Misleading Professional Credentials: Unethical and Unprofessional Counselors? (2023)

Unethical and Unprofessional Counselors?

Edited by Floyd Else, MA, LMHC, NCC, Webmaster

This is a consumer protection, education page about alleged "unethical counselors" and "unprofessional counselors".

CounselingWashington.com has long opposed the practice of any initials or acronyms in counselor credentials that falsely imply some unearned, higher status. In 2006, CounselingSeattle.com focused on the acronym "ABS." In 2007, our focus was on practitioners who use the misleading "generic initials" MFT, or MHC that likely to confuse or mislead the public into thinking the individuals concerned possess some higher certification or licensure beyond their degree. In 2012, the misuse of counselor acronyms seems to have largely vanished from the scene. But you can follow the history of the struggle on this and the record of correspondence on this and following pages.

Washington State Law [RCW 18.130.180] holds that any license holder or applicant who advertises in a way which is false, fraudulent ormisleadingis demonstrating unprofessional conduct.

In addition, most professional standards of ethics--such as the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics and Professional Standards--hold that in advertising services as a private practitioner, mental health counselors should advertise the services in such a manner so as to accurately inform the public....but that advertising should not contain false, inaccurate,misleading, partial, out of context, or descriptive material or statements.

“MFT” Websites

In the state of Washington, an LMFT is a licensed category (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). However, you will find many practitioners using MFT which is a "generic set of initials" and the use of MFT generally indicates an unethical and unprofessional counselor. All too often, when a counselor decides to open a private practice and serve the public, he or she is bothered by the lack of professional initials or credentials. The thought process is, "Well, I do marriage and family therapy, so I will use the MFT initials."

The consumer should note that MFT does not indicate any certification, licensure or degree level. MFT is used frequently on the website of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. As regards to the misuse of the MFT acronym, the AAMFT website asks the question: "Who are Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs)?" and then answers it in detail. It begins by saying, "Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and LICENSED to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems." (Emphasis added). [So, if a counselor is NOT licensed as a LMFT, then to use MFT or to claim, "I am a Marriage and Family Therapist," would be fraudulent, misleading, unprofessional and unethical, while to say, "I do marriage and family therapy," would not.]

(Video) Six Signs of a Bad Therapist (Counselor / Mental Health Clinician)

"MA, MHC" Websites

In the state of Washington, an LMHC is a licensed category (Licensed Mental Health Counselor). However, you will find a few practitioners using MHC which is a "generic set of initials" and the use of MHC generally indicates an unethical and unprofessional counselor. All too often, when a counselor decides to open a private practice and serve the public, he or she is bothered by the lack of professional initials or credentials. The thought process is, "Well, I do mental health counseling, so I will use the MHC initials.

The consumer should note that MHC does not indicate any certification, licensure or degree level.

“MA, ABS” Type Websites

Formerly, Bastyr University’s Leadership Institute of Seattle (LIOS) authorized and permitted their graduates in the Master of Arts in Applied Behavioral Science program to use every word on the diploma as part of their professional credentials. As a result, many alumni advertised themselves as John Smith, MA, ABS – or John Smith, MA/ABS and used these initials to market themselves on business cards, professional stationery, resumes, telephone advertisements and websites.

On October 20th 2006, Bastyr University announced that it had completed a review of the use of degree acronyms and determined that "MA" would now be used for the Master of Arts in Applied Behavioral Science degree. Bastyr LIOS has issued alumni bulletins and list-serve emails to their alumni to announce this decision and requesting that they no longer use "ABS." However, some alumni continue to use the misleading "ABS" acronym despite Bastyr LIOS' repeated requests.

The following are links to websites on which persons are listing their services using a form of "MA ABS" credential. A few similar "degree acronyms" are included from time to time.As each of these persons remove the offending initials from their site and let us know, we remove them from the list.[Telephone numbers and email links listed below are not confidential information and are published on the individual's websites.]

Websites for Counselors Who Appear to be Counseling without a License

A Brief History of Counselor Licensing: In the early 1990's the Washington State legislature began the process toward licensing counselors. Their first step was to create several categories of high qualified "certified counselors." But what could they do with all the other counselors in the field who couldn't meet the requirement to be certified? A "catch-all" category called Registered Counselor was created. Registered counselors would also be able to legally continue counseling in the State of Washington.

