Codes Of Ethics and Regulations
Regarding Forensic Multiple Relationships of Psychotherapists as Treaters & Experts or Custody Evaluators

Complete comparative list of different Codes of Ethics on a variety of topics

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

Table Of Contents

Below are direct quotes of some of the most relevant sections to the issue of forensic dual relationships as they appear in the different codes of ethics and professional guidelines

American Academy Of Psychiatry And The Law (AAPL)
Ethics Guidelines For The Practice Of Forensic Psychiatry at http://www.aapl.org/ethics.htm

Section IV. Honesty and Striving for Objectivity, parag. 7:
Psychiatrists who take on a forensic role for patients they are treating may adversely affect the therapeutic relationship with them. Forensic evaluations usually require interviewing corroborative sources, exposing information to public scrutiny, or subjecting evaluees and the treatment itself to potentially damaging cross-examination. The forensic evaluation and the credibility of the practitioner may also be undermined by conflicts inherent in the differing clinical and forensic roles. Treating psychiatrists should therefore generally avoid acting as an expert witness for their patients or performing evaluations of their patients for legal purposes.

Treating psychiatrists appearing as “fact” witnesses should be sensitive to the unnecessary disclosure of private information or the possible misinterpretation of testimony as “expert” opinion. In situations when the dual role is required or unavoidable (such as Workers’ Compensation, disability evaluations, civil commitment, or guardianship hearings), sensitivity to differences between clinical and legal obligations remains important.

When requirements of geography or related constraints dictate the conduct of a forensic evaluation by the treating psychiatrist, the dual role may also be unavoidable; otherwise, referral to another evaluator is preferable.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)
Code of Ethics, 2015

7.6 Avoiding Dual Roles.
Marriage and family therapists avoid providing therapy to clients for whom the therapist has provided a forensic evaluation and avoid providing evaluations for those who are clients, unless otherwise mandated by legal systems.

7.7 Separation of Custody Evaluation from Therapy.
Marriage and family therapists avoid conflicts of interest in treating minors or adults involved in custody or visitation actions by not performing evaluations for custody, residence, or visitation of the minor. Marriage and family therapists who treat minors may provide the court or mental health professional performing the evaluation with information about the minor from the marriage and family therapist’s perspective as a treating marriage and family therapist, so long as the marriage and family therapist obtains appropriate consents to release information.

American Counseling Association (ACA)
Code of Ethics, 2014

E.13.c. Client Evaluation Prohibited. Counselors do not evaluate current or former clients, clients’ romantic partners, or clients’ family members for forensic purposes. Counselors do not counsel individuals they are evaluating.

E.13.d. Avoid Potentially Harmful Relationships. Counselors who provide forensic evaluations avoid potentially harmful professional or personal relationships with family members, romantic part- ners, and close friends of individuals they are evaluating or have evaluated in the past.

American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)
Code of Ethics, 2020

D. Assessment and Diagnosis
4. Forensic Activity

CMHCs who are requested or required to perform forensic functions such as assessments, interviews, consultations, report writing, responding to subpoenas, or offering expert testimony comply with the provisions of the AMHCA Code of Ethics and act in accordance with applicable state and federal law.

  • a. CMHCs who engage in forensic activity are expected to possess appropriate knowledge and competence.
  • b. When conducting interviews, writing reports, or offering testimony, CMHCs objectively offer their findings without bias or investment in the ultimate outcome.
  • c. CMHCs inform clients involved in a forensic evaluation about the limits of confidentiality, the role of the CMHC, and the purpose of the assessment.
  • d. CMHCs’ written forensic reports and recommendations are based on information and techniques appropriate to the evaluation.
  • e. CMHCs do not provide written conclusions or forensic testimony regarding any individual without assessment of that individual adequate to support statements and conclusions offered in the forensic setting.
  • f. When testifying, CMHCs clearly present their qualifications and specialized training. They accurately describe the basis for their professional judgment, conclusions, and testimony.
  • g. CMHCs do not typically provide forensic evaluations for individuals whom they are currently counseling or have counseled in the past. Conversely, CMHCs do not typically counsel individuals they are currently evaluating, or have evaluated in the past, for forensic purposes.
  • h. Forensic CMHCs do not act as an advocate for the legal system, perpetrators, or victims of criminal activity.

B. Counseling Process
6. The Use of Technology Supported Counseling and Communications (TSCC)

  • k. CMHCs only seek information about their clients through internet searches for the purpose of determining their own or their client’s safety, as necessary to conduct a forensic evaluation, or at the client’s request.

American Psychological Association – APA (2016)
Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct at http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx

2.01 Boundaries of Competence
(a) Psychologists provide services, teach, and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience.

