Ethics – Professional Behavior


  • Discuss professional conduct when working with clients
  • Define and discuss dual relationships
  • Discuss appropriate professional boundaries
  • Review legal & ethical considerations
  • Discuss the non-use of aversive stimuli

Professional Conduct

When working with clients it is important that all staff maintain appropriate professional behavior.

  1. Adhering to Your Schedule: It is a sign of respect to be punctual. So be punctual. Be on time for scheduled appointments, and if life does get in the way and you are running late contact the family, if you are going to be significantly late call your BCBA and the family. If you have to cancel, preferably with 24 hours advance notice, again, call the BCBA and the family.
    • If you arrive late, try to stay late to make up the lost time. If an appointment is cancelled try to make up the lost hours.
    • Give families a 10 minutes grace period if you arrive for a scheduled appointment and they are not home.
    • If and when applicable, do set your O.O.O assistant (email & phone)
  2. Demonstrate Good Rapport with Parents:
    • Always return phone calls or emails within a reasonable amount of time– no more than three business days
    • Make sure to communicate about any upcoming changes i.e., upcoming schedule variation, upcoming vacation, etc.
      • This may be handled by direct/administrative staff of the organization however ensure in any case that the client has been given proper notice.
    • Follow through on your committments
    • Do not promise things you cannot deliver (i.e., prognosis of child, specific scheduling requests, etc.)
  3. Maintain an Appropriate Appearance:
    • Home setting attire
      • Dress professionally as well as comfortably
      • Do not wear clothing or jewelry that hinders your work
      • Consider that low cut pants & tops may be distracting or suggestive to others in the home setting
    • School setting attire
      • First and foremost, follow school policy
      • Dress professionally as well as comfortably
      • If you are attempting to be inconspicuous, plan to dress that way
      • Remember that you are representing your agency of employment
    • Office setting attire
      • Follow the dress code policy for your office
    • Bad Ideas, In General
      • Flip flops
      • Revealing clothing
      • High heels
      • Jewelry (you don’t want broken)
      • Dangling earrings (pulling, etc.)
      • Undergarments that show
      • Really long hair left to hang loose (pulling, etc.)
  4. Personal Information: Consider the boundaries between being friendly with a client and inappropriately being a client’s friend
    • Do not give out personal information such as address, telephone number, personal email, etc.
  5. Show a Positive Attitude: Life is what happens when making other plans
    • Always be truthful with parent, teacher & therapists
    • However, choose your words carefully when presenting information
    • You are considered a professional and are highly respected for the work that you do
    • Your work may be held in very high esteem
    • Think before you speak

Dual Relationships

What is a Dual Relationship?

Any relationship other than a therapeutic one between a practitioner and a client, in our environment this is extended to family and caregivers of the client.

Why should we not have them?

Dual relationships are forbidden by the ethics that govern our positions as they make it difficult to maintain boundaries and can impair judgement and threatens objectivity.

What constitutes a dual relationship?

Any other relationship that is in addition to the primary role as a professional, including but not limited to:

  • Romantic
  • Financial
  • Social

Setting Boundaries

It is important to set boundaries to protect the client and therapist relationship. This can be personal boundaries such as not sharing too much personal information or developing previously mentioned personal relationships as well as clinical boundaries, which is providing extra services without proper approval and documentation.

Strategies for maintaining boundaries

  • Limit communication to:
    • relevant topics related to the services
    • client performance
    • family support of program goals
  • Maintain an appropriate level of privacy concerning your life outside the professional relationship (including in person, email, social networking)
  • Use professional methods of communication (company email, phone, etc)
  • Decline offeres to interact outside of the professional setting
  • Keep cultural differences in mind, be cognizant!

Aversive Stimuli

A stimulus is aversive if it is noxious, uncomfortable, painful, or if it evokes fear when presented.

Types of Aversive Stimuli

  • Physical: corporal punishment, spanking, shock therapy, etc.
  • Emotional: provoking negative emotions (sad, scared, embarrassed, nervous, etc.) by the presentation of a certain stimuli


All information regarding a client is privileged and cannot be released without proper written consent. However, as therapists/clinician’s, we MUST breech confidentiality when we know or suspect that there is:

  • Child abuse
  • Neglect
  • Suicidal Risk
  • Homicide Risk
  • Elder abuse

All individuals who work with individuals with disabilities are mandated reporters.

How Should Staff Act Following a Report of Abuse

Employees should NEVER discuss this matter. MUST maintain confidentiality. This information can only be discussed with their direct supervisor. Services must continue to be provided even under suspicion of abuse (unless the therapist feels that they themselves are in danger). And employees should try and act the same, like nothing has changed.

For more specific ethics refer to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s: Professional and Ethical Compliance Code

Learn More…

Client Confidentiality

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