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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
SPRING 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 23 of boundary violations reaches far beyond the therapeutic community. There are laws regard- ing sexual harassment in the workplace—laws that gained national attention in the early 1990s as controversy swirled around Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and his aide Anita Hill. Teachers and coaches are fired for sexual harassment of students. The media regularly exposes scandals in religious communities. The public is demanding more and more that offend- ers be brought to justice. In light of this larger cultural context, it is inexcusable when Buddhist communities fail to act quickly and effectively to protect members and hold abusers accountable. Marilyn Peterson’s 1992 book, At Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships, describes the nature of boundary violations in the helping professions of law, edu- cation, medicine, ministry, and therapy. In all of these relationships, the professional has a respon- sibility to act entirely in the best interests of the client. Yet therapists and spiritual teachers pres- ent a special case. Their work involves helping people face human suffering and find meaning in their lives—perhaps even to seek enlightenment or a place in heaven in the afterlife. The relation- ship between client and therapist or seeker and spiritual guide is vital to the healing and growth process. To fully benefit from the relationship, clients and seekers must allow themselves to be vulnerable and trust that such vulnerability will not hurt them. In that sense, the role of a spiri- tual teacher or therapist is similar to that of a parent or guardian, and the needs of the seeker or client must be absolutely primary. For spiritual teachers or therapists to exploit this trust to fulfill their own sexual or What happens in your sangha if a member has a conflict with a spiritual teacher over alleged psychological or sexual exploita- tion? Is there room for open discussion about the conflict, or is any such discussion automati- cally interpreted as a violation of “right speech” and suppressed? As a therapist and, for want of a better term, “spiritual seeker” whose practice includes meditation, I have followed the discus- sion regarding sexual and psychological exploita- tion in the American Buddhist community for a number of years. I first became acquainted with these issues in the Buddhist community through my husband, a longtime Zen practitioner and meditation teacher. In my own profession, I have worked extensively with boundary issues in my roles as a therapist and supervisor of therapists (including those who have been sanctioned by a licensing board for violations of the profession’s code of ethics) and also as a teacher of therapists and their supervisors. Some in the American Buddhist community compare their current dilemma to that of the therapeutic community in the 1970s, a time when therapists came to recognize problems of abuse and worked to develop effective means to address them. They suggest that Buddhist communities will need years, if not decades, to establish clear ethical principles and processes by which to protect members and hold teachers accountable. However, we know far more about sexual and psychological exploitation now than we knew thirty years ago. Today, therapists in every state of the union have licenses that can be revoked if they exploit their clients sexually or in some other egre- gious manner. And awareness of the dangers LET’S TALK TAMARA L. KAISER, Ph.D., is a clinical therapist and professor emerita at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is the author of Supervisory Relationships and A User’s Guide to Therapy: What to Expect and How You Can Benefit. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Share your comments on this issue at thebuddhadharma.com/letstalk MARKJENSEN,UNIVERSITYOFST.THOMAS Clinical therapist Tamara Kaiser asks why Buddhist communities have not adopted ethical standards long accepted by the rest of society.