Code of Ethics (1994)


American Association of Pastoral Counselors


CSEP Library

Date Approved: 

April 28, 1994

Other Versions: 

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Code of Ethics

(Amended April 28, 1994)

(Procedures separated out April 17, 1993)


As members of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, we are committed to the various theologies, traditions, and values of our faith communities and to the dignity and worth of each individual. We are dedicated to advancing the welfare of those who seek our assistance and to the maintenance of high standards of professional conduct and competence. We are accountable for our ministry whatever its setting. This accountability is expressed in relationships to clients, colleagues, students, our faith communities, and through the acceptance and practice of the principles and procedures of this Code of Ethics.

In order to uphold our standards, as members of AAPC we covenant to accept the following foundational premises:

A. To maintain responsible association with the faith group in which we have ecclesiastical standing.

B. To avoid discriminating against or refusing employment, educational opportunity or professional assistance to anyone on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national origin; provided that nothing herein shall limit a member or center from utilizing religious requirements or exercising a religious preference in employment decisions.

C. To remain abreast of new developments in the field through both educational activities and clinical experience. We agree at all levels of membership to continue post-graduate education and professional growth including supervision, consultation, and active participation in the meetings and affairs of the Association.

D. To seek out and eng4cre in collegial relationships, recognizing that isolation can lead to a loss of perspective and judgment.

E.To manage our personal lives in a healthful fashion and to seek appropriate assistance for our own personal problems or conflicts.

F. To diagnose or provide treatment only for those problems or issues that are within the reasonable boundaries of our competence.

G. To establish and maintain appropriate professional relationship boundaries.


In all professional matters members of AAPC maintain practices that protect the public and advance the profession.

The AAPC Code of Ethics may be reproduced only after contacting the AAPC Association Office to insure that the most current copy of the Code can be provided.

The AAPC Code of Ethics and the Ethics Committee Procedures were separated by action of the AAPC membership on April 17, 1993. The Board of Governors is now authorized to modify ethics committee procedures without further action by the membership. Members should note that the substantive rule from the Code of ethics to be applied to an alleged violation will continue to be determined by the date of the alleged violation and not the date the complaint is received. However, as a result of the action taken, the current procedures in effect will be followed for all complaints brought after April 17, 1993, regardless of the date of alleged violation.

The use of "member ... .. we," "us," and "our" refers to and is binding upon all levels of individual and institutional membership and affiliation of AAPC.

A. We use our knowledge and professional associations for the benefit of the people we serve and not to secure unfair personal advantage.

B. We clearly represent our level of membership and limit our practice to that level.

C. Fees and financial arrangements, as with all contractual matters, are always discussed without hesitation or equivocation at the onset and are established in a straight-forward, professional manner.

D. We are prepared to render service to individuals and communities in crisis without regard to financial remuneration when necessary.

E. We neither receive nor pay a commission for referral of a client.

F. We conduct our practice, agency, regional and Association fiscal affairs with due regard to recognized business and accounting procedures.

G. Upon the transfer of a pastoral counseling practice or the sale of real, personal, tangible or intangible property or assets used in such practice, the privacy and well being of the client shall be of primary concern.

a.  Client names and records shall be excluded from the transfer or sale.

b. Any fees paid shall be for services rendered, consultation, equipment, real estate, and the name and logo of the counseling agency.

H. We are careful to represent facts truthfully to clients, referral sources, and third party payers regarding credentials and services rendered. We shall correct any misrepresentation of our professional qualifications or affiliations.

I. We do not malign colleagues or other professionals.


It is the responsibility of members of AAPC to maintain relationships with clients on a professional basis.

A. We do not abandon or neglect clients. If we are unable, or unwilling for appropriate reasons, to provide professional help or continue a professional relationship, every reasonable effort is made to arrange for continuation of treatment with another professional.

B. We make only realistic statements regarding the pastoral counseling process and its outcome.

C.We show sensitive regard for the moral, social, and religious standards of clients and communities. We avoid imposing our beliefs on others, although we may express them when appropriate in the pastoral counseling process.

