Professional Law and Ethics  

Professional Law and Ethics - Page 1

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Unprofessional Conduct and Disciplinary Action

The board may deny a license or registration or may suspend or revoke the license or registration of a licensee or registrant if he or she has been guilty of unprofessional conduct. Unprofessional conduct includes, but is not limited to, the following:

Conviction of a Crime

The conviction of a crime substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a licensee or registrant. The record of conviction shall be conclusive evidence only of the fact that the conviction occurred. The board may inquire into the circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime in order to fix the degree of discipline or to determine if the conviction is substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a licensee or registrant. A plea or verdict of guilty or a conviction following a plea of nolo contendere made to a charge substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a licensee or registrant.

The board may order any license or registration suspended or revoked, or may decline to issue a license or registration when the time for appeal has elapsed, or the judgment of conviction has been affirmed on appeal, or, when an order granting probation is made suspending the imposition of sentence, allowing the person to withdraw a plea of guilty and enter a plea of not guilty, or setting aside the verdict of guilty, or dismissing the accusation, information, or indictment.

Fraudulent Application

Securing a license or registration by fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation on any application for licensure or registration submitted to the board, whether engaged in by an applicant for a license or registration.

Controlled Substance

Administering to himself or herself any controlled substance or using of any of the dangerous drugs, or of any alcoholic beverage to the extent, or in a manner, as to be dangerous or injurious to the person applying for a registration or license or holding a registration or license, or to any other person, or to the public, or, to the extent that the use impairs the ability of the person applying for or holding a registration or license to conduct with safety to the public the practice authorized by the registration or license, or the conviction of more than one misdemeanor or any felony involving the use, consumption, or self-administration of any of the substances, or any combination of substances. The board shall deny an application for a registration or license or revoke the license or registration of any person, who uses or offers to use drugs in the course of performing marriage and family therapy services.


Gross negligence or incompetence in the performance of marriage and family therapy.

Misrepresentation of License

Misrepresentation as to the type or status of a license or registration held by the person, or otherwise misrepresenting or permitting misrepresentation of his or her education, professional qualifications, or professional affiliations to any person or entity.


Impersonation of another by any licensee, registrant, or applicant for a license or registration, or, in the case of a licensee, allowing any other person to use his or her license or registration.

Aiding and Abetting

Aiding or abetting, or employing, directly or indirectly, any unlicensed or unregistered person to engage in conduct for which a license or registration is required.

Intentional or Reckless Harm

Intentionally or recklessly causing physical or emotional harm to any client.


The commission of any dishonest, corrupt, or fraudulent act substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a licensee or registrant.

Sexual Relations

Engaging in sexual relations with a client, or a former client within two years following termination of therapy, soliciting sexual relations with a client, or committing an act of sexual abuse, or sexual misconduct with a client, or committing an act punishable as a sexually related crime, if that act or solicitation is substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a marriage and family therapist.

Scope of Practice

Performing, or holding oneself out as being able to perform, or offering to perform, or permitting any trainee or registered intern under supervision to perform, any professional services beyond the scope of the license authorized.


Failure to maintain confidentiality, except as otherwise required or permitted by law, of all information that has been received from a client in confidence during the course of treatment and all information about the client that is obtained from tests or other means.

Failure to Disclose Fee

(n) Prior to the commencement of treatment, failing to disclose to the client or prospective client the fee to be charged for the professional services, or the basis upon which that fee will be computed.

Accepting Referrals

Paying, accepting, or soliciting any consideration, compensation, or remuneration, whether monetary or otherwise, for the referral of professional clients. All consideration, compensation, or remuneration shall be in relation to professional counseling services actually provided by the licensee.


Advertising in a manner that is false, misleading, or deceptive.

Psychological Testing

Reproduction or description in public, or in any publication subject to general public distribution, of any psychological test or other assessment device, the value of which depends in whole or in part on the naivete of the subject, in ways that might invalidate the test or device.

Violation of Supervision Rules

Any conduct in the supervision of any registered intern or trainee by any licensee that violates any rules or regulations adopted by the board.


