The American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) represents mental health counselors. As the professional counseling organization of mental health counselors, AMHCA subscribes to rigorous standards for education, training and clinical practice. Mental health counselors are committed to increasing knowledge of human behavior and understanding of themselves and others. AMHCA members are highly skilled professionals who provide a full range of counseling services in a variety of settings. Members believe in the dignity and worth of the individual and make every reasonable effort to protect human welfare. To this end, AMHCA establishes and promotes the highest professional standards. Mental health counselors subscribe to and pledge to abide by the principles identified in the Code of Ethics.
This code is a document intended as a guide to: assist members to make sound ethical decisions; to define ethical behaviors and best practices for Association members; to support the mission of the Association; and to educate members, students and the public at large regarding the ethical standards of mental health counselors. Mental health counselors are expected to utilize carefully considered ethical decision making processes when faced with ethical dilemmas.
- Primary Responsibility
Mental health counselors value objectivity and integrity in their commitment to understanding human behavior, and they maintain the highest standards in providing mental health counseling services.
- The primary responsibility of mental health counselors is to respect client autonomy, dignity and promote client welfare.
- Mental health counselors are clear with clients about the parameters of the counseling relationship. In a professional disclosure statement, they provide information about expectations and responsibilities of both counselor and client in the counseling process, their professional orientation and values regarding the counseling process, emergency procedures, supervision (as applicable) and business practices. Information is also provided regarding client rights and contact information for the state counseling licensure authority.
Mental health counselors have a primary obligation to safeguard information about individuals obtained in the course of practice, teaching, or research. Personal information is communicated to others only with the person’s consent, preferably written, or in those circumstances, as dictated by state laws. Disclosure of counseling information is restricted to what is necessary, relevant and verifiable.
- Confidentiality is a right granted to all clients of mental health counseling services. From the onset of the counseling relationship, mental health counselors inform clients of these rights including legal limitations and exceptions.
- The information in client records belongs to the client and shall not be shared without permission granted through a formal release of information. In the event that a client requests that information in his or her record be shared, mental health counselors educate clients to the implications of sharing the materials.
- The release of information without consent of the client may only take place under the most extreme circumstances: the protection of life (suicidality or homicidality), child abuse, and/ or abuse of incompetent persons and elder abuse. Above all, mental health counselors are required to comply with state and federal statutes concerning mandated reporting.
- Mental health counselors (or their staff members) do not release information by request unless accompanied by a specific release of information or a valid court order. Mental health counselors make every attempt to release only information necessary to comply with the request or valid court order. Mental health counselors are advised to seek legal advice upon receiving a subpoena in order to respond appropriately.
- The anonymity of clients served in public and other agencies is preserved, if at all possible, by withholding names and personal identifying data. If external conditions require reporting such information, the client shall be so informed.
- Information received in confidence by one agency or person shall not be forwarded to another person or agency without the client’s written permission.
- Mental health counselors have the responsibility to ensure the accuracy of, and to indicate the validity of, data shared with other parties.
- Case reports presented in classes, professional meetings, or publications shall be disguised so that no identification is possible. Permission must be obtained from clients prior to disclosing their identity.
- Counseling reports and records are maintained under conditions of security, and provisions are made for their destruction after five (5) years post termination or as specified by state regulations. Mental health counselors ensure that all persons in their employ, and volunteers, supervisees and interns, maintain confidentiality of client information.
- Sessions with clients may be taped or otherwise recorded only with written permission of the client or guardian. Even with a guardian’s written consent, mental health counselors should not record a session against the expressed wishes of a client. Such tapes shall be destroyed after five (5) years post termination or as specified by state regulations.
- The primary client owns the rights to confidentiality; however, in the case where primary clients are minors or are adults who have been legally determined to be incompetent, parents and guardians have legal access to client information. Where appropriate, a parent(s) or guardian(s) may be included in the counseling process; however, mental health counselors must take measures to safeguard client confidentiality within legal limits.
- In working with families or groups, the rights to confidentiality of each member should be safeguarded. Mental health counselors must make clear that each member of the group has individual rights to confidentiality and that each member of a family, when seen individually, has individual rights to confidentiality within legal limits.
- When using a computer to store confidential information, mental health counselors take measures to control access to such information. After five (5) years post termination or as specified by state regulations, the information should be deleted from the system.
- Mental health counselors may justify disclosing information to identifiable third parties if clients disclose that they have a communicable or life threatening illness. However, prior to disclosing such information, mental health counselors must confirm the diagnosis with a medical provider. The intent of clients to inform a third party about their illness and to engage in possible behaviors that could be harmful to an identifiable third party must be assessed as part of the process of determining whether a disclosure should be made to identifiable third parties.
- Mental health counselors take necessary precautions to ensure client confidentiality of information transmitted electronically through the use of a computer, e-mail, fax, telephone, voice mail, answering machines, or any other electronic means as described in the telehealth section of this document.
- Mental health counselors protect the confidentiality of deceased clients in accordance with legal requirements and agency or organizational policy.
- Mental health counselors may disclose information to third-party payers only after clients have authorized such disclosure or as permitted by Federal and/or state statute.
- Dual/multiple Relationships
Mental health counselors are aware of their influential position with respect to their clients and avoid exploiting the trust and fostering dependency of the client.
- Mental health counselors make every effort to avoid dual/multiple relationships with clients that could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of harm. Examples of such relationships may include, but are not limited to: familial, social, financial, business, or close personal relationships with the clients.
- When deciding whether to enter a dual/multiple relationship with a client, former client or close relationship to the client, mental health counselors will seek consultation and adhere to a credible decision-making process prior to entering this relationship.
- When a dual/multiple relationship cannot be avoided, mental health counselors take appropriate professional precautions such as informed consent, consultation, supervision and documentation to ensure that judgment is not impaired and no exploitation has occurred.
- Mental health counselors do not accept as clients, individuals with whom they are involved in an administrative, supervisory or other relationship of an evaluative nature.
- Exploitive Relationships
Mental health counselors are aware of the intimacy and responsibilities inherent in the counseling relationship. They maintain respect for the client and avoid actions that seek to meet their personal needs at the expense of the client.
- Romantic or sexual relationships with clients are strictly prohibited. Mental health counselors do not counsel persons with whom they have had a previous sexual relationship.
- Mental health counselors are strongly discouraged from engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with former clients. Counselors may not enter into an intimate relationship until five years post termination or longer as specified by state regulations. Documentation of supervision or consultation for exploring the risk of exploitation is strongly encouraged.
- Determining the risk of exploitive relationships includes but is not limited to factors such as duration of counseling, amount of time since counseling, termination circumstances, the client’s personal history and mental status, and the potential adverse impact on the former client.
- Mental health counselors are aware of their own values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, as well as how these apply in a society with clients from diverse ethnic, social, cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds.
- Counseling Environments
Mental health counselors will provide an accessible counseling environment to individuals with disabilities.
- Counseling environments should be accessible to all clients, especially being sensitive to individuals with disabilities.
- Counseling environments should allow for private and confidential conversations.