Standards of Practice

The Standards of Practice for ACCT were developed by the Association of Cooperative Counselling Therapists of Canada to give guidance to members in following the ACCT Code of Ethics and conducting themselves in a professional manner.

These standards of practice deal primarily with the professional conduct of counsellors. However, personal conduct of counsellors is also included when it could affect the confidence of the public in the integrity of the profession. Many of the Standards of Practice are general and they cannot predict every situation or ethical challenge, which counsellors may encounter. These Standards of Practice provide a guide, but ultimately the responsibility for ethical behavior rest with the individual counsellor.

The Standards of Practice are also intended to serve the following purposes:
• To establish a set of guidelines for quality counselling services;
• To encourage counsellor accountability;
• To protect the public by promoting a high standard of competency in counselling;
• To support the development of counsellors;

Ethical Framework for Practice

1 Responsibility to Clients

Registered Therapeutic Counsellors, RTCs protect the welfare of their clients. They respect the rights of those persons seeking their assistance, and make reasonable efforts to ensure that their services are used appropriately.

1.1 Non-Discrimination
Counsellors provide professional assistance to persons without regard for race, colour, age, ancestry, place of origin, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, mental or physical disability, health status, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, or relationship status.

1.2 Disclosure
At the beginning of and throughout the counselling process as necessary, counsellors inform clients of the purposes, goals, techniques, procedures, possible risks and benefits of services, and other important information. Counsellors ensure that clients have accurate information regarding fees and fee collection arrangements, record keeping, and limits of confidentiality.

1.3 Dual Relationships
Counsellors are aware of their influential positions, and they avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of their clients. Counsellors make every effort to avoid conditions and dual relationships with clients that could impair professional judgment or increase the risk of exploitation. These relationships include, but are not limited to, business or close personal relationships with a client or the client’s immediate family. When the risk of impairment or exploitation exists due to conditions or dual roles, counsellors document the appropriate precautions taken.

1.4 Sexual Intimacy with Clients
Sexual intimacy with current clients, or their spouses or partners is prohibited. Engaging in sexual intimacy with individuals who are known to be close relatives, guardians or significant others of current clients is prohibited.

1.5 Relationships with Former Clients
Sexual intimacy with former clients, their spouses or partners, or individuals who are known to be close relatives, guardians or significant others of clients is likely to be harmful and is therefore prohibited for a minimum of two years following the termination of therapy or last professional contact. Two years or more after the last professional contact or termination, in an effort to avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of clients, counsellors should not engage in sexual intimacy with former clients, or their spouses or partners. If counsellors engage in sexual intimacy with former clients, or their spouses or partners, more than two years after termination or last professional contact, it is the responsibility of the counsellor to demonstrate that there has been no exploitation or injury to the former client, or their spouse or partner.

1.6 Reporting Unethical Conduct
Counsellors comply with applicable laws regarding the reporting of alleged unethical conduct.

1.7 Avoiding Self-Interest
Counsellors do not use their professional relationships with clients to further their own interests.

1.8 Client Autonomy in Decision Making
Counsellors respect the rights of clients to make decisions and help them to explore and understand the consequences of these decisions. Counsellors clearly advise clients that clients have the responsibility to make decisions regarding relationships such as cohabitation, marriage, divorce, separation, reconciliation, custody, and visitation.

1.9 Termination of Counselling
Counsellors terminate counselling relationships, with client agreement whenever possible, when it is reasonably clear that:
A. The goals of counselling have been met,
B. The client is no longer benefitting from counselling,
C. The client does not pay fees charged,
D. Previously disclosed agency or institutional limits do not allow for the provision of further counselling services,
E. The client or another person with whom the client has a relationship threatens or otherwise endangers the counsellor.
However, counsellors make reasonable efforts to facilitate the continued access to counselling services when counselling services are terminated for the above reasons or due to counsellor’s illness, client or counsellor moving, client financial difficulties and other reasons.

1.10 Referrals
Counsellors assist persons in obtaining other therapeutic services if the counsellor is unable or unwilling, for appropriate reasons, to provide professional help.

1.11 Non-Abandonment of Clients
Counsellors do not abandon clients, without making reasonable arrangements for the continuation of treatment.

