Book Review of The Ethics of Touch

Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance (AOMA)
The Forum
Fall 2003
by Ann Bailey, RN, MSN, M.Ac

Finally a book on ethics written especially for us, health professionals who touch the body as a mean of delivering care. It is relevant, practical, and long overdue. This book is unique because the authors recognize that even the most skilled and careful practitioner can make errors in judgment. Benjamin and Sohnen-Moe address the ethical pitfalls that can occur and explore how to handle a given situation to avoid negative results.

The overall purpose of ethics as stated by the authors "is to guide professional practitioners so that clients' welfare remains the first priority." They succeed in keeping this principle foremost throughout the book, bringing conclusion to each example by asking us to consider what is in the best interest of the client.

But they don't preach or admonish us. They give us tools and resources for recognizing and sorting through ethical dilemmas. For example, we can take a self-assessment test to discover where our personal and professional boundaries are. Or, we can work through a personal ethical dilemma using their Six Stages of Clarification. They include a full discussion on how to set a healthy structure for fees and bartering. The authors also lead us through the maze of complex relationships where we try to juggle professional, social or family roles. They give us parameters and guidelines for navigating the risks inherent in dual relationships.

As acupuncturists most of us did not receive adequate ethics training in school, and if we did, it usually focused on the legalities of unethical advertising and insurance billing. These authors go beyond the usual topics and have collected input from experts in their fields. The result is a refreshing and in-depth examination of topics ranging from "Sex, Touch, and Intimacy in the Client/Practitioner Relationship," "Understanding Trauma and Abuse," to the "Essential Elements of Clinical Supervision."

The book is practical. Each chapter closes with a summary, "Chapter Highlights," as well as a page or two of "Discussion Questions and Activities." The latter can be useful for personal reflection or for sparking a classroom or in-service discussion. (A Teacher's Manual is in the works for use with the book.)

Sidebars on each page refer to additional information elsewhere in the book. The margins also contain pertinent quotations from inspirational leaders, website resources, and special alerts to emphasize key points for the reader.

A Home Study course is available through the publisher's website and CEU's can be obtained for bodyworkers through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

The book has an extensive Appendix that contains sample forms for Consent for Treatment and for Oriental Medicine Office Policies. Specialized protocols for working with survivors of trauma and abuse are also included as well as Codes of Ethics from [over a dozen] professional organizations.

The authors know that ethical situations arise for all practitioners at one time or another. Fortunately for us, they have written a timely and thought-provoking guide that should be in every school library and every practitioner's office.

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