Code of Ethics (1981)


American Association of Pastoral Counselors


CSEP Library

Date Approved: 

May 2, 1981

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Code of Ethics



(Adopted May 2, 1981)

Pastoral counselors are committed to a belief in God and in the dignity and worth of each individual. They accept and maintain in their own personal lives the highest ethical standards, but do not judge others by these standards

The maintenance of high standards of professional competence is a responsibility shared by all pastoral counselors in the interests of the public, the religious community and of the profession. The pastoral counselor works toward the improvement and refinement of counseling through the establishment of ethical standards in pastoral counseling generally and especially at all pastoral counseling centers.

Pastoral counselors are accountable for their total ministry whatever its setting. This accountability is expressed in relationship to clients, colleagues and faith community, and in the acceptance of, and practice based upon, this Code of Ethics of the Association.

In the practice of the profession, pastoral counselors show sensible regard for moral, social and religious standards, realizing that any violation on their part may be damaging to their clients, students, colleagues and their profession.


In all professional matters pastoral counselors maintain practices that protect the public and advance the profession.

A. Pastoral counselors accurately represent their professional qualifications and their affiliation with any institution, organization or individual. Pastoral counselors are responsible for correcting any misrepresentation of their professional qualifications or affiliations.

B. Pastoral counselors use their knowledge or professional association for the benefit of the people they serve and not to secure unfair personal advantage, consistent with the standards and purposes of the Association.

C. Members of the Association clearly represent their level of membership and limit their practice at their respective level.

D. Announcements of pastoral counseling services are dignified, accurate and objective, descriptive but devoid of all claims or evaluation.

E. Brochures that promote the services of a pastoral counseling center describe them with accuracy and dignity. They may be sent to professional persons, religious institutions and other agencies, but to prospective individual clients only in response to inquiries.

F. Financial arrangements are always discussed at the start and handled in a business-like manner. Pastoral counselors stand ready to render service to individuals and communities in crisis, without regard to financial remuneration, when necessary.

G. Pastoral counselors neither receive nor pay a commission for referral of a client.

H. Records on clients are stored in a place assuring security and confidentiality.

I. Pastoral counselors avoid disparagement of a colleague or other professional person to a client.


Pastoral counselors respect the integrity and protect the welfare of persons or group with whom they are working, and have an obligation to safeguard information about them that has been obtained in the course of the counseling process.

A. It is the duty of pastoral counselors, during the counseling process, to maintain the relationship with the client on a professional basis.

B. Pastoral counselors do not make unrealistic promises regarding the counseling process or its outcome.

C. Pastoral counselors recognize that the religious convictions of a client have powerful emotional and volitional significance and therefore are approached with care and sensitivity. They recognize that their influence may be considerable, and therefore avoid any possible imposition of their own theology on clients.

D. Pastoral counselors do not engage in sexual misconduct with their clients.

E. Except by written permission, all communications from clients are treated with professional confidence. When clients are referred to in a publication, their identity is thoroughly disguised and the report shall so state.

F. Ethical concern for the integrity and welfare of the person or group applies to supervisory and training relationships. These relationships are maintained on a professional and confidential basis. Personal therapy will not be provided by one's current supervisor or administrator.


Pastoral counselors maintain vital association with the faith group in which they have ecclesiastical standing. They work for the improvement and growth of pastoral counseling throughout the religious community. They communicate to their own faith group and the broader religious community the implications for the life of their community of their experience in pastoral counseling. When members of this Association are removed from the ecclesiastical roster of their sponsoring faith group, they are to report it to the Committee of Professional Concerns, for review of their membership.


Pastoral counselors relate to and cooperate with other professional persons in their community.

A. Pastoral counselors maintain interprofessional relationships, recognizing the importance of developing such relationships for the purposes of clinical consultations and referrals.

B. Pastoral counselors are sensitive to the total health needs of the clients they serve. To this end, they have access to appropriate health care professionals.

C. The affiliation of members with professional and interprofessional groups and organizations in the community is encouraged.

D. Pastoral counselors who offer specialized counseling services to persons currently receiving counseling or therapy from another professional person do so only with prior knowledge by the professional involved. Soliciting such clients is unethical practice.


Pastoral counselors continue postgraduate education and professional growth in many ways, including active participation in the meetings and affairs of the Association. whenever appropriate, they join with other pastoral counselors and with representatives of other helping professions to promote mutual professional growth.


Pastoral counselors distinguish and differentiate their private opinions from those of their denomination or profession in publicity, public pronouncement or publications.

A. Pastoral counselors communicate the relationship of religion and health and the nature of the healing ministry.

B. Modesty, scientific caution and due regard for the limits of present knowledge characterize all statements and publications of pastoral counselors who supply information to the public, either directly or indirectly. Exaggeration, sensationalism, superficiality and other kinds of misrepresentation are unethical.

Pastoral counselors do not make it appear directly or indirectly, that they speak for the Association or represent its official position, except as authorized by the Board of Governors.


When pastoral counselors are accepted for membership in the Association, they bind themselves to accept the judgment of other members as to standards of professional ethics, subject to the safeguards provided as follows. Acceptance of membership involves explicit agreement to abide by the acts of discipline herein set forth.

Members of this Association are committed to maintain high standards of ethical practice. To this end members consult with their colleagues on the Regional Ethics Committee whenever ethical questions arise, the answers to which do not appear to be clear to them. Members who appear to violate the foregoing Code of Ethics should be cautioned through friendly remonstrance. That failing, formal complaint may be made in accordance with the following procedures:

A. Complaint of unethical practice is made in writing to the Regional Ethics Committee. A copy of the complaint is furnished simultaneously to the person or persons against whom it is directed.

B. The first action of the Regional Ethics Committee is to approach those involved in pastoral concern, seeking a collegial resolution. If the Committee decides the complaint warrants investigation, it may elect from a variety of investigative endeavors including the possibility of one or more local visits.

C. Members have full access and full freedom and right to respond to all complaints and evidence cited against them. They always have the right and option of advisement by counsel at their own expense but at no time to be represented by counsel in these proceedings.

D. Actions taken by the Regional Ethics Committee may include:

1. Advice that the complaint is unfounded; admonishment, reprimand or probation.

2, Recommendation to the National Ethics Committee of suspension or dismissal from membership.

E. Any recommendation for suspension or dismissal with all supporting information and full reports of the Regional Committee's investigation are sent to the National Ethics Committee for Action. In the event of dismissal members at once surrender their membership certificate to the Ethics Committee for transmission to the National office

1. Members or complainants have the right to request review of actions taken by the Regional Ethics Committee as outlined in VIII D 1. above. The request must be made in writing within 30 days, accompanied by appropriate documentation. All supporting information and full reports of the Regional Committee's investigation are sent to the National Committee.

2. Final appeal of the National Ethics Committee action to suspend or dismiss from membership is to the Board of Governors, following the same procedure.

3. Should a member of this Association be removed by either faith group or another professional group for unethical conduct, the Regional Ethics Committee investigates the matter and acts in the manner provided above.

H. The procedure for reinstatement is the same as for new membership. When an application for reinstatement is received, the Membership Committee consults with the Ethics Committee which had recommended dismissal.