Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Student dismissed for lacking empathy

A Missouri newspaper reports:
ST. LOUIS • A former Webster University student who was studying to be a family counselor says in a lawsuit that he was dismissed from a master's degree program after it was determined that he lacked empathy.

The suit, which claims up to $1 million in losses and seeks at least $2 million in punitive damages, alleges the school dismissed him quickly rather than help him improve his empathy to complete the field work required for graduating. ...

The student, David Schwartz, 44, of University City, had received all A's and only one C in his course work, according to a school transcript. But he was dismissed from the program on March 14 after he received a "no credit" for failing to successfully complete the practicum, in which he was to apply his class work to a real-world counseling setting.

Schwartz alleges in his lawsuit that he was deemed a poor performer after he wrote an anonymous letter to the dean criticizing a professor's teaching methods and noting the romantic relationship between that professor and an administrator.
No, the school did not determine that he lacked empathy. That would require a DSM-IV diagnosis, or something like that. Instead, it appears that lacking empathy is just a code phrase for being willing criticize his superiors.

As the lawsuit points out, the university's own web site says:
Learning Goals

The student learning outcomes for the MA in counseling support the development of students as competent counselors in training. The learning outcomes are broadly divided into the following.

Upon completion of the program, students should be able to:

Identify, describe, and apply goals and objectives of professional organizations, professional codes of ethics primarily the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (2005); identify and describe ethical and legal considerations in counseling, professional credentialing, role identity of counselors, history and philosophy of counseling, counseling supervision models and practices, ethical decision making models, and advocacy processes leading to success for clients. (Professional Orientation and Ethical Practice)

Define, generalize, and synthesize the impact on the profession of counseling of multi-cultures including ethnic groups, religious and or spiritual belief orientations, urban and rural societies; personal constructs including gender, able-ism, age, race, sexual orientation, and other cultural groups and mores; use of leisure time, career, and differing life patterns in multi cultures; multicultural counseling theory; and the ethnic attributes and dynamics on relationships, issues, cultural trends, and the counseling relationship. Be able to describe the significance of Counselor self-awareness, culturally supported wellness, and counselor’s roles in eliminating bias and in promoting social justice and advocacy for diverse populations. (Social and Cultural Diversity)
That code of ethics (pdf), from the university's own web site, says:
F.9. Evaluation and Remediation of Students F.9.a. Evaluation Counselors clearly state to students, prior to and throughout the training program, the levels of competency expected, appraisal methods, and timing of evaluations for both didactic and clinical competencies. Counselor educators provide students with ongoing performance appraisal and evaluation feedback throughout the training program.

F.9.b. Limitations
Counselor educators, throughout ongoing evaluation and appraisal, are aware of and address the inability of some students to achieve counseling competencies that might impede performance. Counselor educators 1. assist students in securing remedial assistance when needed, 2. seek professional consultation and document their decision to dismiss or refer students for assistance, and 3. ensure that students have recourse in a timely manner to address decisions to require them to seek assistance or to dismiss them and provide students with due process according to institutional policies and procedures.
So the university is almost certainly in violation of its own ethics policies. If passing some sort of empathy test were a degree requirement, then the university should have told him before admitting him. And if he needed work in that area, they should have helped him. They are there to teach, after all, and it is common for counseling students to have an assortment of their own personal psychological problems.

I post this because I had a court psychologist, Ken Perlmutter, who recited this mantra about lacking empathy whenever I had some disagreement with him or the other authorities. If I fed my kids broccoli, he said I lacked empathy. If I set my alarm clock for 7:00, he said I lacked empathy. If I took my kids to my house, he said I lacked empathy. If I told my kids that the court and their mom were preventing me from seeing them, he said I lacked empathy. If I said I wanted joint custody returned, he said I lacked empathy. I will post some quoted examples of this, if I can do so without getting found in contempt of court. I became convinced that either he did not know what empathy is, or he just uses it as a silly code phrase to mean that he disapproves of my attitude, or something like that.

Judge Heather D. Morse also recited this supposed lack of empathy the last time we were in court, and used that as an excuse to block visitation. I pointed out that no witness who actually observed me with my kids ever said that I lacked empathy. She had no response.

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