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Be Informed – Get Involved

Dear CTAMFT Members,

AAMFT has asked the membership for feedback concerning the revision to our Code of Ethics. The revisions were assessed as to both the scope of change and the content of the changes. The approved draft of the revised Code of Ethics has generated a reaction piece from seven former Presidents of AAMFT who expressed concerns of replacing “Marriage and Family Therapists” with “AAMFT Members”.

As this is an issue of importance, we wanted to open a more “local” conversation about our professional ethics code with our Connecticut membership to discover what the consensus is regarding the proposed Code revisions.

Below is the response of former Presidents for your review and we encourage you to share your thoughts on via our Facebook page or Blog.

Also, we encourage you to respond directly by January 31, 2012 on the national level to AAMFT’s request for feedback to the proposed revised Code of Ethics. We have provided a draft of the proposed changes to the Code of Ethics in the Members Only section under “AAMFT Code of Ethics” on ctamft.org.

Best regards,
Dorothy

_________________________________________________________________________

Subject: In Protest of the Proposed AAMFT Ethics Code Revisions
Dear Division Presidents, Program Directors, and Officers of the Canadian Registry

The letter below is sent on behalf of seven former AAMFT Presidents to express their deepest concern regarding the proposed changes to the AAMFT Code of Ethics. We would appreciate your sharing it with all AAMFT members in your division, your students, colleagues, and all who care about Marriage and Family Therapy.

In Protest of the Proposed AAMFT Ethics Code Revisions

Dear MFT Family,

We are writing today with a grave concern for the profession of Marriage and Family Therapy that each of us values and has dedicated much or all of our careers to. If you have not seen the proposed revisions to the current AAMFT Ethics Code (Ethics Code), please do so immediately. Amazingly, the Ethics Code Task Force has totally excised the term “Marriage and Family Therapist” from the proposed Code of Ethics. This was done on the dubious grounds that the new AAMFT membership categories mean that not all our members are entitled to call themselves “Marriage and Family Therapists,” and therefore keeping the term “marriage and family therapist” in the Code means the Code would not apply to all our members. Here is an excerpt from the proposed revisions to the first three principles:

1. Responsibility to Clients

Marriage and family therapists AAMFT members 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 appropriately.

1.1Non-Discrimination. Marriage and family therapists Members provide professional assistance to persons without discrimination on the basis of race, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, gender, health status, religion, national origin, orsexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

1.2 Informed Consent. Marriage and family therapists Members obtain appropriate informed consent to therapy or related procedures and use language that is reasonably understandable to clients.

But an ethical code is never meant to be directed at a single professional organization, but at the professional field as a whole.  Not one professional organization we have looked at, including the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychological Association, the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Nursing Association, and even the Association of Professional Wildlife Biologists directs its ethical code only at its organization’s members.   All direct their strictures at their entire field.

Thus the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct state “A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client.”   The AMA Code states “A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights.”   The ACA Code states “Counselors encourage client growth and development in ways that foster the interest and welfare of clients and promote formation of healthy relationships.”   The Ethical Code for Nurses states “The nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient, whether an individual, family, group, or community.”  The NASW Ethical Code states “Social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems.” The APA Code states, “Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.”

By doing away with the term “Marriage and Family Therapist” in the Code, the task force has in essence done away with any ethical code for our field.  Should the proposed code go into effect and a member of the public ask, “what is the ethical code for marriage and family therapists?” The only truthful answer would have to be “there is a code for AAMFT members but not for marriage and family therapy.”  This must not happen.

Licensing boards, courts, third party and practitioner liability insurers, employers, the developers of the MFT National Examination, and others that heretofore have adopted the AAMFT Ethics Code as the standard of ethical practice for licensed marriage and family therapists will be utterly unable to use the proposed standards, since they never mention marriage and family therapists.  The proposed standards thus do severe damage to one of the longstanding goals of AAMFT: to increase professional recognition of and respect for our field.  And they directly undermine licensure, reimbursement, liability protection, and new practitioner evaluation, which are all dependent on a profession-wide code of ethics.

