Why Therapists Need Ethics

By Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT @pdresources.org

EthicsThere is a good reason that ethics is a required component of our continuing education for license renewal. Ethics alone can be grounds for losing your license. It can also be grounds for a lawsuit. And more often than not, it is the source of client harm – even when it is not meant to be.

A therapist who means well but doesn’t fully understand client privilege or confidentiality can harm a client just as much as therapist who simply ignores ethical protocol. Today, with the explosion of social media, it has become even more difficult to decipher the difference. For example, let’s say a therapist runs groups for a treatment facility and happens to post on Facebook about a particularly challenging group session, tagging her workplace in her post. While one could argue that she meant no harm, she has exposed the identity of the clients in the group because she identified the facility in which she works.

This becomes even more important because today many therapists work in a variety of capacities – even virtually. Let’s say, for example, that a therapist becomes well known in a particular subject area and is now asked to give radio interviews about his subject matter. What is the ethical protocol here? Or, perhaps the same therapist is asked to create webinars on his area of expertise. Can he reference places that he has worked in the past? Can he mention clients he has worked with if he alters their names? What if he is asked to write a book on the subject? What ethical measures should he take then?

Ethics, as you can see, is no less important to the seasoned therapist than the new one, and in many ways, it is actually more important. With more experience comes more opportunity and with more opportunity comes more risk.

This is risk that can easily be avoided with a thorough understanding of ethics that are relevant to today’s therapist. Through learning about topics such as managing negative online reviews, taking on supervisees, being asked to write letters for clients who seek to have Emotional Service Animals, conducting group treatment, managing a social media profile, creating cloud storage for notes, purchasing liability insurance, correcting records, closing a practice, giving professional commentary on public figures, and doing media presentations, therapists can enjoy a wide variety of working capacities in a safe and ethical way.

So where do therapists go to find this information? Professional Development Resources, an accredited provider of online continuing education courses, offers ethics courses for psychologists, counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists (MFTs), occupational therapists (OTs), speech-language pathologists (SLPs), and registered dietitians (RDs). Click here to learn more.

Online Ethics Continuing Education Courses:

Ethics & Boundaries in Psychotherapy is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE) course intended to give psychotherapists the tools they need to resolve the common and not-so-common ethical and boundary issues and dilemmas that they may expect to encounter in their everyday professional practice in the 21st century. Among the topics discussed are definitions of boundaries; resolving conflicts between ethics and the law; boundary crossings vs. boundary violations; multiple relationships; sexual misconduct; privacy and confidentiality in the age of HIPAA and the Patriot Act; ethics issues with dangerous clients; boundary issues in clinical supervision; ethics and cultural competency; ethical boundaries in use of social media; ethical practice in teletherapy; fees and financial relationships; and a 17-step model for ethical decision making. *This course satisfies the ethics & boundaries requirement for license renewal of Florida counselors, social workers & MFTs. It also include teachings from the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics to meet the ethics requirement of West Virginia counselors. Course #30-77 | 2017 | 42 pages | 21 posttest questions

Ethics and Social Media is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that examines the use of Social Networking Services (SNS) on both our personal and professional lives. Is it useful or appropriate (or ethical or therapeutic) for a therapist and a client to share the kinds of information that are routinely posted on SNS like Facebook, Twitter, and others? How are psychotherapists to handle “Friending” requests from clients? What are the threats to confidentiality and therapeutic boundaries that are posed by the use of social media sites, texts, or tweets in therapist-client communication? The purpose of this course is to offer psychotherapists the opportunity to examine their practices in regard to the use of social networking services in their professional relationships and communications. Included are ethics topics such as privacy and confidentiality, boundaries and multiple relationships, competence, the phenomenon of friending, informed consent, and record keeping. A final section offers recommendations and resources for the ethical use of social networking and the development of a practice social media policy. Course #20-75 | 2016 | 32 pages | 15 posttest questions

Ethics for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that presents an overview of ethical issues that arise in speech-language pathology and audiology practice. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and audiologists encounter ethical issues across the spectrum of practice settings, from pediatric treatment to care of elders in skilled nursing facilities. This course will discuss barriers to ethical thinking, evidence-based ethics, economics, discrimination, abuse, bullying in the workplace, boundaries, confidentiality, social media, and infection control. Course #21-04 | 2015 | 30 pages | 15 posttest questions

Ethics for Occupational Therapists is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that teaches OTs how to handle ethical and moral dilemmas in practice. Ethical and moral issues pervade our lives, especially in the healthcare arena. Occupational therapists are frequently confronted with a variety of ethical and moral dilemmas, and their decisions can have long-range effects both professionally and personally. Why does one decision win out over another? What does the decision process involve? How do these decisions impact those involved? Occupational therapists, by the nature of choosing this particular profession, are engaged in an “ethic of care,” where activities of daily living are not just a function, but also an expression of values. Helping people maintain their maximum possible functioning is seen in relation to society and the common good of all persons. This is an abstract ideal that must be put into practice in an imperfect world. How does the occupational therapist make decisions about what is best for the person when there are difficult choices to make? This course will address these questions from the framework of ethical decision models and the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Code of Ethics. Course #30-89 | 2016 | 43 pages | 20 posttest questions

Ethics for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists is a 1-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU/CPEU) course that addresses the ethics of practice in nutrition and dietetics and satisfies the requirement of the Commission on Dietetic Registration that RDs and DTRs complete a minimum of 1 CPEU of Continuing Professional Education in Ethics (Learning Need Code 1050) during each 5-year recertification cycle. The practice and business of nutrition and dietetics grow and change but ethical practices remain paramount regardless. Potential situations arise that require a review of what the ethical solution(s) should be. This course includes real-life scenarios so you can utilize the profession’s Code of Ethics to identify these ethical issues and come up with solutions and ways to avoid unethical behaviors. Course #10-60 | 2014 | 10 pages | 7 posttest questions

Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).