Ethics – the heart and shadow of energy psychology
A consideration of ethics in energy psychology is important because, not only does the field contain practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds, but also the sheer effectiveness of the methods presents certain temptations and challenges, and a risk of critical thought and reflection being swept away on waves of enthusiasm. The following article offers a few points to ponder.
At their core, ethics in energy psychology are less about a set of rules than a reminder to combine working from the heart with the rational thinking of our reasoning mind, and the guidance of our deepest wisdom - whilst also taking account of the laws and customs of the state or country in which we live. As a community, those drawn to the field of energy psychology tend to be, in general, well-intentioned and seek the highest good for others and self – and are thus inherently ethically minded. However, human beings may often falter and slip away from the ideals that our highest aspirations might inspire, and sometimes may be driven by unconscious or ‘shadow’ agendas that are at odds with these. None of us is immune to these dangers as we grapple with the ethical challenges and dilemmas of our work – and also seek to find our economic and professional place within a wider world that seems often to reward unethical (and even psychopathic) behaviour.
Many deviations from an optimum ethical stance seem based around the themes of boundaries and temperance, both of which are to do with acknowledging appropriate limits. Temperance is concerned with limiting [a] excessive claims of efficacy, [b] financial greed, and [c] the exercise of power over others.
Scope of practice
This is to do with accepting and stating the limits of our legitimate sphere of training, knowledge, skills, and legal practice. For example, if we do not have a clinical or mental health license, it is not appropriate (and in some states or countries may be illegal) to claim to ‘diagnose’ or ‘treat’ medical conditions, including mental health conditions listed in the DSM. It may, however, be appropriate to offer help with reducing stress, fear, or distress, or in assisting with the emotional or energetic aspects of a problem.
One complication is that a client may present to a non-licensed practitioner with what appears to be a need for simple stress relief, but in time this is revealed to relate to major trauma or a mental health condition.
Sometimes this scope of practice boundary is problematic because of the inherently holistic nature of energy work and the subtle and intricate interweaving of physical, emotional, and energetic realms. Should a psychologist, for example, offer to use EP to resolve allergies and food sensitivities? Probably not, if this is presented as a primary aim – but, on the other hand, energy toxins can have psychological effects, and can interfere with psychological work – so that treating or neutralising these can be a necessary step along the path of legitimate energy psychotherapy. Moreover, many practitioners have found that sometimes allergies and sensitivities have partial roots in trauma and stress – so that what appears to be essentially a physical health matter turns out to have psychological and energetic components.
Scope of knowledge
It is a natural part of intellectual exploration to want to link our core knowledge of energy psychology with other relevant fields of biology, neuroscience, physics etc. We can draw the attention of clients, readers, or workshop participants to these other fields, stating our understanding of them, but it may be important to make clear when these are not our specialist sphere of knowledge. For example, if we make reference to quantum physics to ‘explain’ energy psychology phenomena, but our understanding is fundamentally incorrect or vague, then we undermine our own credibility and that of energy psychology as a whole. It can be helpful to provide references to accessible works by specialists in these other fields. To do otherwise than to respect these cautions is to invite dismissal by serious scientists.
Clarity and honesty regarding credentials
Whilst it is good to be proud of our legitimate qualifications and professional achievements, it is crucial for our ethical integrity that these be stated clearly and truthfully on our advertising materials and websites, and in submissions for presentations at conferences. For transparency, it can be helpful if details are provided of the precise qualification, as well as where and when it was obtained. There have been some unfortunate instances in which a person has used the designation ‘PhD’ after his or her name when this has actually been a certificate purchased from a non-accredited organisation and requiring either no academic work or relatively little. This is misleading and can be fraudulent if, for example, this is used in a way that influences a customer to purchase a book, or attend a workshop, or seek therapeutic assistance. Whilst it may not be illegal for a Quantum Institute of the Universal Life Energy to award some kind of degree, this is unlikely to be comparable to a PhD from an accredited university whose standards are monitored by state or government appointed agencies, to ensure academic parity. A genuine PhD involves years of study and original research work, resulting in a contribution to knowledge, which must be organised in a formal written and oral presentation that is rigorously scrutinised and evaluated by academic colleagues. To claim falsely to have such a credential is dishonest and disrespectful to those who have labored long to achieve a genuine PhD. I can think of several instances of this.