D. Counseling relationships are continued only so long as it is reasonably clear that the clients are benefiting from the relationship.

E. We recognize the trust placed in and unique power of the therapeutic relationship. While acknowledging the complexity of some pastoral relationships, we avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of clients. We avoid those dual relationships with clients (e.g., business or close personal relationships) which could impair our professional judgment., compromise the integrity of the treatment, and/or use the relationship for our own gain.

F. We do not engage in harassment abusive words or actions, or exploitative coercion of clients or former clients.

G. All forms of sexual behavior or harassment with clients are unethical, even when a client invites or consents to such behavior or involvement. Sexual behavior is defined as, but not limited to, all forms of overt and covert seductive speech, gestures, and behavior as well as physical contact of a sexual nature; harassment is defined as but not limited to, repeated comments, gestures or physical contacts of a sexual nature.

H. We recognize that the therapist/client relationship involves a power imbalance, the residual effects of which are operative following the termination of the therapy relationship. Therefore, all sexual behavior or harassment as defined in Principle III, G with former clients is unethical.


As members of AAPC we respect the integrity and protect the welfare of all persons with whom we are working and have an obligation to safeguard information about them that has been obtained in the course of the counseling process.

A. All records kept on a client are stored or disposed of in a manner that assures security and confidentiality.

B. We treat all communications from clients with professional confidence.

C. Except in those situations where the identity of the client is necessary to the understanding of the case, we use only the first names of our clients when engaged in supervision or consultation. It is our responsibility to convey the importance of confidentiality to the supervisor/consultant; this is particularly important when the supervision is shared by other professionals, as in a supervisory group.

D. We do not disclose client confidences to anyone, except: as mandated by law; to prevent a clear and immediate danger to someone; in the course of a civil, criminal or disciplinary action arising from the counseling where the pastoral counselor is a defendant; for purposes of supervision or consultation; or by previously obtained written permission. In cases involving more than one person (as client) written permission must be obtained from all legally accountable persons who have been present during the counseling before any disclosure can be made.

E. We obtain informed written consent of clients before audio and/or video tape recording or permitting third party observation of their sessions.

F. We do not use these standards of confidentiality to avoid intervention when it is necessary, e.g., when there is evidence of abuse of minors, the elderly, the disabled, the physically or mentally incompetent.

G. When current or former clients are referred to in a publication, while teaching or in a public presentation, their identity is thoroughly disguised.

H. We as members of AAPC agree that as an express condition of our membership in the Association, Association ethics communications, files, investigative reports, and related records are strictly confidential and waive their right to use same in a court of law to advance any claim against another member. Any member seeking such records for such purpose shall be subject to disciplinary action for attempting to violate the confidentiality requirements of the organization. This policy is intended to promote pastoral and confessional communications without legal consequences and to protect potential privacy and confidentiality interests of third parties.


As members of AAPC we have an ethical concern for the integrity and welfare of our supervisees, students and employees. These relationships are maintained on a professional and confidential basis. We recognize our influential position with regard to both current and former supervisees, students and employees, and avoid exploiting their trust and dependency. We make every effort to avoid dual relationships with such persons that could impair our judgment. or increase the risk of personal and/or financial exploitation.

A. We do not engage in ongoing counseling relationships with current supervisees, students and employees.

B. We do not engage in sexual or other harassment of supervisees, students, employees, research subjects or colleagues.

C. All forms of sexual behavior, as defined in Principle III G, with our supervisees, students, research subjects and employees (except in employee situations involving domestic partners) are unethical.

D. We advise our students, supervisees, and employees against offering or engaging in, or holding themselves out
competent to engage in, professional services beyond their training, level of experience and competence.

E. We do not harass or dismiss an employee who has acted in a reasonable, responsible and ethical manner to protect, or intervene on behalf of, a client or other member of the public or another employee.


As members of AAPC we relate to and cooperate with other professional persons in our community and beyond. We are part of a network of health care professionals and are expected to develop and maintain interdisciplinary and interprofessional relationships.