Performing or holding oneself out as being able to perform professional services beyond the scope of one's competence, as established by one's education, training, or experience.

Competence – Interns and Trainees

Permitting a trainee or registered intern under one's supervision or control to perform, or permitting the trainee or registered intern to hold himself or herself out as competent to perform, professional services beyond the trainee's or registered intern's level of education, training, or experience.

Failure to Keep Records

Failure to keep records consistent with sound clinical judgment, the standards of the profession, and the nature of the services being rendered.

Failure to Comply with Reporting Laws

Failure to comply with the child abuse reporting requirements.

Failure to comply with the elder and dependent adult abuse reporting requirements.

Ethical Standards

ACA Code of Ethics

All members of the American Counseling Association (ACA) are required to adhere to the Standards of Practice and the Code of Ethics. The Standards of Practice represent minimal behavioral statements of the Code of Ethics. Members should refer to the applicable section of the Code of Ethics for further interpretation and amplification of the applicable Standard of Practice. 

Section A: The Counseling Relationship  
Section B: Confidentiality  
Section C: Professional Responsibility  
Section D: Relationship With Other Professionals  
Section E: Evaluation, Assessment and Interpretation  
Section F: Teaching, Training, and Supervision  
Section G: Research and Publication  
Section H: Resolving Ethical Issues 


Section A: The Counseling Relationship 

Standard of Practice One (SP-1): 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. (See A.2.a.) 

Standard of Practice Two (SP-2): 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. (See A.3.a.) 

Standard of Practice Three (SP-3): 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. (See A.6.a. and A.6.b.) 

Standard of Practice Four (SP-4): 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 (SP-5): Protecting Clients During Group Work. Counselors must take steps to protect clients from physical or psychological trauma resulting from interactions during group work. (See A.9.b.) 

Standard of Practice Six (SP-6): Advance Understanding of Fees. Counselors must explain to clients, prior to their entering the counseling relationship, financial arrangements related to professional services. (See A.10. a.-d. and A.11.c.) 

Standard of Practice Seven (SP-7): Termination. Counselors must assist in making appropriate arrangements for the continuation of treatment of clients, when necessary, following termination of counseling relationships. (See A.11.a.) 

Standard of Practice Eight (SP-8): 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. (See A.11.b.) 

Section B: Confidentiality 

Standard of Practice Nine (SP-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. (See B.1. a.+f.) 

Standard of Practice Ten (SP-10): Confidentiality Requirements for Subordinates. Counselors must take measures to ensure that privacy and confidentiality of clients are maintained by subordinates. (See B.1.h.) 

Standard of Practice Eleven (SP-11): Confidentiality in Group Work. Counselors must clearly communicate to group members that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed in group work. (See B.2.a.) 

Standard of Practice Twelve (SP-12): Confidentiality in Family Counseling. Counselors must not disclose information about one family member in counseling to another family member without prior consent. (See B.2.b.) 

Standard of Practice Thirteen (SP-13): Confidentiality of Records. Counselors must maintain appropriate confidentiality in creating, storing, accessing, transferring, and disposing of counseling records. (See B.4.b.) 

Standard of Practice Fourteen (SP-14): Permission to Record or Observe. Counselors must obtain prior consent from clients in order to record electronically or observe sessions. (See B.4.c.) 

Standard of Practice Fifteen (SP-15): Disclosure or Transfer of Records. Counselors must obtain client consent to disclose or transfer records to third parties, unless exceptions listed in SP-9 exist. (See B.4.e.) 

Standard of Practice Sixteen (SP-16): Data Disguise Required. Counselors must disguise the identity of the client when using data for training, research, or publication. (See B.5.a.)  

Section C: Professional Responsibility 

Standard of Practice Seventeen (SP-17): Boundaries of Competence. Counselors must practice only within the boundaries of their competence. (See C.2.a.) 

Standard of Practice Eighteen (SP-18): Continuing Education. Counselors must engage in continuing education to maintain their professional competence. (See C.2.f.) 

