Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics
1.07 Privacy and confidentiality
Social workers should respect clients’ right to privacy. Social workers should not solicit private information from clients unless it is essential to providing services or conducting social work evaluation or research. Once private information is shared, standards of confidentiality apply.
(b) Social workers may disclose confidential information when appropriate with valid consent from a client or a person legally authorized to consent on behalf of a client.
(c) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of all information obtained in the course of professional service, except for compelling professional reasons. The general expectation that social workers will keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is necessary to prevent serious, foreseeable, and imminent harm to a client or other identifiable person. In all instances, social workers should disclose the least amount of confidential information necessary to achieve the desired purpose; only information that is directly relevant to the purpose for which the disclosure is made should be revealed.
(d) Social workers should inform clients, to the extent possible, about the disclosure of confidential information and the potential consequences, when feasible before the disclosure is made. This applies whether social workers disclose confidential information on the basis of a legal requirement or client consent.
(e) Social workers should discuss with clients and other interested parties the nature of confidentiality and limitations of clients’ right to confidentiality. Social workers should review with clients circumstances where confidential information may be requested and where disclosure of confidential information may be legally required. This discussion should occur as soon as possible in the social worker-client relationship and as needed throughout the course of the relationship.
(f) When social workers provide counseling services to families, couples, or groups, social workers should seek agreement among the parties involved concerning each individual’s right to confidentiality and obligation to preserve the confidentiality of information shared by others. Social workers should inform participants in family, couples, or group counseling that social workers cannot guarantee that all participants will honor such agreements.
(g) Social workers should inform clients involved in family, couples, marital, or group counseling of the social worker’s, employer’s, and agency’s policy concerning the social worker’s disclosure of confidential information among the parties involved in the counseling.
(h) Social workers should not disclose confidential information to third-party payers unless clients have authorized such disclosure.
(i) Social workers should not discuss confidential information in any setting unless privacy can be ensured. Social workers should not discuss confidential information in public or semipublic areas such as hallways, waiting rooms, elevators, and restaurants.
(j) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of clients during legal proceedings to the extent permitted by law. When a court of law or other legally authorized body orders social workers to disclose confidential or privileged information without a client’s consent and such disclosure could cause harm to the client, social workers should request that the court withdraw the order or limit the order as narrowly as possible or maintain the records under seal, unavailable for public inspection.
(k) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of clients when responding to requests from members of the media.
(l) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of clients’ written and electronic records and other sensitive information. Social workers should take reasonable steps to ensure that clients’ records are stored in a secure location and that clients’ records are not available to others who are not authorized to have access.
(m) Social workers should take reasonable steps to protect the confidentiality of electronic communications, including information provided to clients or third parties. Social workers should use applicable safeguards (such as encryption, firewalls, and passwords) when using electronic communications such as e-mail, online posts, online chat sessions, mobile communication, and text messages .
(n) Social workers should develop and disclose policies and procedures for notifying clients of any breach of confidential information in a timely manner.
(o) In the event of unauthorized access to client records or information, including any unauthorized access to the social worker’s electronic communication or storage systems, social workers should inform clients of such disclosures, consistent with applicable laws and professional standards.
(p) Social workers should develop and inform clients about their policies, consistent with prevailing social work ethical standards, on the use of electronic technology, including Internet-based search engines, to gather information about clients.
(q) Social workers should avoid searching or gathering client information electronically unless there are compelling professional reasons, and when appropriate, with the client’s informed consent.
(r) Social workers should avoid posting any identifying or confidential information about clients on professional websites or other forms of social media.
(s) Social workers should transfer or dispose of clients' records in a manner that protects clients' confidentiality and is consistent with applicable laws governing records and social work licensure.
(t) Social workers should take reasonable precautions to protect client confidentiality in the event of the social worker's termination of practice, incapacitation, or death.
(u) Social workers should not disclose identifying information when discussing clients for teaching or training purposes unless the client has consented to disclosure of confidential information.
(v) Social workers should not disclose identifying information when discussing clients with consultants unless the client has consented to disclosure of confidential information or there is a compelling need for such disclosure.
(w) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of deceased clients consistent with the preceding standards.
- National Association of Social Workers. (2017). NASW Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English
Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Code of Ethics
Marriage and family therapists have unique confidentiality
concerns, because the client in a therapeutic relationship may be more than one
person. Therapists respect and guard confidences of each individual client.
