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Published: June 27, 2017
Eric Mason

ethics boards

Eric K. Mason


Interpersonal and Peer Relationships

Who Complains About Their Own and Why?

            Many complaints to ethics boards lodged against counselors are done so by their colleagues. This should not be surprising, since those who work in the mental health field are the very people most likely to know what the ethical standards are. They are also most likely to witness it, since they are in contact with clients and other mental health professionals on a daily basis. Additionally, failure to live up to obligations to one’s peers may result in conflict and ethical complaints.

As in any work setting, conflict may arise between colleagues. The mental health field is not immune to this. Factors that may increase stress and contribute to more conflict include competition in the work environment, poor management, conflicting interpersonal styles (those with strong or unpleasant personalities), and unpleasant work environments (such as crowded, nosy, lack of privacy).

One could argue that the mental health field presents additional issues that contribute to conflict, such as working with colleagues from different backgrounds (psychiatry or social work) or working with colleagues who use different theoretical/therapeutic approaches. Ideally counselors will be accepting of various backgrounds and approaches. The APA code of ethics encourages psychologists to cooperate with one another and those from other professions; however, at times interprofessional interests may conflict, such as conflict between psychologists and psychiatrists over prescription privileges. Although all share an interest in helping others, conflicts may present themselves in the form of “political, economic, and territorial disputes.”

The ACA code of ethics is more detailed in its guidelines, however. For example, in addition to encouraging cooperation and self-care, the ACA code of ethics encourages respect and acceptance of various therapeutic approaches. Furthermore, it gives guidance on how to deal with negative work environments (such as when the environment is so negative that it may affect clients).

Cooperation with Other Professionals

Psychologists should strive to cooperate with one another, which includes responding to written requests, release of information requests, or study proposals in a timely manner. Professors are required to give appropriate feedback to students in a timely manner. Mental health professionals are required to release information even to those whom they view as incompetent, if requested by the client to do so.

Interference with Ongoing Relationships

This section discusses psychologists/counselors who take on clients who are already receiving services from another mental health professional (either at the request of the client or directly soliciting the client). According to the APA directly soliciting a client is not unethical. Koocher recommends only doing this when it appears the client is being harmed by his or her current therapist.

Counselors/psychologists should seek to minimize confusion that may result when clients switch therapists or have multiple therapists. It is recommended encourage clients to discuss this with current therapists before accepting them for therapy.

Making a Referral

When making a referral counselors or psychologist should always have the client’s best interest in mind. They should not make referrals based on only financial gain or as a favor to friends or colleagues to whom they feel they owe something. Mental health professionals must keep in mind that they may be blamed by clients if the referral does not go well in any way, such as if they are unsatisfied with the counselor to whom they were referred. There is little that one can do about this. Perhaps this is just one example of a risk that comes with the job.


Talking Points

  • Colleagues may be very people to make ethical complaints
    • Why?: they know the rules
    • Personal problems
    • Competition
    • APA and ACA: Views on cooperation
  • Interference: clients who receive service from multiple therapist.
  • Limit confusion, but clients have right to free will
  • Soliciting clients (APA views vs. Koocher)
  • Making referrals: always have client’s best interest in mind. Regardless, of financial interests…or doing favors for other clients.

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