Blurred Lines: Mental Health Counselor or Neutral Collaborative Facilitator?

We love you and trust you! You already know us so well and have done so much for us as our therapist! We only want you to be our Neutral Facilitator! Although these words and sentiments can lure you in like The Sirens in The Odyssey, sometimes it is more constructive to follow your head and not your heart.

Standard 3.7 in the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals (FACP) Collaborative Process Ethical Standards states that a person who has acted in a counseling capacity for a client or clients will not serve in the role of Facilitator or Child Specialist on a Collaborative matter involving that client or the client’s dependent. But, why?

Many mental health professionals argue that the knowledge they hold and the rapport they have established with the client(s) will be an invaluable asset to the Collaborative Process. However, it is just that knowledge and rapport that will actually inadvertently influence and possibly even hinder the Collaborative Process.

Mental Health Professionals and their Clients

Whether or not mental health professionals realize it, a client’s personal growth within the therapeutic process typically occurs as a result of a power differential between the individuals seeking treatment and the professionals providing that treatment. The provider, a professional with some authority, is typically thought to have significantly more knowledge and expertise.

Given the presence of this power differential, those who are in treatment may feel vulnerable or as if they do not have the same influence. In many cases, they may also seek approval of the provider and may therefore make decisions and behave with the influence of the provider’s voice continually in the forefront of their minds. Treatment providers must be aware of this power differential and to take all steps necessary to help minimize the effects of any unintended and/or undue influence by empowering the people they serve.

Mental health professionals also need to consider the all-too-common dynamics of clients unconsciously projecting their own feelings, conflicts, or attitudes onto another person (typically the mental health professional), situation, or circumstance. In contrast, mental health professionals need to consider how they may project their own feelings, conflicts, and/or attitudes toward the client.

Neutrality and the Collaborative Process

With this in mind, how can a mental health professional then suddenly be or be perceived as being neutral in the Collaborative Process? How can the mental health professional effectively observe and conceptualize necessary information to strategize proceedings with an interdisciplinary team when that same information and perceptions were once used to implement clinical methods of treatment? How can clients exercise their rights of self-determination when they may be influenced by and responding to aspects of the emotional shift resulting from their beloved confidant who is now seemingly emotionally distant while facilitating their Collaborative Process? How can the clients effectively adjust mentally and emotionally to the mental health professional once working to potentially salvage their marriage to now assisting them with dissolving it? Such emotional shifts are not only undefined and confusing but irreparably damaging.

It is the goal and ethical obligation of the mental health professional to do no harm. Additionally, the deference of the client to the mental health professional, the emotional intensity established during the therapeutic process, and the perceptions associated with it will all inevitably influence and likely even hinder the client’s rights of self-determination throughout the Collaborative Process.

To preserve the trust cultivated within the therapeutic relationship and to empower the clients to implement the skills they have acquired in treatment, that mental health professional should execute termination therapy and not proceed as the Neutral Facilitator in the clients’ Collaborative Process. This will allow the clients to build confidence and trust within themselves by freely exercising their rights of self-determination while transitioning to the next step of the process, maintaining clear and well-defined boundaries with a new Neutral Facilitator.

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