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Dispatches from Dr. Joel Dvoskin: February 2012

Don't Ask, or I'll Tell

by Joel A. Dvoskin, Ph.D., ABPP (Forensic)
University of Arizona College of Medicine
Past President, American Psychology-Law Society (APA Division 41)
Past President, Psychologists in Public Service (APA Division 18)


On February 03, 2012, the New York Times ran the story, "A Counselor's Convictions Put Her Profession on Trial," by Mark Oppenheimer. According to the story:

"In 2009, Julea Ward, a teacher and an evangelical Christian, was studying for a master's degree in counseling at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. As part of her training, she was required to treat clients, and she expressed
her reluctance to work with any who were in same-sex relationships. A professor, heeding Ms. Ward's wishes, referred a gay client to another counselor."

"Ms. Ward asked her faculty supervisor, Yvonne Callaway, '(1) whether she should meet with the client and refer him only if it became necessary — only if the counseling session required Ward to affirm the client's same-sex relationship — or (2) whether the school should reassign the client from the outset.' Professor Callaway reassigned the client, but then began disciplinary proceedings against Ms. Ward."

Assuming this account of the case to be accurate, the most important single fact as this is written is that the student did not refuse anything. She made a request, which was granted by the same person who filed charges against her for making it.

Wait, what?

To declare my relevant bias, I am a strong supporter of gay rights, including the pro-family right to marry. I have several friends in committed gay relationships, and it makes me sad that they cannot marry the person they love.

But this isn't about gay rights.

This is about education, and how you teach a student to provide services to someone with whom they might have a serious and fundamental moral disagreement. Many psychologists and psychiatrists work with violent criminals, whose behavior they condemn. There are meantal health professionals in jails and prisons who work empathically with people who have raped children, despite their own feeling that raping children is reprehensible. One isn't born with this ability to compartmentalize; one learns it, hopefully, in training. One learns to hate the sin and love the sinner. The right way to handle this would have been to counsel this student—perhaps work with her as a co-therapist in this difficult case—to teach her how to deal with what used to be called "negative counter-transference."

The supervisor, in turn, should be counseled about how to teach people with whom they disagree; to teach them how to work with all kinds of clients without insulting the student's own religious beliefs. Ironically, this Professor Callaway decided that the best way to teach someone how to work with a person with different moral beliefs was by demonstrating her own failure to do the same thing.

But instead of a productive discussion about how to train counselors in this increasingly diverse world in which we live, we see "advocates" trying to score political points over the broken career of Ms. Ward. Instead of a productive discussion about education and how to help people, we see a pointless argument about conflicting moral beliefs that will probably not be settled in my lifetime.

I find the hypocrisy of many political extremists to be mind boggling. I have liberal friends who claim to be in favor of diversity, so long as nobody ever disagrees with them, and conservative friends who claim to be in favor of individual rights, so long as nobody ever tries to exercise them.

Ms. Ward should have been taught, not expelled. What exactly did she do wrong? She asked her supervisor a question, for goodness sake. Perhaps with kindness and education, she might have learned a kinder (and perhaps more Christian?) way to deal with homosexual clients. Remember, she didn't refuse anything; she merely made a request.

Further, if Ms. Ward deserves to be expelled, then the professor who hypocritically granted her request and then filed charges against her should be fired. (How is it a sin to make the request but it's not a sin to grant it?)

But I doubt that I would have expelled or fired either of them. I'd prefer to teach both of them how to do their jobs better, and only if they refuse to learn would I consider dire means such as expulsion or termination. You don't teach people to be better professors or better counselors by slapping them upside the head.


© Copyright 2012 Joel A. Dvoskin

For more information about Dr. Joel A. Dvoskin,
or to read more articles by this leading leading forensic psychologist, click here.



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