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Setting Clear and Ethical Boundaries with Clients

Section 11
Code of Ethics

Question 11 | Test | Table of Contents

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

Principle C: Integrity
Psychologists seek to promote accuracy, honesty and truthfulness in the science, teaching and practice of psychology. In these activities psychologists do not steal, cheat or engage in fraud, subterfuge or intentional misrepresentation of fact. Psychologists strive to keep their promises and to avoid unwise or unclear commitments. In situations in which deception may be ethically justifiable to maximize benefits and minimize harm, psychologists have a serious obligation to consider the need for, the possible consequences of, and their responsibility to correct any resulting mistrust or other harmful effects that arise from the use of such techniques.

Principle E: Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity
Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware that special safeguards may be necessary to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making. Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices.

2.01 Boundaries of Competence.
(a) Psychologists provide services, teach and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study or professional experience.

(b) Where scientific or professional knowledge in the discipline of psychology establishes that an understanding of factors associated with age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language or socioeconomic status is essential for effective implementation of their services or research, psychologists have or obtain the training, experience, consultation or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services, or they make appropriate referrals, except as provided in Standard 2.02, Providing Services in Emergencies.

(c) Psychologists planning to provide services, teach or conduct research involving populations, areas, techniques or technologies new to them undertake relevant education, training, supervised experience, consultation or study.

(d) When psychologists are asked to provide services to individuals for whom appropriate mental health services are not available and for which psychologists have not obtained the competence necessary, psychologists with closely related prior training or experience may provide such services in order to ensure that services are not denied if they make a reasonable effort to obtain the competence required by using relevant research, training, consultation or study.

(e) 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 clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, organizational clients and others from harm.

(f) When assuming forensic roles, psychologists are or become reasonably familiar with the judicial or administrative rules governing their roles.

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

3.04 Avoiding Harm.
(a) Psychologists take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, organizational clients, and others with whom they work, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable.

(b) Psychologists do not participate in, facilitate, assist, or otherwise engage in torture, defined as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person, or in any other cruel, inhuman, or degrading behavior that violates 3.04(a).

1.01 Misuse of Psychologists’ Work.
If psychologists learn of misuse or misrepresentation of their work, they take reasonable steps to correct or minimize the misuse or misrepresentation.

3.05 Multiple Relationships.
(a) A multiple relationship occurs when a psychologist is in a professional role with a person and (1) at the same time is in another role with the same person, (2) at the same time is in a relationship with a person closely associated with or related to the person with whom the psychologist has the professional relationship, or (3) promises to enter into another relationship in the future with the person or a person closely associated with or related to the person.

A psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist's objectivity, competence or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists.

Multiple relationships that would not reasonably be expected to cause impairment or risk exploitation or harm are not unethical.

(b) If a psychologist finds that, due to unforeseen factors, a potentially harmful multiple relationship has arisen, the psychologist takes reasonable steps to resolve it with due regard for the best interests of the affected person and maximal compliance with the Ethics Code.

(c) When psychologists are required by law, institutional policy, or extraordinary circumstances to serve in more than one role in judicial or administrative proceedings, at the outset they clarify role expectations and the extent of confidentiality and thereafter as changes occur. (See also Standards 3.04, Avoiding Harm, and 3.07, Third-Party Requests for Services.)

6.05 Barter with Patients/Clients.
Barter is the acceptance of goods, services, or other nonmonetary remuneration from clients/patients in return for psychological services. Psychologists may barter only if (1) it is not clinically contraindicated, and (2) the resulting arrangement is not exploitative. (See also Standards 3.05, Multiple Relationships, and 6.04, Fees and Financial Arrangements.)

3.08 Exploitative Relationships.
Psychologists do not exploit persons over whom they have supervisory, evaluative or other authority such as clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants and employees. (See also Standards 3.05, Multiple Relationships; 6.04, Fees and Financial Arrangements; 6.05, Barter with Clients/Patients; 7.07, Sexual Relationships with Students and Supervisees; 10.05, Sexual Intimacies with Current Therapy Clients/Patients; 10.06, Sexual Intimacies with Relatives or Significant Others of Current Therapy Clients/Patients; 10.07, Therapy with Former Sexual Partners; and 10.08, Sexual Intimacies with Former Therapy Clients/Patients.)

6.07 Referrals and Fees.
When psychologists pay, receive payment from or divide fees with another professional, other than in an employer-employee relationship, the payment to each is based on the services provided (clinical, consultative, administrative or other) and is not based on the referral itself. (See also Standard 3.09, Cooperation with Other Professionals.)

