COUN 5217 Locating and Integrating State Laws and Ethical Codes

Unit 3: Locating and Integrating State Laws and Ethical Codes


COUN 5217: Ethical Legal Issues in Professional Counseling


Locating and Integrating State Laws and Ethical Codes

There are many ethical codes from different organizations such as the ACA (2014) Code of Ethics, and AMHCA (2015) Code of Ethics, along with state laws such as Pa Code 49. State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors-Licensure of Professional Counselors. These laws and codes help inform counselors of ethical obligation and set a standard for ethical practice (ACA, 2014). This paper researches and provides a review of several ethical codes from two counseling associations ethical codes, the ACA, and AMHCA, along with how to stay current with them. The paper also reviews Pennsylvania law and provides scenarios that show how ethical codes and state laws can impact a situation.

Researching Codes

For counselors counseling clients brings on a multitude of scenarios and situations in which he does not know the appropriate topics to consider when addressing the situation. Ethical codes provide guidelines for appropriate behavior and ways of addressing situations so that counselors can protect themselves as well as their clients. There are various ethical codes developed by various organization in the counseling field such as the ACA’s 2014 Code of Ethics and the AMHCA Code of Ethics. All of these codes outline ethical guidelines for various situations. All of these codes can be important to professional practice. ACA (2014) code D.1.c discusses interdisciplinary teamwork. This code states that counselors working together draw on the experiences, professional views, and values of not only the counseling profession, but also professionals from other disciplines. By doing this the team makes decisions that affect client welfare and as such the focus should remain on how to best serve clients.

This code is important to a counselor because in interdisciplinary teams he or she will be working with other professionals that bring a various skill sets and experiences to the group. In all of the discussion the counselor and his colleagues may lose sight of perspective on if they are making decisions with the client’s best interests in mind. The counselor and his team need to remember that they are working to better provide help to the client and that all professional pride and ego needs to be set aside for that endeavor.

Another code from the ACA Code of Ethics is code H.4.f Communication Differences in Electronic Media (ACA, 2014). This code states that counselors who consider using electronic media in counseling sessions review the cons that may affect the counseling process. The counselor must also make sure that he educates the clients on these cons and how to prevent misunderstandings in communication. This code is important because it reminds the counselor that he must not jump in blindly to using electronic media to for counseling services. Because the counselor and client are not face to face it becomes difficult to convey genuineness, openness, and caring to the client. Also the counselor misses out on nonverbal cues from the client because on the lack of face-to-face encounters (Rummel& Joyce, 2010).

Both of these codes are important for counselors in practice and he should stay abreast of any changes to these codes to make sure they understand what is ethically expected of them. To do this, counselors may join the American Counseling Association as a member. By doing so they get access to publications such as Counseling Today, and Journal of Counseling & Development. Also the counselor would have access to the ACA’s risk management service. These resources can help counselors remain current with changes to these and other ACA ethics codes.

Like the ACA the AMHCA has its own ethical codes. Two of these codes are from section 8 which deals with End-of-life care for terminally ill clients. Code 8.a states that the counselor ensure the client receives care that meets their needs, such as physical, social, and emotional needs. That includes giving the client opportunity to be a part of decision making regarding their end-of-life care. Also to provide assessment to ensure the client is capable of making competent decisions on their behalf (AMHCA, 2015).

The second code 8.c states that counselors have the choice to break or not break confidentiality of terminally ill clients that want to speed up their deaths. However, he must review applicable state laws, current situation and seek consultation and supervision from professionals and legal entities (AMHCA, 2015). These two codes are important because despite the counselor’s main role being to help the client deal with emotional concerns, they can help advocate for overall better quality of care. The client being able to make decisions can be important. Misdiagnosis of a mental condition such as dementia or depression can mean the difference in the client keeping or losing their ability to make decisions about their care (Werth & Crow, 2009). Also, the code provides guidance on procedures to follow when deciding to break confidentiality with clients considering hastening their deaths. Seeking consultation and supervision can help ensure that the counselor is using his best judgement when dealing with the situation. To remain current with this code, counselors can join the AMHCA as a member to gain access to the newsletters and publications such as the Journal of Mental Health Counseling.

Researching State Laws

State laws and regulations provide legal guidance to handling situations and procedures for appropriate actions that meet legal obligations. In Pennsylvania counselors are governed mainly by the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors. The board provides regulations on education and licensure requirement as well as continuing education, and professional conduct. The regulation pa code 49.18 discusses licensure by endorsement. It states that counselors to bypass examination must provide satisfactory proof they have met the requirements for education, general licensure. The counselor must also have a license in good standing in another state, completed 3000 hours of supervised counseling, and been active practitioner 5 of the last 7 years preceding application for licensure by endorsement. This regulation is important as it provides an alternate form of licensure that practicing counselor in other states may use if applicable. He or she may save themselves from having to return to school or look for alternate occupation in counseling. Regulations such as the one above are not the only laws that can affect practicing counselors.

