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Behind the book: The Counselor and the Law

By Bethany Bray February 1, 2016

When Anne Marie “Nancy” Wheeler and Burt Bertram took over the authorship of The Counselor and the Law: A Guide to Ethical and Legal Practice in 2007, four editions of the title had already been published.

Like the profession itself, counseling’s legal and ethical standards are a moving target, an ever-Branding-Box-Lawevolving and growing entity. It only makes sense that The Counselor and the Law, first published by the American Counseling Association in 1975, needs updating every few years.

Remaining current as a counselor “requires mindful awareness of the evolution of legal and ethical practices,” write Wheeler and Bertram in the preface of the book’s newly-released seventh edition. “We are honored to assist our readers in meeting this worthy professional standard.”

Wheeler, an attorney, and Bertram, a professional counselor, have collaborated and co-presented workshops and seminars on legal and ethical issues for counselors at professional events since the 1990s. They have coauthored three editions of The Counselor and the Law: The fifth edition in 2008, sixth in 2012 and seventh in 2015.

 

 

Q+A: The Counselor and the Law: A Guide to Legal and Ethical Practice

Responses co-written by Anne Marie “Nancy” Wheeler and Burt Bertram

 

What is one main take away you would want a newly-graduated counselor to know about legal issues?

The most important message for a newly-graduated counselor is “you should never be alone when faced with complex legal or ethical issues.” Consulting trusted resources when challenged by the complexities of real world clinical practice is not only the responsible thing to do; it is a demonstration of acting in the best interests of the client. Our book is practical and grounded in the real world of clinical practice and therefore is a wonderful companion for students during practicum/internship as well as pre-licensed counselors, when combined with clinical supervision and colleague consultation.

A newly-graduated counselor should develop a cadre of “go to” consultants as well as carefully selecting an experienced clinical supervisor. These consultants might include seasoned counselors, a local health care attorney, the ACA-sponsored Ethics and Risk Management Services, an accountant and a computer technician. The Counselor and the Law offers suggestions for finding such consultants.

 

What is one main take away you would want counselors of all types — from those who work in addictions to school settings — to know?

The challenges of clinical practice continue to grow and change. Responsible counselors know that remaining current about legal and ethical issues is just as important as remaining current about new treatment modalities. Therefore, with careful thought and planning, counselors in all settings can minimize the risks inherent in their practices. Additionally, if a complaint is brought against the counselor, that careful thought and planning can often mean the difference between a bad outcome and a successful outcome.

 

When do you suggest a counselor seek outside help — an attorney or otherwise — in a challenging or troubling situation? Are there particular “red flags” or indicators that mean a counselor shouldn’t go it alone?

Just as we mentioned above in regards to newly-graduated counselors, even seasoned counselors must consult other professionals. It’s tempting to try to solve everything on one’s own, but consultation is now the cornerstone of good, ethical counseling practice. “Red flags” calling for supervision or consultation (clinical, legal and/or risk management) include: subpoenas or requests for records, especially when the counselor is aware of potential litigation; divorce and custody disputes; privacy breaches; entering into contracts with prospective employers or practice groups; boundary extensions; threats of harm to self or others; and reporting duties.

 

Nancy, as an attorney who often advises and works with counselors and mental health practitioners, what is the most common question or dilemma you hear about? In general, what types of questions are commonly asked by counselors?

The most common question I get is “What do I do with this subpoena that was just served on me?” I’m getting more and more questions related to counselors’ involvement in divorce and custody cases. The counselor is often squeezed in the middle between parents who can’t agree on important issues regarding the child.

 

The last update of this title was in 2012. How have you seen the landscape of counseling, and its legal implications, change in the years since?

Technology is changing at such a quick pace that it’s hard for the laws and counseling regulations to keep up. One of the most important changes that we see involves the issues of confidentiality and privacy. These changes are being driven by 1) the loosening of the boundaries of privacy brought by the advent of social media; 2) complexities and risks associated with the intersection of gun safety and mental health; and 3) tensions surrounding extremist views, mental health and terrorism.

 

What would you want readers to know about the updated information in the new (seventh) edition? What’s new and different?

The world of the professional counselor continues to evolve, whether the setting is private practice, school counseling, agency counseling or myriad other counseling venues. However, the imperative to serve the clients’ best interests never changes even though the complexities of modern life continue to create new legal and ethical dilemmas. The widespread use of technology by practicing counselors continues to create new opportunities and new challenges. In this seventh edition of The Counselor and the Law, we have updated every chapter to reflect changes brought by the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics, recent court cases, and new legislation. At the same time, we remained committed to identifying and thoughtfully addressing the timeless legal and ethical challenges associated with the practice of counseling, as well as peeking behind the curtain to anticipate future legal and ethical implications of such changes. Some of the most critical changes in this edition include updated information and resources on HIPAA/HITECH privacy breach notification, communication technology and its effect on counseling, and sub-issues such as cyber-bullying.

 

You took over this book from another author (Attorney Barbara S. Anderson) in 2007. What made you decide to take on this project? Why is it important to you?

In 2007, after decades of collaborating on seminars involving counseling risk management, we agreed to take over the authorship of this book and give it the voice of a practicing counselor (Burt) as well as that of a practicing health care attorney (Nancy). Because of rapid changes in the privacy landscape, technology, compliance issues regarding reimbursement, and legal developments regarding counselor education between 2012 and 2015, we believed it was time to update the book. It has been our great pleasure to create a book that has been so widely embraced by counselor educators, on behalf of students, as well as providing an important resource for practicing professional counselors in all settings.

 

 

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The Counselor and the Law: A Guide to Legal and Ethical Practice is available from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/publications/bookstore or by calling 800-422-2648 x 222.

 

 

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About the authors

 

Anne Marie “Nancy” Wheeler is an attorney based in Maryland who has extensive experience working with counselors and in the field of mental health. She has managed the American Counseling Association-sponsored insurance program’s risk management helpline for more than two decades; she is also an affiliate faculty member in the Graduate Pastoral Counseling Program of Loyola University Maryland.

 

Burt Bertram is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) based in Orlando, Florida who specializes in the resolution of relationship issues. He also provides professional development and counseling to physicians associated with the Florida Hospital System in Orlando and is an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Studies in Counseling Program at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

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