1.12 Written Consent to Record
Counsellors obtain written informed consent from clients before videotaping, audio recording, or permitting third-party observation.

1.13 Relationships with Third Parties
Counsellors, upon agreeing to provide services at the request of a third party, clarify, to the extent feasible and at the outset of the service, the nature of the relationship with each party and the limits of confidentiality.

1.14 Electronic Therapy
Prior to commencing therapy services through electronic means (including but not limited to phone and Internet), counsellors ensure that they are compliant with all relevant laws for the delivery of such services. Additionally, counsellors must:
A. Determine that electronic therapy is appropriate for clients, taking into account the clients’ intellectual, emotional, and physical needs;
B. Inform clients of the potential risks and benefits associated with electronic therapy;
C. Ensure the security of their communication medium; and
D. Provide electronic therapy ONLY after appropriate education, training, or supervised experience using the relevant technology.

2 Confidentiality

Counselling relationships and information discussed in counselling sessions are kept confidential.

2.1 Limits of Confidentiality Must be Disclosed
Counsellors disclose to clients and other interested parties, as early as feasible in their professional contacts, the nature of confidentiality and possible limitations of the clients’ right to confidentiality. Counsellors review with clients the circumstances where confidential information may be requested and where disclosure of confidential information may be legally required. Circumstances may make repeated disclosures necessary.

2.2 Written Authorization
Counsellors do not disclose client confidences except by written authorization or waiver, or where mandated or permitted by law. Verbal authorization is not sufficient except in emergency situations, unless prohibited by law. When providing couple, family or group treatment, the counsellor does not disclose information outside the treatment context without a written authorization from each individual competent to execute a waiver. In the context of couple, family or group treatment, the counsellor may not reveal any individual’s confidences to others in the couple, family or group, without the prior written permission of that individual.

2.3 Confidentiality in Outside Activities
Counsellors use client and or clinical materials in writing, teaching, consulting or public presentations only if written permission has been obtained or when appropriate steps have been taken to protect client identity and confidentiality.

2.4 Care of Records
Counsellors store, safeguard, and dispose of client records in ways that maintain confidentiality and comply with applicable laws and professional standards. In preparation for moving from the area, closing a practice, or death, counsellors arrange for the storage, transfer, or disposal of client records in ways that maintain confidentiality and safeguard the welfare of clients.

2.6 Consultations
Counsellors, when consulting with colleagues or referral sources, do not share confidential information that could reasonably lead to the identification of a client, research participant, supervisee, or other person with whom they have a confidential relationship unless they have obtained the prior written consent of the client, research participant, supervisee, or other person with whom they have a confidential relationship. Information may be shared only to the extent necessary to achieve the purposes of the consultation.

2.7 Protection of Electronic Information
When using electronic methods for communication, billing, recordkeeping, or other elements of client care, counsellors ensure that their electronic data storage and communications are privacy protected consistent with all applicable law.

3 Professional Competency and Integrity

Counsellors maintain high standards of professional competency and integrity.

3.1 Professional Development
Counsellors pursue knowledge of new developments and maintain their competence in counselling through education, training, or supervised experience.

3.2 Knowledge of Standards
Counsellors maintain adequate knowledge of and adhere to applicable laws, ethics, and professional standards.

3.3 Seek Assistance
Counsellors seek appropriate professional assistance for their personal problems or conflicts that may impair work performance or clinical judgment.

3.4 Avoid Conflicts of Interest
Counsellors do not provide services that create a conflict of interest that may impair work performance or clinical judgment.

3.6 Maintain Records
Counsellors maintain accurate and adequate session and financial records in accordance with applicable law.

3.7 Respect for Others
Counsellors do not engage in sexual or other forms of harassment of clients, students, trainees, supervisees, employees, colleagues, or research subjects. Counsellors do not exploit clients, students, trainees, supervisees, employees, colleagues, or research subjects.

3.8 Gifts
Counsellors and clients do not give or receive gifts that are of substantial value or that impair the integrity or efficacy of the therapeutic relationship.

3.9 Boundaries of Competence
Counsellors limit their counselling services and practices to those within their professional competence. They refer to other professionals, when the counselling needs of clients exceed their level of competence.

3.10 Public Statements
Counsellors, because of their ability to influence and alter the lives of others, exercise special care when publicly expressing their professional recommendations and opinions through testimony or other public statements.

