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  • Writer's pictureSudha

What to expect in an Ethical Expressive Arts Therapist?

Expressive movement and arts therapy is a path to discovering, healing, and nurturing your inner world through expression and creativity. In this transformative journey, the facilitator plays an important role of a guide who shows you the path, a companion who walks beside you, and a witness who honors your unique story and creativity.

In the context of expressive arts therapy, like all healing practices, ethical principles guide the therapeutic process. While the ethical responsibilities for medical doctors are clearly defined in India, there are no guidelines or standards enforced for expressive arts therapists. With my background in both the field, I implement ethical considerations rigorously and care deeply for the same. In this post, I share what you should be aware of when choosing an expressive arts therapist in terms of the ethical guidelines they follow. If you are yourself training in such a field, you will find these guidelines helpful to create good work ethics from the outset.

What does an Ethical Therapist Do?

Here are some key ethical responsibilities for expressive art therapy facilitators:

1. Informed Consent:

Therapists should obtain informed consent from their clients before beginning therapy. This includes providing clear information about the nature and purpose of the therapy, the therapist's qualifications, the potential benefits and risks, and the expected course of treatment. The scope of the therapy, the potential limitations, and the basic ethical rules the therapist will follow should be clear to the client before they begin therapy.

2. Competence:

Therapists have an ethical duty to be competent in their chosen therapeutic modality. This means they should have appropriate training and education in art therapy or the specific approach they use. I would also recommend that you read up on the differences between art as a therapeutic activity and expressive arts therapy. The more aware you are about what you need, the better choices you can make.

3. Confidentiality:

Therapists should maintain the confidentiality of their clients' information and artwork, regardless of legal requirements. Clients must trust that their personal and creative expressions in all forms will be kept private.

4. Boundaries:

Therapists should establish and maintain appropriate professional boundaries with their clients. This includes avoiding dual relationships or conflicts of interest that could compromise the therapeutic relationship.

5. Client Welfare:

Therapists have a primary responsibility to prioritize their clients' well-being and safety. This includes assessing and addressing any potential harm that may arise during therapy.

6. Cultural Competence:

Therapists should be culturally competent and respectful of diversity. They should be aware of and sensitive to cultural, gender, and other identity factors that may impact the therapeutic relationship and the creative process. This plays a significant role and is an important consideration when choosing a therapist. A therapist who is not familiar with your culture, in spite of their professional competence and best intentions, may fail to provide you adequate care. The therapists understanding of your therapy goals and requirements may be influenced by their familiarity with your cultural background and their personal, cultural beliefs.

7. Supervision and Consultation:

Therapists should carry out regular supervision or consultation with more experienced colleagues. This helps ensure the quality of their work and provides a space for ethical reflection. Therapists should participate in regular professional supervision, during which they can discuss cases with experienced colleagues or supervisors. This is often considered an essential part of professional development and maintaining high-quality care standards.

8. Continuous Learning:

Ethical therapists should engage in ongoing professional development and education to stay informed about best practices and evolving ethical standards in their field.

9. Ethical Decision-Making:

When faced with ethical dilemmas, therapists should engage in a thoughtful process of ethical decision-making, considering the best interests of their clients and the principles of their chosen therapeutic approach.

10. Documentation:

Therapists should maintain appropriate records of their sessions, including client consent, progress notes, and any relevant assessments or treatment plans.

How to Recognize Red Flags

Recognizing red flags that may suggest your therapist is not ethical is crucial for ensuring that you receive quality and trustworthy care. Here some red flags to be aware of:

  1. Lack of Transparency: If your therapist is not forthcoming about their qualifications, treatment methods, or the goals of therapy, it could be a red flag.

  2. Dual Relationships: Beware of therapists who engage in multiple roles with you, such as becoming a friend, business partner, or pursuing a romantic relationship. Therapists should maintain clear professional boundaries.

  3. Overstepping Boundaries: If your therapist consistently overshadows your needs, feelings, or boundaries, it may indicate a lack of respect for your autonomy and well-being.

  4. Pressure to Continue Therapy: An unethical therapist might pressure you into prolonged therapy, even when you feel it's no longer necessary. This could be a tactic to maximize financial gain. You have a right to discontinue therapy by informing your therapist.

  5. Failure to Obtain Informed Consent: Therapists should explain the nature and purpose of therapy, as well as potential risks and benefits. If this isn't done, it's a red flag.

  6. Inadequate Confidentiality: Breaches of confidentiality, such as sharing your information without your consent, are severe ethical violations.

  7. Inappropriate Comments or Behavior: If your therapist makes inappropriate comments, behaves unprofessionally, or engages in any form of abuse, it's a significant red flag.

  8. Not Adhering to Ethical Codes: Therapists should adhere to professional codes of ethics. If they dismiss these standards or don't respect the ethical principles of their field, it's concerning.

  9. Unexplained Changes in Treatment: If your therapist suddenly changes the treatment plan without clear communication and explanation, it can indicate a lack of transparency and ethical practice.

  10. Avoidance of Accountability: An ethical therapist takes responsibility for their actions. If your therapist avoids accountability for their mistakes or refuses to discuss concerns, it's problematic.

  11. Excessive Self-disclosure: While some self-disclosure can be appropriate in therapy, an excessive focus on the therapist's own issues may be unprofessional and detrimental to your progress.

  12. Non-Respect for Your Values and Beliefs: A therapist should respect your values, beliefs, and cultural background. If they show insensitivity or disrespect, it's a red flag.

In your search for healing and self-expression, remember that you hold the power to choose a path that aligns with your values and needs. Seek an expressive arts therapist who walks this path ethically, has a compassionate and non-judgmental attitude, and is committed to your well-being. Your journey is unique, and your well-being is paramount—choose a therapist who honors both.


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