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Revising the NAADAC Code of Ethics

July 1, 2010
by Anne S. Hatcher, EdD, CAC III, NCAC II
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Changes to be presented at NCAD meeting will add detail in several areas

Often when one confronts a situation where another person's behavior is questioned, the behavior is described as ethical or unethical. The judgment is being made on the basis of the morals held by the speaker, unless the behavior is being evaluated on the basis of a specific code of ethics. The NAADAC Code of Ethics was written to govern the conduct of members of NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals. The code reflects ideals of NAADAC and its members. Every member of NAADAC has signed a statement that she/he would follow the standards found in the NAADAC Code of Ethics. When an ethics complaint is filed with NAADAC, it is evaluated by consulting the code.

A code of ethics serves to guide the professional to maintain personal integrity and honesty, to make decisions that are in the best interest of clients, and to meet the standards established for persons working in the profession. Most written codes are similar in content, and the variations in them result from the needs felt by a particular group. Ethical codes have a number of strengths, including protection of client rights while identifying what is expected of practitioners. In addition, codes encourage the professional group to regulate itself and function autonomously, instead of being regulated by statutory law.

In general, a code of ethics increases public trust in the profession's integrity. Ethical standards are used to settle disagreements and to promote organizational stability. If professionals are following the code of ethics, some protection from malpractice suits exists.

Codes of ethics tend to be idealistic and are a statement of the behaviors to which a profession aspires. A code of ethics might be general in nature and not answer specific questions. Instead, the code of ethics is a guideline based on values of the organizational members. The code of ethics also can be used as a tool to encourage discussion of values and standards among members. When a problem arises, the code is consulted to determine the degree to which the individual or group has violated the association's standards.

NAADAC procedures

NAADAC has specified that its Code of Ethics be reviewed every two years to determine whether or not it is meeting the needs of members, the administrative staff and the committees conducting the work of the association. The NAADAC Ethics Committee is currently re-evaluating the Code of Ethics.

Work began when NAADAC President-Elect Donald P. Osborn, MS, MA, MAC, pointed out to the Ethics Committee that we have no ethical standards for conducting assessments and mental health evaluations. Other mental health disciplines include such standards in their ethics codes. Standards were written and approved by the Ethics Committee, but have not yet been added.

Over the years, the NAADAC Code of Ethics has been issued in several formats, some of which have been fairly detailed and some of which have been very concise. The code currently in use is a shorter version. Members of the Ethics Committee and the National Certification Commission have found on a few occasions that we did not have standards that clearly described the expectations of members. Parts of the code have been found inadequate to guide members questioning the best action to take in a specific circumstance.

NAADAC's Shirley Beckett Mikell and the Ethics Committee compared the ethics codes of a number of organizations and found that codes of other mental health professions provided more detailed guidelines for counselors than were found in the NAADAC Code of Ethics. In February, members of the Ethics Committee were assigned specific principles in the current code of ethics to review, in order to determine whether the principle would be more applicable if it were reworded or if major changes were made.

Participants are encouraged to bring questions, share ethical dilemmas they have faced or are facing, exchange ideas, make comments, and suggest ways of educating current members and addiction professionals who are new to the certification process.

The updated NAADAC Code of Ethics will be published as a longer document to provide addiction professionals with guidelines in specific areas. An abbreviated version that includes the overall principles will also be available for use in conference presentations and client settings.

Code sections

The Revised Code of Ethics 2010 is divided under major headings, and standards that apply are documented. The sections utilized are:

  • The Counseling Relationship;

  • Confidentiality/Privileged Communication and Privacy;

  • Policy and Politics;

  • Professional Responsibility;

  • Evaluation, Assessment and Interpretation of Client Data;

  • Working in a Culturally Diverse World;

  • Workplace Standards;

  • Supervision and Consultation; and

  • Resolving Ethical Issues.

Printed copies of the revised Code of Ethics will become available by the fall National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD), which will be the site of NAADAC's annual meeting and will be held Sept. 8-11 in Washington, D.C. The new document is considerably longer than the previous one, making it comparable to those of other mental health professional groups. Sections related to the expanding duties of addiction professionals/NAADAC members/certified counselors have been added or expanded. More emphasis has been placed on professional standards and competence, cultural competence, and supervision.