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3 CEUs Setting Clear and Ethical Boundaries

Manual of Articles Sections 4-6
Section 4
ACA, NASW, AAMFT, APA, ACA, and NBCC Codes of Ethics
History and Evolution of Values and Ethics in Social Work
3 Key Legal Requirements and Considerations

Question 4 | Ethics CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

National Association of Social Workers
Code of Ethics Excerpt

Ethical Standards
1. Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities to Clients

1.01 Commitment to Clients
Social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients. In general, clients’ interests are primary. However, social workers’ responsibility to the larger society or specific legal obligations may on limited Self-determination Ethical Boundaries mft CEUoccasions supersede the loyalty owed clients, and clients should be so advised. (Examples include when a social worker is required by law to report that a client has abused a child or has threatened to harm self or others.)

1.02 Self-Determination
Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. Social workers may limit clients’ right to self-determination when, in the social workers’ professional judgment, clients’ actions or potential actions pose a serious, foreseeable, and imminent risk to themselves or others.

1.04 Competence
(a) Social workers should provide services and represent themselves as competent only within the boundaries of their education, training, license, certification, consultation received, supervised experience, or other relevant professional experience.
(b) Social workers should provide services in substantive areas or use intervention techniques or approaches that are new to them only after engaging in appropriate study, training, consultation, and supervision from people who are competent in those interventions or techniques.
(c) When generally recognized standards do not exist with respect to an emerging area of practice, social workers should exercise careful judgment and take responsible steps (including appropriate education, research, training, consultation, and supervision) to ensure the competence of their work and to protect clients from harm.

1.05 Cultural Competence and Social Diversity
(a) Social workers should understand culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures.
(b) Social workers should have a knowledge base of their clients’ cultures and be able to demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to clients’ cultures and to differences among people and cultural groups.
(c) Social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, and mental or physical disability.

1.06 Conflicts of Interest
(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 clients’ interests primary and protects clients’ interests to the greatest extent possible. In some cases, protecting clients’ interests may require termination of the professional relationship with proper referral of the client.
(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.

1.14 Clients Who Lack Decision-Making Capacity
When social workers act on behalf of clients who lack the capacity to make informed decisions, social workers should take reasonable steps to safeguard the interests and rights of those clients.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Therapists
Code of Ethics - Excerpt

The Board of Directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) hereby promulgates, pursuant to Article 2, Section 2.013 of the Association’s Bylaws, the Revised AAMFT Code of Ethics, effective July 1, 2001.

The Board of Directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) hereby promulgates, pursuant to Article 2, Section 2.013 of the Association’s Bylaws, the Revised AAMFT Code of Ethics, effective July 1, 2001.

The AAMFT strives to honor the public trust in marriage and family therapists by setting standards for ethical practice as described in this Code. The ethical standards define professional expectations and are enforced by the AAMFT Ethics Committee. The absence of an explicit reference to a specific behavior or situation in the Code does not mean that the behavior is ethical or unethical. The standards are not exhaustive. Marriage and family therapists who are uncertain about the ethics of a particular course of action are encouraged to seek counsel from consultants, attorneys, supervisors, colleagues, or other appropriate authorities.

Both law and ethics govern the practice of marriage and family therapy. When making decisions regarding professional behavior, marriage and family therapists must consider the AAMFT Code of Ethics and applicable laws and regulations. If the AAMFT Code of Ethics prescribes a standard higher than that required by law, marriage and family therapists must meet the higher standard of the AAMFT Code of Ethics. Marriage and family therapists comply with the mandates of law, but make known their commitment to the AAMFT Code of Ethics and take steps to resolve the conflict in a responsible manner. The AAMFT supports legal mandates for reporting of alleged unethical conduct.

Principle I Responsibility to Clients
Marriage and family therapists advance the welfare of families and individuals. They respect the rights of those persons seeking their assistance, and make reasonable efforts to ensure that their services are used appropriately.

