AAMFT Code of Ethics
Effective July 1, 2001
The Board of Directors of the American Association for
Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) hereby promulgates, pursuant to Article 2, Section
2.013 of the Association's Bylaws, the Revised AAMFT Code of Ethics, effective July 1,
The AAMFT strives to honor the public trust in marriage and
family therapists by setting standards for ethical practice as described in this Code. The
ethical standards define professional expectations and are enforced by the AAMFT Ethics
Committee. The absence of an explicit reference to a specific behavior or situation in the
Code does not mean that the behavior is ethical or unethical. The standards are not
exhaustive. Marriage and family therapists who are uncertain
about the ethics of a particular course of action are encouraged to seek counsel from
consultants, attorneys, supervisors, colleagues, or other appropriate authorities.
Both law and ethics govern the practice of marriage and
family therapy. When making decisions regarding professional behavior, marriage and family
therapists must consider the AAMFT Code of Ethics and applicable laws and regulations. If
the AAMFT Code of Ethics prescribes a standard higher than that required by law, marriage
and family therapists must meet the higher standard of the AAMFT Code of Ethics. Marriage
and family therapists comply with the mandates of law, but make known their commitment to
the AAMFT Code of Ethics and take steps to resolve the conflict in a responsible manner.
The AAMFT supports legal mandates for reporting of alleged unethical conduct.
The AAMFT Code of Ethics is binding on Members of AAMFT in
all membership categories, AAMFT-Approved Supervisors, and applicants for membership and
the Approved Supervisor designation (hereafter, AAMFT Member). AAMFT members have an
obligation to be familiar with the AAMFT Code of Ethics and its application to their
professional services. Lack of awareness or misunderstanding of an ethical standard is not
a defense to a charge of unethical conduct.
The process for filing, investigating, and resolving
complaints of unethical conduct is described in the current Procedures for Handling
Ethical Matters of the AAMFT Ethics Committee. Persons accused are considered innocent by
the Ethics Committee until proven guilty, except as otherwise provided, and are entitled
to due process. If an AAMFT Member resigns in anticipation of, or during the course of, an
ethics investigation, the Ethics Committee will complete its investigation. Any
publication of action taken by the Association will include the fact that the Member
attempted to resign during the investigation.
Responsibility to Clients
Marriage and family therapists advance the welfare of
families and individuals. They respect the rights of those persons seeking their
assistance, and make reasonable efforts to ensure that their services are used
1.1. Marriage and family therapists provide professional
assistance to persons without discrimination on the basis of race, age, ethnicity,
socioeconomic status, disability, gender, health status, religion, national origin, or
1.2 Marriage and family therapists obtain appropriate
informed consent to therapy or related procedures as early as feasible in the therapeutic
relationship, and use language that is reasonably understandable to clients. The content
of informed consent may vary depending upon the client and treatment plan; however,
informed consent generally necessitates that the client: (a) has the capacity to consent;
(b) has been adequately informed of significant information concerning treatment processes
and procedures; (c) has been adequately informed of potential risks and benefits of
treatments for which generally recognized standards do not yet exist; (d) has freely and
without undue influence expressed consent; and (e) has provided consent that is
appropriately documented. When persons, due to age or mental status, are legally incapable
of giving informed consent, marriage and family therapists obtain informed permission from
a legally authorized person, if such substitute consent is legally permissible.
1.3 Marriage and family therapists are aware of their
influential positions with respect to clients, and they avoid exploiting the trust and
dependency of such persons. Therapists, therefore, make every effort to avoid conditions
and multiple relationships with clients that could impair professional judgment or
increase the risk of exploitation. Such relationships include, but are not limited to,
business or close personal relationships with a client or the clients immediate
family. When the risk of impairment or exploitation exists due to conditions or multiple
roles, therapists take appropriate precautions.
1.4 Sexual intimacy with clients is prohibited.
1.5 Sexual intimacy with former clients is likely to be
harmful and is therefore prohibited for two years following the termination of therapy or
last professional contact. In an effort to avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of
clients, marriage and family therapists should not engage in sexual intimacy with former
clients after the two years following termination or last professional contact. Should
therapists engage in sexual intimacy with former clients following two years after
termination or last professional contact, the burden shifts to the therapist to
demonstrate that there has been no exploitation or injury to the former client or to the
clients immediate family.
1.6 Marriage and family therapists comply with applicable
laws regarding the reporting of alleged unethical conduct.
1.7 Marriage and family therapists do not use their
professional relationships with clients to further their own interests.
1.8 Marriage and family therapists respect the rights of
clients to make decisions and help them to understand the consequences of these decisions.
Therapists clearly advise the clients that they have the responsibility to make decisions
regarding relationships such as cohabitation, marriage, divorce, separation,
reconciliation, custody, and visitation.
