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California Laws and Ethics Back to Course Index

California Laws and Ethics for Mental Health Professionals


Legal and ethical issues challenge today’s mental healthcare professionals.  The special circumstances of patients in outpatient and in mental health programs often make questions concerning patient autonomy, freedom of choice, and consent to treatment even more complex than they are in other contexts.

Individual facilities need to identify the ethical issues they are likely to encounter and create policies that address them effectively.

Mental health professionals must respect patients’ rights.  Laws vary by state and ethical guidelines don’t always stay in line with legal issues.

This course will explore the California laws governing the mental health industry, as well as the ethical codes that professionals must adhere to.

The California statutes are broad in scope and cover a multitude of issues upon which marriage and family therapists, educational psychologists, clinical social workers and professional counselors can make informed judgments and choices concerning their efforts, and can address many ethical issues that arise from working with people.  Professionals credentialed in substance abuse should also be aware of these statutes.


Mental health and substance abuse professionals in California will see a range of clients with varied mental health needs. In order to address these needs the services of professionals are critical. 


Continuing educational requirements for marriage and family therapists, educational psychologists, and clinical social workers contain an ethics requirement that include training in California-specific laws as well as ethical principles. This course will introduce mental health professionals to ethical and legal requirements contained in the Statutes And Regulations Relating To The Practice Of Marriage And Family Therapy, Educational Psychology, and Clinical Social Work (California Board Of Behavioral Sciences) as well as to many common ethical dilemmas and professional issues that they may encounter. Mental health professionals must also be familiar with the ethical guidelines for their specific professions and are encouraged to review these as well. Highlights from the various ethical codes will be covered in this training manual. Case studies and “Questions to Consider,” will also demonstrate this material. Participants in this training are encouraged to reflect on the questions contained prior to each section and before reviewing the material within the segment. A key part of learning and reflection is to develop sound ethical judgment. Some guidelines for this are listed below:


  • Familiarize yourself thoroughly with established standards


  • Be sensitive to ethical problems as they arise, and take into account the complexity of these issues