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Talk Therapy’s Moral Morass
Illustration by Shamim Art 

Talk Therapy’s Moral Morass

Should mental-health care strive to be ethically neutral?

· 16 min read

Despite the furious divisions and disagreements riving the mental-health industries, they do agree on one thing: Mental-health care can and should be ethically neutral. Moral transgressions, convictions, and decisions are none of the therapist’s business; therapists should leave matters of conscience to the client. At most, therapists will “help” clients “clarify their values.” A therapist must not try to “impose values,” and certainly not evaluate, nor attempt to remedy, patients’ moral shortcomings. The “nonjudgmental therapist” stands as an undisputed imperative of mental-health practice.

In one sense, this describes therapy fairly accurately: therapists generally refuse to pass moral judgment or take clients’ moral deficiencies as objects of treatment. In another, it is blatantly false: all schools of thought and their therapists smuggle into care notions of what counts as proper thought and behavior—but they do it without moral argument or justification. In both senses, as we shall see, therapy has pursued ethical neutrality into a moral morass.

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