Ethics of Psychotherapy

Every other month, Marriage and Family Therapists receive a professional magazine called The Therapist.  It is filled with articles, book reviews and up-to-date information pertaining to the practice of psychotherapy.  The purpose of this publication is to inspire us to strive to deliver the best mental health care that we can. 

Each issue also includes a section called Disciplinary Actions.  It is disturbing to read the detailed descriptions of unethical behavior engaged in by some members of the profession.  There are cases of insufficient note taking, incomplete continuing education units and insurance fraud for which the consequences include fines and mandatory classes.

But the truly egregious ethical breaches are ones in which clients are directly affected.  There are unethical therapists whose choices of behavior have seriously damaged vulnerable clients who have come in for help.

It is important for you to know the essential boundaries and limits put forward in the Ethical Standards for Marriage and Family Therapists.         

Only licensed MFTs are legally allowed to practice psychotherapy.  There is a license number that is required to appear on business cards and any advertising.  This number tells you that the person has graduated from a two year Masters Degree Program, completed 3,000 client hours of supervised psychotherapy, and passed two rigorous tests to become Board Certified and is in good standing with The Board.  (Interns must work under a licensed supervisor.)    

Therapists may not under any conditions have a sexual relationship with a client.     

Therapists may not terminate therapy in order to begin a sexual relationship with a client.

According to the ethical code,  a therapist may begin a personal relationship with a former client  two years after the therapeutic relationship has been terminated for clinical reasons.  However, it is safe to say that most ethical practitioners, despite the two year rule, would not even consider crossing that line at any time in the future.

Therapists may not participate in any dual relationship in the client’s life.  Social interactions outside the office such as meals at restaurants or at the therapist’s or client’s house, parties, friendship based home visits are all off-limits.  No financial involvement other than paying for sessions is permitted, which means no bartering or employment for services.

I do believe that most MFTs adhere to the ethical code, however the Disciplinary Action Section is filled every edition.  If you have any concerns, contact CAMFT to get your questions answered.