A. We do not offer ongoing clinical services to persons currently receiving treatment from another professional without prior knowledge of and in consultation with the other professional, with the clients' informed consent. Soliciting such clients is unethical.

B. We exercise care and interprofessional courtesy when approached for services by persons who claim or appear to have inappropriately terminated treatment with another professional.


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.

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

B. We may use the following information to describe ourselves and the services we provide: name; highest relevant academic degree earned from an accredited institution; date, type and level of certification or licensure; AAPC membership level, clearly stated; address and telephone number; office hours; a brief review of services offered, e.g., individual, couple and group counseling; fee information; languages spoken; and policy regarding third party payments. Additional relevant information may be provided if it is legitimate, reasonable, free of deception and not otherwise prohibited by these principles. We may not use the initials "AAPC" after our names in the manner of an academic degree.

C. Announcements and brochures promoting our services describe them with accuracy and dignity, devoid of all claims or evaluation. We may send them to professional persons, religious institutions and other agencies, but to prospective individual clients only in response to inquires.

D. We do not make public statements which contain any of the following:

I . A false, fraudulent, misleading, deceptive or unfair statement.

2. A misrepresentation of fact or a statement likely to mislead or deceive because in context it makes only a partial disclosure of relevant facts.

3. A testimonial from a client regarding the quality of services or products.

4. A statement intended or likely to create false or unjustified expectations of favorable results.

5. A statement implying unusual, unique, or one-of-a-kind abilities, including misrepresentation through sensationalism, exaggeration or superficiality.

6. statement intended or likely to exploit a client's fears, anxieties or emotions.

7. A statement concerning the comparative desirability of offered services.

8. A statement of direct solicitation of individual clients.

E. We do not compensate in any way a representative of the press, radio, television or other communication medium for the purpose of professional publicity and news items. A paid advertisement must be identified as such, unless it is contextually apparent that it is a paid advertisement. We are responsible for the content of such advertisement. Any advertisement to the public by radio or television is to be pre-recorded, approved by us and a recording of the actual transmission retained in our possession.

F. Advertisements or announcements by us of workshops, clinics, seminars, growth groups or similar services or endeavors, are to give a clear statement of purpose and a clear description of the experiences to be provided. The education, training and experience of the provider(s) involved are to be appropriately specified.

Advertisements or announcements soliciting research participants, in which clinical or other professional services are offered as an inducement, make clear the nature of the services as well as the cost and other obligations or risks to be accepted by participants in the research.


(Amended April 28,1994)

As members of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors we are committed to accept the judgment of other members as to standards of professional ethics, subject to the procedures that follow. Refusal or failure to cooperate with an ethics investigation at any point may be considered grounds for Dismissal.

As members of AAPC we are bound by ethical standards to take action, according to the procedures outlined herein, when it appears that another member has violated the Code of Ethics. Whenever ethical questions arise and the answers do not appear to be clear, we consult with the Regional Ethics Committee for information and clarification.

A. General Procedures (For "Sexual Misconduct Cases," "quot;E")

1. While all ethical violations are recognized as serious, if an alleged violation is not threatening to the well-being of the member or others, we are encouraged first to approach the member in question to see if the matter can be resolved through clarification or remonstrance.

2. If this fails, or if an alleged violation appears to be a serious threat to the well-being of the member or others, the matter is immediately referred to the Regional Ethics Committee. This constitutes a formal complaint and shall be made in writing to the Regional Ethics Committee which begins an investigation as soon as possible and in a deliberate and careful manner.

3. If members receive complaints of unethical conduct against them, they shall promptly report the complaints to the Regional Ethics Committee.

4. Regional Ethics Committees shall consult with the Association Chair or Committee immediately upon receipt of a complaint. The Executive Director of AAPC shall be notified by phone of the complaint.

5. A Regional Ethics Committee begins an investigation as soon as a complaint from a primary party has been received. A copy of the complaint (or a summary or a portion of it which indicates the nature of the complaint) is sent to the member against whom it is directed.

