Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics Excerpts
(a) Social workers should be alert to and avoid conflicts
of interest that interfere with the exercise of professional discretion and impartial
judgment. Social workers should inform clients when a real or potential conflict
of interest arises, and take reasonable steps to resolve the issue in a manner
that makes the client's interests primary and protects client's interests to the
greatest extent possible. In some cases, protecting client's interests may
require termination of the professional relationship with proper referral of the
(b) Social workers should not take unfair advantage of any professional
relationship or exploit others to further their personal, religious, political,
or business interests.
(c) Social workers should not engage in dual or multiple
relationships with clients or former clients in which there is a risk of exploitation
or potential harm to the client. In instances when dual or multiple relationships
are unavoidable, social workers should take steps to protect clients and are responsible
for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries. (Dual or
multiple relationships occur when social workers relate to clients in more than
one relationship, whether professional, social, or business. Dual or multiple
relationships can occur simultaneously or consecutively.)
(d) When social
workers provide services to two or more people who have a relationship with each
other (for example, couples, family members), social workers should clarify with
all parties which individuals will be considered clients and the nature of social
workers professional obligations to the various individuals who are receiving
services. Social workers who anticipate a conflict of interest among the individuals
receiving services or who anticipate having to perform in potentially conflicting
roles (for example, when a social worker is asked to testify in a child custody
dispute or divorce proceedings involving clients) should clarify their role with
the parties involved and take appropriate action to minimize any conflict of interest.
(a) Social workers should under no circumstances
engage in sexual activities or sexual contact with current clients, whether such
contact is consensual or forced.
(b) Social workers should not engage in
sexual activities or sexual contact with clients relatives or other individuals
with whom clients maintain a close personal relationship when there is a risk
of exploitation or potential harm to the client Sexual activity or sexual contact
with clients relatives or other individuals with whom clients maintain a
personal relationship has the potential to be harmful to the client and may make
it difficult for the social worker and client to maintain appropriate professional
boundaries. Social workersnot their clients, their clients relatives,
or other individuals with whom the client maintains a personal relationshipassume
the full burden for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries.
(c) Social workers should not engage in sexual activities or sexual contact
with former clients because of the potential for harm to the client. If social
workers engage in conduct contrary to this prohibition or claim that an exception
to this prohibition is warranted because of extraordinary circumstances, it is
social workersnot their clientswho assume the full burden of demonstrating
that the former client has not been exploited, coerced, or manipulated, intentionally
(d) Social workers should not provide clinical services
to individuals with whom they have had a prior sexual relationship. Providing
clinical services to a former sexual partner has the potential to be harmful to
the individual and is likely to make it difficult for the social worker and individual
to maintain appropriate professional boundaries.
Social workers should not engage in physical contact
with clients when there is a possibility of psychological harm to the client as
a result of the contact (such as cradling or caressing clients). Social workers
who engage in appropriate physical contact with clients are responsible for setting
clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern such physical
Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Excerpts
Board of Directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
(AAMFT) hereby promulgates, pursuant to Article 2, Section 2.013 of the Associations
Bylaws, the Revised AAMFT Code of Ethics, effective July 1, 2001.
Marriage and family therapists are aware of their influential positions with respect
to clients, and they avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of such persons.
Therapists, therefore, make every effort to avoid conditions and multiple relationships
with clients that could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation.
Such relationships include, but are not limited to, business or close personal
relationships with a client or the clients immediate family. When the risk
of impairment or exploitation exists due to conditions or multiple roles, therapists
take appropriate precautions.
Sexual intimacy with clients is prohibited.
Sexual intimacy with former clients is likely to be harmful and is therefore prohibited
for two years following the termination of therapy or last professional contact.
In an effort to avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of clients, marriage
and family therapists should not engage in sexual intimacy with former clients
after the two years following termination or last professional contact. Should
therapists engage in sexual intimacy with former clients following two years after
termination or last professional contact, the burden shifts to the therapist to
demonstrate that there has been no exploitation or injury to the former client
or to the clients immediate family.
Marriage and family therapists comply with applicable laws regarding the reporting
of alleged unethical conduct.
Marriage and family therapists do not use their professional relationships with
clients to further their own interests.
