Our consideration of moral issues in the helping professions should go beyond decision-making in particular cases. We need a more basic set of moral attitudes that can provide the context for making these decisions, and which describe the sort of person the helping professional needs to be. The helping professional needs to be able to perform a large number of supererogatory actions. We can compare helping professionals to both saints and good parents. The work of Sarah Ruddick on the virtues that inform maternal practice can be of great help to us here. She characterizes the kind of emotional and moral attitudes that exemplify good mothers as preservative love. The attitudes that make up preservative love-humility, attentive love, holding and humor-share some common ground with the qualities of saints. The helping professional is in an unusual position in the sense that who he/she is has a strong influence on the efficacy of treatment. Morality in the helping professions needs to take this into account. To be a good helping professional involves a commitment to develop into the right sort of person.
The issue of morality in the helping professions is much discussed at present. Most recently, it has come up in connection with issues involving the abuse of trust in relationships of unequal psychological and emotional power. It is a good thing to raise these issues. From the clergy accused of abusing young people to therapists taking advantage of their positions to sexually or emotionally abuse their clients, actions which were formerly concealed through the vulnerability of the client and the authority of the professional need no longer be kept secret. However, this, along with issues such as involuntary incarceration and the use of mind-altering drugs, has helped form the impression that moral issues in the helping professions have mainly to do with addressing specific issues rather than a more basic general view. This is not so; the helping professions require a general moral framework, a recommendation for ways of being that help people deal with the issues and resist the temptations that naturally arise from holding a powerful position, and develop into the sorts of people who would not misuse the power that is so freely given, through tradition, the law, and cultural value and emotional attachment.
When we ask ourselves about moral issues in the helping professions, it is tempting to suggest that people who take up the helping professions ought to be as "normal" as possible. There should be few personal difficulties, minimal moral struggle, to muddy the view of the helping professional, who can then see more clearly the disturbances and problems presented. However, when one considers the qualities necessary for any helping professional, from doctors to counsellors to clergy, one might take a different view.
The helping professional works almost exclusively with the distressed and vulnerable. S/he is constantly presented with a...