- Center for Ethical Practice - https://centerforethicalpractice.org -

Ethical & Legal Issues in Couple/Family Therapy

When working with multiple-party cases, some specific ethical and legal issues must be considered.  Therapists who proceed without careful forethought and advance planning may be in for some ethical pitfalls down the road. 

Ethical Implications of How We
Conceptualize a Couple or Family Therapy Case 

I.  “What Are My Ethical Responsibilities to Each Party in This Case?”

              A. Multiple-Client Therapy (Couple, Family)

How does multi-client therapy differ from “individual therapy with collaterals” ?

Ethically?  Legally?  Clinically?

Who gets to decide?  Who must you tell?  What do you say to third party payers?

             B. Child/Adolescent Therapy

Are parents actively involved?  If so, are they also “clients”?

What are the rules about disclosure of information to parents/others? 

Who gets to decide?  What will you explain?   To whom must you explain?

             C.  Collateral Participants

What is the therapist’s relationship with the collateral(s) or consultee(s)

            What are the rights of those parties?

            What ethical responsibilities does the therapist have to those parties?

How does this affect the rights of the primary client?        

 II. How Do Third-Party  Referrals/Contracts  Affect  “Client” Status?

          A. Employee Contracts – Must you accept your employer’s definitions of “client” ?

          B. Managed Care Contracts – Do they affect your ethical definition of “client”?

          C. Creating Personalized Contracts for Clarifying Relationships & Responsibilities

Contracts With Agencies (e.g., DSS, Court, Schools, Other)

Consultation Contracts (e.g., Corporate Training, Coaching, Assessment)     

1. Learn the ethical and professional standards that might especially apply in couples therapy.
2.  Learn Virginia laws and regulations that affect couples therapy.
3.  Apply these standards when considering practical issues that arise in your work with couples.
4.  Understand some of the avoidable ethical and legal pitfalls when providing couples therapy.