3.11 Pro Bono
Counsellors 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.

3.12 Advocacy
Counsellors are concerned with developing laws and regulations pertaining to counselling that serve the public interest, and with altering such laws and regulations that are not in the public interest.

3.13 Public Participation
Counsellors encourage public participation in the design and delivery of professional services and in the regulation of practitioners.

3.14 Unethical Behaviour of Other Counsellors
Counsellors have an obligation when they have serious doubts as to the ethical behaviour of another counsellor, to seek an informal resolution with the counsellor, when feasible and appropriate. When an informal resolution is not appropriate or feasible, or is unsuccessful, counsellors report their concerns to the ACCT Ethics Committee.

3.15 Responsibility to Clients
When counsellors have reasonable grounds to believe that a client has an ethical complaint about the conduct of a member of ACCT, counsellors inform the client of the ACCT Ethical Complaint process and how to access this process.

3.16 Professional Misconduct
Counsellors are in violation of this Code and subject to termination of membership or other appropriate action if they:
A. Are convicted of any criminal act;
B. Are convicted of a misdemeanor related to their qualifications or functions;
C. Engage in conduct which could lead to conviction of a criminal act, or a misdemeanor related to their qualifications or functions;
D. Are expelled from or disciplined by other professional organizations for cause that would prohibit the practice of counselling therapy;
E. Have their professional registration suspended or revoked or are otherwise disciplined by regulatory bodies;
F. Continue to practice counselling while no longer competent to do so because they are impaired by physical or mental causes or the abuse of alcohol or other substances; or
G. Fail to cooperate with ACCT at any point from the inception of an ethical complaint through the completion of all proceedings regarding that complaint.


4 Financial Arrangements

Counsellors make financial arrangements with clients, third-party payors, and supervisees that are reasonably understandable and conform to accepted professional practices.

4.1 Financial Integrity
Counsellors do not offer or accept kickbacks, rebates, bonuses, or other remuneration for referrals; fee-for-service arrangements are not prohibited.

4.2 Disclosure of Financial Policies
Prior to entering into the therapeutic or supervisory relationship, counsellors clearly disclose and explain to clients and supervisees:
A. All financial arrangements and fees related to professional services, including charges for canceled or missed appointments;
B. The use of collection agencies or legal measures for nonpayment; and
C. The procedure for obtaining payment from the client, to the extent allowed by law, if payment is denied by the third-party payor.
D. Once services have begun, counsellors provide reasonable notice of any changes in fees or other charges.

4.3 Disclosure of Payment Recovery Procedures
Counsellors give reasonable notice to clients with unpaid balances of their intent to seek collection by agency or legal recourse. When such action is taken, counsellors will not disclose clinical information.

4.4 Accurate Representation of Services
Counsellors represent facts truthfully to clients, third-party payors, and supervisees regarding services rendered.

4.5 Bartering
Counsellors ordinarily refrain from accepting goods and services from clients in return for services rendered. Bartering for professional services may be conducted only if:
A. The supervisee or client requests it;
B. The relationship is not exploitative;
C. The professional relationship is not distorted; and
D. A clear written contract is established.

4.6 Withholding Records for Non-Payment
Counsellors may not withhold records under their immediate control that are requested and needed for a client’s treatment solely because payment has not been received for past services, except as otherwise provided by law.

5 Advertising

Counsellors engage in appropriate informational activities, including those that enable the public, referral sources, or others to make informed decisions when choosing professional services.

5.1 Accurate Advertising
Counsellors accurately represent their competencies, education, training, and experience relevant to their practice of counselling.

5.2 Promotional Materials
Counsellors ensure that advertisements and publications convey information that is necessary for the public to make a suitable selection of professional services and is consistent with applicable law.

5.3 Professional Affiliations
Counsellors do not use names that could mislead the public concerning the identity, responsibility, source, and status of those practicing under that name, and do not represent themselves as partners or associates of a firm if they are not.

5.4 Professional Identification
Counsellors use only professional identification (such as business cards, office sign, letterhead, or any advertisement) that make claims that are accurate and clearly represent the counsellors competencies.

5.5 Specialization
Counsellors do not represent themselves as providing specialized services unless they have the appropriate education, training, or supervised experience.