In this post, we’ll examine the duty to report a colleague or another licensee, a topic that was briefly mentioned in an earlier post that provided a general overview of mandatory reporting considerations.
This topic is frequently asked about in consultations provided by AAMFT’s legal and ethics staff. Although the particulars of the situations that prompt calls to AAMFT vary, the approach to determining a path forward does not necessarily vary.
The starting point in the AAMFT Code of Ethics for determining whether a report is required in these situations is Standard 1.6, which states:
Marriage and family therapists comply with applicable laws regarding the reporting of alleged unethical conduct.
What Standard 1.6 means is that there is not an obligation to report a colleague based on the AAMFT Code of Ethics alone. Rather, MFTs are to look to applicable laws to determine whether they are required, or perhaps permitted, to report the colleague in question, and MFTs are to comply with those applicable laws. A therapist who fails to comply with an applicable law on this issue, could potentially be in jeopardy of violating the AAMFT Code of Ethics.
Some jurisdictions have laws that would require a report, while others may not. In those jurisdictions that require a report, they may limit reporting obligations to certain types of conduct (e.g. sexual misconduct with a client).
In some situations, Standard 2.2 of the AAMFT Code of Ethics may come into play. Two possible scenarios that immediately come to mind are when the MFT learns of the colleague’s conduct from a client, or when the colleague is a client of the MFT. As you’ll recall from earlier posts, Standard 2.2 states:
Marriage and family therapists do not disclose client confidences except by written authorization or waiver, or where mandated or permitted by law. Verbal authorization will not be sufficient except in emergency situations, unless prohibited by law. When providing couple, family or group treatment, the therapist 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 therapist may not reveal any individual’s confidences to others in the client unit without the prior written permission of that individual.
In these scenarios, focusing in on the first sentence may be instructive: Marriage and family therapists do not disclose client confidences except by written authorization or waiver, or where mandated or permitted by law. If client confidentiality is at issue, MFTs will need to determine whether client confidentiality negates a reporting obligation or whether an exception to confidentiality exists.
Similar to other mandatory reporting scenarios, immunity may be conferred by statutes that require or encourage colleagues to report the unethical behavior or impaired practice of others. In order for that immunity to be effective, however, you may need first-hand knowledge of the behavior and will likely need to comply with specifics of your jurisdiction’s reporting requirements (e.g. pay close attention to where a report is to be directed).
When confronted with the possibility of reporting a colleague or licensee based on alleged unethical conduct, consultation with a local attorney is advisable. As has been mentioned frequently before, it is critical that therapists know the law in their jurisdiction.