10. Therapy
10.01 Informed Consent to Therapy.
(a) When obtaining informed consent to therapy as required in Standard 3.10, Informed Consent, psychologists inform clients/patients as early as is feasible in the therapeutic relationship about the nature and anticipated course of therapy, fees, involvement of third parties and limits of confidentiality and provide sufficient opportunity for the client/patient to ask questions and receive answers. (See also Standards 4.02, Discussing the Limits of Confidentiality, and 6.04, Fees and Financial Arrangements.)

(b) When obtaining informed consent for treatment for which generally recognized techniques and procedures have not been established, psychologists inform their clients/patients of the developing nature of the treatment, the potential risks involved, alternative treatments that may be available and the voluntary nature of their participation. (See also Standards 2.01e, Boundaries of Competence, and 3.10, Informed Consent.)

(c) When the therapist is a trainee and the legal responsibility for the treatment provided resides with the supervisor, the client/patient, as part of the informed consent procedure, is informed that the therapist is in training and is being supervised and is given the name of the supervisor.

10.02 Therapy Involving Couples or Families
(a) When psychologists agree to provide services to several persons who have a relationship (such as spouses, significant others, or parents and children), they take reasonable steps to clarify at the outset (1) which of the individuals are clients/patients and (2) the relationship the psychologist will have with each person. This clarification includes the psychologist's role and the probable uses of the services provided or the information obtained. (See also Standard 4.02, Discussing the Limits of Confidentiality.)

(b) If it becomes apparent that psychologists may be called on to perform potentially conflicting roles (such as family therapist and then witness for one party in divorce proceedings), psychologists take reasonable steps to clarify and modify, or withdraw from, roles appropriately. (See also Standard 3.05c, Multiple Relationships.)

10.04 Providing Therapy to Those Served by Others
I10.04 Providing Therapy 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 client's/patient's welfare. Psychologists discuss these issues with the client/patient or another legally authorized person on behalf of the client/patient in order to minimize the risk of confusion and conflict, consult with the other service providers when appropriate, and proceed with caution and sensitivity to the therapeutic issues.
- American Psychological Association (APA). (2017, January 1). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Retrieved from

Psychologist, do you know how your professional Code of Ethics
differs from your Staffs’ Professional Code of Ethics?

National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics Excerpts

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 client's interests primary and protects client's interests to the greatest extent possible. In some cases, protecting client's’ interests may require termination of the professional relationship with proper referral of the 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.
(e) Social workers should avoid communication with clients using technology (such as social networking sites, online chat, e-mail, text messages, telephone, and video) for personal or non-work-related purposes.
(f) Social workers should be aware that posting personal information on professional Web sites or other media might cause boundary confusion, inappropriate dual relationships, or harm to clients.
(g) Social workers should be aware that personal affiliations may increase the likelihood that clients may discover the social worker’s presence on Web sites, social media, and other forms of technology. Social workers should be aware that involvement in electronic communication with groups based on race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, mental or physical ability, religion, immigration status, and other personal affiliations may affect their ability to work effectively with particular clients.
(h) Social workers should avoid accepting requests from or engaging in personal relationships with clients on social networking sites or other electronic media to prevent boundary confusion, inappropriate dual relationships, or harm to clients.

1.09 Sexual Relationships
(a) Social workers should under no circumstances engage in sexual activities or sexual contact with current clients, whether such contact is consensual or forced.
(b) Social workers should not engage in sexual activities or sexual contact with clients’ relatives or other individuals with whom clients maintain a close personal relationship when there is a risk of exploitation or potential harm to the client. Sexual activity or sexual contact with clients’ relatives or other individuals with whom clients maintain a personal relationship has the potential to be harmful to the client and may make it difficult for the social worker and client to maintain appropriate professional boundaries. Social workers—not their clients, their clients’ relatives, or other individuals with whom the client maintains a personal relationship—assume the full burden for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries.
(c) Social workers should not engage in sexual activities or sexual contact with former clients because of the potential for harm to the client. If social workers engage in conduct contrary to this prohibition or claim that an exception to this prohibition is warranted because of extraordinary circumstances, it is social workers—not their clients—who assume the full burden of demonstrating that the former client has not been exploited, coerced, or manipulated, intentionally or unintentionally.
(d) Social workers should not provide clinical services to individuals with whom they have had a prior sexual relationship. Providing clinical services to a former sexual partner has the potential to be harmful to the individual and is likely to make it difficult for the social worker and individual to maintain appropriate professional boundaries.