Academic or research qualifications are not necessary for energy healing work, and to make false claims to have these merely undermines credibility and is energetically weakening. On the other hand, we must also recognise that traditional accredited universities are less likely to encourage research in energy psychology and energy medicine – and that new institutes for education and research in these emerging paradigms may be required.
Claims for efficacy
The evidence base for energy psychology is growing. It includes randomised controlled trials, formal single case studies, neurobiological measures, and numerous clinical reports. Nevertheless, EP methods cannot yet be described as established and generally accepted. This should be made clear to clients. Compared to some other forms of psychological intervention, the evidence base of formal and extensive research trials is relatively meagre. It is truthful to say that: [a] EP methods, in one form or another, have been used for over 30 years; [b] evidence of efficacy is increasing; [c] many people report benefit; [d] the methods are similar to, and can be combined with, elements of other well-known psychotherapies. In any particular case, we cannot know in advance whether an EP modality will help the person – and some are not helped, for reasons which may remain unknown.
Claims to understand how EP works
Despite frequent assertions, using a variety of metaphors, there is no consensus about how and why energy psychology methods work. Certainly there are various hypotheses and speculations, but we do not actually know. It is arguably a strength of EP that its origins (in George Goodheart’s Applied Kinesiology, followed by the explorations of John Diamond and then Roger Callahan) are not based on any theory whatsoever, but simply upon observations of reality – of what happens when certain procedures are followed. The procedures frequently work, regardless of what theory or belief, if any, the practitioner or client may hold. Spurious claims of knowing why and how they work are likely to undermine the credibility of the field.
Respect for the client’s autonomy
This may involve refraining from:
If the client asks us to do so, we can attempt to share our thoughts and understanding – without assuming we are correct! When we seek guidance through muscle testing, we are respecting the inherent knowledge, wisdom, and autonomy of the client’s mind-body-energy system.
Respect for the client’s material and financial circumstances
Our clients may live within a wide range of material, cultural, and financial circumstances – some of which may be difficult and miserable. Many practitioners of energy psychology may live within relatively comfortable and empowering circumstances. A fee that appears modest for the practitioner may be very challenging for some clients – who might nevertheless be tempted to pay this out of desperation or hope inspired by advertising and promotion of an energy psychology modality. It would be wrong to disregard the client’s material reality, or to coerce them subtly to ‘invest’ in energy psychological therapy with promises of improvement that may not be fulfilled. Similarly, we should not implicitly promise improvements in a client’s physical health – although it is perfectly reasonable to propose that our methods can sometimes help clear the emotional and energetic impediments to health.
Deviation from the conventional paradigm
Many phenomena familiar to energy psychologists violate the conventional scientific paradigm of reality. They include healing through intention, mental effects on the physical realm, healing at a distance, proxy healing, and all manner of other non-local effects. As William Tiller observes, the human energy system appears to function as a gateway to a realm of reality which is responsive to human intention in a way that ordinary physical reality, as studied by conventional science, is not. Sometimes phenomena and procedures are presented at energy psychology workshops that profoundly violate conventional paradigms without this being acknowledged explicitly. This can be confusing to participants and unhelpful when they subsequently try to convey what has been learned to others in the wider world. When this is combined with qualities of charisma and glamour in a workshop leader, an uncritical state of mind may be fostered which provides the basis for cult-like processes and rightly evokes suspicion in the non-EP world.
Hype is not needed!
We know that the methods of energy psychology are wonderful, gentle and effective, and very helpful to many clients. It is not necessary for us to hype this graceful gift by exaggerating its potential, seeking to give it credibility by spurious quasi-scientific links to other fields, claiming or implying false academic credentials, or using charisma for personal power or monetary gain. Instead we can, with gratitude, seek to find and present truth that empowers both ourselves and our clients.
Phil Mollon is a member of the Ethics Committee, and also on the Board of Directors, of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology [ACEP]