A few years later, new legislation changed the certified counselors to "licensed counselors" and the current license categories were formed: Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT), Licensed Independent Clinical Social Workers (LICSW), and Licensed Advanced Social Workers.

At this time, no action was taken about the Registered Counselor category. But problems were becoming evident. This Registered Counselor category could legally practice counseling, but there were only minimal entrance requirements ($50 fee and take an HIV/AIDs class. The category exploded with numbers of Registered Counselors with all shades of qualifications (or none) finally reached over 17,000, eclipsing the total number of licensed counselors in the state. A Seattle Times investigative series "License to Harm" brought negative publicity and public attention to Registered Counselors.

Failing in 2007 and finally succeeding in 2008, the legislature passed a bill to create eight (8) new counseling credentials and to eliminate the Registered Counselor category altogether. No new Registered Counselor applications would be considered and the category would be eliminated June 30th, 2010.

The Health Department told Registered Counselors: "If you do not have one of the new counselor credentials by July 1, 2010 you must cease practice. We are abolishing the registered counselor profession on June 30, 2010. If you practice after June 30 without a new credential, we will consider that unlicensed practice." Perhaps a necessary measure, but a difficult pill to swallow for those who had built counseling practices over many years and were dependent on that income to support themselves and their families. Persons with good qualifications can still practice counseling, but only as Affiliated Counselors employed and supervised by state-licensed counseling agencies. To continue a private counseling practice without a counseling credential from the state is illegal, unethical, and unprofessional.

Washington State Law--RCW 18.130.180
Unprofessional conduct

The following conduct, acts, or conditions constitute unprofessional conduct for any license holder or applicant under the jurisdiction of this chapter:

(1) The commission of any act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption relating to the practice of the person's profession, whether the act constitutes a crime or not.…

(2) All advertising which is false, fraudulent, ormisleading.

ACA Code of Ethics

All members of the American Counseling Association (ACA) are required to adhere to the Standards of Practice and the Code of Ethics....Members should refer to the applicable section of the Code of Ethics for further interpretation and amplification of the applicable Standard of Practice.

(Video) 5 Signs You Are Seeing a BAD Therapist!

Section C: Professional Responsibility

C.3.Advertising and Soliciting Clients

C.3.a. Accurate Advertising: When advertising or otherwise representing their services to the public,counselors identify their credentials in an accurate manner that is not false, misleading, deceptive, or fraudulent.

C.4. Professional Qualifications

C.4.a. Accurate Representation:Counselors claim or imply only professional qualifications actually completed and correct any known misrepresentations of their qualifications by others.

C.4.b. Credentials:Counselors claim only licenses or certifications that are current and in good standing.

AMHCA--Code of Ethics

American Mental Health Counselors Association

Principle 12: Private Practice.

(Video) We need to talk about bad therapists.

B) "In advertising services as a private practitioner, mental health counselors should advertise the services in such a manner so as to accurately inform the public as to services, expertise, profession, and techniques of counseling in a professional manner.... Mental health counselors advertise the following: highest relevant degree, type and level of certification or license, and type and/or description of services or other relevant information. Such informationshould not contain false, inaccurate, misleading, and partial, out of context, descriptive material or statements."

AAMFT--Code of Ethics

American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Principle VIII: Advertising

8.6 Marriage and family therapists correct, wherever possible, false, misleading, or inaccurate information and representations made by others concerning the therapist's qualifications, services, or products.

Note: as regards misuse of theMFTacronym, theAAMFT web siteasks the question: "Who are Marriage and Family Therapists?" and then answers it in detail. It begins by saying, "Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs)are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems, andLICENSEDto diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems." (Emphasis added). [So if a counselor is not licensed and eligible to use the LMFT, then to use MFT orto say "I am a Marriage and Family Therapist," would be fraudulent and misleading.]

AAPC-- Code of Ethics

American Association of Pastoral Counselors


Any advertising by or for a member of AAPC, including announcements, public statements and promotional activities, is undertaken with the purpose of helping the public make informed judgments and choices.

(Video) Unprofessional Conduct

We do not misrepresent our professional qualifications, affiliations and functions, or falsely imply sponsorship or certification by any organization.

B) "....We may not use the initials "AAPC" after our names in the manner of an academic degree."

(Video) Doctor caught on camera laughing and cursing at a patient


What are the unethical behaviors of counselors? ›

Neglecting to respond to crisis calls or visits. Having a dual relationship with a client (having a sexual relationship with a client or supervisee, going on a date with a client, developing an ongoing friendship with a client, going shopping with a client on a regular basis, or attending a client's wedding party).