1.10 Physical Contact
Social workers should not engage in physical contact with clients when there is a possibility of psychological harm to the client as a result of the contact (such as cradling or caressing clients). Social workers who engage in appropriate physical contact with clients are responsible for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern such physical contact.
- National Association of Social Workers. (2017). NASW Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Excerpts

The Board of Directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) hereby promulgates, pursuant to Article 2, Section 2.01.3 of the Association's Bylaws, the Revised AAMFT Code of Ethics, effective January 1, 2015.

1.3 Marriage and family therapists are aware of their influential positions with respect to clients, and they avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of such persons. Therapists, therefore, make every effort to avoid conditions and multiple relationships with clients that could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation. Such relationships include, but are not limited to, business or close personal relationships with a client or the client’s immediate family. When the risk of impairment or exploitation exists due to conditions or multiple roles, therapists document the appropriate precautions taken.

1.4 Sexual intimacy with current clients or with known members of the client’s family system is prohibited.

1.5 Sexual intimacy with former clients or with known members of the client’s family system is prohibited.

1.6 Marriage and family therapists comply with applicable laws regarding the reporting of alleged unethical conduct.

1.7 Marriage and family therapists do not abuse their power in therapeutic relationships.

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 clients that clients 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 respectfully assist persons in obtaining appropriate therapeutic services if the therapist is unable or unwilling to provide professional help.
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. (2015, January 1). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

National Board for Certified Counselors Code of Ethics Excerpts

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) administers national certifications that recognize individuals who have voluntarily met standards for general and specialty areas of professional counseling practice. Counselors certified by NBCC may also identify with different professional organizations, and are often licensed by jurisdictions that promulgate standards of behavior. Regardless of any other affiliation, this Code of Ethics is applicable to all NBCC certificants, including National Certified Counselors (NCCs). Counselors are required to adhere to these expectations and all of the Code directives. Candidates and certificants will be sanctioned pursuant to this Code by NBCC when the standards in the NBCC Code of Ethics are found to have been violated. This Code applies to all counselors who are certified by NBCC, candidates for certification, and other counselors subject to this Code.

7. Counselors shall demonstrate multicultural counseling competence in practice. Counselors will not use counseling techniques or engage in any professional activities that discriminate against or show hostility toward individuals or groups based on gender, ethnicity, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or any other legally prohibited basis.

8. Counselors shall not misuse their professional influence or meet their own needs at the expense of a client’s welfare, including, but not limited to, the promotion of services or products.

9. Counselors shall not solicit testimonials from current clients or their families and friends. Recognizing the possibility of future requests for services, counselors shall not solicit testimonials from former clients within (5) years from the date of service termination.

12. Counselors shall comply with all NBCC policies, procedures, and agreements, including all disclosure requirements and related instructions.

17. Counselors shall take proactive measures to avoid harming their clients, and avoid imposing personal values on those who receive their professional services. Counselors will seek to minimize unavoidable or unanticipated harm, and where possible seek to address unintentional harm.

18. Counselors shall respect each client’s privacy, and shall solicit only information that contributes to the identified counseling goals or facilitates the counseling process, and is also consistent with counseling protocols.

19. Counselors shall not share client information that is obtained through the counseling process without specific written consent by the client or legal guardian except when necessary to prevent serious and foreseeable harm to the client or others, or when otherwise mandated by Federal or State law or regulation.

20. Counselors generally shall not accept goods or services from clients in return for counseling services in recognition of the possible negative effects, including perceived exploitation. Counselors may accept goods, services or other nonmonetary compensation from clients only in cases where: no referrals are possible or appropriate; the arrangement is discussed with the client in advance; the exchange is of a reasonable equivalent value; the exchange does not place the counselor in an unfair advantage; the arrangement is not harmful to the client or their treatment; and, is documented in the counseling services agreement.

21. Counselors shall not accept gifts from clients except in cases when it is culturally appropriate or therapeutically relevant. Counselors shall consider the value of the gift and the effect on the therapeutic relationship before accepting. Acceptance of a gift shall be documented in the client’s record.

22. Counselors shall be mindful of engaging in counseling relationships with those individuals with whom another relationship, such as a community connection, friendship, or work relationship exists (i.e., multiple relationships). Counselors strive to avoid multiple relationships with clients, to the extent possible, except in cases when it is culturally appropriate or therapeutically relevant. In the event that a multiple relationship develops in an unforeseen manner, the counselor shall discuss the potential effects with the client, and shall take reasonable steps to resolve the situation, including termination and the provision of referrals. This discussion shall be documented in the client’s record.

