Ethical & Legal Considerations

Ethical and legal aspects of clinical supervision

Clinical supervisors are responsible for conducting themselves ethically in their interactions with supervisees, as well as for safeguarding the welfare of their supervisees' clients and the employing organisation by:

  • Maintaining a sound understanding of the professional and ethical codes of conduct that apply to all workers (e.g., local, state, and federal laws) and those which apply to workers within specific professions (e.g., Australian Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics), or specific settings; and
  • Taking appropriate steps to ensure a supervisee's conduct remains within these ethical and professional parameters.

Ethical and legal issues that are particularly relevant for clinical supervisors include:  (1) vicarious liability, (2) dual relationships and boundary concerns, (3) informed consent, (4) due process, and (5) confidentiality (See 7.10.3.1 - 7.10.3.6 for a full description of these terms).

Most professional Codes of Ethics are about what we shouldn’t do. Michael Carroll (2010) took on the task of assisting an organisation to capture and develop the positive values which they wanted to live to in their work. This led to his notion of “ethical maturity – having the reflective, rational and emotional capacity to decide what actions are right and/or wrong, having the courage to do it and being publicly accountable for my decision.” (Carroll, 2010)

When ethical difficulties and dilemmas arise

Difficult and murky ethical problems arise from time to time in supervisory practice. When determining a way forward in resolving complex ethical dilemmas posed in supervision, Page and Wosket recommend following five general principles of ethical decision-making. (7.10.2 provides a description of these principles).

Joyce Scaife (2001) offers this “checklist” which could provide a useful resource for supervisors and supervisees:

  • Identify the problem/dilemma
  • Identify the relevant ethical guidelines
  • Discuss and consult with colleagues
  • Consider possible and probable courses of action
  • Enumerate the possible consequences of various decisions
  • Decide what appears to be the best course of action
  • Document each of the above steps

7.10 explores ethics and their place in supervision in greater detail