6. A Regional Ethics Committee may also begin an investigation based upon information obtained from other sources, including but not limited to:

a. Notification of Suspension or Dismissal from another professional organization or from the members endorsing faith group.

b. The media.

c. Knowledge that a member has been convicted of, or is engaged in conduct which could lead to the conviction of, a felony or of a misdemeanor related to the member's qualifications or functioning as a pastoral counselor.

d. Knowledge that a member has had a professional license or certificate suspended or revoked.

e. Knowledge that a member has shown a lack of competency to practice pastoral counseling due t impairment through physical or mental causes or the abuse of alcohol or other substances.

7. When a Regional Ethics Committee proceeds on its own initiative (in lieu of the receipt of a written complaint), it shall prepare a statement concerning the factual allegations against the member; a copy of this shall be sent to the member.

8. Complaints may be brought by anyone. Complaints by members shall be brought promptly, with due regard for client confidentiality.

9. Investigations usually include separate personal interviews by the Regional Ethics Committee with the person(s) who has made the complaint, with the member against whom the complaint has been made and with anyone else deemed necessary to obtain needed information. All parties involved are to be supported while at the same time not given unnecessary information or promises.

10. Notes are to be kept which include dates and brief summaries of all phone calls and meetings. These notes are to be kept confidential, including the use of initials instead of names whenever feasible. These notes should be clear enough to enable a reasonable person to conclude that the Regional Committee's investigation was adequate and its findings sufficient to sustain its determination(s).

11. At the discretion of the Regional Ethics Chair, legal counsel may be obtained to ensure that these procedures are followed accurately. The member against whom a complaint has been made may also seek legal counsel, at his/her own expense, but under no circumstances shall legal counsel be present at any Ethics Committee meeting or investigative interview.

12. Any member of a Regional Ethics Committee who has or has had a close personal or collegial relationship with the member under investigation shall be excused from the investigation and deliberations of that case. If this includes the chairperson, a chair pro-temp shall be named. Regional Ethics Committees may recruit any member(s) of AAPC, from any region, for a specific investigation.

13. Confidentiality is crucial. However, when it is deemed to be in the best interest of protecting the public and the Association and its members, if a Regional or Association Ethics Committee is approached by a member of AAPC or of the public and is asked about allegations against a particular member, the committee member or chairperson may reveal to that person that a) an investigation of the alleged violation(s) is in process, or b) that the member is under discipline or either is or has been recommended for Dismissal. No other details are to be revealed.

14. Any member under investigation who moves to another region during the course of any disciplinary action shall notify in writing the Chairs of the Ethics Committees of both the former and new regions. A copy of each notification shall be sent to the other chairperson.

a. Investigations shall be conducted and completed by the Ethics Committee of the region in which the alleged violation occurred.

b. A copy of the complete file shall be sent to the Ethics Chair of the region into which the member relocates. That Chair shall be responsible for the management of the ongoing process until it is resolved in consultation with the original Ethics Chair.

c. Responsibility for the management of the case shall be transferred to the Ethics Committee in the new region at a time that is deemed appropriate by both Regional Ethics Chairs.

15. Investigations can be held and disciplinary actions can be taken only against those who were members at the time the alleged violation of the Code took place. Conversely, if a member resigns during or after such violation, or during the course of an investigation, ethics procedures shall proceed to completion.

B. Actions

When an investigation is complete, there are four courses of action that an Ethics Committee may take:

I . Advice that the complaint is unfounded.

2. Admonishment This action is meant to be educational when a member has been unaware of having violated the Code of Ethics.

3. Reprimand. This action is a serious reproof or rebuke of the member. It is based upon an assessment that the member has accepted responsibility for the violation and that the reprimand is adequate to ensure that it will not reoccur.

Actions 2 and 3 may be taken only in those cases in which the violation is deemed not to be threatening to the well being of the member or others. They are taken by the Regional Ethics Committees. The following is recommended by the Regional Ethics Committees for action by the Association Ethics Committee.

