Professional Association Codes of Ethics and Guidelines On
Retirement or Death of Therapist, or Sudden Closure of Practice
By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.
This page is part of an Online Course,
Retirement of Therapists: Ethical, Legal, Clinical and Psychological Considerations.
See our online course on Termination in Psychotherapy and Counseling: Ethical & Clinical Considerations
Table Of Contents
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
American Counseling Association Code of Ethics
American Mental Health Counselors Association
American Psychological Association
Australian Psychological Society
California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association
Canadian Psychological Association
National Association for Addiction Professionals
National Association of Social Workers
National Board for Certified Counselors
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Code of Ethics (AAMFT, 2015):
Standard II Confidentiality
2.6 Preparation for Practice Changes.
In preparation for moving a practice, closing a practice, or death, marriage and family therapists arrange for the storage, transfer, or disposal of client records in conformance with applicable laws and in ways that maintain confidentiality and safeguard the welfare of clients.
American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (ACA, 2014):
B.6. Records and Documentation
B.6.i. Reasonable Precautions
Counselors take reasonable precautions to protect client confidentiality in the event of the counselor’s termination of practice, incapacity, or death and appoint a records custodian when identified as appropriate.
Section C Professional Responsibility
C.2.h. Counselor Incapacitation, Death, Retirement, or Termination of Practice
Counselors prepare a plan for the transfer of clients and the dissemination of records to an identified colleague or records custodian in the case of the counselor’s incapacitation, death, retirement, or termination of practice.
Section G Research and Publication
G.2.i. Research Records Custodian
As appropriate, researchers prepare and disseminate to an identified colleague or records custodian a plan for the transfer of research data in the case of their incapacitation, retirement, or death.
American Mental Health Counselors Association Code of Ethics (AMHCA, 2020):
B. Counseling Process
5. Termination and Referral
CMHCs do not abandon or neglect their counseling clients.
- a. Assistance is given in making appropriate arrangements for the continuation of treatment, when necessary, during interruptions such as vacation and following termination.
- b. CMHCs may terminate a counseling relationship when it is reasonably clear that the client is no longer benefiting, when services are no longer required, when counseling no longer serves the needs and/or interests of the client, or when agency or institution limits do not allow provision of further counseling services.
- c. CMHCs may terminate a counseling relationship when clients do not pay fees charged or when insurance denies treatment. In such cases, appropriate referrals are offered to the clients.
- d. If CMHCs determine that services are not beneficial to the client, they avoid immediately terminating the counseling relationship. Instead, appropriate referrals are made. If clients decline the suggested referral, CMHCs may discontinue the relationship.
- e. When CMHCs refer clients to other professionals, they will be collaborative.
- f. CMHCs take steps to develop a safety plan if clients are at risk of being harmed or are suicidal. If necessary, they refer to appropriate resources and contact appropriate support.
C. Counselor Responsibility and Integrity
- o. [CMHCs] develop a plan for termination of practice, death, or incapacitation by assigning a colleague or records custodian to handle transfer of clients and files.
B. Counseling Process
3. Multiple Clients
When working with multiple clients, CMHCs respect individual client rights and maintain objectivity.
- b. If it becomes apparent that CMHCs are unable to maintain objectivity, resulting in conflicting roles, they must appropriately clarify, adjust, or withdraw from roles.
B. Counseling Process
7. Clients’ Rights
Clients have the right to be treated with dignity, consideration, and respect at all times. Clients have the right to:
- c. Information such as time of sessions, payment plans/fees, absences, access, emergency procedures, third-party reimbursement procedures, termination and referral procedures, and advanced notice of the use of collection agencies.
E. Record-Keeping, Fee Arrangements, and Bartering
- b. CMHCs establish a plan for the transfer, storage, and disposal of client records in the event of withdrawal from practice or death of the counselor in a manner that maintains confidentiality and protects the welfare of the client.
American Psychological Association Code of Ethics (APA, 2016):
3. Human Relations
3.12 Interruption of Psychological Services
Unless otherwise covered by contract, psychologists make reasonable efforts to plan for facilitating services in the event that psychological services are interrupted by factors such as the psychologist’s illness, death, unavailability, relocation, or retirement or by the client’s/patient’s relocation or financial limitations. (See also Standard 6.02c, Maintenance, Dissemination, and Disposal of Confidential Records of Professional and Scientific Work.)
