Code of Ethics for Counselors | Which Ethics and Why


Code of Ethics For Counselors | Which Ethics and Why

Did you know there are more than one code of ethics for counselors? Which ones do you need to follow? 

This depends on how you are credentialed, which credentials and which professional associations you hold membership. It is important to also compare these counselor codes of ethics with your state licensing board’s.

Generally, your state code of ethics is extremely important since it is directly related to sanctions against your license for ethics violations. However, approximately 19 states have adopted the ACA code of ethics to enforce their counselor ethics law. 

That law has been challenged in Tennessee as it’s believed the Tennessee counselors board cannot refer to a professional association’s code of ethics but must under state law adopt it’s own code of ethics for counselors.

The Most Common Ethical Violations For Counselors

Most sources say the most common ethics complaints against counselors are boundaries. A licensing board can evaluate 20 ethics complaints against counselors that all appear very different and all could be determined to be boundary violations. 

Very often boundary violations are not related to sexual or intimate boundary violations.


A counselor accepts a referral from an insurance company EAP (Employee Assistance Program). The employer indicates this is an 8-year employee with an unrivaled track record of performance. The employer would like to be sure your client seeks needed help and would like you to determine whether the client is suicidal. 

The client has signed a release of information to both the employer and insurance employee assistance program. You assess the employee and report to employer that although client has a history of depression, they are at no risk of suicide. 


It is determined the employer request for your evaluation is to determine insurability. The client is fired because the report indicates a prior history of depression. The employee files a board complaint. They also file a lawsuit against you. The employer questions your competence to complete this evaluation. Your dual relationship has become a boundary crossing.

How? You are the client’s therapist. Through believing you were advocating for your client, you also trapped yourself into working for the client’s employer. The client has been violated as you have extended your relationship outside the realm of psychotherapeutic treatment into advocacy.  Want to Learn 20 more examples of boundary violations for counselors?

Differences Between Licensing Board and Professional Associations Codes of Ethics

Licensing boards’ and professional associations codes of ethics serve different purposes.

Licensing boards adopt codes of ethics through law, other board rules and regulations or both. They are charged with protecting the public from harmful practitioners. 

State licensing boards are concerned with the oath you have made to abide by state law.

In contrast, professional associations issue credentials that support a level of competence, credibility and a general oath you have made to the counseling profession.

Professional association ethics codes are usually more detailed than most state licensing boards’ codes of ethics. 

This is partly because some associations issue their credential (certification) to counseling professionals working in diverse roles and work settings. 

They may issue credentials to non-licensed or bachelor level counselors. Note below, the role of professional associations codes of ethics versus Georgia’s Composite Board is not directly relevant for regulating licenses.

State board ethics are usually more concise –and in a way vague- to allow for use of discretion in interpretation and enforcement.

For example, most professional association codes of ethics address appropriate advertising of one’s services. By coincidence, so does Georgia’s board ethics.

In short, if you violate state ethics law or rules you can lose your license. If you violate professional association codes of ethics, you can lose the credential or certification they have issued to you.

PRO Tip: Know the codes laws and rules for all states you are licensed.

Read and study all codes of ethics for which you have a license, credential or certification. Compare them with your state licensing board code of ethics paying attention to any conflicts with professional association codes of ethics. 

For example, following the ACA ethics may not be sufficient for keeping your license. Know your state board ethics code!

Georgia Composite Board Code of Ethics

The Georgia Composite Board code of ethics is the primary source for making decisions about disciplinary action. For Georgia licensees, it is the most important of all ethics codes.

This code of ethics at Georgia rules chapter 135-7 are directly related to keeping your license. As a former board member who made formal judgements on over 200 state licensee complaints, I am happy to educate peers about this in any way possible,

I provide 20 case examples of boundary crossings and dual relationships through a unique workshop. –learn what not to do, but even more importantly what you CAN do to design your practice in a manner that minimizes the chances of some of the most common social worker, counselor and MFT code of ethics violations and licensing board complaints.

Also helpful is this Art of Reading GA Board Rules.

The Composite Board of PC, SW and MFT Code of Ethics is a 7 section rule chapter organized by ethical violations. All states that issue and regulate psychotherapy licenses address in state law or regulations, codes of ethics.