1.9 Marriage and family therapists continue therapeutic
relationships only so long as it is reasonably clear that clients are benefiting from the
1.10 Marriage and family therapists assist persons in
obtaining other therapeutic services if the therapist is unable or unwilling, for
appropriate reasons, to provide professional help.
1.11 Marriage and family therapists do not abandon or
neglect clients in treatment without making reasonable arrangements for the continuation
of such treatment.
1.12 Marriage and family therapists obtain written informed
consent from clients before videotaping, audio recording, or permitting third-party
1.13 Marriage and family therapists, upon agreeing to
provide services to a person or entity at the request of a third party, clarify, to the
extent feasible and at the outset of the service, the nature of the relationship with each
party and the limits of confidentiality.
Marriage and family therapists have unique
confidentiality concerns because the client in a therapeutic relationship may be more than
one person. Therapists respect and guard the confidences of each individual client.
2.1 Marriage and family therapists disclose to clients and
other interested parties, as early as feasible in their professional contacts, the nature
of confidentiality and possible limitations of the clients right to confidentiality.
Therapists review with clients the circumstances where confidential information may be
requested and where disclosure of confidential information may be legally required.
Circumstances may necessitate repeated disclosures.
2.2 Marriage and family therapists do not disclose client
confidences except by written authorization or waiver, or where mandated or permitted by
law. Verbal authorization will not be sufficient except in emergency situations, unless
prohibited by law. When providing couple, family or group treatment, the therapist does
not disclose information outside the treatment context without a written authorization
from each individual competent to execute a waiver. In the context of couple, family or
group treatment, the therapist may not reveal any individuals confidences to others
in the client unit without the prior written permission of that individual.
2.3 Marriage and family therapists use client and/or
clinical materials in teaching, writing, consulting, research, and public presentations
only if a written waiver has been obtained in accordance with Subprinciple 2.2, or when
appropriate steps have been taken to protect client identity and confidentiality.
2.4 Marriage and family therapists store, safeguard, and
dispose of client records in ways that maintain confidentiality and in accord with
applicable laws and professional standards.
2.5 Subsequent to the therapist moving from the area,
closing the practice, or upon the death of the therapist, a marriage and family therapist
arranges for the storage, transfer, or disposal of client records in ways that maintain
confidentiality and safeguard the welfare of clients.
2.6 Marriage and family therapists, when consulting with
colleagues or referral sources, do not share confidential information that could
reasonably lead to the identification of a client, research participant, supervisee, or
other person with whom they have a confidential relationship unless they have obtained the
prior written consent of the client, research participant, supervisee, or other person
with whom they have a confidential relationship. Information may be shared only to the
extent necessary to achieve the purposes of the consultation.
Professional Competence and Integrity
Marriage and family therapists maintain high standards of
professional competence and integrity.
3.1 Marriage and family therapists pursue knowledge of new
developments and maintain competence in marriage and family therapy through education,
training, or supervised experience.
3.2 Marriage and family therapists maintain adequate
knowledge of and adhere to applicable laws, ethics, and professional standards.
3.3 Marriage and family therapists seek appropriate
professional assistance for their personal problems or conflicts that may impair work
performance or clinical judgment.
3.4 Marriage and family therapists do not provide services
that create a conflict of interest that may impair work performance or clinical judgment.
3.5 Marriage and family therapists, as presenters,
teachers, supervisors, consultants and researchers, are dedicated to high standards of
scholarship, present accurate information, and disclose potential conflicts of interest.
3.6 Marriage and family therapists maintain accurate and
adequate clinical and financial records.
3.7 While developing new skills in specialty areas,
marriage and family therapists take steps to ensure the competence of their work and to
protect clients from possible harm. Marriage and family therapists practice in specialty
areas new to them only after appropriate education, training, or supervised experience.
3.8 Marriage and family therapists do not engage in sexual
or other forms of harassment of clients, students, trainees, supervisees, employees,
colleagues, or research subjects.
3.9 Marriage and family therapists do not engage in the
exploitation of clients, students, trainees, supervisees, employees, colleagues, or
3.10 Marriage and family therapists do not give to or
receive from clients (a) gifts of substantial value or (b) gifts that impair the integrity
or efficacy of the therapeutic relationship.
3.11 Marriage and family therapists do not diagnose, treat,
or advise on problems outside the recognized boundaries of their competencies.
3.12 Marriage and family therapists make efforts to prevent
the distortion or misuse of their clinical and research findings.
3.13 Marriage and family therapists, because of their
ability to influence and alter the lives of others, exercise special care when making
public their professional recommendations and opinions through testimony or other public
3.14 To avoid a conflict of interests, marriage and family
therapists who treat minors or adults involved in custody or visitation actions may not
also perform forensic evaluations for custody, residence, or visitation of the minor. The
marriage and family therapist who treats the minor may provide the court or mental health
professional performing the evaluation with information about the minor from the marriage
and family therapists perspective as a treating marriage and family therapist, so
long as the marriage and family therapist does not violate confidentiality.
