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Comparison of Three Codes of Ethics

What elements do they have in common?

The main similarity between how AAMFT, APA, and ACA’s disciplinary codes refer to the implications of a Hippocratic Oath (do not harm), within the context of how these organizations’ affiliates are being expected to go about executing their professional duties, is that the principle of ’cause no harm’ lays at the foundation of the process of patients being subjected to a particular therapy/counseling. In regards to how AAMFT, APA, and ACA’s disciplinary codes address the issue of ‘termination, referral and abandonment’, the main similarity appears to be concerned with the fact that the issue-related guiding lines, contained in these codes, imply the sheer inappropriateness of ‘abandoning client/interrupting services’, for as long as there are even slight reasons to believe that this will lead to the worsening of clients’ condition. While defining what accounts for the appropriateness/inappropriateness of ‘bartering/accepting gifts’, the provisions contained in AAMFT, APA and ACA’s disciplinary codes, are being similar in a respect that they establish a dialectical relationship between the measure of such an activity’s appropriateness/inappropriateness and the specifics of clients’ mental state.

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How do they differ from each other?

The foremost difference between how AAMFT, APA, and ACA’s disciplinary codes refer to the ‘do not harm’ principle, is that – whereas, AAMFT and APA’s issue-related ethical provisions regard the earlier mentioned principle as a ‘thing in itself’, the provisions contained in ACA’s disciplinary code, imply that exposing clients to value-based conventions is also being capable of negatively affecting these people’s mental well-being. The main differences between how AAMFT, APA, and ACA’s codes address the issue of ‘termination, referral and abandonment’, can be outlined as follows:

  1. AAMFT’s code refers to psychologists’ obligation to continue providing treatment/counseling to the clients in terms of a ‘moral imperative’: “Don’t abandon or neglect clients” (2001),
  2. APA’s code refers to psychologists’ obligation to continue providing treatment/counseling to the clients as such that is being justified only for as long as clients can gain practical benefits from being subjected to this treatment/counseling: “Terminate therapy when it becomes clear client no longer needs service” (2010),
  3. ACA’s code requires psychologists to never cease being observant of the principles of clients’ ethical treatment while deciding in favor of therapy’s cessation: “Take proper/ethical measures for both transfer of services and termination” (2011, p. 6).

Regarding the issue of ‘bartering and accepting gifts’, AAMFT, APA, and ACA’s ethical codes differ in the respect that; whereas, all three of them imply the conditional appropriateness of ‘bartering’, the provisions for defining the appropriateness/inappropriateness of gift-giving are being only contained in ACA’s ethical code.

Are there major ethical issues not covered by these disciplinary codes?

I think that one of the major ethical issues, which does not appear being discussed within the conceptual framework of AAMFT, APA, and ACA’s disciplinary codes, is many psychologists’ clearly defined tendency to prolong the lasting duration of a particular therapy, even in cases when such a prolongation appears unnecessary. The reason why many psychologists and councilors tend to extend the duration of therapies/counseling that they provide to the clients, is simple – while subjected to a particular therapy/counseling, these clients never cease being required to pay for the services they receive. Given the fact that councilors often charge as much as $50 per hour, while helping the clients to address their mental anxieties, there can be very little as to the fact that this naturally prompts psychologists and councilors to strive to extent the duration of their services for as long as possible. Such situation, however, cannot be referred to as being ethically appropriate. Therefore, I think that the provisions, concerned with ensuring councilors’ intellectual honesty, should be included in AAMFT, APA, and ACA’s disciplinary codes as their integral part.

Which disciplinary code offers greater protection to the consumer?

I think that, when compared with AAMFT and APA’s disciplinary codes, it is specifically ACA’s disciplinary code that establishes more provisions, aimed to protect consumers’ interests. One of the reasons I believe for this to be the case is that, according to the provisions of ACA’s disciplinary code, councilors are being prompted to refrain from exposing clients to a number of value-based judgments, on their part. For example, when assessed through the lenses of this particular ACA code’s provision, counselors’ tendency to land their own value-based personal opinions (as to the actual significance of clients’ mental anxieties) to the consumers, would be deemed highly inappropriate. The reason for this is simple – while prompting clients to adopt a professional view on what represents the essence of their mental problems, counselors often increase the acuteness of clients’ sense of inadequateness. This, of course, can hardly be considered utterly therapeutic.