Standard of Practice Nineteen (SP-19): Impairment of Professionals. Counselors must refrain from offering professional services when their personal problems or conflicts may cause harm to a client or others. (See C.2.g.) 

Standard of Practice Twenty (SP-20): Accurate Advertising. Counselors must accurately represent their credentials and services when advertising. (See C.3.a.) 

Standard of Practice Twenty-One (SP-21): Recruiting Through Employment. Counselors must not use their place of employment or institutional affiliation to recruit clients for their private practices. (See C.3.d.) 

Standard of Practice Twenty-Two (SP-22): Credentials Claimed. Counselors must claim or imply only professional credentials possessed and must correct any known misrepresentations of their credentials by others. (See C.4.a.) 

Standard of Practice Twenty-Three (SP-23): Sexual Harassment. Counselors must not engage in sexual harassment. (See C.5.b.) 

Standard of Practice Twenty-Four (SP-24): 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. (See C.5.e.) 

Standard of Practice Twenty-Five (SP-25): 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. (See C.6.c.) 

Standard of Practice Twenty-Six (SP-26): 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. (See D.1.c.) 

Standard of Practice Twenty-Seven (SP-27): Personnel Selection and Assignment. Counselors must select competent staff and must assign responsibilities compatible with staff skills and experiences. (See D.1.h.) 

Standard of Practice Twenty-Eight (SP-28): Exploitative Relationships With Subordinates. Counselors must not engage in exploitative relationships with individuals over whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or instructional control or authority. (See D.1.k.) 

Section D: Relationship With Other Professionals 

Standard of Practice Twenty-Nine (SP-29): Accepting Fees From Agency Clients. Counselors must not accept fees or other remuneration for consultation with persons entitled to such services through the counselor+s employing agency or institution. (See D.3.a.) 

Standard of Practice Thirty (SP-30): Referral Fees. Counselors must not accept referral fees. (See D.3.b.) 

Section E: Evaluation, Assesment and Interpretation 

Standard of Practice Thirty-One (SP-31): Limits of Competence. Counselors must perform only testing and assessment services for which they are competent. Counselors must not allow the use of psychological assessment techniques by unqualified persons under their supervision. (See E.2.a.) 

Standard of Practice Thirty-Two (SP-32): Appropriate Use of Assessment Instruments. Counselors must use assessment instruments in the manner for which they were intended. (See E.2.b.) 

Standard of Practice Thirty-Three (SP-33): Assessment Explanations to Clients. Counselors must provide explanations to clients prior to assessment about the nature and purposes of assessment and the specific uses of results. (See E.3.a.) 

Standard of Practice Thirty-Four (SP-34): Recipients of Test Results. Counselors must ensure that accurate and appropriate interpretations accompany any release of testing and assessment information. (See E.3.b.) 

Standard of Practice Thirty-Five (SP-35): Obsolete Tests and Outdated Test Results. Counselors must not base their assessment or intervention decisions or recommendations on data or test results that are obsolete or outdated for the current purpose. (See E.11.)  Professional Ethics and Law

Section F: Teaching, Training, and Supervision 

Standard of Practice Thirty-Six (SP-36): Sexual Relationships With Students or Supervisees. Counselors must not engage in sexual relationships with their students and supervisees. (See F.1.c.) 

Standard of Practice Thirty-Seven (SP-37): Credit for Contributions to Research. Counselors must give credit to students or supervisees for their contributions to research and scholarly projects. (See F.1.d.) 

Standard of Practice Thirty-Eight (SP-38): Supervision Preparation. Counselors who offer clinical supervision services must be trained and prepared in supervision methods and techniques. (See F.1.f.) 

Standard of Practice Thirty-Nine (SP-39): Evaluation Information. Counselors must clearly state to students and supervisees in advance of training the levels of competency expected, appraisal methods, and timing of evaluations. Counselors must provide students and supervisees with periodic performance appraisal and evaluation feedback throughout the training program. (See F.2.c.) 