Marriage and family therapists respect the rights of clients to make decisions
and help them to understand the consequences of these decisions. Therapists clearly
advise the clients that they have the responsibility to make decisions regarding
relationships such as cohabitation, marriage, divorce, separation, reconciliation,
custody, and visitation.
Marriage and family therapists continue therapeutic relationships only so long
as it is reasonably clear that clients are benefiting from the relationship.
Marriage and family therapists assist persons in obtaining other therapeutic services
if the therapist is unable or unwilling, for appropriate reasons, to provide professional
Board for Certified Counselors Code of Ethics Excerpts
1. Certified counselors engage in continuous efforts to improve
professional practices, services, and research. Certified counselors are guided
in their work by evidence of the best professional practices.
counselors have a responsibility to the clients they serve and to the institutions
within which the services are performed. Certified counselors also strive to assist
the respective agency, organization, or institution in providing competent and
ethical professional services. The acceptance of employment in an institution
implies that the certified counselor is in agreement with the general policies
and principles of the institution. Therefore, the professional activities of the
certified counselor are in accord with the objectives of the institution. If the
certified counselor and the employer do not agree and cannot reach agreement on
policies that are consistent with appropriate counselor ethical practice that
is conducive to client growth and development, the employment should be terminated.
If the situation warrants further action, the certified counselor should work
through professional organizations to have the unethical practice changed.
8. Certified counselors are aware of the intimacy in the counseling relationship
and maintain respect for the client. Counselors must not engage in activities
that seek to meet their personal or professional needs at the expense of the client.
Certified counselors must insure that they do not engage in personal, social,
organizational, financial, or political activities which might lead to a misuse
of their influence.
10. Sexual intimacy with clients is unethical. Certified
counselors will not be sexually, physically, or romantically intimate with clients,
and they will not engage in sexual, physical, or romantic intimacy with clients
within a minimum of two years after terminating the counseling relationship.
B: Counseling Relationship
1. The primary obligation of certified counselors
is to respect the integrity and promote the welfare of clients, whether they are
assisted individually, in family units, or in group counseling. In a group setting,
the certified counselor is also responsible for taking reasonable precautions
to protect individuals from physical and/or psychological trauma resulting from
interaction within the group.
2. Certified counselors may choose to consult
with any other professionally competent person about a client and must notify
clients of this right. Certified counselors avoid placing a consultant in a conflict-of-interest
situation that would preclude the consultant serving as a proper party to the
efforts of the certified counselor to help the client.
Psychological Association Excerpts
Sexual Intimacies With Current Patients or Clients.
Psychologists do not
engage in sexual intimacies with current patients or clients.
Therapy With Former Sexual Partners.
Psychologists do not accept as therapy
patients or clients persons with whom they have engaged in sexual intimacies.
Sexual Intimacies With Former Therapy Patients.
(a) Psychologists do not
engage in sexual intimacies with a former therapy patient or client for at least
two years after cessation or termination of professional services.
Because sexual intimacies with a former therapy patient or client are so frequently
harmful to the patient or client, and because such intimacies undermine public
confidence in the psychology profession and thereby deter the publics use
of needed services, psychologists do not engage in sexual intimacies with former
therapy patients and clients even after a two-year interval except in the most
unusual circumstances. The psychologist who engages in such activity after the
two years following cessation or termination of bears the burden of demonstrating
that there has been no exploitation, in light of all relevant factors, including
the amount of time that has passed since therapy terminated,
(2) the nature
and duration of the therapy, the circumstances of termination,
(4) the patients
or clients personal history,
(5) the patients or clients
current mental status,
(6) the likelihood of adverse impact on the patient
or client and others, and
(7) any statements or actions made by the therapist
during the course of therapy suggesting or inviting the possibility of a post-termination
sexual or romantic relationship with the patient or client. (See also Standard
1.17, Multiple Relationships.)
Structuring the Relationship.
(a) Psychologists discuss with clients or
patients as early as is feasible in the therapeutic relationship appropriate issues,
such as the nature and anticipated course of therapy, fees, and confidentiality.
(See also Standards 1.25, Fees and Financial Arrangements, and 5.01, Discussing
the Limits of Confidentiality.)
