Today’s MFT law and ethics practice question explores the issue of standard of care. What is standard of care? Simply put, it is the usual and customary standards employed by therapists in their day-to-day work. The standard of care guides all that we do when we work with our clients: the interventions we use, the treatment plans we develop, the consultations we seek, our record keeping practices, how we advertise, how and when we collaborate with others... I think you get the point. Standard of care does not imply we must be perfect in all that we do, but rather, we must behave in ways that other reasonable and prudent practitioners would behave if and when they face similar situations. If we fail to behave in a way that meets the standard of care, we leave ourselves vulnerable to legal and professional ramifications.
While you may not see questions on the exam that explicitly use the term “standard of care,” you will see many questions that require you to identify answers based on this concept. This will include questions asking how you would manage legal or ethical obligations, how you address crisis situations, or how you decide to clinically manage particular situations. As I said earlier, the standard of care guides pretty much everything we do and every decision we make as clinicians. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the question.
A therapist is meeting with a 14-year-old client who was brought to therapy by her parents. The parents inform the therapist that they are concerned for their daughter’s well-being and suspect she is self-harming and has a history of suicide attempts. They inform the therapist that their daughter has met with a therapist in the past and was taking medication for depression and anxiety. The therapist conducts an assessment by asking the client about her current symptoms and goals for therapy. The therapist completes a suicide assessment and decides it is unnecessary to communicate with the client’s treating psychiatrist or the former therapist. The therapist’s actions are considered:
- Below the standard of care because it is important to collaborate with the treating psychiatrist and gather information from the former therapist.
- Below the standard of care because the law states it is the therapist’s responsibility to collaborate and confer with other professionals.
- Meeting the standard of care because the therapist conducted a comprehensive suicide assessment, which addresses immediate safety concerns.
- Meeting standard of care because collaboration with other professionals is only an ethical obligation, but not legally required.
What answer would you choose? Share in the comments below and be sure to tune in tomorrow for the answer and a discussion of the rationale!