1.1. Marriage and family therapists provide professional assistance to persons without discrimination on the basis of race, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, gender, health status, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.

1.7 Marriage and family therapists do not use their professional relationships with clients to further their own interests.

1.8 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.

1.9 Marriage and family therapists continue therapeutic relationships only so long as it is reasonably clear that clients are benefiting from the relationship.

1.10 Marriage and family therapists assist persons in obtaining other therapeutic services if the therapist is unable or unwilling, for appropriate reasons, to provide professional help.

3.9 Marriage and family therapists do not engage in the exploitation of clients, students, trainees, supervisees, employees, colleagues, or research subjects.

3.10 Marriage and family therapists do not give to or receive from clients (a) gifts of substantial value or (b) gifts that impair the integrity or efficacy of the therapeutic relationship.

3.11 Marriage and family therapists do not diagnose, treat, or advise on problems outside the recognized boundaries of their competencies.

3.13 Marriage and family therapists, because of their ability to influence and alter the lives of others, exercise special care when making public their professional recommendations and opinions through testimony or other public statements.

3.14 To avoid a conflict of interests, marriage and family therapists who treat minors or adults involved in custody or visitation actions may not also perform forensic evaluations for custody, residence, or visitation of the minor. The marriage and family therapist who treats the minor may provide the court or mental health professional performing the evaluation with information about the minor from the marriage and family therapist’s perspective as a treating marriage and family therapist, so long as the marriage and family therapist does not violate confidentiality.

National Board for Certified Counselors
Code of Ethics - Excerpt

Section A: General

12. Through an awareness of the impact of stereotyping and unwarranted discrimination (e.g., biases based on age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation), certified counselors guard the individual rights and personal dignity of the client in the counseling relationship.

13. Certified counselors are accountable at all times for their behavior. They must be aware that all actions and behaviors of the counselor reflect on professional integrity and, when inappropriate, can damage the public trust in the counseling profession. To protect public confidence in the counseling profession, certified counselors avoid behavior that is clearly in violation of accepted moral and legal standards.

Section 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.

4. When a client’s condition indicates that there is a clear and imminent danger to the client or others, the certified counselor must take reasonable action to inform potential victims and/or inform responsible authorities. Consultation with other professionals must be used when possible. The assumption of responsibility for the client’s behavior must be taken only after careful deliberation, and the client must be involved in the resumption of responsibility as quickly as possible.

8. When counseling is initiated, and throughout the counseling process as necessary, counselors inform clients of the purposes, goals, techniques, procedures, limitations, potential risks and benefits of services to be performed, and clearly indicate limitations that may affect the relationship as well as any other pertinent information. Counselors take reasonable steps to ensure that clients understand the implications of any diagnosis, the intended use of tests and reports, methods of treatment and safety precautions that must be taken in their use, fees, and billing arrangements.

9. Certified counselors who have an administrative, supervisory and/or evaluative relationship with individuals seeking counseling services must not serve as the counselor and should refer the individuals to other professionals. Exceptions are made only in instances where an individual’s situation warrants counseling intervention and another alternative is unavailable. Dual relationships that might impair the certified counselor’s objectivity and professional judgment must be avoided and/or the counseling relationship terminated through referral to a competent professional.

10. When certified counselors determine an inability to be of professional assistance to a potential or existing client, they must, respectively, not initiate the counseling relationship or immediately terminate the relationship. In either event, the certified counselor must suggest appropriate alternatives. Certified counselors must be knowledgeable about referral resources so that a satisfactory referral can be initiated. In the event that the client declines a suggested referral, the certified counselor is not obligated to continue the relationship.

Section E: Consulting
Consultation refers to a voluntary relationship between a professional helper and a help-needing individual, group, or social unit in which the consultant is providing help to the client(s) in defining and solving a work-related problem or potential work-related problem with a client or client system.

