CHAPTER 4: Ethics & the Law

HUS 1020

Prof. Miller-Jones

Chapter 4 Objectives:

To discuss the helper’s obligation to establish a “special relationship” with the client

To discuss the helper’s obligation of “duty to warn”

To discuss how licensure and/or certification may lend legal power to the professional codes of conduct

To discuss examples of ethical practices that may be illegal & the legal requirements that may violate the professional code of ethics

The Helping Process a Legal Contract

A professional relationship or even the perception of one can be recognized as a legal duty to provide care for the client

The “practicing helper” implies he/she will conduct themselves in a responsible manner & follow the guidelines in the organization’s professional code of ethics

A “special relationship” between the helper and client is sufficient to create a “duty to care” with a formal contract

“Duty to Care”

A formal contract creates a legal duty to provide appropriate care for a client & one that the helper is obligated to:

It is a written contract b/w a professional counselor & the client

It spells out the duties of both the helper-client in the helping process

It explains the actions to service the client such as rendering a bill, the exchange of money, taking notes, scheduling appointments, or any advertising to solicit new clients (i.e., using personal testimonials)

Its intention is to act in good faith & loyalty toward a client (also known as a fiduciary responsibility)

The Legal Foundation of Ethical Practice

Not only are there ethical risks involved in counseling but there is also a legal risk

The process & relationship b/w health & human service professionals & their clients are increasingly shaped by law (e.g., cases tried in court may be written into the counseling code of conduct)

Informed consent, confidentiality, & competency as well as mandates( for reporting child abuse), & the duty to warn have significant influences on the practice of human services

Courts of law can employ regulatory & ethical standards to identify negligence, malpractice, & liability in the health & human services profession!

Historical Legal Cases

Bogust v. Iverson (1960)

Case of Jane Dunn, died by suicide, a teacher sued for duty to protect

Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled no “duty to care” no “special relationship” was established; the teacher did not have specialized training in crisis treatment

Nally v. Gracy Community Church (1988)

Case of Kenneth Nally, who died by suicide, church pastor sued for duty of care

California Supreme Court ruled no “duty to care” was breached & no “special relationship” was established; pastors are non-therapist

Eisel v. Board of Education of Montgomery County (1991)

First suicide case filed bought against school counselor; counselor neglected to protect student’s death

Montgomery County Supreme Court ruled the counselor was partially responsible; had a special duty to exercise reasonable care; “duty to care” “special relationship” were established based on the counselor’s specialized training & job description

Tarasoff v. The Regents of University of California (1976)

Case of Tatiana Tarasoff murder by an obsessed graduate student who confessed to his therapist in 8 sessions his intention to kill. California Supreme Court ruled therapists have a duty to protect intended victims e.g. “duty to warn” by breaching a confidential agreement with a client intending to harm others

Cases of “Duty to Warn/Protect”What Should the Professional Do:

Consult with an attorney if you are not clear about your legal duty

Inquire about a client’s access to weapons, homicidal ideation, & intentions, including whether a specific victim is involved

Consider all appropriate steps to take and the consequences of each action

Know and follow the policy of your organization’s professional code of ethics

Document all actions you take and the rationale behind each of your decisions

Guidelines for Assessing Suicidal Behavior:

Take direct verbal warnings seriously!

Pay attention to previous suicide attempts

Identify clients suffering from depression

Be alert for feelings of hopelessness and helplessness

Monitor severe anxiety and panic attacks

Find out whether there has been a recent diagnosis of a serious or terminal health condition (you may have to probe further for info

Cont’d…Guidelines for Assessing Suicidal Behavior:

Determine whether the client has a plan

Identify clients who have a history of severe alcohol or drug abuse

Be alert to the client’s behaviors such as: giving away prized possessions, finalizing business affairs, or revising wills

Determine the history of psychiatric treatment

School Counselors’ Liability for Student Suicide

Counselors should educate school employees especially teachers on the risk factors associated with adolescent suicide

Counselors might institute peer assistance programs to help identify students at risk for suicide

It would be useful for school counselors to have increased access to training programs for acquiring information about student suicide

Protecting Children, The Elderly, & Dependent Adults from Harm

Mandatory reporting:

Designed to encourage reporting of any suspected cases of child, elder, or dependent adult abuse-counselors are advised to be vigilant & cautious about reporting any uncertain circumstances

If children, the elderly, or other dependent adults disclose that they are being abused or neglected, the counselor is required to report the situation under penalty of fines and imprisonment!

The professional has an obligation to protect those who cannot advocate for themselves in other words, it is within your ethical obligation to exercise your duty to care & duty to warn


The Difference between Ethics & the Law

Ethics, Morality, & the Law

Ethics & the Law: The Great Debate


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