3.15 Marriage and family therapists are in violation of
this Code and subject to termination of membership or other appropriate action if they:
(a) are convicted of any felony; (b) are convicted of a misdemeanor related to their
qualifications or functions; (c) engage in conduct which could lead to conviction of a
felony, or a misdemeanor related to their qualifications or functions; (d) are expelled
from or disciplined by other professional organizations; (e) have their licenses or
certificates suspended or revoked or are otherwise disciplined by regulatory bodies; (f)
continue to practice marriage and family therapy while no longer competent to do so
because they are impaired by physical or mental causes or the abuse of alcohol or other
substances; or (g) fail to cooperate with the Association at any point from the inception
of an ethical complaint through the completion of all proceedings regarding that
Responsibility to Students and Supervisees
Marriage and family therapists do not exploit the trust and
dependency of students and supervisees.
4.1 Marriage and family therapists are aware of their
influential positions with respect to students and supervisees, and they avoid exploiting
the trust and dependency of such persons. Therapists, therefore, make every effort to
avoid conditions and multiple relationships that could impair professional objectivity or
increase the risk of exploitation. When the risk of impairment or exploitation exists due
to conditions or multiple roles, therapists take appropriate precautions.
4.2 Marriage and family therapists do not provide therapy
to current students or supervisees.
4.3 Marriage and family therapists do not engage in sexual
intimacy with students or supervisees during the evaluative or training relationship
between the therapist and student or supervisee. Should a supervisor engage in sexual
activity with a former supervisee, the burden of proof shifts to the supervisor to
demonstrate that there has been no exploitation or injury to the supervisee.
4.4 Marriage and family therapists do not permit students
or supervisees to perform or to hold themselves out as competent to perform professional
services beyond their training, level of experience, and competence.
4.5 Marriage and family therapists take reasonable measures
to ensure that services provided by supervisees are professional.
4.6 Marriage and family therapists avoid accepting as
supervisees or students those individuals with whom a prior or existing relationship could
compromise the therapists objectivity. When such situations cannot be avoided,
therapists take appropriate precautions to maintain objectivity. Examples of such
relationships include, but are not limited to, those individuals with whom the therapist
has a current or prior sexual, close personal, immediate familial, or therapeutic
4.7 Marriage and family therapists do not disclose
supervisee confidences except by written authorization or waiver, or when mandated or
permitted by law. In educational or training settings where there are multiple
supervisors, disclosures are permitted only to other professional colleagues,
administrators, or employers who share responsibility for training of the supervisee.
Verbal authorization will not be sufficient except in emergency situations, unless
prohibited by law.
Responsibility to Research Participants
Investigators respect the dignity and protect the welfare
of research participants, and are aware of applicable laws and regulations and
professional standards governing the conduct of research.
5. 1 Investigators are responsible for making careful
examinations of ethical acceptability in planning studies. To the extent that services to
research participants may be compromised by participation in research, investigators seek
the ethical advice of qualified professionals not directly involved in the investigation
and observe safeguards to protect the rights of research participants.
5. 2 Investigators requesting participant involvement in
research inform participants of the aspects of the research that might reasonably be
expected to influence willingness to participate. Investigators are especially sensitive
to the possibility of diminished consent when participants are also receiving clinical
services, or have impairments which limit understanding and/or communication, or when
participants are children.
5.3 Investigators respect each participants freedom
to decline participation in or to withdraw from a research study at any time. This
obligation requires special thought and consideration when investigators or other members
of the research team are in positions of authority or influence over participants.
Marriage and family therapists, therefore, make every effort to avoid multiple
relationships with research participants that could impair professional judgment or
increase the risk of exploitation.
5.4 Information obtained about a research participant
during the course of an investigation is confidential unless there is a waiver previously
obtained in writing. When the possibility exists that others, including family members,
may obtain access to such information, this possibility, together with the plan for
protecting confidentiality, is explained as part of the procedure for obtaining informed
Responsibility to the Profession
Marriage and family therapists respect the rights and
responsibilities of professional colleagues and participate in activities that advance the
goals of the profession.
6.1 Marriage and family therapists remain accountable to
the standards of the profession when acting as members or employees of organizations. If
the mandates of an organization with which a marriage and family therapist is affiliated,
through employment, contract or otherwise, conflict with the AAMFT Code of Ethics,
marriage and family therapists make known to the organization their commitment to the
AAMFT Code of Ethics and attempt to resolve the conflict in a way that allows the fullest
adherence to the Code of Ethics.
6.2 Marriage and family therapists assign publication
credit to those who have contributed to a publication in proportion to their contributions
and in accordance with customary professional publication practices.
