It is understood that challenges are part of every profession. In the field of psychology, this is a norm rather than an exception. Numerous challenges present themselves in this field to the extent of threatening its integrity. There needs to be a clear understanding of one’s sphere for a successful career as a psychologist. A clear comprehension of one’s limit and the ability to admit limitations are the hallmarks that distinguish a true professional (Fisher, 2009).
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Competence can be viewed in legal and ethical aspects (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011). From a moral perspective, it is the rules that protect the client from harm. In the position of a mental health professional, one is likely to cause unintended damage to the client, such as giving diagnostic labels that can be detrimental. According to Corey et al., the legal perspective implies that unskilled practitioners are susceptible to malpractice suits and can be accountable in a court of law (2011). They further assert that they have faith in giving justice and have high regard for their clients’ opinions (Corey et al., 2011). It is, therefore, very acceptable for a client to choose to put an end to a session. All clients have the right to receive courteous and considerate treatment from their counselors. A true professional, therefore, should not victimize their clients for their decisions (Corey et al., 2011).
Referrals are a means to an end and not an end in itself. With this in mind working with an open understanding becomes more comfortable. My candidate for a referral would be a client who requires special attention that is beyond my skills. A good example is a client requesting psychiatric attention. I cannot handle such a case because I am not a medical doctor. Therefore, I would refer the client to a psychiatrist when medical intervention is necessary.
I will also opt for a referral if my value system does not match that of the client. Some clients have firmly held beliefs and dogmas that I cannot interfere with as professionals. Consequently, I would opt for a referral if I feel that I am imposing my values on them, and the therapeutic relationship is strained. This, I believe, is in line with honoring my professional code of ethics since the ultimate goal is ensuring that my client realizes their full potential for better functioning.
Referring to a client is quite a hard decision to make. It is a state when one’s competence hangs in the balance. This calls for the utmost care not to harm the client’s feelings. Referrals ought to be done in a calm way that does not make the client feel rejected and abandoned (Corey et al., 2011).
I would take a hypothetical case of a client by the name Joe who happens to be a junior employee in the firm where I work as the company’s psychologist. Joe has several conduct issues at his workplace. He is always late for work, appears to work drunk, and seems to have problems obeying orders from his superiors. Noting his behavior, Joe’s supervisor asks him to seek help before the situation gets out of hand. Joe is warned that continued misconduct will make him lose his job. The prospects of being unemployed serve as a wake-up call to Joe, who realizes that he needs help and comes to me. The first meeting with Joe indicates a trapped individual in need of help.
At first, Joe is so full of life tells me how he got his current job and how he is happy earning a living to support his ailing mother. The first session goes well, but during the subsequent sessions, Joe is unwilling to disclose any more information about the present condition. This makes it hard for me as a psychologist to offer any help. Without clear information on how the problem began, I am unable to solve the problem, and this leaves me in a dilemma. I am also aware that Joe’s alcoholism needs an expert in drug and addiction counseling.
In the final session, I inform Joe that this is our last meeting. I also let him know that I am referring him to a different expert. Joe responds that his work performance is still the same. He further questions why I am sending him away, and yet I am supposed to provide the solution to his problem. I tell him that I have his interests at heart and that handing him over to an expert that can handle his case competently is the best thing to do. Joe reluctantly agrees to meet Mr. Smith, a drug and addiction counselor who is also my friend. However, Joe tells me that I have to ensure he does not lose his job. I prepare the referral letter and hand over Joe to Mr. Smith.
One month later, Joe comes to thank me for the progress that he is making. He now has his drinking under control, and his working relationship with his seniors is also improving. It is, therefore, shown clearly that a referral is the most ethical thing to do in cases where a client’s problem surpasses a counselor’s competence level.
Corey, G., Corey, M. S., & Callanan, P. (2011). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.
Fisher, C.B. (2009). Decoding the ethics code: A practical guide for psychologists. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.