2.1 Marriage and family therapists may not disclose client confidences except:
(a) as mandated by law;
(b) to prevent a clear and immediate
danger to a person or persons:
(c) where the therapist is a defendant
in a civil criminal, or disciplinary action arising from the therapy (in which
case, client confidences may be disclosed in the course of that action);
(d) if there is a waiver previously obtained in writing, and then such information
may be revealed only in accordance with the terms of the waiver. In circumstances
where more than one person in a family receives therapy, each such family member
who is legally competent to execute a waiver must agree to the waiver required
by subparagraph (d). With out such a waiver from each family member legally competent
to execute a waiver, a therapist cannot disclose information received from any
Marriage and family therapists use client and/or client materials in teaching,
writing, and public presentation only if a written waiver has been obtained in
accordance with Subprinciple 2.1 (d), or when appropriate steps have been taken
to protect client identity and confidentiality.
Marriage and family therapists store or dispose of client records in ways that
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. (2015, January 1). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/Legal_Ethics/Code_of_Ethics.aspx
Ethical Principles of Psychologists
and Code of Conduct
5. Privacy and Confidentiality
are potentially applicable to the professional and scientific activities of all
5.01 Discussing the Limits of Confidentiality.
(a) Psychologists discuss with persons and organizations with whom they establish
a scientific or professional relationship (including, to the extent feasible,
minors and their legal representatives)
(1) the relevant limitations on confidentiality,
including limitations where applicable in group, marital, and family therapy or
in organizational consulting, and
(2) the foreseeable uses of the information
generated through their services.
(b) Unless it is not feasible or is contraindicated,
the discussion of confidentiality occurs at the outset of the relationship and
thereafter as new circumstances may warrant.
(c) Permission for electronic
recording of interviews is secured from clients and patients.
Psychologists have a primary obligation
and take reasonable precautions to respect the confidentiality rights of those
with whom they work or consult, recognizing that confidentiality may be established
by law, institutional rules, or professional or scientific relationships. (See
also Standard 6.26, Professional Reviewers.)
Minimizing Intrusions on Privacy.
(a) In order to minimize intrusions
on privacy, psychologists include in written and oral reports, consultations,
and the like, only information germane to the purpose for which the communication
(b) Psychologists discuss confidential information obtained in clinical
or consulting relationships, or evaluative data concerning patients, individual
or organizational clients, students, research participants, supervisees, and employees
only for appropriate scientific or professional purposes and only with persons
clearly concerned with such matters.
Maintenance of Records.
Psychologists maintain appropriate confidentiality
in creating, storing, accessing, transferring, and disposing of records under
their control, whether these are written, automated, or in any other medium. Psychologists
maintain and dispose of records in accordance with law and in a manner that permits
compliance with the requirements of this Ethics Code.
(a) Psychologists disclose confidential information without
the consent of the individual only as mandated by law, or where permitted
by law for a valid purpose, such as
(1) to provide needed professional services
to the patient or the individual or organizational client,
(2) to obtain appropriate
(3) to protect the patient or client or others
from harm, or
(4) to obtain payment for services, in which instance disclosure
is limited to the minimum that is necessary to achieve the purpose.
also may disclose confidential information with the appropriate consent of the
patient or the individual or organizational client (or of another legally authorized
person on behalf of the patient or client), unless prohibited by law.
When consulting with colleagues,
do not share confidential information that reasonably could lead to the identification
of a patient, client, research participant, or other person or organization with
whom they have a confidential relationship unless they have obtained the prior
consent of the person or organization or the disclosure cannot be avoided, and
(2) they share information only to the extent necessary to achieve the purposes
of the consultation. (See also Standard 5.02, Maintaining Confidentiality.)
Confidential Information in Databases.
(a) If confidential information
concerning recipients of psychological services is to be entered into databases
or systems of records available to persons whose access has not been consented
to by the recipient, then psychologists use coding or other techniques to avoid
the inclusion of personal identifiers.
(b) If a research protocol approved
by an institutional review board or similar body requires the inclusion of personal
identifiers, such identifiers are deleted before the information is made accessible
to persons other than those of whom the subject was advised.
(c) If such deletion
is not feasible, then before psychologists transfer such data to others or review
such data collected by others, they take reasonable steps to determine that appropriate
consent of personally identifiable individuals has been obtained.
Use of Confidential Information for Didactic or Other Purposes.
do not disclose in their writings, lectures, or other public media, confidential,
personally identifiable information concerning their patients, individual or organizational
clients, students, research participants, or other recipients of their services
that they obtained during the course of their work, unless the person or organization
has consented in writing or unless there is other ethical or legal authorization
for doing so.