4. Dismissal. This action is taken when a violation of the Code is serious and demonstrates an essential lack of professional knowledge, procedures, and conduct, which are consistent with membership in AAPC.

When deemed appropriate, the Association Ethics Committee, or a Board of Review on behalf of the Ethics Committee, may offer the member a voluntary reduction of membership level to a membership category which is more in keeping with the members demonstrated level of pastoral functioning and need for supervision. The member is subsequently allowed to advance in membership categories through normal Membership Committee procedures; i.e., retrain required number of hours of supervision for advancement, reappear before Membership Committee, etc.

When dismissed, and at the conclusion of possible appeals, the member shall submit membership certificate to the Executive Director. When a voluntary reduction of membership category has been accepted, the member shall submit existing membership certificate and may request a certificate for the new membership category at own expense.

The action of dismissal may be taken in any case but is mandated when a member has been found guilty in a court of law of a felony, or of a misdemeanor which is related to the member's functioning as a pastoral counselor.

C. Appeals Process and Records

With each of the four actions above, the action is communicated to the complainant and to the member by certified mail, return receipt requested, with notification that the decision may be appealed.

I Actions 2 and 3 may be appealed to the Association Ethics Committee, at which point the Regional Ethics Chair forwards the complete file along with a summary of the case to the Association Ethics Chair.

a. The Association Ethics Chair decides upon and organizes any additional investigation that may be necessary.

b. When this is accomplished, the Association Ethics Committee reviews the case and meets either in person or by conference call to discuss the appeal and to reach a decision.

c. If no appeal is received within 30 days of this receipt, a chronological summary (without names) of the case is sealed in an envelope with only the member's name on the outside. It is then sent to the Executive Director of AAPC for safe keeping.

d. The summary is to be kept by the Executive Director of AAPC for a period of twenty years, or longer if another investigation is begun. In the event another investigation of that member begins, the summary may be sent upon request to a Regional or Association Ethics Committee.

Action 4 may be appealed to an Appeal Board through notification of the Association Chair. The Appeal Board shall be made up of the Chair of the Association Ethics Committee, the Vice President of AAPC, and a member-at-large in AAPC, chosen by the Association Ethics Chair. 'Me Religious Endorsing Body (REB) representative shall be invited to participate as an observing (non-voting) member of the Appeal Board. The REB representative shall be informed of the details of a case only should they choose to participate on the Board. The Appeal Board may also include a representative of the AAPC Executive Director as a nonvoting, observing member.

a. The Association Ethics Chair, in consultation with legal counsel, decides upon and organizes any additional investigation that may be necessary.

b. When this is accomplished, the Appeal Board shall review the case and meet either in person or by conference call to discuss the appeal. It then reaches a final decision about the appeal.

c. If no appeal is received within 30 days of the above mentioned receipt, the procedure is the same as in 1, C.

d. The file, with summary, shall be kept by the Executive Director of AAPC indefinitely and shall be destroyed one year after the Association learns of the member's death. A Regional or Association Ethics Committee may request this file if another complaint is received or investigation is begun regarding the member. In addition, in the case of Dismissal, the file shall also be sent upon request to a Regional or Association Membership Committee if the person reapplies for membership.

e.If a member appeals a decision for Dismissal, the member shall cease all functioning as a pastoral counselor during the appeal.

3. Decisions by the Appeal Board regarding appeals are final.

D. Notifications

1. When issued a Reprimand the member shall report this status in writing to a present or prospective employer, including supervisors and consultants, and copies shall be sent to the Regional Ethics Chair. Notifications of a Reprimand shall be sent by the Association Ethics Chair to the member's endorsing faith group, relevant state regulatory agencies and any and all other professional organizations to which the member belongs.

2. Determinations of Reprimand or Dismissal, once the appeal time or procedures are over, are publicized to the membership in the next AAPC Newsletter. The announcement is limited to the member's full name and highest earned degree, geographical location, the fact and date of Reprimand or Dismissal and the specific Principle(s) of the Code violated. If a member is dismissed for violation of Principle VIII, first paragraph (refusal or failure to cooperate with an ethics investigation at any point), all other Principles alleged to have been violated shall also be listed.