The terrible irony is that a professional organization such as our own has an ethical duty to create an ethics code for the entire profession – not simply for its own members. The ultimate purpose of a code, after all, is to protect the public from unethical practice in the profession as a whole. No other entity is capable of fulfilling this obligation.

The National Association of Social Workers’ Code makes this obligation of a professional association explicit in its preamble:

Professional ethics are at the core of social work. The profession has an obligation to articulate its basic values, ethical principles, and ethical standards. The NASW Code of Ethics sets forth these values, principles, and standards to guide social workers’ conduct.The Code is relevant to all social workers and social work students, regardless of their professional functions, the settings in which they work, or the populations they serve. (our emphasis)

The American Medical Association has a similar statement in its code’s preamble:

The medical profession has long subscribed to a body of ethical statements developed primarily for the benefit of the patient. As a member of this profession, a physician must recognize responsibility to patients first and foremost, as well as to society, to other health professionals, and to self.  The following Principles adopted by the American Medical Association are not laws, but standards of conduct which define the essentials of honorable behavior for the physician. (our emphasis)

Yet the proposed revisions to the AAMFT Code strip away the idea that our profession even is marriage and family therapy, as if all we do is some ill-defined mental health activity and not what the U.S. Public Health Service designated many years ago as one of only five “Core Mental Health Disciplines,” and Newsweek recently labeled one of the “Top 50 Occupations of the Decade.”  Here is an excerpt from the new version of our Preamble:

Both law and ethics govern the practice of professionals. Wmarriage and family therapy.

Are we afraid to even name our own field?

Each of us whose name appears below remembers a time when all of us fought for the right to call Marriage and Family Therapy a licensable field, and to place that title after our names. We appeared before state or provincial legislators who routinely asked if what we did was really a profession — did it have a scholarly literature? Did it have standards for training?  Did it have, they all asked, a code of ethics?  If all we had been able to say was that AAMFT had one, but not the field, we would not have anything like 50 states, the District, and two provinces licensed today.

The proposed changes represent a threat to the core of marriage and family therapy, to our right to practice with our clients, to train and supervise our students, to conduct research with members of the public, and to be a recognized and valued mental health discipline. They threaten the right of the public to be protected from unethical practice by any marriage and family therapist. There can be no compromise on this issue.

AAMFT must either speak for our profession as a whole or our profession will die. We urge every AAMFT member, every person who cares about our practice, everyone who cares about the welfare of our clients, and everyone who calls her or himself a marriage and family therapist to contact the AAMFT Board of Directors immediately and protest these changes (coderevisions@aamft.org). Demand that our organization speak clearly and firmly on what ethical practice means in our profession. Demand that AAMFT speak once again not for ourselves, but for our field.

Respectfully,

William C. Nichols,  AAMFT President, 1981-1982
Thomas E. Clark, AAMFT President, 1983-1984
Anna Beth Benningfield, AAMFT President, 1993-1994, 1999-2000
Marcia Lasswell, AAMFT President, 1995-1996
James Morris, AAMFT President, 2001-2002
Scott Johnson, AAMFT President, 2007-2008
Linda Schwallie, AAMFT President, 2009-2010

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2 Responses

  1. I found myself very saddened when I read the proposed edits to the Code of Ethics when I read them on Dec. 19. I immediately sent this email to the code revisions email address at AAMFT:

    __________________________________

    I find myself a bit melancholy to see the words “marriage and family therapists” eliminated for the term “members”. I researched and became an MFT on purpose, because the discipline resonated the strongest with my own ethics and worldview. It’s sad to see yet another dilution of something specific.

    __________________________________

    I hope we can find a solution that keeps the profession special and distinct while addressing a broader range of professionals who choose to embrace the vision and ethics of MFT.

  2. It would be consistent with other professional association ethics codes (social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists) to have the AAMFT Ethics Code pertain to “Marriage and Family Therapists” rather than “members” as the applicable group of professionals that the ethics code is designed for.

    Possibly the solution to address members of other disciplines is to add a line stating that these ethics were designed for the practice of marriage and family therapy, and that all AAMFT members, regardless of their discipline, agree to observe the ethical guidelines set out by AAMFT when practicing marriage and family therapy.

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