Moral Development as Part of the Counseling Process

Moral Development


Moral Development Discussions by Bruce Cameron, M.S., LPC-S, LSOTP, CAS
The Socratic-peer discussions of moral development center on ten “moral” issues: (1) punishment, (2) property, (3) roles and concerns of affection, (4) roles and concerns of authority, (5) law, (6) life, (7) liberty, (8) distributive justice, (9) truth, and (10) sex. Any of these issues could be central in the recovery of particular offenders. The discussions center on problems and conflicts surrounding those issues that present moral contradictions and challenge the offender’s stage of thought. Dissonance occurs, because fundamentally, the next higher stage of thinking sounds more right than the one that the individual may be in. If someone is in the presence of thought at the next higher stage, new reasoning and eventually new behavior may evidence itself. Peer discussions involve thoughts at several stages of development and so the opportunity to begin to reason differently is likely to occur.
It is important to recognize the relationship between the cognitive and affective domains. One of the early criticisms of Kohlberg’s work centered on the neglect of feelings. Through the work of the cognitive behavioral and rational-emotive theorists and researchers, the connection between both becomes more apparent. In order to have a feeling or a particular degree of a feeling, a thought has to precede it. For example, if someone thinks in catastrophic terms, the feeling becomes much stronger. Similarly, thoughts of “rightness” will color feelings about events and situations in social relationships.

Integration of Moral Discussion into Offender Recovery Programs
This may well mean an awareness of the client population and the ability to conceptualize relevant moral development exercises. The following considerations are applied to the development of a moral exercise:

1. Select a relevant moral issue that will generate differences in thought and write a brief introductory paragraph describing the moral conflict.
2. Ask whether the behaviors are right or wrong.
3. Examine the underlying reasoning, “Why do you think that?”
4. Follow up with alternative questions that challenge the thinking of the participants.

Certainly during this process the feelings and statements are clarified and probed
further. Appropriate therapeutic confrontations may take place, that is, suggesting conflicts between thoughts, feelings, or actions. This may sound like “On the one hand you said ___________, on the other hand you’re suggesting ____________. How do they fit together?” Therapeutic confrontations are often confused with disapproval and expressions of anger by the counselor. They are very different and the latter will stifle any open expression on the part of the group participants.

This article suggests the integration of moral development approaches into offender recovery programs could significantly impact upon reducing recidivism rates. It could be one part of a comprehensive/integrated approach in dealing with: the variety of issues that appear in offender groups. It certainly could elucidate on underlying themes of the offenders values, thoughts, feelings, and actions. Such programs could be particularly effective with youthful offenders.

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