(b) Ordinarily, in such scientific and professional presentations,
psychologists disguise confidential information concerning such persons or organizations
so that they are not individually identifiable to others and so that discussions
do not cause harm to subjects who might identify themselves.
Preserving Records and Data.
A psychologist makes plans in advance so
that confidentiality of records and data is protected in the event of the psychologist's
death, incapacity, or withdrawal from the position or practice.
Ownership of Records and Data.
Recognizing that ownership of records
and data is governed by legal principles, psychologists take reasonable and lawful
steps so that records and data remain available to the extent needed to serve
the best interests of patients, individual or organizational clients, research
participants, or appropriate others.
Withholding Records for Nonpayment.
Psychologists may not withhold records
under their control that are requested and imminently needed for a patient's or
client's treatment solely because payment has not been received, except as otherwise
provided by law.
- American Psychological Association's (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/
Board for Certified Counselors Code of Ethics
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.
Certified counselors know and take into account the traditions and practices of
other professional disciplines with whom they work and cooperate fully with such.
If a person is receiving similar services from another professional, certified
counselors do not offer their own services directly to such a person. If a certified
counselor is contacted by a person who is already receiving similar services from
another professional, the certified counselor carefully considers that professional
relationship as well as the client's welfare and proceeds with caution and sensitivity
to the therapeutic issues. When certified counselors learn that their clients
are in a professional relationship with another counselor or mental health professional,
they request release from the clients to inform the other counselor or mental
health professional of their relationship with the client and strive to establish
positive and collaborative professional relationships that are in the best interest
of the client. Certified counselors discuss these issues with clients and the
counselor or professional so as to minimize the risk of confusion and conflict
and encourage clients to inform other professionals of the new professional relationship.
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.
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.
Records of the counseling relationship, including interview notes, test data,
correspondence, audio or visual tape recordings, electronic data storage, and
other documents are to be considered professional information for use in counseling.
Records should contain accurate factual data. The physical records are property
of the certified counselors or their employers. The information contained in the
records belongs to the client and, therefore, may not be released to others without
the consent of the client or when the counselor has exhausted challenges to
a court order. The certified counselors are responsible to insure that their
employees handle confidential information appropriately. Confidentiality must
be maintained during the storage and disposition of records. Records should be
maintained for a period of at least five (5) years after the last counselor/client
contact, including cases in which the client is deceased. All records must be
released to the client upon request.
Certified counselors must ensure that data maintained in electronic storage are
secure. By using the best computer security methods available, the data must be
limited to information that is appropriate and necessary for the services being
provided and accessible only to appropriate staff members involved in the provision
of services. Certified counselors must also ensure that the electronically stored
data are destroyed when the information is no longer of value in providing services
or required as part of client's records.
Any data derived from a client relationship and used in training or research shall
be so disguised that the informed client's identity is fully protected. Any data
which cannot be so disguised may be used only as expressly authorized by the client's
informed and uncoerced consent.
- National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. and Affiliates. (2016, October 7). NBCC Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.nbcc.org/Assets/Ethics/NBCCCodeofEthics.pdf
Counseling Association Code of Ethics Excerpt - Section B: Confidentiality Standard
#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. (2014). ACA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.counseling.org/docs/ethics/2014-aca-code-of-ethics.pdf?sfvrsn=4
NOTE: sentences and phrases are in bold
type, in each Section of this Manual, for the purpose of highlighting key ideas
for easy reference.
Online Continuing Education QUESTIONS
NASW, AAMFT, APA, and NBCC Code of Ethics, Privacy and Confidentiality
Sections all address what two exceptions to disclose of confidential information
without the consent of the individual:
and enter your answer go to .
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).
- Barker, R. L. (1998). Milestones in the Development of Social Work and Social Welfare. Washington, DC: NASW Press. Rankin, Mary, JD employed by the Healthcare Training Institute to research and write the article Evolution of Social Work Ethics. Edited by Tracy Appleton, LCSW. The reference Barker, Robert L.Milestones in the Development of Social Work and Social Welfare. Washington, DC NASW Press, 1998
Reflection Exercise Explanation
Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances
your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection
Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues.
Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience.
Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education,
occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health,
home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be
approximately 250 words in length. However, since the content of these Personal
Reflection Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they
may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a work in
progress. You will not
be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.
Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section contained Codes of Ethics
for mental health professionals. Write three case study examples regarding applications
of Ethical Principles you feel are in the gray areas for your profession.