3.05 Multiple Relationships
A psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist’s objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists.(b) If a psychologist finds that, due to unforeseen factors, a potentially harmful multiple relationship has arisen, the psychologist takes reasonable steps to resolve it with due regard for the best interests of the affected person and maximal compliance with the Ethics Code.

3.06 Conflict of Interest
Psychologists refrain from taking on a professional role when personal, scientific, professional, legal, financial, or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to (1) impair their objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing their functions as psychologists or (2) expose the person or organization.

American Psychological Association (APA) (2009). Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings. Washington, D.C: Author
The guidelines specifically address the multiple relationships matter in custody issues:
http://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/child-custody.pdf

7. Psychologists strive to avoid conflicts of interest and multiple relationships in conducting evaluations.
Rationale.
The inherent complexity, potential for harm, and adversarial context of child custody evaluations make the avoidance of conflicts of interest particularly important. The presence of such conflicts will undermine the court’s confidence in psychologists’ opinions and recommendations, and in some jurisdictions may result in professional board discipline and legal liability.

Application.
Psychologists refrain from taking on a professional role, such as that of a child custody evaluator, when personal, scientific, professional, legal, financial, or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to result in (1) impaired impartiality, competence, or effectiveness; or (2) exposure of the person or organization with whom the professional relationships exists to harm or exploitation (Ethics Code 3.06). Subject to the same analysis are multiple relationships, which occur when psychologists in a professional role with a person are simultaneously in another role with that person, when psychologists are in a relationship with another individual closely associated with or related to that person, or when psychologists promise to enter into another future relationship with that person or with another individual closely associated with or related to that person (Ethics Code 3.05). Psychologists conducting a child custody evaluation with their current or prior psychotherapy clients, and psychologists conducting psychotherapy with their current or prior child custody examinees, are both examples of multiple relationships. Psychologists’ ethical obligations regarding conflicts of interest and multiple relationships provide an explainable and understandable basis for declining court appointments and private referrals.

American Psychology Association-Law Society,
Division 41 of the American Psychological Association (APA), Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology
The 2011 American Psychological Association’s (APA) SPECIALTY GUIDELINES FOR FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY clearly states:

4.02.01 Therapeutic-Forensic Role Conflicts
Providing forensic and therapeutic psychological services to the same individual or closely related individuals involves multiple relationships that may impair objectivity and/or cause exploitation or other harm. Therefore, when requested or ordered to provide either concurrent or sequential forensic and therapeutic services, forensic practitioners are encouraged to disclose the potential risk and make reasonable efforts to refer the request to another qualified provider. If referral is not possible, the forensic practitioner is encouraged to consider the risks and benefits to all parties and to the legal system or entity likely to be impacted, the possibility of separating each service widely in time, seeking judicial review and direction, and consulting with knowledgeable colleagues. When providing both forensic and therapeutic services, forensic practitioners seek to minimize the potential negative effects of this circumstance (EPPCC Standard 3.05).

American Academy Of Psychiatry And The Law (AAPL)
Ethics Guidelines For The Practice Of Forensic Psychiatry: Section IV. Honesty and Striving for Objectivity, parag. 7

Psychiatrists who take on a forensic role for patients they are treating may adversely affect the therapeutic relationship with them. Forensic evaluations usually require interviewing corroborative sources, exposing information to public scrutiny, or subjecting evaluees and the treatment itself to potentially damaging cross-examination. The forensic evaluation and the credibility of the practitioner may also be undermined by conflicts inherent in the differing clinical and forensic roles. Treating psychiatrists should therefore generally avoid acting as an expert witness for their patients or performing evaluations of their patients for legal purposes.

Treating psychiatrists appearing as “fact” witnesses should be sensitive to the unnecessary disclosure of private information or the possible misinterpretation of testimony as “expert” opinion. In situations when the dual role is required or unavoidable (such as Workers’ Compensation, disability evaluations, civil commitment, or guardianship hearings), sensitivity to differences between clinical and legal obligations remains important.

When requirements of geography or related constraints dictate the conduct of a forensic evaluation by the treating psychiatrist, the dual role may also be unavoidable; otherwise, referral to another evaluator is preferable.

Association of Family and Conciliation Coursts (AFCC)
Guidelines for Court-Involved Therapy (CIT)

GUIDELINE 4: MULTIPLE RELATIONSHIPS
4.1 The CIT should avoid serving simultaneously in multiple roles, particularly if these create a conflict of interest. For example, the CIT should not serve simultaneously as therapist and evaluator or as therapist and friend. Similarly, the CIT is strongly discouraged from performing different roles sequentially, as, for example, a therapist who becomes an evaluator or a therapist who becomes a parenting coordinator.

4.2 The CIT should disclose to all relevant parties any multiple relationships that cannot be avoided and the potential negative impact of such multiple roles.

