By Dr. Cedar Barstow
“I’m trying to imagine ethics without an awareness of power. That would be like trying not to step on anyone’s toes, without an awareness of one’s feet.” —Susan Mikesic
The power differential is the inherently greater power and influence that helping professionals have as compared to the people they help. Understanding both the value and the many impacts of the power differential is the core of ethical awareness. Written codes for ethical behavior are based on the strong positive and negative impacts of this power differential.
People seeking help are in a position in which they must trust in the knowledge and guidance of their caregiver. This results in a greater-than-ordinary vulnerability. Consequently, people are unusually susceptible to harm and confusion through misuses (either under- or overuse) of power and influence.
Examples of Power Inequality“The impact of the role, control, and power difference between client and therapist is very strong and also very subtle, and thus demands a strong ethical stance. In brief, your role as the therapist [or any helping professional] is to create a safe space, empower your client, protect your client’s spirit, and to see a wider perspective.” —Hakomi Institute Code of Ethics preface
Stated another way, there is a power inequality whenever you take on a role that gives you authority over another or creates the perception that you have authority. Power differential roles include: supervisor, clergy, body worker, healer, lawyer, coach, group leader, therapist, counselor, doctor/nurse, mediator, teacher, social worker, massage therapist, guide, and social worker.
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