Standard of Practice Forty (SP-40): Peer Relationships in Training. Counselors must make every effort to ensure that the rights of peers are not violated when students and supervisees are assigned to lead counseling groups or provide clinical supervision. (See F.2.e.) 

Standard of Practice Forty-One (SP-41): Limitations of Students and Supervisees. Counselors must assist students and supervisees in securing remedial assistance, when needed, and must dismiss from the training program students and supervisees who are unable to provide competent service due to academic or personal limitations. (See F.3.a.) 

Standard of Practice Forty-Two (SP-42): Self-Growth Experiences. Counselors who conduct experiences for students or supervisees that include self-growth or self-disclosure must inform participants of counselors+ ethical obligations to the profession and must not grade participants based on their nonacademic performance. (See F.3.b.) 

Standard of Practice Forty-Three (SP-43): Standards for Students and Supervisees. Students and supervisees preparing to become counselors must adhere to the Code of Ethics and the Standards of Practice of counselors. (See F.3.e.) 

Section G: Research and Publication 

Standard of Practice Forty-Four (SP-44): Precautions to Avoid Injury in Research. Counselors must avoid causing physical, social, or psychological harm or injury to subjects in research. (See G.1.c.) 

Standard of Practice Forty-Five (SP-45): Confidentiality of Research Information. Counselors must keep confidential information obtained about research participants. (See G.2.d.) 

Standard of Practice Forty-Six (SP-46): Information Affecting Research Outcome. Counselors must report all variables and conditions known to the investigator that may have affected research data or outcomes. (See G.3.a.) 

Standard of Practice Forty-Seven (SP-47): Accurate Research Results. Counselors must not distort or misrepresent research data, nor fabricate or intentionally bias research results. (See G.3.b.) 

Standard of Practice Forty-Eight (SP-48): Publication Contributors. Counselors must give appropriate credit to those who have contributed to research. (See G.4.a. and G.4.b.) 

Section H: Resolving Ethical Issues 

Standard of Practice Forty-Nine (SP-49): 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. (See H.2.a.) 

Standard of Practice Fifty (SP-50): 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. (See H.2.f.) 

Standard of Practice Fifty-One (SP-51): 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. (See H.3.)

Professional Ethics and Law, LPCC, 18 credits, BBS approved, licensure, prelicensure, online reading and test material, instant certificates.

End of ACA Ethical Standards

Standard of Care

Standard of Care refers to what most professionals would consider to be a reasonable amount and type of care.  Perhaps the reason there is no legally defined Standard of Care is because there are so many different diagnoses and combinations of diagnoses as well as so many treatment approaches that are considered valid within the psychotherapy community. When a clinician decides to treat a patient, s/he decides on a course that uses skills the clinician  has already acquired  and that are accepted within the psychotherapy community as a reasonable  means for treating the patient. At this point, the clinician writes a Treatment Plan as a template for ongoing psychotherapy. The treatment plan should include the diagnosis, reasons why that diagnosis is correct, the area(s) the treatment will address, the specific treatment for each diagnosis listed, the frequency of treatment with the reason(s) why that amount of treatment is required, and the length of treatment. The length of treatment, while always an estimation should be an exact amount of time. Revisions to the Treatment Plan can be made as other issues arise and should be included as Revisions to the Treatment Plan.


Despite having the Standard of Care not be specific, there are certain ethical and professional guidelines that should be followed.  These guidelines reflect a broad-based view that all clinicians should be compliant with what are considered to be normal standards within psychotherapy. Primary among these is a therapist should not do therapy outside of their area of expertise. While all clinicians have patients who present unique symptoms, this provision refers to offering treatment to a patient who presents with generally serious problems that the therapist has had no training, supervision, or experience in treating. An example of this is an eating disorder.


