Ethics training is essential for mental health providers, helping you provide the very best help to your clients and patients. As laws, technology, and our understanding of people and the therapeutic relationship continue to evolve, ethics training keeps you and your practice up to date.
The theory and study of ethics stretch through every profession as the measure of quality in decision-making. Ethics play a vital role in how therapists and counselors choose to interact with their clients. For mental health providers, having a strong understanding of ethics is important for maintaining healthy boundaries with yourself, other professionals, and clients as you work through some of life’s more difficult topics. Keep reading for a brief explanation of ethics and an examination of how ethics training is important for therapists.
What Do We Mean by “Ethics?”
Ethics is a complex term that we use to talk about several different aspects of appropriate conduct. The most relevant definitions of ethics from Merriam-Webster for our purposes are “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation” and “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.”
According to the American Psychology Association, The Ethics Code “provides a common set of principles and standards upon which psychologists build their professional and scientific work.” Its goals are “the welfare and protection of individuals and groups with whom psychologists work and the education of members, students, and the public regarding ethical standards of the discipline.”
Ultimately, ethics training ensures that you know the ethical principles that govern psychotherapy and understand how to align your professional conduct with them.
How Does Ethics Support Psychotherapy?
As mental health providers, you must frequently determine how to apply ethical principles in various contexts. That’s why many jurisdictions require psychotherapy practitioners to take continuing education courses in ethics. Through ethics training, you’ll grow in your understanding of how to weigh ethical issues in psychotherapy and what to do if you get stuck in the decision-making process.
Staying up to date with the ethical standards and best practices will help you practice psychotherapy in a way that avoids ethical violations. Providers who exhibit unethical behavior may can find themselves at risk of losing their license or ability to practice.
Examples of Unethical Behavior
Ethics violations include many different examples of poor decision-making. Here’s the scoop on four of the most common therapist ethics violations.
As a therapist, you should never have a client who is or becomes someone you share a personal relationship with (e.g., a family member, friend, or romantic relationship).
Confidentiality is essential for building trust with clients; sharing private client information with another party without the client’s informed consent breaks that trust and violates ethical standards. Confidentiality has a wide scope, including what you tell a friend over coffee and how securely you keep your client files.
Failing to End Therapy
If you do not end therapy with a client you are not in a position to help, whether that’s because you cannot give them the attention they need, you do not have the knowledge or expertise to address their concerns, or the client is no longer benefiting from therapy, you are not serving the client.
Practicing Without a License
It is unethical to offer psychotherapy without the credentials, such as a license or certification, that are required in the jurisdiction where you’re practicing. Licensing boards are a great place to start. It is each therapist’s responsibility to know the requirements that govern their practice and follow them.
Impacts of Unethical Behavioral
Ethics training for mental health providers can help you avoid unethical behavior. This is crucial, as therapist ethical violations can have a lasting impact on you and your clients.
For someone who has come to you for help or attention to address issues and problem areas in their life, unethical behaviors can be damaging to their progress. Because of the inherent imbalance of power in the therapeutic relationship, clients are vulnerable. Your unethical choices can harm a client’s ability to trust (both in future therapy contexts and in their personal lives) and can cause them further psychological damage. Ethics training keeps you in the loop about how to act ethically and protect the integrity of the therapeutic relationship, ensuring your client is safe and supported.
While most mental health professionals took ethics courses in school or during their certification, it is important to refresh your knowledge and stay on top of new developments in ethical psychotherapy. Continuing education courses on ethics can be a fantastic way to stay fresh on the topic and stay up to date. Many jurisdictions require a minimum number of continuing education hours to be about ethics, and it’s easy to see why.
GoodTherapy offers ethics courses as part of our continuing education program. There are three ways to access our continuing education courses: CE Only allows you to purchase courses a la carte; CE Unlimited allows you to take as many courses as you want for a monthly fee; and Premium or Pro membership options include a profile in our registry, unlimited access to our CE courses, and other perks. Check out your options today!
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