Professional ethics and codes of conduct have assumed a prominent role in many professions today. The health profession is one such vocation which has been characterized by the development of codes of conduct as well as rules and regulations to govern the profession. While there are broad professional ethics and codes of conduct in the health sector, the focus of this article will be on community mental health services. The code of conduct and professional ethics governing service providers of community mental health services were developed by the American Mental Health Counselors Association. This is an organization which represents mental health counselors. It comprises of various professionals who provide various services to persons with mental problems. Members of the organization believe in upholding and respecting the dignity and welfare of all their clients. The code was developed so as to serve various functions. These include providing guidance to members so as to enable them to make decisions that are ethics based, to identify the parameters that define the conduct that is expected of the members of the association and to sensitize, enlighten, and educate all the concerned stakeholders about the ethical standards that they should hold the members of the association to. Such stakeholders include members of the public, members of the association and students.
The American Mental Health Counselors Association code of ethics has continually evolved over time. The changes that have been effected in the code of ethics ever since it was first established seek to ensure that it remains relevant in a fast changing world. If such changes are not effected on the document, it runs the risk of becoming redundant and subsequently highly irrelevant. The last major revision of the code of ethics was in the year 2010. The revision made a number of significant changes in the code of ethics. For instance, it redefined counselor-client relationships to take into account the prevailing circumstances of the highly dynamic and individualistic twenty first century world. It also details a more robust confidentiality clause which blends in with most laws regarding privacy generally.
Unlike the laws of a country which are enforced by the law enforcement agencies, there are no agencies that are specifically set up to enforce professional ethics or codes of conduct. Rather, it is the concerned bodies which usually set up “disciplinary” bodies within themselves so as to enforce their professional ethics or code of conduct. Any individual who has complaints against a particular professional will be expected to forward his or her complaints to the “disciplinary” body. Upon hearing the complaint, the disciplinary body will determine if the complaints disclose a breach of professional ethics or code of conduct after which it will mete out the necessary punishment. In essence, the members of a professional body will set up a committee to enforce their code of conduct or professional ethics. The committees usually resolve disputes through such measures as arbitration and mediation which are quicker and more efficient than the judicial process followed by the courts. Where the committees find that a professional has violated the code of conduct or professional ethics, it prescribes various punitive steps such as fines, cancelling or withdrawal of professional licenses and in extreme cases, the concerned member may even be expulsed from the association of professionals in which he belongs. All in all, codes of conduct and professional ethics are tools that are meant to ensure that at all times, the interests of the client are treated with the importance they deserve.
American Mental Health Counselors Association. (2010). Principles for AMHCA Code of Ethics. United States of America: https://www.amhca.org/assets/news/AMHCA_Code_of_Ethics_2010_w_pagination_cxd_51110.pdf.
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Davson-Galle, P. (2009). Reason and Professional Ethics. Farnham: AShgate Publishing Limited.