The code 55 pa code 5100.84.d states that clear and present danger standards may be met when a person threatens to harm themselves or another, threaten to commit suicide or to mutilate themselves, and completed acts that further these threats. This law falls under section concerning persons who may be subject to involuntary emergency examination and treatment. This regulation outlines the standards to look for when determining whether someone may need to be admitted for treatment or not involuntarily. So for instance the client a counselor is working with is stating that they have a plan to commit suicide but does not want the counselor to tell anyone. Under this regulation the client has made a threat and their actions have furthered the threat. Therefore, the client meets the requirement for someone who could be involuntarily admitted for examination.

To stay current on laws and regulations such as these counselors may review the Pennsylvania Code online and the Pennsylvania Bulletin online. They provide current and future revision that are made to regulations. Also the counselor may join the Pennsylvania Counseling Association or PCA. This is the state counseling organization in Pennsylvania and provides news regarding local government legislation and legislation passed and put forth by the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors.

Applying State Laws and Ethical Standards

In various situation a counselor’s actions can be guided by either ethical standards or legal standards. In some cases, their actions can be guided by both. This section discusses 3 scenarios in which the counselor’s actions are guided by ethical and or legal standards. The first case sees client or student whom you’ve been counseling over the past year asks to see a copy of the notes and records you’ve been keeping. In this case the counselor’s actions are guided by the both legal and ethical obligations. The ACA (2014) code B.1.c “Respect for Confidentiality”, and B.6.e “Client Access” are the ethical standards that affect this situation. Legally under Pa Code (2016), 55 Pa code 5100.33 “Patients access to records and control over release of records” along with 49 Pa code 49.78 “Recordkeeping” apply to this scenario as well. The legal regulations in this case provide that legally counselor are required to keep records of the services they provide to clients and the information gathered from sessions. Also it provides standards for how long they are to be keep, who may access records on client’s behalf, and when counselors may limit client access to certain information as it may harm client’s treatment. The ethical codes provide similar ethical guidelines for the counselor but go further by covering the case of multiple clients. In which case the counselor only provide information that is relevant to that particular client.

The next scenario a client you worked with three years ago, and for whom you feel some attraction, has asked if you’re available to have dinner. In this scenario there is a conflict between the ACA (2014) A.5.c “Sexual and/or Romantic Relationships with Former Clients” and 49 Pa code 49.23 “Sexual intimacies with a former client/patient or an immediate family member of a former client/patient. The ACA states that one must wait 5 years after termination of services before engaging in any romantic/sexual relationship that is not exploitive. The pa code states the counselor must wait 7 years after termination of services. In this instance the decision is affected more by the pa regulations because of 49 Pa code 49.71 “Code of ethical practice and standards of professional conduct”. It states that Pennsylvania acknowledges the ACA code of ethics and that counselors will adhere to it, except in cases where the ACA code of ethics conflicts with pa regulations (Pa code, 2016). So in this case the counselor would legally have to wait another 4 years before engaging in a relationship with that former client. Being aware of legal regulations such as these help the counselor guide his actions and potentially avoid or resolve such conflicts.

The last scenario is a client who is going on a business trip for six weeks has asked to continue counseling sessions via email and Skype. In this case the counselor’s actions would be guided by ethical code. The codes that would apply to this scenario are ACA (2014) codes H.1.b “Laws and Statutes”, H.2.a “Informed Consent and Disclosure”, H.2.d “Security”, and H.3 “Client Verification are applicable to this case. The counselor must inform the client of the differences, potential risks, review emergency procedures and such with the client before engaging in distance counseling. The counselor must also be aware of any law or regulations that he or she may be affected by if the client is in another state or country for any length of time. In regards to the technology the counselor has to take measures to encrypt transmissions so that information between himself and the client stay a confidential a possible. Also because email does not have a visual presence and skype the video feed function can be turned off, the counselor with have to discuss with the client methods of verification for himself and the client. All of these codes help to ensure client confidentiality and privacy is kept and respected.


There are various ethical codes and laws that guide a counselor’s actions and behaviors. The codes and laws help the counselor make ethical decisions that protect the clients from harm. In some cases, the counselor may encounter situations that are affected by either ethical codes, and laws, or both. Also the counselor may encounter situations in which there is a conflict between ethical code and legal law, similar to the situation stated about regarding the former client asking for a dinner date. In this case the counselor may have to seek consultation and research which supersedes the other.


American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.

American Mental Health Counseling Association. (2015). AMHCA code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (2016) Pennsylvania Code. Retrieved from:

Rummell, C. M., & Joyce, N. R. (2010). ‘So wat do u want to wrk on 2day?’: The Ethical Implications of Online Counseling. Ethics & Behavior, 20(6), 482–496. doi:10.1080/10508422.2010.52145

Werth, J. L., Jr., & Crow, L. (2009). End-of-Life Care: An Overview for Professional Counselors.Journal of Counseling and Development, 87(2), 194–202.

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