My Romanian culture defines me. My morals and ethical inclinations are deeply rooted in my native culture, the education I received from my parents, and my past and current experiences. I was raised in an agnostic family where religion played no part, yet the values of truthfulness, reliability, and self-respect were central to my upbringing. Some of my mother’s words still ring true: “Don’t do business with family and friends”, “when you make a promise, stick to it no matter how hard it may be, otherwise you will break people’s trust”, and “don’t do something to others that you wouldn’t like to be done to you”.
I became interested in ethics around the age of 14 when I took my first philosophy course. It was the moment when I realized that in order to properly function in society, a set of unwritten ethical rules is necessary in lighting my path. I also learned that adopting a set of ethical rules and sticking to it is not a one-time event, but rather a process that requires active work and determination.
Although while I was growing up my parents never mentioned the term ethics, they did their best to instill in both, my sister and I, a sense of justice (the verbatim translation would be common-sense), a sense of right and wrong that will guide us when in doubt. Surely, I know now that these rules are not universal, but culture specific.
For instance, the concept of boundaries has a very different meaning in the Romanian culture than in the American culture. Friends have few boundaries with one another because the way we see relationships differs from how relationships are seen in the American culture. This gap became even more apparent when I moved from Romania to America and was placed in situations where my prior knowledge of boundaries and relationships did not apply. My adaptation to a new set of values and mentalities is a lengthy, arduous process that I even now experience.
Professional boundaries are also defined and practiced differently. For instance, throughout my high school years I saw a therapist- a psychiatrist- on a regular basis. Thinking back, there were few boundaries in our therapeutic relationship; the appointments were not set for a specific number of minutes, but would last for as long as it was needed. I remember having therapy sessions for two or three hours at a time. Also, confidentiality was a relatively meaningless concept during therapy since my therapist would inform my mother or my school teachers of the content of our sessions in detail. Needless to say that upon finding out of the nature of confidentiality I stopped trusting my therapist and refused to talk to him.
Throughout my experiences I realized that one can easily slip and forget about ethics, about what’s right and wrong. For example, in four years of undergraduate training in political communication there was not one mention of ethics or ethical dilemmas. I graduated knowing nothing about what’s right and wrong in a field –politics- where ethics should be central. My realization came later, when I was unable to face and deal with some real professional life dilemmas. So, I gave up that field because there was nobody I could turn to for help and because I wanted to keep my sanity and conscience –as much as possible- intact.
I moved on to the field of counseling in the hopes that I would be able to do something I enjoy, where although I might be faced with ethical dilemmas I will have support from peers and supervisors, and still be able to sleep at night. I don’t think I am as naïve as to convince myself that by switching professions, my ethical journey will be easier or uneventful; and although I haven’t practiced counseling, I am gradually gaining a deeper understanding of what I may come across. I am learning that although my deeply ingrained ethical values may not entirely match my professional ones, I want to challenge myself and become a better me.
Diana C. Pitaru is a counselor-in-training, and a student at Walden University. Her theoretical interests are in Gestalt, Art, and Narrative therapy while focusing on multicultural issues and eating disorders.