1. Certified counselors, acting as consultants, must have a high degree of self awareness of their own values, knowledge, skills, limitations, and needs in entering a helping relationship that involves human and/or organizational change. The focus of the consulting relationship must be on the issues to be resolved and not on the person(s) presenting the problem.

2. In the consulting relationship, the certified counselor and client must understand and agree upon the problem definition, subsequent goals, and predicted consequences of interventions selected.

3. Certified counselors acting as consultants must be reasonably certain that they, or the organization represented, have the necessary competencies and resources for giving the kind of help that is needed or that may develop later, and that appropriate referral resources are available.

4. Certified counselors in a consulting relationship must encourage and cultivate client adaptability and growth toward self-direction. Certified counselors must maintain this role consistently and not become a decision maker for clients or create a future dependency on the consultant.

American Psychological Association
Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct - Excerpt

Principle B: Integrity
Principle D: Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity
Psychologists accord appropriate respect to the fundamental rights, dignity, and worth of all people. They respect the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, self-determination, and autonomy, mindful that legal and other obligations may lead to inconsistency and conflict with the exercise of these rights. Psychologists are aware of cultural, individual, and role differences, including those due to age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone unfair discriminatory practices.

1.04 Boundaries of Competence.

(a) Psychologists provide services, teach, and conduct research only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, or appropriate professional experience.
(b) Psychologists provide services, teach, or conduct research in new areas or involving new techniques only after first undertaking appropriate study, training, supervision, and/or consultation from persons who are competent in those areas or techniques.
(c) In those emerging areas in which generally recognized standards for preparatory training do not yet exist, psychologists nevertheless take reasonable steps to ensure the competence of their work and to protect patients, clients, students, research participants, and others from harm

1.08 Human Differences.
Where differences of age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic status significantly affect psychologists’ work concerning particular individuals or groups, psychologists obtain the training, experience, consultation, or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services, or they make appropriate referrals.

1.09 Respecting Others.
In their work-related activities, psychologists respect the rights of others to hold values, attitudes, and opinions that differ from their own.

1.10 Nondiscrimination.
In their work-related activities, psychologists do not engage in unfair discrimination based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.

1.13 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.
(c) 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.

1.14 Avoiding Harm.
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.

1.15 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.

1.16 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 misrepresentation.

1.17 Multiple Relationships.
(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 psychologist’s objectivity or otherwise interfere with the psychologist’s 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 preexisting 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.

1.18 Barter (With Patients or Clients).

Psychologists ordinarily refrain from accepting goods, services, or other nonmonetary remuneration from patients or clients in return for psychological services because such arrangements create inherent potential for conflicts, exploitation, and distortion of the professional relationship. A psychologist may participate in bartering only if (1) it is not clinically contraindicated, and (2) the relationship is not exploitative. (See also Standards 1.17, Multiple
Relationships, and 1.25, Fees and Financial Arrangements.)

1.19 Exploitative Relationships.
(a) Psychologists do not exploit persons over whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or other authority such as students, supervisees, employees, research participants, and clients or patients. (See also Standards 4.05 - 4.07 regarding sexual involvement with clients or patients.)
(b) Psychologists do not engage in sexual relationships with students or supervisees in training over whom the psychologist has evaluative or direct authority, because such relationships are so likely to impair judgment or be exploitative.

1.20 Consultations and Referrals.
(a) Psychologists arrange for appropriate consultations and referrals based principally on the best interests of their patients or clients, with appropriate consent, and subject to other relevant considerations, including applicable law and contractual obligations. (See also Standards 5.01, Discussing the Limits of Confidentiality, and 5.06, Consultations.)
(b) When indicated and professionally appropriate, psychologists cooperate with other professionals in order to serve their patients or clients effectively and appropriately.
(c) Psychologists’ referral practices are consistent with law.

4. Therapy
4.01 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 psychologist’s 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 the case.
(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.

