Advice to Psychologists on How to Avoid Ethical Violations

As a psychologist, there are many ethical gray areas you may encounter. Unfortunately, many of these can lead to disciplinary action by the board, or even legal action. In order to avoid ethical violations and keep your license in good standing, it is essential that you have a complete understanding of what is and is not considered ethical behavior.

Know Which Relationships are Acceptable

As a psychologist, you must avoid any relationships with clients that could impair your professional judgment or harm your clients in any way. It is unethical to provide counseling services to a friend, business client or romantic partner. While you may run into a client in a social situation, this is okay as long as it does not harm the client.

Understand Confidentiality

As a psychologist, it is likely that a patient’s employer, spouse, school administrator, insurance company, or someone else will at some point request information about a client. When providing this type of information, remember that the APA’s Ethics Code requires that you share only the minimum amount of information necessary. On the other hand, keep in mind that you may be required to disclose suspicion of abuse or other dangerous behavior.

Get Informed Consent

Before you begin a professional relationship with a client, you must first give them adequate information and receive their informed consent and limitations for the following:

  • Confidentiality
  • Record keeping practices
  • Your level of expertise and training
  • Services you will and will not provide
  • Duration of therapy expected
  • Any alternative approaches you will use
  • Fees and billing procedures
  • Patient’s right to discontinue treatment

Additionally, if you are a therapist in training, you should let the client know you are a trainee and provide the name of your supervising psychologist.

Stay Within Your Area of Expertise

As a psychologist, it’s essential that you only practice in areas where you are competent. If you are not familiar with a client’s specific situation or trained in a particular counseling modality, you should not use it.

Be Clear About Billing

As a psychologist, you are ethically obligated to accurately bill both patients and insurers. Keep track of every service you bill for and avoid the temptation to help your clients receive more benefits than they are allowed. For example, never bill a client for a service covered by their insurance rather than the service that you provided if the provided service isn’t covered. If a client asks you to do this, always decline. 

Know How and When to Terminate Therapy

If a client isn’t benefitting from therapy, it is your ethical duty to discontinue treatment. This includes clients who no longer need treatment or who, in your opinion, are being harmed by it. It also extends to cases where a client threatens you, themselves or someone else.

If you decide to terminate treatment, explain why the current treatment is not appropriate. If you cannot provide the service a patient needs, refer them to a different provider. You should make sure to also address any feelings of rejection the client is experiencing to ensure they aren’t harmed by discontinuing therapy. If you inappropriately end treatment for another reason and a client complains, you may be disciplined or held liable.

Contact a Psychologist License Defense Attorney

By ensuring that you follow these ethical principles, you can typically keep your license in good standing and avoid any legal issues. If you do experience legal or disciplinary issues, it is best to get help from an experienced psychologist license defense attorney who can help protect your rights.

If you need help during a complaint from a client or from the board, contact psychologist license defense attorney Scott J Harris. Click to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation or call us at 323-794-0701 or at 877-865-6218.

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When dealing with these complex issues, you need legal representation that has a long track record of success in these types of cases. Scott Harris and the rest of our team at S J Harris Law will be ready to help you pursue any option available that allows you to keep your license and continue working, no matter what industry you are in.


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