Informed consent and reasonable competence in faith based therapy: an example of an unacceptable mental health practice approach

Here’s an example of an excellent question concerning a case example from the world of practice that was posted on a social work listserv. A response is posted below it. Other comments would be appreciated. “Social Workers are expected to use evidence to support our practice. What if the agency with which we are employed bases intervention practices on belief and dismisses the evidence that disputes the agency intervention practices? An example would be a mental health agency that has as a focus ‘rehabilitation’ of homosexuals based on the belief that homosexuals are barbarians that must be disciplined, educated, etc. What are the ethics of this for a social worker employed as a counselor with the agency?” Response: This is a great example of a dilemma that is plainly addressed by using a cross-disciplinary, law based decision making framework, such as the one promoted on this website! The practice of “reparative” therapy simply is not in conformance with reasonable competence and informed consent-related principles, which are both basic legal doctrines. As I’ve already said, I think a law based analysis is in order. The law of informed consent requires all agencies — including faith based inititatives — to explain the risks and benefits of all available services and/or treatment approaches — to their clients; this includes alternative approaches that the agency does not advocate, and also includes a full discussion of the risks of the services the agency does offer. If you’re thinking that this means a lot of agencies out there are in violation of the law of informed consent by not including full disclosure, I agree with you! I think that in the case of faith based approaches, the intervention can only be lawfully used if it is safely within the realm of a reasonably competent practice — in other words, if prudent mental health standards would consider it to be safely applied and the client can therefore reasonably and voluntarily agree to receive it. Even then, the risks and benefits of the procedure must be fully explained. Even with full disclosure, if the intervention is so inherently dangerous that the it violates basic principles of prudent mental health practice, the practice is not reasonably competent.

2 thoughts on “Informed consent and reasonable competence in faith based therapy: an example of an unacceptable mental health practice approach

  1. This sounds great reading it. However, it seems that all the avenues do not present themselves as options with certain agencies. Almost like people intentionally give a,b,c options because options d and e would not benefit them as much as a,b,c.

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