What are the most common ethical violations in counseling? ›

According to statistics, the most frequent complaints about ethical issues in counseling involve dual relationships, incompetence, practicing without a license or misrepresenting one's qualifications, sexual relationships with clients, and breach of confidentiality.

What is the most common basis of malpractice against counselors? ›

Events that trigger malpractice claims against therapists and counselors
  • Excessive self disclosure. ...
  • Boundary issues. ...
  • Using techniques without proper training. ...
  • Inadequate notes. ...
  • Failing to properly obtain / evaluate a client's history.
23 Apr 2014

What are some professional issues in counseling? ›

Professional & Personal Ethical Issues, Responsibilities & Concerns in Counseling
  • Consent and Abandonment. ...
  • Confidentiality Issues. ...
  • Culture and Bias. ...
  • Financial Issues.

What is an example of unethical behavior? ›

Unethical: “A student used plagiarism on their final written assignment to get a higher grade” This is unethical because it goes against social norms and the majority of the people would find this act unacceptable.

What actions can be taken against a counselor for an ethical violation? ›

You should file a complaint when a therapist does something unethical or incompetent that harms you. In theory, you can report a therapist for anything they do that violates licensure law in the state where they practice.

What is the most common form of ethical misconduct? ›

The most common types of ethical misconduct were conflicts of interest, lying to employees and abusive behavior.

What is an example of a violation of the ethical principles? ›

Ethics violations such as discrimination, safety violations, poor working conditions and releasing proprietary information are other examples. Situations such as bribery, forgery and theft, while certainly ethically improper, cross over into criminal activity and are often dealt with outside the company.

Which element of malpractice is hardest to prove? ›

The second element of a medical malpractice case is the hardest to prove. The plaintiff must show in the malpractice suit that the defendant was negligent because they failed to provide the same level of care that another doctor would have provided in a similar situation.

What is professional negligence in Counselling? ›

The definition of professional negligence is when a professional fails to perform their responsibilities to the required standard or breaches a duty of care. This poor conduct subsequently results in a financial loss, physical damage or injury of their client or customer.

What are the 4 C's of malpractice? ›

Recognizing that you are an imperfect human being who will make mistakes, you can nevertheless reduce your risk of causing harm, and of being sued successfully. Start by practicing good risk management, building on the old adage of four Cs: compassion, communication, competence and charting.

What happens if a counselor violates the code of ethics? ›

A breach of the code has certain consequences, while a violation of law has other consequences. If a professional counselor does something unethical, we might remove them from ACA membership, but if that counselor breaks a law, they can actually go to jail or pay a significant fine.

What are the 5 ethical issues in counseling? ›

The five bedrock principles of autonomy, justice, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and fidelity are each vital in and of themselves to a healthy counseling relationship. By exploring an ethical dilemma with regard to these principles, a counselor may come to a better understanding of the conflicting issues.

What is ethical and professional issues in counselling? ›

Primary moral principles such as autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, justice and fidelity will be discussed. Issues related to counselling such as interviewing, report writing, working with minors, record keeping and access, mandatory reporting, supervision and case preparation will also be considered.

What are five behaviors that you would identify as unethical? ›

The ERC reported that employees most often observe the following five unethical behaviors in the workplace: 1) employees misusing company time, 2) supervisors abusing subordinates, 3) employees stealing from their employers, 4) employees lying to their employers, and 5) employees violating company internet policies.

What are the 3 factors of unethical behavior? ›

3 Reasons for Unethical Behaviour. The researchers describe the different factors as “bad apples” (individual factors), “bad cases” (issue-specific factors) and “bad barrels” (environmental factors).

What are the four common causes of unethical behavior? ›

Why Do Employees Make Unethical Decisions?
  • Pressure to Succeed. Employees may choose to act unethically based on unrealistic expectations to succeed. ...
  • Employees Are Afraid to Speak Up. ...
  • Lack of Training. ...
  • There's No Policy for Reporting. ...
  • Managers Setting Bad Examples.