4.02 Informed Consent to Therapy.
(a) Psychologists obtain appropriate informed consent to therapy or related procedures, using language that is reasonably understandable to participants. The content of informed consent will vary depending on many circumstances; however, informed consent generally implies that the person (1) has the capacity to consent, (2) has been informed of significant information concerning the procedure, (3) has freely and without undue influence expressed consent, and (4) consent has been appropriately documented
(b) When persons are legally incapable of giving informed consent, psychologists obtain informed permission from a legally authorized person, if such substitute consent is permitted by law.
(c) In addition, psychologists (1) inform those persons who are legally incapable of giving informed consent about the proposed interventions in a manner commensurate with the persons’ psychological capacities, (2) seek their assent to those interventions, and (3) consider such persons’ preferences and best interests.

4.03 Couple and Family Relationships.
(a) When a psychologist agrees to provide services to several persons who have a relationship (such as husband and wife or parents and children), the psychologist attempts to clarify at the outset (1) which of the individuals are patients or clients and (2) the relationship the psychologist will have with each person. This clarification includes the role of the psychologist and the probable uses of the services provided or the information obtained. (See also Standard 5.01, Discussing the Limits of Confidentiality.)
(b) As soon as it becomes apparent that the psychologist may be called on to perform potentially conflicting roles (such as marital counselor to husband and wife, and then witness for one party in a divorce proceeding), the psychologist attempts to clarify and adjust, or withdraw from, roles appropriately. (See also Standard 7.03, Clarification of Role, under Forensic Activities.)

4.04 Providing Mental Health Services to Those Served by Others.
In deciding whether to offer or provide services to those already receiving mental health services elsewhere, psychologists carefully consider the treatment issues and the potential patient’s or client’s welfare. The psychologist discusses these issues with the patient or client, or another legally authorized person on behalf of the client, in order to minimize the risk of confusion and conflict, consults with the other service providers when appropriate, and proceeds with caution and sensitivity to the therapeutic issues.

American Counseling Association Code of Ethics
Section A: The Counseling Relationship
Standard of Practice One:
Nondiscrimination. Counselors respect diversity and must not discriminate against clients because of age, color, culture, disability, ethnic group, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, or socioeconomic status.
Standard of Practice Two:
Disclosure to Clients. Counselors must adequately inform clients, preferably in writing, regarding the counseling process and counseling relationship at or before the time it begins and throughout the relationship.
Standard of Practice Three:
Dual Relationships. Counselors must make every effort to avoid dual relationships with clients that could impair their professional judgment or increase the risk of harm to clients. When a dual relationship cannot be avoided, counselors must take appropriate steps to ensure that judgment is not impaired and that no exploitation occurs.
Standard of Practice Four:
Sexual Intimacies With Clients. Counselors must not engage in any type of sexual intimacies with current clients and must not engage in sexual intimacies with former clients within a minimum of 2 years after terminating the counseling relationship. Counselors who engage in such relationship after 2 years following termination have the responsibility to examine and document thoroughly that such relations did not have an exploitative nature.
Standard of Practice Five:
Protecting Clients During Group Work. Counselors must take steps to protect clients from physical or psychological trauma resulting from interactions during group work.
Standard of Practice Six:
Advance Understanding of Fees. Counselors must explain to clients, prior to their entering the counseling relationship, financial arrangements related to professional services.
Standard of Practice Seven:
Termination. Counselors must assist in making appropriate arrangements for the continuation of treatment of clients, when necessary, following termination of counseling relationships.
Standard of Practice Eight:
Inability to Assist Clients. Counselors must avoid entering or immediately terminate a counseling relationship if it is determined that they are unable to be of professional assistance to a client. The counselor may assist in making an appropriate referral for the client.
Section C: Professional Responsibility
Standard of Practice Seventeen:
Boundaries of Competence. Counselors must practice only within the boundaries of their competence.
Standard of Practice Eighteen:
Continuing Education. Counselors must engage in continuing education to maintain their professional competence.
Standard of Practice Nineteen:
Impairment of Professionals. Counselors must refrain from offering professional services when their personal problems or conflicts may cause harm to a client or others.
Standard of Practice Twenty:
Accurate Advertising. Counselors must accurately represent their credentials and services when advertising.
Standard of Practice Twenty-One:
Recruiting Through Employment. Counselors must not use their place of employment or institutional affiliation to recruit clients for their private practices.
Standard of Practice Twenty-Two:
Credentials Claimed. Counselors must claim or imply only professional credentials possessed and must correct any known misrepresentations of their credentials by others.
Standard of Practice Twenty-Three:
Sexual Harassment. Counselors must not engage in sexual harassment.
Standard of Practice Twenty-Four:
Unjustified Gains. Counselors must not use their professional positions to seek or receive unjustified personal gains, sexual favors, unfair advantage, or unearned goods or services.
Standard of Practice Twenty-Five:
Clients Served by Others. With the consent of the client, counselors must inform other mental health professionals serving the same client that a counseling relationship between the counselor and client exists.
Standard of Practice Twenty-Six:
Negative Employment Conditions. Counselors must alert their employers to institutional policy or conditions that may be potentially disruptive or damaging to the counselor’s professional responsibilities, or that may limit their effectiveness or deny clients’ rights.
Standard of Practice Twenty-Seven:
Personnel Selection and Assignment. Counselors must select competent staff and must assign responsibilities compatible with staff skills and experiences.
Standard of Practice Twenty-Eight:
Exploitative Relationships With Subordinates. Counselors must not engage in exploitative relationships with individuals over whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or instructional control or authority.