The Difference Between Various Mental Health Professional Associations Codes of Ethics

Professional Associations’ codes of ethics for psychotherapists vary. Following is a discussion of codes of ethics for counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists and psychologists. Here are some highlights of their differences:

American Counseling Association (ACA)

The American Counseling Association code of ethics for counselors specifically addresses ethics in the context of the employer/employee relationship. ACA’s ethics specifies that if one accepts employment that counselor is in general agreement with the practices of that organization and attempts to resolve employer related disputes.

The ACA specifically addresses bartering i.e. exchanging goods or services for counseling. 

ACA’s ethics state that counselors may barter if the bartering does not result in exploitation and if the client willingly accepts the bartering arrangement.

Intimate or sexual relationships with clients is prohibited for a period of 5 years after termination of the counseling relationship.

American Psychological Association

The APA deems improper or frivolous complaints against peers as unethical.

Intimate relationships with clients can only occur 2 years or later after termination.

The APA code of ethics prohibits sexual/intimate relationships with supervisees.

In 2016, the American Psychological Association amended it’s code of ethics to specifically address inhumane treatment and torture. This amendment was, in part, due to the release of a document, the Hoffman Report, the results of a 2015 investigation into the American Psychological Association’s relaxing ethical standards for psychologists involved in torture interrogations.

It is in essence, a matter with the U.S. Department of Defense and the use of psychologists in alleged psychological torture and warfare.

National Board for certified Counselors (NBCC)

As of 11/3/2020, Intimate relationships are prohibited by NBCC until at least two years after termination of services.

NBCC ethics state one cannot supervise relatives.

NASW (National Association of Social Workers)

Unique to social work professional associations is that in addition to helping clients, social workers have a primary responsibility of social change and to address social problems. 

The NASW code of ethics allows for social responsibility to supercede loyalty to clients.

AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists)

Intimacy with former clients is prohibited.

Sexual intimacy with students or supervisees during the evaluative or training relationship between the therapist and student or supervisee is prohibited.

The AAMFT code of ethics requires a supervision informed consent.

Ethics of LPC Clinical Supervision

Licensed Professional Counselors Association of Georgia (LPCA) CPCS Supervisor

The CPCS certified Professional Counselor Supervisor credential is accepted by the Georgia Composite Board in order to be eligible to provide supervision toward licensure. 

If you are a CPCS, the LPCA of Georgia provides in CPCS code of ethics for the credential to be revoked if the state for any reason takes public action against the individual’s practice license.

LPCA of Georgia prohibits sexual or intimate relationships between supervisor and supervisee.

NBCC/ Cce Global Approved Clinical Supervisor Code of Ethics

Supervisors must refrain from intimate relationships until 2 years after termination of supervision.

Requires the retention of all supervision electronic communications including clerical and appointment scheduling.

Potential Conflicts with State Board Codes of Ethics

In terms of keeping your license, your state board code of ethics is the most important. Some state boards have included in their board rules professional association codes of ethics. 

The Tennessee Counseling board applies the American Counseling Association (ACA) code of ethics except in instances when it conflicts with state law or board rules– and there are many instances when professional association codes of ethics conflict with state ethics.

Georgia’s Composite Licensing Board of Professional Counselors Social Workers and Marriage and Family Therapists code of ethics prohibits client intimate relationships. 

These ethics however do not specify a time period that allows for intimate relationships after termination. But Georgia’s board has historically enforced in manner that intimate relationships are an ethics violation for an indefinite period of time after termination; never ethical at any point in time after terminating with the client. 

This directly conflicts with both NBCC and ACA codes of ethics. AAMFT ethics are ‘silent’ on a time period post-termination.

In addition, under Georgia law an intimate relationship with a client is a felony. A client cannot consent to an intimate relationship and consensual sex cannot be used as a defense in criminal proceedings.

Where can I find Code of ethics for LPC SW and MFT in Georgia?

Here are the Composite Board rules. Attest to the copyright notice and the composite board rules will load onto the page. Locate chapter 135-7.

The GA Counselor Code of Ethics,  Chapter 135-7.

The code of ethics can be found at Georgia’s Board Rules and is organized by chapter as follows:

135-7-01 Responsibility to Clients

135-7-02 Integrity

135-7-03 Confidentiality

135-7-04 Responsibility to Colleagues

135-7-05 Assessment of Instruments

135-7-06 Research

135-7-07 Advertising and Professional Representation

You deserve a former licensing board president on your side.

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