What are some examples of unethical behavior in healthcare? ›

Working while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Becoming romantically involved with patients or family members of a patient. Cherry-picking patients. Breaching patient confidentiality (violating HIPAA regulations)

How do you deal with an unethical situation give some example? ›

Dealing with Unethical Behavior in the Workplace: What to Do
  1. Don't Take Action without Evidence. Before you do anything, you need to make sure you know the facts. ...
  2. Follow Company Procedure. ...
  3. When the Issue Goes Beyond Being Unethical. ...
  4. Consider Going Elsewhere.
3 Oct 2016

How do you fight unethical practices? ›

How to Promote Ethical Behavior in the Workplace:
  1. Establish straightforward guidelines. You should develop an easily understood yet comprehensive code of conduct that outlines company expectations for ethical behavior at work. ...
  2. Provide tools. ...
  3. Be proactive. ...
  4. Employ data monitoring. ...
  5. Foster ethical behavior.

How do you address unethical issues? ›

Establish a protocol. Include in your code of ethics instructions about how to report unethical behavior. For example, set up an anonymous ethics hotline as well as a clear protocol for reporting, such as requesting a private meeting with the appropriate manager or supervisor.

How do you handle ethical misconduct? ›

How to Act and React to an Ethical Dilemma
  1. Repeat Back and Clarify. ...
  2. Ask Ethical Questions. ...
  3. Focus on your Manager's Best Interests. ...
  4. Suggest an Alternative Solution. ...
  5. Escalate Situations. ...
  6. Blow the whistle. ...
  7. Leave Unethical Environments, If Necessary.
13 Jan 2022

What are examples of professional misconduct? ›

Professional misconduct includes the following:
  • Engaging in acts of gross incompetence or gross negligence on a single occasion, or negligence or incompetence on more than one occasion.
  • Permitting or aiding an unlicensed person to perform activities requiring a license.
12 Sept 2022

What is unethical conduct? ›

Unethical conduct is when you become aware of another person not adhering to professional ethics and therefore, behaving in a way that puts clients at risk. Examples of unethical conduct could include situations such as: a fellow worker is overheard gossiping about a client at the local pub.

What is a serious ethical misconduct? ›

Ethical misconduct means business-related wrongdoings including but not limited to any criminal, fraudulent, illegal or dishonest activity and constitutes a breach of trust.

What can be the consequences for not following ethical standards? ›

Unethical behaviour has serious consequences for both individuals and organizations. You can lose your job and reputation, organizations can lose their credibility, general morale and productivity can decline, or the behaviour can result in significant fines and/or financial loss.

What are the 7 principles of code of ethics? ›

The principles are beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, justice; truth-telling and promise-keeping.

What is the most common reason for malpractice suits that are successful? ›

Failure to diagnose a patient's medical condition is a leading cause of malpractice lawsuits. A malpractice lawsuit is something physicians dread, but one that most will experience over the course of their career.

What are the 4 things that need to be proven to be deemed negligent? ›

A Guide to the 4 Elements of Negligence
  • A Duty of Care. A duty of care is essentially an obligation that one party has toward another party to exercise a reasonable level of care given the circumstances. ...
  • A Breach of Duty. ...
  • Causation. ...
  • Damages.
12 Nov 2020

What are the best defenses against a malpractice suit? ›

Common Defenses Against a Medical Malpractice Claim
  • Show Avoidable Consequences. ...
  • Argue the Substantial Minority Principle. ...
  • Cite Good Samaritan Laws. ...
  • Challenge the Evidence. ...
  • Demonstrate Standard of Care. ...
  • Challenge the Causal Relationship. ...
  • Assumed Risk.
21 Apr 2021

What two things must be shown to prove professional negligence? ›

Proximate cause: the ability to prove a direct link between a negligent act and the injury that resulted from that action. Harm: the ability to prove you suffered injuries, loss, or other expenses because of someone else's negligence.

How do you prove professional negligence? ›

To prove professional negligence, it must be established that:
  1. The professional owed a duty of care towards you.
  2. They breached this duty of care.
  3. You've lost out as a result of their negligence.
2 Jun 2021

What 3 things must you prove to have a case for negligence? ›

Proving Negligence. Most civil lawsuits for injuries allege the wrongdoer was negligent. To win in a negligence lawsuit, the victim must establish 4 elements: (1) the wrongdoer owed a duty to the victim, (2) the wrongdoer breached the duty, (3) the breach caused the injury (4) the victim suffered damages.

Which elements must be present to prove malpractice? ›

What Are the Four Elements of Medical Malpractice?
  • Duty: The duty of care owed to patients.
  • Dereliction: Or breach of this duty of care.
  • Direct cause: Establishing that the breach caused injury to a patient.
  • Damages: The economic and noneconomic losses suffered by the patient as a result of their injury or illness.

