We present the results of a line-by-line comparison regarding relationship and client protection issues between the American Psychological Association (APA) and American Counseling Association (ACA) ethical codes. Out of 144 total differences in these ethical codes, 34 differences pertain specifically to the topics of relationships and client protection.
Results from the study showed ACA to provide extensive requirements and prohibitions relating to the therapeutic relationship, compared to APA’s more general and principle-driven approach to this domain. Citing a few examples here, we note that ACA requires more extensive documentation of relationship boundary changes pertaining to romantic and/or sexual relationships, therapeutic role changes, and other redefinitions of relationships. Additionally, ACA and APA both limit the potential for multiple relationships, but ACA specifically prohibits counselors from terminating a therapeutic relationship in order to pursue a romantic relationship with someone closely related to their client. In sum regarding this domain, the ACA is more definitive, prescriptive, and limiting in what appears to be attempts at providing strengthened client protection.
Similarly, the ACA is more detailed and narrow regarding client/counselor relationships and other therapeutic boundary establishments. The protections also are more fully extended to the counseling supervisor/supervisee relationship in the ACA code. In contrast, the APA is more general and/or silent in the domains which are spelled-out in detail by ACA. In the present study, we draw attention to the specific wording in the two documents and how these differences in words potentially impact clinical practice with both clients and supervisees.
We also discuss how the results of the present study have implications for undergraduate students who are at the point of decision-making regarding which profession to select. Additionally, any psychologist who supervises counselors must ensure that all ethical standards—of both psychology and counseling—are upheld when counselors work under the licenses of a practicing psychologist. And finally, agencies who hire both licensed psychologist and licensed counselors must be aware of these significant differences in the APA and ACA ethical codes. We place the results of the present study into the larger context of the overall differences between the two codes.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/kristin_dewitt/5/