23. Counselors will exercise caution, and avoid exploitation or the appearance of exploitation before entering into a non-counseling relationship with a former client. A period of five (5) years is recommended, and counselors shall exercise caution and avoid exploitation of former clients. Counselors will discuss with the former client important relevant considerations, including the amount of time since counseling service termination, duration of counseling, nature and circumstances of the client’s counseling, and the likelihood that the client will want to resume counseling at some time in the future, circumstances of service termination, and possible negative effects or outcomes. Counselors will respect the autonomy of each former client, and not use undue influence to form any sort of relationship with a former client.

24. Counselors will not engage in any form of sexual or romantic contact with a client or former client for at least five (5) years following the date of counseling service termination.

25. Counselors will not engage in any type of harassing behavior towards clients, which is defined as any verbal, nonverbal, electronic, or physical act that is known, or reasonably understood, to be unwelcome or that are of a severity that reasonably would be perceived as harassment.

41. Counselors who provide clinical supervision shall obtain appropriate training, including continuing education concerning current clinical trends, in order to meet the needs of their supervisees and the clients they serve.

42. Counselors who provide supervision services shall provide accurate written information to supervisees regarding the counselor’s credentials, as well as information regarding the process of supervision. This information shall include the conditions of supervision, supervision goals, case management procedures, confidentiality and its limitations, appraisal methods, and timing of evaluations.

43. Counselors who act as counselor educators, field placement supervisors, or clinical supervisors shall not engage in sexual or romantic intimacy with current and former students or supervisees for at least five (5) years from the date of the last academic and/or supervision contact, whichever is later. Prohibited intimate sexual or romantic engagements include in-person contact and electronic interactions.

44. Counselors who provide clinical supervision services shall keep accurate records of supervision goals and the supervisee’s progress. All supervision related information shall be treated as confidential, except to prevent serious and foreseeable harm to a client or others, or when legally required to do so by a court or government agency order. When a supervisor receives a court or governmental agency order requiring the production of supervision records, the counselor shall make reasonable attempts to promptly notify the supervisee. In cases in which the supervisee is a student in a counselor education program, the supervisor counselor shall release supervision records consistent with the terms of the supervision arrangement with the counselor education program.

45. Counselors who provide clinical supervision services shall intervene in situations where a supervisee is impaired or incompetent and potentially placing the client(s) at risk. The clinical supervisor will notify the supervisee of any concerns and provide recommended or required steps to seek assistance. The supervisor also may take steps to end the supervisee’s services to protect the client, and may only resume services after the completion of any recommended or required remediation.

46. Counselors who provide clinical supervision services shall not have multiple relationships with a supervisee that may interfere with the supervisor’s professional judgment or exploit the supervisee. Supervisors shall not supervise friends, family, or relatives. When a dual relationship cannot be avoided, the supervisor must discuss risks and benefits with the supervisee prior to engaging in supervision and document this discussion in supervision records.

47. Counselors who provide supervision services shall provide supervisees with regular and substantive feedback throughout the supervision process.

48. Counselors shall promote the welfare and continued education of supervisees by discussing ethical standards and practices related to supervision, as well as the legal standards that regulate the practice of counseling.

49. Counselors who provide clinical supervision services shall establish procedures for responding to crisis situations related to supervisees and the supervisee’s clients. These procedures shall be provided both verbally and in writing to their supervisees. A clear protocol and guidelines shall be made available and communicated to the supervisee in the event of the supervisor’s absence. Contact information for an alternative supervisor shall be provided to the supervisee in the absence of the supervisor.

56. Counselors who provide consultative services (consultants) shall use and provide to consultees accurate information regarding their consultation qualifications and credentials related to the identified concerns or situations.

Multiple Relationships

86. Counselor educators shall avoid non-academic relationships with counseling students during the student’s participation in the educator’s training program. Counselor educators with pre-existing relationships with students shall clearly communicate the nature of the relationship to the appropriate university administrator(s) and students, and shall carefully manage risks related to the relationship.

87. Counselor educators shall not engage in intimate or sexual relationships with current students or individuals who were students enrolled in the counselor’s program within the past five (5) years. Prohibited sexual or romantic intimacy engagements include physical contact and electronic interactions.

Telemental Health

93. Counselors shall ensure that the electronic means used in providing telemental health services are in compliance with current Federal and State laws and regulatory standards concerning telemental health service.

