When people have difficulties making decisions, it is usually when two values they hold dearly are clashing.
Ethi-call, a free ethical phone counselling service run by The Ethics Centre, a not-for-profit organisation, helps people navigate through these difficult decisions.
The confidential helpline allows people to book in for a one-hour phone session with a trained counsellor.
Michelle Bloom, Director of Consulting and Leadership at the Centre, said that people call in when they reach decision paralysis, which often occurs when two of their values are clashing and there’s no good answer.
The common values that clash are duty to self and duty to others, equity versus loyalty, safety versus courage, loyalty versus honesty, duty to do no harm versus duty to disclose and justice versus mercy.
“As human beings, we have some fundamental sort of values that cut across age, religion, culture; they’re pretty fundamental human values,” she said.
In the professional realm, this often comes into play with matters concerning conflicts of interest, such as reporting unethical workplace practices and whistleblowing.
For personal matters, it can be decisions around caring for elderly parents and putting them into a nursing home or end-of-life decisions.
Ms Bloom said the calls help people gain a better understanding of themselves.
“It builds self-awareness, and it builds empathy and it builds clarity around what’s important,” she said.
In August, The Ethics Centre added 11 trained ethics counsellors to its team to meet the increased demand during lockdown.
The pandemic has brought about an increase in calls, with people calling about decisions surrounding homeschooling, working from home and handling pressure on relationships.
“We’re seeing more of those kinds of calls related to that and people feeling isolated [and] more anxiety and stress,” Ms Bloom said.
“I think the conditions around it are creating the need to make decisions with less certainty.”
However, this hasn’t changed the way counsellors work.
“What we’re offering is really asking people a number of questions from different perspectives,” Ms Bloom said.
“To really explore whatever their dilemma is, whatever the decision they need to make from multiple perspectives, and that doesn’t change.”
Most callers will have already spent some time thinking about their dilemma before calling, she said.
The sessions start with the counsellor asking the caller questions to gain a better understanding of the decision they are struggling to make.
Then they move beyond the story surrounding the decision and begin looking at questions concerning duties and rights and exploring whether there are non-negotiables.
After that, they begin exploring the dilemma and looking at it through various philosophical lenses.
“This is the real point of difference with this approach,” Ms Bloom said.
Some of the philosophical lenses include deontology, which explores duties; a virtue ethics lens, which looks at value and character; philosophical theology that looks at purpose; and a lens of feminist ethics or ethics of care, which is about relationships.
“And then we do some philosophical tests to test out their next step,” Ms Bloom said.
“Then we do a final check to make sure that it aligns with people’s values, it aligns to their most-benefit-least-harm approach and so forth; so, we cover a lot of ground in an hour.”
However, the counsellors never give advice to the callers.
“What we’re here to do is really facilitate their wise elder insight, if you like,” Ms Bloom said.
“It’s very empowering in that way, in that we fundamentally believe that people come up with the best solutions for themselves in their context.”
The counsellors are made up of people who have had previous ethics training, including lawyers, doctors and psychologists, and some have also had previous counselling experience, such as working for Lifeline.
The training sessions for Ethi-call counsellors involve face-to-face skilling with experienced ethical counsellors, learning the model and practising the skills learnt.
For anyone struggling to make a decision, Ms Bloom suggests they start by asking themselves questions, such as “What are the facts of the situation?” and “Who is involved?”.
“A good question to ask is: ‘What would the wisest person you know recommend you do in this situation?’,” she said.
“I think that’s a really good one; people love that one.”
The Ethics Centre is planning more training for next year and will be bringing on more counsellors.
Book your appointment online at www.ethi-call.com