For your professional ethics edification in February

Once a month the ACPE Professional Ethics Commission (PEC) posts a couple of statements from our Code of Professional Ethics for ACPE Members.  Each posting is accompanied by a brief personal reflection from a member of the PEC discussing some ways this person lives these commitments*.  February’s statements are:

In relationship to those served, ACPE members:

  1. Respect the integrity and welfare of those served or supervised, refraining from disparagement and avoiding emotional exploitation, sexual exploitation, or any other kind of exploitation.
  2. Approach the religious conviction of a person, group, and/or CPE student with respect and sensitivity; avoid the imposition of their theology or cultural values on those served or supervised.

Rabbi Michael Tevya Cohen, ACPE Certified Educator from The Legacy Senior Communities in Dallas, Texas, comments:

The assumption that we respect the integrity and welfare of those we supervise can prove to be incorrect if it remains unexamined. Sometimes a student starting in a CPE program may seem particularly unaware of their part in miscommunications and choices that ‘trigger’ others around them. This blockage or breakdown of skills, which the Educator may have expected based upon the admission interview, can surprisingly appear as an inability to hear a fellow participant or Educator. The Educator may be tempted to give feedback which includes revealing one’s own emotions that are being kicked up by this disconnect.

Giving the student a reality check is important; however, we are understanding as a profession that oftentimes the effect we may be witnessing covers a different issue that lies under the surface. The past experiences of a student exhibiting such a disparate level of awareness may possibly include trauma that was not revealed in the interviews. Past trauma not only can be, but is perhaps likely to be, activated upon when coming to a new environment with its stresses (more likely if the student has moved to a new city for the CPE experience). A straightforward response to such a student that includes the Educator’s frustration may actually trigger more of this traumatic response if it comes before an effort to reaffirm connection and lay a foundation for trust. Through their lens, the student may experience disparagement, lack respect, or even ‘abuse.’  Exploring what the student’s experience of the ongoing context brings up may provide a clue for working through this difficulty and enable better communication to take place. Gently mirroring difficulties the Educator observes can pave the way for creating a successful learning alliance, more than what direct reflection of the student’s missed communications may make possible. Our respect for a student’s integrity and welfare needs to account for the possible presence of such powerful factors as hidden trauma, particularly when initial impressions appear much rockier than an Educator expects.


*Every situation is unique, and any member should not take action based solely on the comments in the article but to base action on an independent review of the ethical standards applicable to his/her situation.