(a) The CIT who discovers that he/she is performing multiple roles in a case should promptly seek to resolve any conflicts in a manner that is least harmful to the client and family. The CIT should clarify the expectations of each role and seek to avoid or minimize the negative impact of assuming multiple roles.

(b) The CIT should recognize that relationships with clients are not time limited and that prior relationships, or the anticipation of future relationships, may have an adverse effect on the CIT’s ability to be objective.

(c) The CIT should attempt to avoid conflicts of interest and should address them as soon as they arise, or the potential for conflict becomes known, by:

(1) Identifying a real or apparent conflict of interest as soon as it becomes known to the CIT.

(2) Refusing to assume a therapeutic role if personal, professional, legal, financial or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to impair objectivity, competence or effectiveness in the provision of services.

(3) Communicating with the client or potential client or counsel, and, if necessary, with the Court, about the existence of the conflict.

(4) Recognizing that the appearance of a conflict of interest, as well as an actual conflict of interest, can diminish public trust and confidence both in the therapeutic service and in the Court.

(5) Differentiating between conflicts that require declining to assume or withdrawing from the therapeutic role, as opposed to multiple or sequential roles that may be undertaken with waivers from the client or parent.

(6) Recognizing the risks of undertaking conflicting roles, even if the client or parent signs a waiver.

(7) Clearly documenting the disclosure of any waived conflict, the client’s ability to understand it, and the client’s waiver. The client must receive a clear explanation of the conflict, and it may also be necessary to provide such explanations to other professionals or agencies relying on the therapist’s work or information.

California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT)
Code of Ethics, 2019

10. RESPONSIBILITY TO THE LEGAL SYSTEM
Marriage and family therapists recognize their duty to remain objective and truthful. Marriage and family therapists recognize that court cases involving therapeutic services introduce factors and dynamics into the delivery of treatment services that are likely to impact their working alliance with the clients/patients; they are cognizant of the tendency of clients/patients to equate their own best interests with prevailing in a legal dispute. Marriage and family therapists understand that their role is not to produce a pre-determined outcome in the legal process; they should not align with the client’s/patient’s legal position as this might distort information received, or impair their ability to support the client/patient in dealing with the stresses of the process and potential outcomes.

10.1 TESTIMONY:
Marriage and family therapists who give testimony in legal proceedings testify truthfully and avoid making misleading statements. Marriage and family therapists inform the court of any conflicts between the expectations of the court and their ethical obligations or role limitations. Marriage and family therapists should anticipate that clients, attorneys, or the court, might ask them to offer opinions or information beyond the limits of their knowledge base or expert role. In such circumstances, marriage and family therapists safeguard their professional objectivity by clarifying these issues with the court and respectfully declining to offer such testimony.

10.2 EXPERT WITNESSES:
Marriage and family therapists who act as expert or who provide expert opinions in any context, orally or in writing, clarify their expert role to their clients/patients, fellow professionals, attorneys, and the court as necessary. Marriage and family therapists base their opinions and conclusions on appropriate data and are careful to acknowledge the limits of their training, data, recommendations or conclusions, in order to avoid providing unsubstantiated, misleading, distorted, or biased testimony or reports. Marriage and family therapists carefully distinguish between the roles of “treating therapist” and “forensic expert.” Treating therapists primarily provide opinions on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment progress and recommendations, and prognosis of their clients/patients. A treating expert’s testimony should be limited to the therapist’s particular area of expertise and issues directly relevant to the treatment role. They understand that their role is to facilitate successful psychological functioning, and not to promote a predetermined legal outcome. Forensic experts are retained to offer opinions and make recommendations in a variety of legal contexts, including specific parenting and custody plans or decision-making authority in legal proceedings.

10.3 CONFLICTING ROLES:
Whenever possible, marriage and family therapists avoid performing conflicting roles in legal proceedings and disclose any potential conflicts to prospective clients/patients, to the courts, or to others as appropriate. At the outset of the service to be provided and as changes occur, marriage and family therapists clarify role expectations, limitations, conflicts, and the extent of confidentiality to pre-existing or prospective clients, to the courts, or to others as appropriate.

10.4 DUAL ROLES:
Marriage and family therapists avoid providing both court evaluations and treatment concurrently or sequentially for the same clients/patients or treatment units in legal proceedings such as child custody, visitation, dependency, or guardianship proceedings, unless otherwise required by law or initially appointed pursuant to court order. When pre-existing clients/patients become involved in a legal proceeding and the marriage and family therapist continues to provide treatment, they should discuss the potential effects of legal involvement with their clients/patients, including clarifying the potential role conflicts, clients’/patients’ expectations, and possible requests to release treatment information.