Generally, clinicians who treat eating disorders have training, supervision, and experience prior to embarking on the treatment of a person who could easily move into a life-threatening condition. An inexperienced therapist may not even know the patient was suffering from symptoms that indicated a medical emergency. Therapists, who act in a manner that goes beyond their level of expertise or even experience, may find themselves in legal trouble for providing treatment they are not qualified to provide. Instead of doing this, therapists should refer the patient to another psychotherapist who is an expert in treating patients with that diagnosis or they may seek supervision and training so they can become skilled at treating that population. If they decide to learn about treatment, the patient should be informed, in writing, and should give consent to the psychologist to share information with a supervisor as well as to provide treatment. This allows the patient to choose a different therapist who has more training as well as giving the therapist documentation that the patient was made aware of the situation prior to treatment and offered alternatives should the treatment fail and the patient or the patient's family decided to sue the clinician for attempting to treat a patient without adequate training or experience in the problem the patient suffered. If you have any doubts, refer the patient to another clinician rather than take a risk with the patient's life and your license.


The Standard of Care also refers to providing your patients with appropriate referrals within the medical community as part of your Treatment Plan.  Most importantly, patients who have diagnoses of different types of depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, psychosis, and other  illnesses considered to have a biological basis, must be referred to medical professionals who are licensed to evaluated the patient for possible medication. To share information with this physician requires that the patient sign a Release of Information so you may share their confidential information as well as a Release of Information so the physician may share confidential information with you. Choosing not to do so is a breach of ethical responsibility and endangers both the patient and the license of the therapist.  The physician is primarily responsible for the medication received by the patient. It is considered optimal, if the patient is prescribed medication, to have the clinician and physician work together as a team to give input to each about the usefulness of the medication and the psychotherapy. Patients who receive both psychotherapy and medication have consistently been shown, as a group, to have the best outcome. While this does not imply that an individual patient will do best in treatment without medication that decision is not left to the therapist. The wisest course is to refer all patients who present with a diagnosis that may include a biological basis to refer them to a physician for evaluation. A good course of action is to develop a network of physicians who are experienced at treating either a range of diagnoses or specific ones as well, to keep track of the insurance plans they accept, and to maintain a good working alliance with them over the years. Patients can be very difficult so having a physician who you trust to provide medication can be invaluable in the treatment process. CA Professional Ethics and Law, LPCC, 18 credits, BBS approved, licensure, prelicensure, online credit.


Another physician to involve in the treatment process to provide an optimal Standard of Care is the patient's Primary Care Physician.  Patients who present for psychotherapy often are taking other medications for other illnesses as well. The Primary Care Physician can be invaluable in flagging interactions between medications as well as providing a history of the patient that may include information omitted from the intake for various reasons. While some therapists prefer not to have information about the patient that was not provided within sessions, there are times when this preference can lead to life-threatening or even fatal consequences. Again, it is necessary to have the patient sign a Release of Information prior to talking with their primary care physician. Generally patients will see these communications as evidence of concern about their well-being. If they are reluctant or refuse to sign a release, discuss the matter with them and make a judgment about whether their reason is a valid one.


Some people are assigned a Primary Care Physician with whom they have little contact and may feel uncomfortable about having information given of a sensitive nature  to someone they consider to be a stranger. Sometimes understanding the risks and benefits of having a physician who holds all records about treatment and medication will provide them with the information to make an informed decision about their health care.


Therapists are expected to maintain a record of their treatment sessions with patients whether or not they are required to be HIPAA compliant. Under the Standard of Care, these notes generally include the patient's name, date of session, length of session, problems discussed, progress made, and plan for subsequent sessions (if any). If you are not required to be HIPAA compliant, these may be progress notes and may include your own impression of the session and thoughts about it and are not shared with the patient or other professionals. These should be kept in a locked container to maintain the patient's privacy.


Some clinicians are trained in techniques considered to be experimental or untested. Some are openly in violation of the Standard of Care for psychological services. Others feel competent without training or experience to treat people with symptoms that are dangerous to their own health and those around them. Do not be one of these therapists or you will face not only prosecution for malpractice but also criminal charges.

Please read below according to your license type:

CAMFT Ethical Standards -

CAMFT Ethical Standard Part I

Ethics Complaints - CAMFT Ethical Standards Part II

NBCC Code of Ethics