For the past three years I have been in the unenviable position of overseeing the ethical considerations of the Rolf Institute. I have read many letters and articles pointing out how ineffective and meaningless our codes and standards are, many stating that if only we were to make the policing of our ethics tighter it would benefit the Institute immeasurably.
In general, improving our codes and standards is indeed highly desirable.
But, before I get into the improvements, let me comment on the philosophy of ethical enforcement that I see operating in the Rolf Institute. All our documents relating to the basis of Rolfing refer to the potential for positive change in humans, given the opportunity to release traumatic holding patterns and afforded some help in finding a positive forward direction. Most if not all of us were at one point drawn to this work with the exciting prospect of working on this positive side of human potential.
One of the elements of our selection process has always been to help candidates decide whether Rolfing would be appropriate work for them to engage in; dialogue and inquiry are used as methods of mutual selection. Only upon the failure of such mutual decision making, has outright rejection been used by that committee. Our ethics process has been established in that same spirit, a spirit that is deeply embodied in the human potential movement.
My underlying belief about us as a community is that information about inappropriate behavior by itself is most often enough to get us to review and change that behavior. I feel that this is a position of understanding and respect.
It is only when the conditions of regard and understanding break down that we need to police our membership. Here the key word is that we are doing this to ourselves. That means that we are examining the behavior of close associates and friends, people we have known in our professional community, sometimes for many years. These examinations are never without some degree of conflict of interest. This is always a problem in a small, close knit organization such as ours. (If you doubt how small we are, just consider how quickly minor bits of gossip travel throughout our organization).
There is a general problem in handling ethical complaints. The person complaining is never satisfied with the outcome. If the rights of the accused are respected, or if the accused has a different story about the situation and the Ethics Committee gives some weight to those considerations, then the complainant sees the committee as biased, just doing a professional cover-up. Even if the complaint is validated, the complainant seldom considers the censure or penalty to be enough, especially if some consideration is given to the potential for enlightened improvement by the practitioner. That is the nature of complaints.
In our community there has been a long history of “gossip” complaints. That is, there are complaints that everyone knows about but no one is willing to come forward and formally complain about. Or if a formal complaint is made, it is often only a minor one, and the bulk of the complaint is not mentioned. The Ethics Committee can deal only with material presented! It is not an investigative body. In no way would I condone a general examination of another’s professional practice.
Another area of common complaint has been the way Rolfing is practiced among us: who is doing “correct” Rolfing and who is mixing other techniques into their practice? One thing we must remember about our work is that it is considered an inquiry into the relationship between human form, function, and the gravity field of the earth. Who among us has not expanded that inquiry into fields that are not formally part of our training? Part of our recent turmoil has revolved about being guardians of dogma. This is dangerous territory for a professional organization, leading to stasis and rigid conformity. The only statement about such explorations in our codes is that we inform our clients when we are in new territory and that we get their approval for such experimental procedures or techniques with them. We must make sure that complaints about standards and uniformity of practice are not grounded in jealousy. In fact, we must be clear that as professionals we have the right to practice our skills free of the intrusive oversight of our peers, especially if that oversight interferes with our right to explore our own creativity.
In the area of rights, many common prohibitions included in professional codes and standards have been ruled against in court as being unduly restrictive or directly in restraint of trade. Thus we are limited in what we can prohibit our practitioners from saying about Rolfing.
While our code of ethics and standards of practice define the scope of Rolfing and our relations with the public, the sanctions that we can impose on our membership are limited. Mostly we can sanction and apply pressure for our members to comply, and as a last resort, we can expel members from our association. If we get complaints that also are covered by legal statute, we refer the complainant to the proper authorities. Remember, we are a professional organization, not the law.
For the last year I have been working to revise the ethics implementation document to make it more effective. Many of our procedures are unnecessarily ponderous. Our committees are untrained and unwieldy and do not understand how due process must govern an ethics process. My proposed changes include replacing regional committees with one central, elected Ethics Committee which will be trained to act effectively and economically as a body. The election and oversight of this committee would be controlled by the Board of Directors through a coordinator.
But, even with these changes, ethics cannot be managed by gossip. It takes written complaints that are carried through the system to define our standards and set precedents. If we do not believe the system can work, then it will fail no matter how well the documents read. As I have read and reread our documents, I have come to see that they are fair and equitable by and large. To make them work requires aggrieved complainants to come forward in writing and go through a lengthy process with us to achieve a reprimand, suspension, or exclusion of a member. It is this last part of the process that has not worked in the past. No one wants to be the formal finger-pointer. The unspoken attitude seems to be “Let the committee do it”, or “Let the Board appoint someone else to do it”. This, then, returns to one of my first comments. We are a small community, and any effort like this is full of conflicts of interest and personal and professional friendships.
Michael Maskornick, Chairman International Ethics CommitteeEthics: Defending Our Codes and Practices