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Virginia Board of Counselors Practice Standards

Effective March 4, 2020

18VAC 115-20-130.    Standards of practice.

A. The protection of the public health, safety, and welfare and the best interest of the public shall be the primary guide in determining the appropriate professional conduct of all persons whose activities are regulated by the board. Regardless of the delivery method, whether in person, by phone or electronically, these standards shall apply to the practice of counseling.

B. Persons licensed or registered by the board shall:

  1. Practice in a manner that is in the best interest of the public and does not endanger the public health, safety, or welfare;
  2. Practice only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience and appropriate professional experience and represent their education training and experience accurately to clients;
  3. Stay abreast of new counseling information, concepts, applications and practices which are necessary to providing appropriate, effective professional services;
  4. Be able to justify all services rendered to clients as necessary and appropriate for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes;
  5. Document the need for and steps taken to terminate a counseling relationship when it becomes clear that the client is not benefiting from the relationship. Document the assistance provided in making appropriate arrangements for the continuation of treatment for clients, when necessary, following termination of a counseling relationship;
  6. Make appropriate arrangements for continuation of services, when necessary, during interruptions such as vacations, unavailability, relocation, illness, and disability;
  7. Disclose to clients all experimental methods of treatment and inform clients of the risks and benefits of any such treatment. Ensure that the welfare of the clients is in no way compromised in any experimentation or research involving those clients;
  8. Neither accept nor give commissions, rebates, or other forms of remuneration for referral of clients for professional services;
  9. Inform clients of the purposes, goals, techniques, procedures, limitations, potential risks, and benefits of services to be performed, the limitations of confidentiality, and other pertinent information when counseling is initiated, and throughout the counseling process as necessary. Provide clients with accurate information regarding the implications of diagnosis, the intended use of tests and reports, fees, and billing arrangements;
  10. Select tests for use with clients that are valid, reliable and appropriate and carefully interpret the performance of individuals not represented in standardized norms;
  11. Determine whether a client is receiving services from another mental health service provider, and if so, refrain from providing services to the client without having an informed consent discussion with the client and having been granted communication privileges with the other professional;
  12. Use only in connection with one’s practice as a mental health professional those educational and professional degrees or titles that have been earned at a college or university accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the U. S. Department of Education, or credentials granted by a national certifying agency, and that are counseling in nature; and
  13. Advertise professional services fairly and accurately in a manner which is not false, misleading or deceptive.

C. In regard to patient records, persons licensed by the board shall:

  1. Maintain written or electronic clinical records for each client to include treatment dates and identifying information to substantiate diagnosis and treatment plan, client progress, and termination;
  2. Maintain client records securely, inform all employees of the requirements of confidentiality and provide for the destruction of records which are no longer useful in a manner that ensures client confidentiality;
  3. Disclose or release records to others only with the clients’ expressed written consent or that of the client’s legally authorized representative in accordance with § 32.1-127.1:03 [1] of the Code of Virginia;
  4. Ensure confidentiality in the usage of client records and clinical materials by obtaining informed consent from the client or the client’s legally authorized representative before (i) videotaping, (ii) audio recording, (iii) permitting third party observation, or (iv) using identifiable client records and clinical materials in teaching, writing or public presentations; and
  5. Maintain client records for a minimum of five years or as otherwise required by law from the date of termination of the counseling relationship with the following exceptions:
  6. At minimum, records of a minor child shall be maintained for five years after attaining the age of majority (18 years) or ten years following termination, which ever comes later;
  7. Records that are required by contractual obligation or federal law to be maintained for a longer period of time; or
  8. Records that have been transferred to another mental health service provider or given to the client or his legally authorized representative.

D. In regard to dual relationships, persons licensed by the board shall:

  1. Avoid dual relationships with clients that could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of harm to clients. (Examples of such relationships include, but are not limited to, familial, social, financial, business, bartering, or close personal relationships with clients.) Counselors shall take appropriate professional precautions when a dual relationship cannot be avoided, such as informed consent, consultation, supervision, and documentation to ensure that judgment is not impaired and no exploitation occurs;
  2. Not engage in any type of romantic relationships or sexual intimacies with clients or those included in a collateral relationship with the client and not counsel persons with whom they have had a romantic relationship or sexual intimacy. Counselors shall not engage in romantic relationships or sexual intimacies with former clients within a minimum of five years after terminating the counseling relationship. Counselors who engage in such relationship or intimacy after five years following termination shall have the responsibility to examine and document thoroughly that such relations do not have an exploitive nature, based on factors such as duration of counseling, amount of time since counseling, termination circumstances, client’s personal history and mental status, or adverse impact on the client. A client’s consent to, initiation of or participation in sexual behavior or involvement with a counselor does not change the nature of the conduct nor lift the regulatory prohibition;
  3. Not engage in any romantic relationship or sexual intimacy or establish a counseling or psychotherapeutic relationship with a supervisee or student. Counselors shall avoid any nonsexual dual relationship with a supervisee or student in which there is a risk of exploitation or potential harm to the supervisee or student or the potential for interference with the supervisor’s professional judgment; and
  4. Recognize conflicts of interest and inform all parties of the nature and directions of loyalties and responsibilities involved.

E. Persons licensed by this board shall report to the board known or suspected violations of the laws and regulations governing the practice of professional counseling.

F. Persons licensed by the board shall advise their clients of their right to report to the Department of Health Professions any information of which the licensee may become aware in his professional capacity indicating that there is a reasonable probability that a person licensed or certified as a mental health service provider, as defined in § 54.1-2400.1 [2] of the Code of Virginia, may have engaged in unethical, fraudulent or unprofessional conduct as defined by the pertinent licensing statutes and regulations.