(b) When the psychologists work with
clients or patients will be supervised, the above discussion includes that fact,
and the name of the supervisor, when the supervisor has legal responsibility for
(c) When the therapist is a student intern, the client or patient
is informed of that fact.
(d) Psychologists make reasonable efforts to answer
patients questions and to avoid apparent misunderstandings about therapy.
Whenever possible, psychologists provide oral and/or written information, using
language that is reasonably understandable to the patient or client.
Personal Problems and Conflicts.
(a) Psychologists recognize that their
personal problems and conflicts may interfere with their effectiveness. Accordingly,
they refrain from undertaking an activity when they know or should know that their
personal problems are likely to lead to harm to a patient, client, colleague,
student, research participant, or other person to whom they may owe a professional
or scientific obligation.
(b) In addition, psychologists have an obligation
to be alert to signs of, and to obtain assistance for, their personal problems
at an early stage, in order to prevent significantly impaired performance.
When psychologists become aware of personal problems that may interfere with their
performing work-related duties adequately, they take appropriate measures, such
as obtaining professional consultation or assistance, and determine whether they
should limit, suspend, or terminate their work-related duties.
Psychologists take reasonable steps to avoid harming their
patients or clients, research participants, students, and others with whom they
work, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable.
Misuse of Psychologists Influence.
Because psychologists scientific
and professional judgments and actions may affect the lives of others, they are
alert to and guard against personal, financial, social, organizational, or political
factors that might lead to misuse of their influence.
Misuse of Psychologists Work.
(a) Psychologists do not participate
in activities in which it appears likely that their skills or data will be misused
by others, unless corrective mechanisms are available. (See also Standard 7.04,
Truthfulness and Candor.)
(b) If psychologists learn of misuse or misrepresentation
of their work, they take reasonable steps to correct or minimize the misuse or
(a) In many communities and situations, it may
not be feasible or reasonable for psychologists to avoid social or other nonprofessional
contacts with persons such as patients, clients, students, supervisees, or research
participants. Psychologists must always be sensitive to the potential harmful
effects of other contacts on their work and on those persons with whom they deal.
A psychologist refrains from entering into or promising another personal, scientific,
professional, financial, or other relationship with such persons if it appears
likely that such a relationship reasonably might impair the psychologists
objectivity or otherwise interfere with the psychologist effectively performing
his or her functions as a psychologist, or might harm or exploit the other party.
(b) Likewise, whenever feasible, a psychologist refrains from taking on professional
or scientific obligations when pre-existing relationships would create a risk
of such harm.
(c) If a psychologist finds that, due to unforeseen factors,
a potentially harmful multiple relationship has arisen, the psychologist attempts
to resolve it with due regard for the best interests of the affected person and
maximal compliance with the Ethics Code.
American Counseling Association Code of Ethics Excerpts
A.5. Roles and Relationships With Clients
A.5.a. Current Clients: Sexual or romantic counselor–client interactions or relationships with current clients, their romantic partners, or their family members are prohibited.
A.5.b. Former Clients: Sexual or romantic counselor–client interactions or relationships with former clients, their romantic partners, or their family members are prohibited for a period of 5 years following the last professional contact. Counselors, before engaging in sexual or romantic interactions or relationships with clients, their romantic partners, or client family members after 5 years following the last professional contact, demonstrate forethought and document (in written form) whether the interactions or relationship can be viewed as exploitive in some way and/or whether there is still potential to harm the former client; in cases of potential exploitation and/or harm, the counselor avoids entering such an interaction or relationship.
A.5.c. Nonprofessional Interactions or Relationships (Other Than Sexual or Romantic Interactions or Relationships): Counselor–client nonprofessional relationships with clients, former clients, their romantic partners, or their family members should be avoided, except when the interaction is potentially beneficial to the client.
A.5.d. Potentially Beneficial Interactions:
When a counselor–client nonprofessional interaction with a client or former client may be potentially beneficial to the client or former client, the counselor must document in case records, prior to the interaction (when feasible), the rationale for such an interaction, the potential benefit, and anticipated consequences for the client or former client and other individuals significantly involved with the client or former client. Such interactions should be initiated with appropriate client consent. Where unintentional harm occurs to the client or former client, or to an individual significantly involved with the client or former client, due to the nonprofessional interaction, the counselor must show evidence of an attempt to remedy such harm. Examples of potentially beneficial interactions include, but are not limited to, attending a formal ceremony (e.g., a wedding/commitment ceremony or graduation); purchasing a service or product provided by a client or former client (excepting unrestricted bartering); hospital visits to an ill family member; mutual membership in a professional association, organization, or community.