Which code provides the clearest guidance to practitioners?

In my opinion, there can be little doubt as to the fact that it is namely ACA’s disciplinary code, which provides the clearest guidance to the practitioners. This is because, unlike what is being the case with AAMFT and APA’s disciplinary codes, ACA’s code appears to be much more implicational flexible. For example – whereas, AAMFT and APA’s codes refer to the practice of clients providing their councilors with gifts as being utterly inappropriate, ACA’s code refers to the extent of this practice’s appropriateness/inappropriateness as being essentially circumstantial: “When determining whether or not to accept a gift from clients, counselors take into account the therapeutic relationship, the monetary value of the gift, a client’s motivation for giving the gift” (2011, p. 6). The designers of ACA’s disciplinary code never ceased being aware of the simple fact that counselors’ willingness to receive gifts from their clients cannot possibly be referred to as being ‘morally wicked’ by definition, especially if the affiliated circumstances are not being taken into account. This is because, in many cases, counselors’ acceptance of these gifts helps to ensure the positive dynamics in clients’ recovery. And, as we are being aware of – the varying successfulness in ensuring such dynamics, on the part of counselors, is being reflective of the extent of their professional adequacy.

Discuss relevant issues in the development of this discipline’s code of ethics.

As time goes on, the process of designing the professional codes of ethics is being increasingly affected by several clear pragmatist considerations, on the part of those entrusted with the task. These considerations are based upon the premise that, for the implementation of one or another ethical code into a particular professional sphere to be able to yield identifiable positive results, it may never cease being discursively appropriate. As it was noted by James (1907): “The ideas (which themselves are but part of our experience) become true just in so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relation with other parts of our experience” (p. 58). In other words, the concept of ethics can never be discussed in terms of a ‘thing in itself’, without considering how the currently predominant socio-political discourse affect the pragmatic subtleties of a particular ethical code’s implementation. For example, even though that not long ago, the concept of euthanasia used to emanate a strong spirit of ‘ethical inappropriateness’, it nowadays has effectively ceased being the case. The reason for this is simple – as time goes on, the very essence of several moral/ethical conventions continues to undergo a qualitative transformation.

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In its turn, this causes more and more councilors to come to terms with a simple fact that the ethical aspects of how they go about subjecting their clients to a particular therapy are not being reflective of some vaguely defined ‘morality’ but of this therapy’s ability to benefit these clients. The validity of this statement can be best illustrated in regards to how today’s psychologists address the task of helping mentally unstable patients to remain in control of their unconscious anxieties. For example, while attending their professional duties, in this respect, psychologists are being at liberty to resort to the utilization of a variety of mutually exclusive methodologies, such as the methodology of Freudian psychoanalysis, the methodology of Hubbard’s dianetics, or the methodology of gestalt-therapy. However, in the end, it will matter very little which methodology has been utilized to relieve patients’ anxieties – the most important would be ensuring patients’ recovery.

Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that, as of today, the process of designing ethical codes, meant to be incorporated into the very matrix of how psychologists/counselors go about addressing their professional duties, becomes increasingly affected by the considerations of what may account for these codes’ circumstantial appropriateness. After all, as it was mentioned earlier – while under one set of circumstances, counselors’ willingness to accept gifts from their clients would be deemed unethical, under another set of circumstances, such counselors’ willingness would be deemed fully appropriate. Therefore, it will not be much of an exaggeration, on our part, to suggest that in the future, the deployment of ethical codes in the professional spheres of psychology, will continue growing increasingly distanced from the notion of ‘morality’ and increasingly affiliated with the notion of ‘functionality’.


American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. (2001). AAMFT Code Ethics. Web.

American Psychological Association. (2010). APA Code of Ethics. Web.

James, W. 1907 [1999]. Pragmatism. Maryland: Wildside Press.

Texas Counseling Association. (2011). ACA Code of Ethics. Web.

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