American Counseling Association Code of Ethics Excerpt
American Counseling Association Code of Ethics Excerpt - Section B: Confidentiality Standard of Practice
#9. Confidentiality Requirement. Counselors must keep information related to counseling services confidential unless disclosure is in the best interest of clients, is required for the welfare of others, or is required by law. When disclosure is required, only information that is essential is revealed and the client is informed of such disclosure.
#10. Confidentiality Requirements for Subordinates. Counselors must take measures to ensure that privacy and confidentiality of clients are maintained by subordinates.
#11. Confidentiality in Group Work. Counselors must clearly communicate to group members that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed in group work.
#12. Confidentiality in Family Counseling. Counselors must not disclose information about one family member in counseling to another family member without prior consent.
#13. Confidentiality of Records. Counselors must maintain appropriate confidentiality in creating, storing, accessing, transferring, and disposing of counseling records.
#14. Permission to Record or Observe. Counselors must obtain prior consent from clients in order to record electronically or observe sessions.
#15. Disclosure or Transfer of Records. Counselors must obtain client consent to disclose or transfer records to third parties, unless exceptions listed in Standard of Practice Nine exist.
#16. Data Disguise Required. Counselors must disguise the identity of the client when using data for training, research, or publication. 

American Counseling Association Code of Ethics Excerpt
Section A: The Counseling Relationship
Standard of Practice One:
Nondiscrimination. Counselors respect diversity and must not discriminate against clients because of age, color, culture, disability, ethnic group, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, or socioeconomic status.
Section H: Resolving Ethical Issues
Standard of Practice Forty-Nine:
Ethical Behavior Expected. Counselors must take appropriate action when they possess reasonable cause that raises doubts as to whether counselors or other mental health professionals are acting in an ethical manner.
Standard of Practice Fifty:
Unwarranted Complaints. Counselors must not initiate, participate in, or encourage the filing of ethics complaints that are unwarranted or intended to harm a mental health professional rather than to protect clients or the public.
Standard of Practice Fifty-One:
Cooperation With Ethics Committees. Counselors must cooperate with investigations, proceedings, and requirements of the ACA Ethics Committee or ethics committees of other duly constituted associations or boards having jurisdiction over those charged with a violation. 