What is the most common example of negligence? ›

Incorrect medication prescriptions or administration of drugs is one of the most common cases of medical negligence reported. This can occur when a patient is prescribed the wrong drug for their illness, receives another patient's medication or receives an incorrect dosage of medication.

What elements are required for malpractice to be proven? ›

To do so, four legal elements must be proven: (1) a professional duty owed to the patient; (2) breach of such duty; (3) injury caused by the breach; and (4) resulting damages.

Which is the most frequently observed ethical violation of counselors? ›

The most common ethical issue faced by mental health professionals is maintaining boundaries. At times it can be difficult to ensure that you are not developing a personal relationship with a client. Sometimes clients may blur or attempt to blur the lines because of how the therapist-client relationship develops.

What are the most difficult ethical issues? ›

Here are five ethically questionable issues you may face in the workplace and how you can respond.
  • Unethical Leadership. ...
  • Toxic Workplace Culture. ...
  • Discrimination and Harassment. ...
  • Unrealistic and Conflicting Goals. ...
  • Questionable Use of Company Technology.
12 Jan 2022

What are the six codes of ethics of counselor? ›

Counselors have a responsibility both to clients and the institution within which services are performed to maintain high standards of professional conduct.
  • General Responsibility. ...
  • Confidentiality. ...
  • Children and Persons with Diminished Capacity. ...
  • Maintenance of Records. ...
  • Access to Records. ...
  • Dual Relationships.
6 Mar 2007

Why is it important to consider ethical issues in counseling? ›

Ethics codes provide professional standards for counselors with the purpose of protecting the dignity and well-being of clients.

Why are ethical issues important in Counselling? ›

Ethics are important in counseling, as they are a means to protect the welfare of the client and counselors by clearly outlining what is appropriate. Counsellors and therapists often come across some difficult and sensitive subjects. This leaves the client in a vulnerable position.

What are the main ethical issues in the profession at the moment? ›

Two of the most significant ethical issues that HR professionals and managers face are discrimination and harassment. The consequences of discrimination and harassment in the workplace can negatively impact the finances and reputation of the organisation.

What are the 10 ethical behavior of counselors? ›

For each, consider where you think the problem lies and how you would respond.
  • Autonomy. A counselor has been seeing their client for several months to work through substance use issues. ...
  • Beneficence. ...
  • Non-maleficence. ...
  • Fidelity. ...
  • Justice. ...
  • Veracity. ...
  • Self-interest. ...
  • Informed consent.
30 Jul 2021

What is the most common cause of unethical acts? ›

Psychological traps are the root causes of unethical behavior. Because they are psychological in nature, some of these traps distort perceptions of right and wrong so that one actually believes his or her unethical behavior is right.

What happens if you violate the code of ethics in counseling? ›

A breach of the code has certain consequences, while a violation of law has other consequences. If a professional counselor does something unethical, we might remove them from ACA membership, but if that counselor breaks a law, they can actually go to jail or pay a significant fine.

What are the 4 basic types of ethical problems? ›

In LDRS 111 you were introduced to four different ethical dilemma paradigms: truth vs loyalty, short-term vs long-term, individual vs community, and justice vs mercy.

What is the code of ethics of the counselors? ›

Work hard to create and sustain a relationship with their clients based on trust. Obtain informed consent from clients entering a counseling relationship. Respect a client's confidentiality and privacy. Explain to clients what the counseling relationship entails (which could include fees, group work, and termination).

What is the most important ethical principle of counseling? ›

Confidentiality is an important ethical principle in counseling: You can't help a client effectively unless she knows you won't betray her secrets.

What are 2 examples of unethical testing practices? ›

Unethical practices include:

Providing students with questions from the test to review before taking the test. Changing instruction or reviewing specific concepts because those concepts appear on the test. Rewording or clarifying questions, or using inflection or gestures to help students answer.

How do you respond to unethical behavior? ›

It's important to assess the situation and figure out the best course of action.
  1. Take Stock of your Behavior. ...
  2. Analyze the Situation. ...
  3. Document your Observation. ...
  4. Always Assume the Best. ...
  5. Seek Advice from a Mentor. ...
  6. Gently Intervene if Possible. ...
  7. Talk to your Coworker. ...
  8. Bow Out of the Situation.


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