(by Phil Mollon, PhD, DCEP)
Editor’s note: We are delighted to welcome Phil Mollon as ACEP’s new president. He has served on the ACEP board and been a member for many years.
At their core, ethics in energy psychology (EP) 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 into account 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, motivated by love 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 selves might inspire, and sometimes may be driven by unconscious or ‘shadow’ agendas that are at odds with these ideals. 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 have 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.
To help you make sure your practice is ethically sound, here are 10 key areas to pay attention to.
1. Scope of practice
This involves 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 energy psychology 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 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.
2. 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.
3. 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. For example, if this is used in a way that influences a customer to purchase a book, 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 falsely claim having such a credential is dishonest and disrespectful to those who have labored long to achieve a genuine PhD.
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.
4. Claims for efficacy
The evidence base for energy psychology is growing considerably. In addition to formal single case studies, neurobiological measures, and numerous clinical reports, EP now has over 80 studies published in referred journals, over 40 randomized controlled trials and 4 meta-analyses that support the efficacy of EP in many areas including PTSD, anxiety and depression.
Nevertheless, energy psychology methods cannot yet be described as established and generally accepted by the mainstream. This should be made clear to clients. It is truthful to say that: a) EP methods, in one form or another, have been used for over 40 years; b) evidence of efficacy is substantial and 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 – some are not helped, for reasons that may remain unknown Of course all these things are true of more conventional approaches as well.
5. Claims to understand how energy psychology 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 and a certain amount of research data, but we do not actually know how EP works – although ACEP’s remarkable “Science of Energy Healing” program takes us significantly further along the path of knowledge. 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. We can, however, quite legitimately refer to a range of hypotheses.
I’ll talk about keys 6-10 in next week’s blog, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts about keys 1-5. What ethical questions have you faced in your practice?
Phil Mollon PhD DCEP is a psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist in the UK – and developer of Psychoanalytic Energy Psychotherapy. He authored the book, Psychoanalytic Energy Psychotherapy. Phil is president of ACEP and chair of the ACEP Ethics Committee.