Wed, May 18, 2016 - Page 8 News List

MRT killer violated by ‘counselors’

By Wang Ta-wei 王大維

After Taipei MRT killer Cheng Chieh (鄭捷) was executed on Tuesday last week, several counselors came forward to speak about their experience of counseling Cheng.

One of them kept saying Cheng was a dreadful man and the kind of death-row prisoner who make her want to bring a personal safety alarm with her on visits, because he was so dreadful and his words and actions showed that he did not even recognize that he had made mistakes.

Another counselor — from a religious background — took on the role of fortune teller, claiming the ability to know a person’s character from their handwriting.

“Cheng’s signature was big and scratchy, which not only shows his egocentricity, but also that his ability to write had deteriorated due to his long-term overindulgence in the cyberworld,” he said.

It is unlikely that either of them are counselors or coaches with professional training in the appropriate fields.

However, the statements they made could confuse the public into believing that they provide professional counseling and coaching.

The fact of the matter is, by posting these comments on Facebook and divulging their patient’s secrets to reporters, they have made the biggest mistake in their purported profession, the goal of which is to offer help to people: They violated confidentiality.

Irrespective of the mistakes a client might have made, everything discussed in counseling sessions should remain confidential. This fundamental principle is supposed to be upheld by psychologists, volunteers, counselors and others in the field.

Even semi-professional counselors and volunteers at Teacher Chang Foundation or Taiwan Lifeline International have to adhere to this principle, because when clients are willing to confide their deepest secrets in their counselors, it means that they trust tem, and if the counselor violates professional ethics and breach confidentiality, it becomes be very difficult to establish trusting relationships between counselors and clients.

This remains true even if with a client on death row such as Cheng, because if such a key professional tenet is disregarded so openly, the public might become fearful of, or antagonistic toward the profession, which is why it is essential for counseling-related groups to establish clear guidelines for everyone involved.

When patients are willing to trust their counselors, share their inner world and describing things they have never told anyone else, this trust is as much a privilege as a burden, especially when painful, dark and heart-rending experiences are uncovered during sessions.

This type of work is extremely challenging for counselors, who must come to terms with their own inner struggles and manage their own emotions. However, they can seek professional assistance to deal with any problems that arise. This is especially common when they are counseling perpetrators of violence.

To be clear, confidentiality is the basic responsibility of counselors at any level. Only by erecting this safety net can counselors be ready to deal with the issues of their patients. Only by doing so can there be any hope for real changes of behavior.

This principle holds true regardless of who the recipients of counseling are and what crimes they have committed. There are certainly exceptions to this rule — when, for example, a client clearly states that they intend to commit suicide, murder, an act of domestic violence or sexual assault. Details on the exceptions can be found in the Taiwan Institute of Guidance and Counseling consultative professional code of ethics.

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