to pose a problem for any counsellor who is unable to limit their judgement of clients due to these stereotypes.

Ethical dilemmas
If a counsellor finds herself drifting into judgemental thoughts upon listening to a client describe a lifestyle in which she eats all day, while attempting to lose weight, it will be extremely difficult for me to keep the results of my emotional response to this judgemental attitude from reflecting in my voice and choice of words in working with the client. Clients may be dysfunctional, but they aren't emotionally insensitive or unintelligent, and are very likely to hear the implied feelings of the therapist. Obviously, this will do little to establish or maintain the kind of trust necessary for effective counselling. I need to recognise this more in myself. I am sure that intellectually I try to have no prejudices; however I know that I do because I can tell by the tone of my voice or the little voice that may appear in my head. I know that I am hypocritical in several of these instances. For example, I may think that that unemployed people are lazy, and that fat people are lazy too, when I have been unemployed and not looking for work. Even though I don't often think in prejudicial terms I can do if under pressure and stressed, and looking for someone to blame.

Therapists are necessarily aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socio-economic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. Therapists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices.

Because of the tendency to generalize, rather than be specific, it is quite possible to encounter therapists who simply don't see obesity as a disability, and therefore excuse themselves, internally, from their prejudice in this area, rationalizing that the person is not disabled, but simply lazy. There are therapists who within the privacy of their own thoughts, may feel the same way about alcoholics or drug addicts. These therapists may realize that their prejudice is counter-productive to the therapeutic process, and may attempt to avoid voicing their feelings around other therapists or in the presence of their clients, but while they may succeed in not overtly expressing these feelings in front of their clients, they are usually unable to keep from letting them slip in the presence of their friends. If they are lucky, they will receive productive feedback, who may assist them in overcoming their own prejudices. This, in fact, is the idea behind supervision in the therapeutic process, wherein a therapist is monitored and overseen by another therapist who has more experience. This provides the opportunity for the therapist to be made aware of any limitations being imposed on the therapeutic process due to prejudicial attitudes, judgements, lack of education with regard to a particular illness, and many other areas. Realistically not all therapists receive the benefits of adequate supervision, and it is quite possible to find those that are limited by the prejudices with which they, knowingly or unknowingly, view the world, of which their clients form a part.

Specifically addressing areas:

Religious Affiliation
Many of those who seek counselling have had atypical experiences in their upbringing. This often leads them into exploring areas of belief which most people with a more conventional upbringing would never consider appropriate, even if they were exposed to the...
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