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Ethics in Music Therapy

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) recently updated its code of ethics. It went from a more legalistic, do’s and don’ts model to an aspirational model. In other words, the new code of ethics is more about how we should try to interact in our professional dealings. Earlier this year, our clinical journal Music Therapy Perspectives focused on ethical decision making in Music Therapy. The article “Ethical Decision-Making at Intersections of Spirituality and Music Therapy in End-of Life Care” explores the potential consequences of disclosing personal religious belief when asked to participate in or lead religious rituals or spiritual practices. As I have studied ethics, I have found it interesting that there is often not one clear-cut “correct” answer and what may be appropriate in one situation may not be in another. That authors identified five steps to resolving ethical dilemmas

  • Contextualize the clinical situation

  • Frame stakeholders—that is who stands to benefit or receive harm from the decision

  • Determine moderating obligations

  • Employ relevant ethical values

  • Generate and consider consequences of potential courses of action

  • Implement a course of action

Hospice is unique in that care is typically provided in a patient’s home setting rather than a clinic or hospital. The interdisciplinary model means that certain aspects of care are handled by all members of the team. Stakeholders include not only the patient but the music therapist and the company they work for. What are our obligations to our patient? Our own religious beliefs? Company policy? A major part of many Codes of Ethics are the ideas of beneficence (doing good) and non-maleficence (not causing harm). Do our actions create more harm than good? And that includes to ourselves as well as to our patients and employer. What are the potential consequences of our actions? When we do commit to a choice, can we choose a different action if what we are doing isn’t working?

This article didn’t attempt to solve the problem, just illustrate different ways of resolving ethical issues. The authors also illustrated their own biases in how they would approach the issue. For more information on the AMTA ethics, see here.

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