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.
A.6.a. Advocacy: When appropriate, counselors advocate at individual, group, institutional, and societal levels to examine potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients.
A.6.b. Confidentiality and Advocacy: Counselors obtain client consent prior to engaging in advocacy efforts on behalf of an identifiable client to improve the provision of services and to work toward removal of systemic barriers or obstacles that inhibit client access, growth, and development.
A.7. Multiple Clients: When a counselor agrees to provide counseling services to two or more persons who have a relationship, the counselor clarifies at the outset which person or persons are clients and the nature of the relationships the counselor will have with each involved person. If it becomes apparent that the counselor may be called upon to perform potentially conflicting
roles, the counselor will clarify, adjust, or withdraw from roles appropriately.
A.10.e. Receiving Gifts: Counselors understand the challenges of accepting gifts from clients and recognize that in some cultures, small gifts are a token of respect and showing gratitude. When determining whether or not to accept a gift from clients, counselors take into account the therapeutic relationship, the monetary value of the gift, a client’s motivation for giving the gift, and the counselor’s motivation for wanting or declining the gift.
A.11.a. Abandonment Prohibited: Counselors do not abandon or neglect clients in counseling. Counselors assist in making appropriate arrangements for the continuation of treatment, when necessary, during interruptions such as vacations, illness, and following termination.
A.11.b. Inability to Assist Clients: If counselors determine an inability to be of professional assistance to clients, they avoid entering or continuing counseling relationships. Counselors are knowledgeable about culturally and clinically appropriate referral resources and suggest these alternatives. If clients decline the suggested referrals, counselors should discontinue the relationship.
A.11.c. Appropriate Termination: Counselors terminate a counseling relationship when it becomes reasonably apparent that the client no longer needs assistance, is not likely to benefit, or is being harmed by continued counseling. Counselors may terminate counseling when in jeopardy of harm by the client, or another person with whom the client has a relationship, or when clients do not pay fees as agreed upon. Counselors provide pretermination counseling and recommend other service providers when necessary.

C.2.a. Boundaries of Competence: Counselors practice only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, state and national professional credentials, and appropriate professional experience. Counselors gain knowledge, personal awareness, sensitivity, and skills pertinent to working with a diverse client population.

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).
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section contained Codes of Ethics for mental health professionals. Write two case study examples regarding applications of these Ethical Principles. Ethical principles of self-determination, cultural competence, conflict of interest, and perhaps personal problems may present some ethical questions in your mind.

What are areas that the NASW, AAMFT, NBCC, and APA Codes of Ethics agree upon regarding the setting of clear and ethical boundaries with clients?
To select and enter your answer go to Ethics CEU Answer Booklet.

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Table of Contents

The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Ethics Alive! Respect in Social Work Advocacy
We explore the nature of respect in social work advocacy. Social workers demonstrate respect to individual clients by honoring their right to self-determination. Advocacy often involves persuason and trying to change beliefs and behaviors of others.
Ethics Alive! To Record or Not To Record: The Ethics of Documentation
How much and what should social workers document? Allan Barsky outlines the ethics of social work documentation.
Ethics Alive! Coping With Multiple Codes of Ethics as a Social Worker
Which codes “must” social workers abide by? Which codes “should” social workers abide by? And if there are conflicts between two or more codes by which you are abiding, which code takes “precedence”?
Respect: Ethical Imperative or Skills for Success?
Many of us think about respect in terms of how we engage with clients. Honoring clients’ dignity is not the whole story, however, with social work codes of ethics also highlighting the importance of showing respect to colleagues.
Ethics Alive! Social Work With Client Friends and Family: Avoiding Collateral Damage
The first standard in the NASW Code of Ethics advises social workers that their primary ethical obligation is to clients. The Code is silent on what obligations, if any, social workers owe to clients’ family members, friends, and other collaterals.

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