I am in the marriage and family therapy program, and I follow the code of ethics of American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
The code of ethics of AAMFT can be divided into nine categories: responsibility to clients, confidentiality, professional competence and integrity, responsibility to students and supervisees, research and publication, technology-assisted professional service, financial arrangements, and advertising. The technology-assisted professional service is a new ethical principle, because online therapy become more popular than before ( Read the full codes of ethic of AAMFT : https://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/legal_ethics/code_of_ethics.aspx)
The code of ethics of AAMFT has specific guidelines for ethical principle. To me,the confidentiality and responsibility to clients are the foundations of ethical practice. I want to introduce these two ethical principles to you all.
People may think this is what therapists got paid for:
Therapists fight hard to keep confidentiality. When my family or friends asks “How’s your work?” I always watch myself how I describe my work. So, I can keep confidentiality for my clients. Sometimes I need to prepare different topics to talk during a social gathering, so family or friends will not just focus on my work.
Sometimes the police or lawyers may ask therapists to provide client’s information, but therapists cannot provide information unless there is a subpoena or client’s written permission. Even with the written permission, I still need to be careful on how much and what types of information to give to a third party. However, human lives are way more important than confidentiality. So, if there is a life threatening situation or child/senior abuse, therapists don’t need client’s permission to report their cases to appropriate agencies.
Responsibility to clients
Therapy should be beneficial not harmful to clients. But it is always easier to say than actually put into the practice. In order to make sure that all therapists provide beneficial service to clients, therapists have responsibilities to provide a safe zone for clients regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin….etc.
Have you ever noticed that the word “therapist” looks like ” the rapist” ? This indicates that therapists have much more power than their clients. To prevent therapists from abusing their power, all therapist should inform clients about their rights in therapy (e.g. withdrawing from therapy at anytime, or decision-making for their treatment). Why is it important? Because it helps therapists to focus on client’s benefit, not their own benefit. For instance, when I was trying to get the clinical hours to fulfill my program requirement, I would demand my clients to attend at least 10- week sessions if I don’t have the codes of ethic to follow. But, getting hours is for my own benefit not my client’s.
Third, therapists should try their best to avoid outside relationship (e.g. intimate relationship) with their clients. Therapy is a safe place that you can feel free to dig out your dirty secrets. If a therapist develops friendship with clients, can clients still feel free to talk about their personal matters? You can check out the movie, Prime, which describes the potential negative consequences when the client is a girlfriend of a therapist’s son.
I hope you get some general idea how ethical issues can be complex in a real life from the movie trailer. Yeah, the code of ethics of AAMFT provides me with the guidance on how to make ethical decisions and to maintain professional relationship with my clients. Still, it is not easy to make ethical decisions. That’s why the quality of supervision is imperative in my training.