6.3 Marriage and family therapists do not accept or require
authorship credit for a publication based on research from a students program,
unless the therapist made a substantial contribution beyond being a faculty advisor or
research committee member. Coauthorship on a student thesis, dissertation, or project
should be determined in accordance with principles of fairness and justice.
6.4 Marriage and family therapists who are the authors of
books or other materials that are published or distributed do not plagiarize or fail to
cite persons to whom credit for original ideas or work is due.
6.5 Marriage and family therapists who are the authors of
books or other materials published or distributed by an organization take reasonable
precautions to ensure that the organization promotes and advertises the materials
accurately and factually.
6.6 Marriage and family therapists participate in
activities that contribute to a better community and society, including devoting a portion
of their professional activity to services for which there is little or no financial
6.7 Marriage and family therapists are concerned with
developing laws and regulations pertaining to marriage and family therapy that serve the
public interest, and with altering such laws and regulations that are not in the public
6.8 Marriage and family therapists encourage public
participation in the design and delivery of professional services and in the regulation of
Marriage and family therapists make financial arrangements
with clients, third-party payors, and supervisees that are reasonably understandable and
conform to accepted professional practices.
7.1 Marriage and family therapists do not offer or accept
kickbacks, rebates, bonuses, or other remuneration for referrals; fee-for-service
arrangements are not prohibited.
7.2 Prior to entering into the therapeutic or supervisory
relationship, marriage and family therapists clearly disclose and explain to clients and
supervisees: (a) all financial arrangements and fees related to professional services,
including charges for canceled or missed appointments; (b) the use of collection agencies
or legal measures for nonpayment; and (c) the procedure for obtaining payment from the
client, to the extent allowed by law, if payment is denied by the third-party payor. Once
services have begun, therapists provide reasonable notice of any changes in fees or other
7.3 Marriage and family therapists give reasonable notice
to clients with unpaid balances of their intent to seek collection by agency or legal
recourse. When such action is taken, therapists will not disclose clinical information.
7.4 Marriage and family therapists represent facts
truthfully to clients, third-party payors, and supervisees regarding services rendered.
7.5 Marriage and family therapists ordinarily refrain from
accepting goods and services from clients in return for services rendered. Bartering for
professional services may be conducted only if: (a) the supervisee or client requests it,
(b) the relationship is not exploitative, (c) the professional relationship is not
distorted, and (d) a clear written contract is established.
7.6 Marriage and family therapists may not withhold records
under their immediate control that are requested and needed for a clients treatment
solely because payment has not been received for past services, except as otherwise
provided by law.
Marriage and family therapists engage in appropriate
informational activities, including those that enable the public, referral sources, or
others to choose professional services on an informed basis.
8.1 Marriage and family therapists accurately represent
their competencies, education, training, and experience relevant to their practice of
marriage and family therapy.
8.2 Marriage and family therapists ensure that
advertisements and publications in any media (such as directories, announcements, business
cards, newspapers, radio, television, Internet, and facsimiles) convey information that is
necessary for the public to make an appropriate selection of professional services.
Information could include: (a) office information, such as name, address, telephone
number, credit card acceptability, fees, languages spoken, and office hours; (b)
qualifying clinical degree (see subprinciple 8.5); (c) other earned degrees (see
subprinciple 8.5) and state or provincial licensures and/or certifications; (d) AAMFT
clinical member status; and (e) description of practice.
8.3 Marriage and family therapists do not use names that
could mislead the public concerning the identity, responsibility, source, and status of
those practicing under that name, and do not hold themselves out as being partners or
associates of a firm if they are not.
8.4 Marriage and family therapists do not use any
professional identification (such as a business card, office sign, letterhead, Internet,
or telephone or association directory listing) if it includes a statement or claim that is
false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive.
8.5 In representing their educational qualifications,
marriage and family therapists list and claim as evidence only those earned degrees: (a)
from institutions accredited by regional accreditation sources recognized by the United
States Department of Education, (b) from institutions recognized by states or provinces
that license or certify marriage and family therapists, or (c) from equivalent
8.6 Marriage and family therapists correct, wherever
possible, false, misleading, or inaccurate information and representations made by others
concerning the therapist's qualifications, services, or products.
8.7 Marriage and family therapists make certain that the
qualifications of their employees or supervisees are represented in a manner that is not
false, misleading, or deceptive.
8.8 Marriage and family therapists do not represent
themselves as providing specialized services unless they have the appropriate education,
training, or supervised experience.
This Code is published by:
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
112 South Alfred Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: (703) 838-9808 - Fax: (703) 838-9805
© Copyright 2001 by the AAMFT. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of
Violations of this Code should be brought in
writing to the attention of:
AAMFT Ethics Committee
112 South Alfred Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: (703) 838-9808 - Fax: (703) 838-9805