A.5.e. Role Changes in the Professional Relationship:
When a counselor changes a role from the original or most recent contracted relationship, he or she obtains informed consent from the client and explains the right of the client to refuse services related to the change. Examples of role changes include 1. changing from individual to relationship or family counseling, or vice versa; 2. changing from a nonforensic evaluative role to a therapeutic role, or vice versa; 3. changing from a counselor to a researcher role (i.e., enlisting clients as research participants), or vice versa; and 4. changing from a counselor to a mediator role, or vice versa. Clients must be fully informed of any anticipated consequences (e.g., financial, legal, personal, or therapeutic) of counselor role changes.
Evolution of Social Work Ethics by Mary Rankin, J.D.
The change in a social worker’s approach to ethical concerns is one of the most significant advances in our profession. Early in the 20th century, a social worker’s concern for ethics centered on the morality of the client, not the ethics of the profession or its practitioners. Over the next couple of decades, the emphasis on the client’s ethics began to weaken as social workers began developing new perspectives and methods that eventually would be fundamental to the profession, all in an effort to distinguish social work’s approach from other allied health professions.
The first attempt at creating a code of ethics was made in 1919, and by the 1940s and 1950s, social workers began to focus on the morality, values, and ethics of the profession, rather than the ethics and morality of the patient. As a result of the turbulent social times of the 1960s and 1970s, social workers began directing significant efforts towards the issues of social justice, social reform, and civil rights.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the focus shifted from abstract debates about ethical terms and conceptually complex moral arguments to more practical and immediate ethical problems. For example, a significant portion of the literature from the time period focuses on decision-making strategies for complex or difficult ethical dilemmas. More recently, the profession has worked to develop a new and comprehensive Code of Ethics to outline the profession’s core values, provide guidance on dealing with ethical issues and dilemmas, and also to describe and define ethical misconduct. Today, ethics in social work is focused primarily on helping social workers identify and analyze ethical dilemmas, apply appropriate decision-making strategies, manage ethics related risks, and confront ethical misconduct within the profession.
The following contains thee key Legal issues for mental health professionals: Tarasoff - Duty to Warn, Duty to Protect; and Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse
Tarasoff - Duty to Warn, Duty to Protect
Most states have laws that either require or permit mental health professionals to disclose information about patients who may become violent often referred to as the duty to warn and/or duty to protect. These laws stem from two decisions in Tarasoff v. The Regents of the University of California. Together, the Tarasoff decisions impose liability on all mental health professionals to protect victims from violent acts. Specifically, the first Tarasoff case imposed a duty to verbally warn an intended victim victim of foreseeable danger, and the second Tarasoff case implies a duty to protect the intended victim against possible danger (e.g., alert police, warn the victim, etc.).
Domestic Violence – Confidentiality and the Duty to Warn
Stemming from the decisions in Tarasoff v. The Regents of the University of California, many states have imposed liability on mental health professionals to protect victims from violent acts, often referred to as the duty to warn and duty to protect. This liability extends to potential victims of domestic violence. When working with a client who has a history of domestic violence, a social worker should conduct a risk assessment to determine if whether there is a potential for harm, and take all necessary steps to diffuse a potentially violent situation.
Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse
All states have laws that identify individuals who are obligated to report suspected child abuse, including social workers these individuals are often referred to as “mandatory reporters.” The requirements vary from state to state, but typically, a report must be made when the reporter (in his or her official capacity) suspects or has reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected. Most states operate a toll-free hotline to receive reports of abuse and typically the reporter may choose to remain anonymous (there are limitations and exceptions that vary by state so please review your state’s laws).
Ethics CEU QUESTION 3
The AAMFT, NBCC, and APA prohibit sexual relationship with former clients
for a period of two years. However, what does the NASW Code state? To select and
enter your answer go to
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.