10.5 IMPARTIALITY:
Marriage and family therapists, regardless of their role in a legal proceeding, remain impartial and do not compromise their professional judgment or integrity. Marriage and family therapists understand that their testimony and opinions are impactful on legal outcomes. Marriage and family therapists use particular caution when drawing conclusions or forming or expressing opinions from limited observations or sources of information.

10.6 MINORS AND PRIVILEGE:
Marriage and family therapists determine who holds the psychotherapist-patient privilege on behalf of minor clients/patients prior to releasing information or testifying. Marriage and family therapists determine who are the legal recipients of privileged information and the extent of the information to be released. When legally permitted, marriage and family therapists are encouraged to inform parents/legal guardians about whether, how, and what they will communicate to the court.

10.7 PROFESSIONAL OPINIONS IN COURT-INVOLVED CASES:
Marriage and family therapists shall only express professional opinions about clients/patients they have treated or examined. Marriage and family therapists, when expressing professional opinions, specify the limits of the information upon which their professional opinions are based. Such professional opinions include, but are not limited to, mental conditions, emotional conditions, or parenting abilities.

10.8 CUSTODY EVALUATORS:
Marriage and family therapists who are custody evaluators (private or court-based) or special masters provide such services only if they meet the requirements established by relevant ethical standards, guidelines, laws, regulations, and rules of court.

10.9 CONSEQUENCES OF CHANGES IN THERAPIST ROLES:
Marriage and family therapists inform the client/patient or the treatment unit of any potential consequences of therapist-client/patient role changes. Such role changes include, but are not limited to: child’s therapist, family’s therapist, couple’s therapist, individual’s therapist, mediator, and special master. Marriage and family therapists are encouraged to obtain consultation before changing roles to consider how the role change might create a conflict of interest or affect the therapeutic alliance, and to explore whether appropriate alternatives exist that would reduce such risks.

10.10 FAMILIARITY WITH JUDICIAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE RULES:
Marriage and family therapists, when assuming treatment or forensic expert roles, are or become familiar with the judicial, jurisdictional, and administrative rules governing their roles.

10.11 CUSTODY DISPUTES:
When treating families and minors who are involved in a custody determination or dispute, marriage and family therapists obtain information about how the decision to enter therapy was made, who was involved in the decision, and the outcomes expected by the parents, other parties, or the court. Marriage and family therapists take care to clarify and determine who has the legal authority to provide consent and treatment for the minor and avoid initiating treatment of the minor until such determination is made. Marriage and family therapists are encouraged to request copies of any court judgements or orders and determine who has the legal authority to make decisions about entering or continuing treatment, or access to or release of confidential information.

When providing legally permitted disclosures of confidential information or professional opinions about minor clients/patients in court-involved cases, marriage and family therapists generally limit the scope of such information to issues which concern the minor’s psychotherapeutic treatment. In order to avoid an inaccurate or incomplete assessment of the minor’s needs, marriage and family therapists use caution in the interpretation of a minor’s pictures, writings, or other materials produced in the course of treatment as well as behaviors or statements when the minor expresses a position on disputed adult issues.

10.12 PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS:
Marriage and family therapists are aware of the potential impact of the adversarial nature of legal disputes on their actions, observations, and opinions. When communicating with clients/patients, parents, counsel, the court, or other parties, marriage and family therapists ensure that their communications are properly authorized, unbiased, and accurate. Marriage and family therapists decline to communicate when there is insufficient data to form a reliable opinion or where the opinion is inconsistent with their role.

4.8 NON-THERAPIST ROLES:
Marriage and family therapists when engaged in professional roles other than treatment or supervision (including, but not limited to, managed care utilization review, consultation, coaching, adoption service, child custody evaluation, or behavior analysis), act solely within that role and clarify as necessary, in order to avoid confusion with consumers and employers, how that role is distinguished from the practice of marriage and family therapy.

5.14 LIMITS OF PROFESSIONAL OPINIONS:
Marriage and family therapists do not express professional opinions about an individual’s psychological condition unless they have treated or conducted an examination and assessment of the individual, or unless they reveal the limits of the information upon which their professional opinions are based, with appropriate cautions as to the effects of such limited information upon their opinions.

National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
Code of Ethics, 2017

1.06 Conflicts of Interest …. Social workers who anticipate a conflict of interest among the individuals receiving services or who anticipate having to perform in potentially conflicting roles (for example, when a social worker is asked to testify in a child custody dispute or divorce proceedings involving clients) should clarify their role with the parties involved and take appropriate action to minimize any conflict of interest.

National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
Code of Ethics, 2016

58. NCCs shall not provide forensic evaluation services concerning current or past clients or client’s family members. Also, NCCs shall not provide forensic evaluation services regarding their own family members, friends or professional associates.

Further resources on the forensic multiple relationships:

Top of Page