3. In the case of Dismissal, the Association Ethics Chair, once the appeal time or procedures are over, shall notify the member's endorsing faith group, relevant state regulatory agencies, and any and all other professional organizations to which the member belongs. The specific information communicated is the same as above.

E. Sexual Misconduct Cases

When a complaint is received alleging sexual misconduct or violative harassment of Principle 111, G and H, the following procedures shall pertain:

1.  Upon receipt of a complaint, or information of a potential complaint, the Regional Ethics Chair shall immediately contact the AAPC Executive Director and the Association Ethics Chair to advise them of all initial information received, forwarding to the Executive Director a completed Regional Ethics Committee special report form on the matter. An investigatory process shall commence under the direct guidance of the Association's legal counsel, utilizing regional ethics committee members and resources as needed.

2. The Association Ethics Chair shall appoint a three member subcommittee of Association Committee members to receive the results of the investigation and act as a Board of Review for the case. The Regional Ethics Chair of the region from which the complaint arose shall be a member of the sub-committee, barring conflicts, and will not act as chair. Only members of the Association Ethics Committee may serve on the Board of Review. However, as a matter of discretion, the Association Ethics Chair may appoint to review boards a qualified fourth member in order to attain gender, racial, cultural, faith group, or sexual orientation balance and fairness. This person may be from the membership of AAPC, or, as deemed necessary, from the general public.

3. When acting as a Board of Review, the subcommittee shall act on behalf of the Association Ethics Committee, review results of the investigations, make provision as necessary for further fact finding and reach a decision on a disposition of the matter in accordance with Procedures, B, 1-4. The deliberations of the Board of Review are held in executive session and upon invitation open to the member, the complainant, and their respective counsel. Investigations, deliberation of facts, conclusions, and any disciplinary actions are not intended to replicate a court of law or legal process. Reasonableness and fairness shall be the standard for the Ethics Committee process rather than strict adherence to legal rules of evidence used in court.

4. The decision of the Board of Review may be appealed by the member only when the decision involves Reprimand or Dismissal. Appeals are made to an Appeal Board, as outlined in Section C.2. (above), which has final jurisdiction. Appeals must be made within 30 days of notification of the Board of Review's findings. If litigation is pending, the Board of Review may defer its decision to the outcome of such litigation, and on an interim basis impose nonappealable terms or conditions of discipline. If new and material facts are discovered within 30 days of the decision of the Board of Review, the member or complainant may ask the Board of Review for a re-hearing, provided that no appeal has been previously taken. A re-hearing is at the sole discretion of the Board of Review.

F. Board of Emergency Review

1. To protect the public welfare, the rights of AAPC members, and the interests of the Association, a Board of Emergency Review is established. This board consists of the President (ex-officio), the Vice President, the Secretary, the Executive Director, the Deputy Executive Director, and at least one AAPC Committee Chair of a relevant committee or his/her designee. The Board of Emergency Review shall have legal counsel present whenever action is to be taken.

2. Upon notification that a member's conduct and actions appear to be so egregious that waiting for action and decision through the normal committee process presents an unacceptable level of risk to the public, the member, or the Association, the Board of Emergency Review has the authority to meet, to consider the facts, and to temporarily withdraw membership credentials pending full investigation of the case.

3. Notification shall be made to the member in writing. Further, notification shall be made to the committee investigating the case. The committee shall be notified that the Board of Emergency Review's decision to temporarily withdraw the member's credentials does not constitute a finding of guilt on the charges under investigation and does not absolve the committee of its responsibility to fully investigate the charges, render a decision, and make ultimate disposition of the case.

4. Notification shall be made to outside authorities, i.e., endorsing bodies,licensing boards, and other professional organizations to which the member belongs. These bodies will be notified in writing and told that the decision of the Board of Emergency Review does not constitute a finding of guilt on any charges but was taken only to protect the interests of the public, the member and/or the AAPC.