94. Counselors shall ensure that all electronic technology communications with clients are encrypted and secure.

95. Counselors shall maintain records of all clinical contacts with telemental health service clients.

96. Counselors shall set clear expectations and boundaries with telemental health service recipients about the type(s) and timing of communications that will be included in service provision. These expectations and boundaries shall be communicated in writing in disclosure documents provided to clients.

97. Counselors shall provide written information to all telemental health clients regarding the protection of client records, accounts and related passwords, electronic communications, and client identity. This information should include a description of the nature of all communication security measures that are used by the counselor, including any risks or limitations related to the provision of telemental health services.

98. Counselors shall communicate information regarding security to clients who receive telemental health services. Telemental health service clients shall be informed of the potential risks of telemental health communications, including warnings about transmitting private information when using a public access computer or one that is on a shared network.

99. Counselors shall screen potential telemental health service clients to determine whether such services are appropriate.

Social Media and Technology
113. Counselors shall respect the privacy of a client’s social media material and accounts, and shall not access client social media accounts without specific client permission, a related discussion with the client, documentation of potential risks and benefits, and a specific clinical purpose.

114. Counselors shall avoid non-professional relationships with clients online. This restriction includes connecting with or following client social media accounts.
- National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. (2023, May). NBCC Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

American Counseling Association
American Counseling Association Code of Ethics Excerpt
Section A. The Counseling Relationship
A.3. Clients Served by Others
When counselors learn that their clients are in a professional relationship with other mental health professionals, they request release from clients to inform the other professionals and strive to establish positive and collaborative professional relationships
A.5.c.Sexual and/or Romantic Relationships With Former Clients. Sexual and/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. This prohibition applies to both in-person and electronic interactions or relationships. Counselors, before engaging in sexual and/or romantic interactions or relationships with former clients, their romantic partners, or their family members, demonstrate forethought and document (in written form) whether the interaction or relationship can be viewed as exploitive in any 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 into such an interaction or relationship.
A.5.e. Personal Virtual Relationships With Current Clients. Counselors are prohibited from engaging in a personal virtual relationship with individuals with whom they have a current counseling relationship (e.g., through social and other media).
A.6.d. Role Changes in the Professional Relationship. When counselors change a role from the original or most recent contracted relationship, they obtain informed consent from the client and explain the client’s right to refuse services related to the change. Examples of role changes include, but are not limited to
1. changing from individual to relationship or family counseling, or vice versa;
2. changing from an evaluative role to a therapeutic role, or vice versa; and
3. 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, therapeutic) of counselor role changes.
A.6.e.Nonprofessional Interactions or Relationships (Other Than Sexual or Romantic Interactions or Relationships). Counselors avoid entering into non-professional relationships with former clients, their romantic partners, or their family members when the interaction is potentially harmful to the client. This applies to both in-person and electronic interactions or relationships.
A.7.a.Advocacy. When appropriate, counselors advocate at individual, group, institutional, and societal levels to address potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients.
A.7.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.8. 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.9. Group Work
A.9.b. Protecting Clients
In a group setting, counselors take reasonable precautions to protect clients from physical, emotional, or psychological trauma.
A.10.c. Establishing Fees
In establishing fees for professional counseling services, counselors consider the financial status of clients and locality. If a counselor’s usual fees create undue hardship for the client, the counselor may adjust fees, when legally permissible, or assist the client in locating comparable, affordable services.
A.10.f. 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 gratitude. When determining whether to accept a gift from clients, counselors take into account the therapeutic relationship, the monetary value of the gift, the client’s motivation for giving the gift, and the counselor’s motivation for wanting to accept or decline the gift.
A.11. Termination and Referral
A.11.a. Competence WithinTermination and Referral.
If counselors lack the competence 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 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 by 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.
A.11.d. Appropriate Transfer of Services
When counselors transfer or refer clients to other practitioners, they ensure that appropriate clinical and administrative processes are completed and open communication is maintained with both clients and practitioners.
A.12. Abandonment and Client Neglect, 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.
- American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

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.

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
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.

Ethics of Assertive Care
in Mental Health: A Gradual Concept

- Liégeois A. (2023). Ethics of assertive care in mental health: A gradual concept. Frontiers in psychiatry, 14, 1083176.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cautilli, J. (2018). Introduction to the special section on clinical and applied behavior analysis and ethics. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 18(4), 416–418.

Jungwirth, J., & Walsh, R. (2020). Ethics and imagination in psychological practice. The Humanistic Psychologist.

Wu, K. S., & Sonne, J. L. (2021). Therapist boundary crossings in the digital age: Psychologists’ practice frequencies and perceptions of ethicality. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

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 Test.

Section 12
Table of Contents