6.02 Maintenance, Dissemination, and Disposal of Confidential Records of Professional and Scientific Work
(c) Psychologists make plans in advance to facilitate the appropriate transfer and to protect the confidentiality of records and data in the event of psychologists’ withdrawal from positions or practice. (See also Standards 3.12, Interruption of Psychological Services, and 10.09, Interruption of Therapy.)
Australian Psychological Society Code of Ethics (APS, 2007):
B.11. Termination of psychological services
Psychologists make reasonable arrangements for the continuity of service provision when they are no longer able to deliver the psychological service.
Psychologists whose employment, health or other factors necessitate early termination of relationships with clients:
(a) provide clients with an explanation of the need for the termination;
(b) take all reasonable steps to safe guard clients’ ongoing welfare;and
(c) offer to help clients locate alternative sources of assistance.
California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Code of Ethics (CAMFT, 2019):
1. RESPONSIBILITY TO CLIENTS/PATIENTS
1.3 TREATMENT DISRUPTION:
Marriage and family therapists are aware of their professional and clinical responsibilities to provide consistent care to clients/patients and to maintain practices and procedures that are intended to provide undisrupted care. Such practices and procedures may include, but are not limited to, providing contact information and specified procedures in case of emergency or therapist absence, conducting appropriate terminations, and providing for a professional will.
Marriage and family therapists use sound clinical judgment when terminating therapeutic relationships. Reasons for termination may include, but are not limited to, the client/patient is not benefiting from treatment, continuing treatment is not clinically appropriate, the therapist is unable to provide treatment due to the therapist’s incapacity or extended absence, or due to an otherwise unresolvable ethical conflict or issue.
1.6 EMPLOYMENT AND CONTRACTUAL TERMINATIONS:
When terminating employment or contractual relationships, marriage and family therapists primarily consider the best interests of the client/patient when resolving issues of continued responsibility for client/patient care.
Marriage and family therapists do not abandon or neglect clients/patients in treatment. If a therapist is unable or unwilling to continue to provide professional services, the therapist will assist the client/ patient in making clinically appropriate arrangements for continuation of treatment.
Canadian Psychological Association Code of Ethics for Psychologists (CPA, 2007):
Collect, store, handle, and transfer all private information, whether written or unwritten (e.g., communication during service provision, written records, e-mail or fax communication, computer files, video-tapes), in a way that attends to the needs for privacy and security. This would include having adequate plans for records in circumstances of one’s own serious illness, termination of employment, or death.
National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC, 2016).
Principle III: Professional Responsibilities and Workplace Standards
III-44 Termination Addiction Professionals shall create a written plan, policy or Professional Will for addressing situations involving the Provider’s incapacitation, termination of practice, retirement, or death.
National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (NASW, 2017)
1.15 Interruption of Services Social workers should make reasonable efforts to ensure continuity of services in the event that services are interrupted by factors such as unavailability, disruptions in electronic communication, relocation, illness, mental or physical ability, or death.
(e) Social workers who anticipate the termination or interruption of services to clients should notify clients promptly and seek the transfer, referral, or continuation of services in relation to the clients’ needs and preferences.
1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality Social workers should take reasonable precautions to protect client confidentiality in the event of the social worker’s termination of practice, incapacitation, or death.
National Board for Certified Counselors Code of Ethics (NBCC, 2016)
9. NCCs shall take proactive measures to avoid interruptions of counseling services due to illness, vacations or unforeseen circumstances. To prevent the harm that may occur if clients are unable to access professional assistance, such measures shall identify other professionals with whom the NCC has a working agreement or local emergency service agencies that can respond to clients in a mental health crisis.
10. NCCs shall create written procedures regarding the handling of client records in the event of their unexpected death or incapacitation. In recognition of the harm that may occur if clients are unable to access professional assistance in these cases, these procedures shall ensure that the confidentiality of client records is maintained and shall include the identification of individual(s) who are familiar with ethical and legal requirements regarding the counseling profession and who shall assist clients in locating other professional mental health providers as well as ensure the appropriate transfer of client records. These written procedures shall be provided to the client, and the NCC shall provide an opportunity for the client to discuss concerns regarding the process as it pertains to the transfer of his or her record.
59. NCCs who are retiring or departing from an established practice with other mental health professionals shall notify current and former clients as appropriate regarding their pending departure from the practice. Such notifications should include information about record availability and access, and contact information of appropriate referrals within the established practice.