Proposed Ethics Code revision would remove MFTs’ social responsibility

The proposal would eliminate three sections of the AAMFT Code of Ethics that currently call for service and responsibility to larger systems. Members have until January 31 to weigh in.

Angry Talk (Comic Style)The AAMFT Board of Directors is proposing an incremental change to the marriage and family therapy profession’s Code of Ethics, the guiding document that defines professional standards in the field. At least one of the proposed changes would drastically redefine what it means to be an MFT.

Some quick background: The AAMFT Code of Ethics was last updated way back in 2001, and much has changed in the profession since then. In particular, the emergence of new technologies for both marketing and service delivery has raised concerns about how to best manage confidentiality and informed consent. The AAMFT Board has known the Code was in need of updating, but did not want to engage in a full-scale overhaul of the Code at this time; that would be about a two-year undertaking. So, they instead are looking at smaller-scale changes. (Full disclosure: I chaired a Task Force, at the Board’s request, looking at possible changes to the Code over the summer. The Task Force was just one of several sources of input for the Board as they developed the current proposal.)

One element of the proposed revised Code is shocking to me. It would change what it means to be a marriage and family therapist. The Board is proposing removing each of the following sections from the AAMFT Code of Ethics:

6.6 Marriage and family therapists participate in activities that contribute to a better community and society, including devoting a portion of their professional activity to services for which there is little or no financial return.

6.7 Marriage and family therapists are concerned with developing laws and regulations pertaining to marriage and family therapy that serve the public interest, and with altering such laws and regulations that are not in the public interest.

6.8 Marriage and family therapists encourage public participation in the design and delivery of professional services and in the regulation of practitioners.

Together, these are the sections that place MFTs in a position of larger social responsibility and make us accountable to the communities we serve. The removal of these sections would have far-reaching implications: If MFTs no longer need to have a place at the table when laws are being developed or altered that are not in the public interest, do we simply allow others to set for us the legal standards that govern our profession? Do we now need to stay out of the same-sex marriage debate? Is it OK for us to be ignorant of major legal issues in our field, from the fight for Medicare reimbursement to the Texas lawsuit over MFTs’ ability to diagnose?

Perhaps on an even more fundamental level, we can look at the proposed removal of 6.6. Is contributing to a better community and society no longer a value of this profession? If so, I would be a lot less enthusiastic about being a part of it.

And that’s the rub. A Code of Ethics is more than just a list of behaviors that can get you in trouble in a profession; it also serves as a vital statement of what it means to be an MFT. It reflects our values and desires as a professional group. One of those values, historically, has been responsibility to the communities we serve. If nothing else, devoting some of our professional activity to services with minimal return is a clear way of demonstrating through our behavior that we truly understand systems and our role, as professionals, in those larger communities.

The Board did not provide its rationale for this proposed change (or any others). But the reasons are likely not important. These subprinciples are key to my identity as a marriage and family therapist. They set AAMFT, as an association, and MFTs as professionals apart from other professional groups. Serving the community through pro bono work and involvement in policy discussions is part and parcel to being an MFT. Isn’t it?

Members can review the full proposal of changes to the AAMFT Code of Ethics through the AAMFT web site (you will need to log in). Members can submit comments through January 31 via email; the address to send feedback can be found here. Whether you agree with me on this issue or not, if you are a member, please do weigh in on the full proposal. The more feedback AAMFT gets from members on the proposed changes (most of which are really quite good!), the better.

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If you’re wondering, the CAMFT Code of Ethics encourages (but does not require) pro bono work. It also has language nearly identical to AAMFT’s 6.7 above, about influencing laws.

Like AAMFT, I, too, appreciate your feedback. And you don’t even have to log in to give me a piece of your mind. Post a comment below, drop me an email to ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com, or post something to me on Twitter.