Music Therapy Code of Ethics

Code of EthicsEvery year, I like to review the documents that govern my profession, just to keep the information in my head to help me make sound clinical decisions as I work with clients and teach music therapy. I looked at the Music Therapy Scope of Practice, so now I’ll take a closer look at the Code of Ethics.

There’s been some discussion about whether music therapists who aren’t members of AMTA are bound by the Code of Ethics, which is an AMTA document. I think that question has been answered by the Scope of Practice, which is a joint document of AMTA and CBMT. In the Scope of Practice, it states,

…In addition, music therapists practice safely and ethically as defined by the AMTA Code of Ethics, AMTA Standards of Clinical Practice, CBMT Code of Professional Practice, CBMT Board Certification Domains, and other applicable state and federal laws.

To me, this indicates that all board certified music therapists are bound by the AMTA Code of Ethics, whether they are members or not. (I’ll discuss the membership issue in another post.) The issue is that the Ethics Board can only take action on AMTA members. CBMT has a process for dealing with complaints (I’ll discuss this in another post, too), so perhaps that covers it, but I need to take a closer look at that to understand the ramifications fully.

Regardless, it’s important to know, understand, and incorporate the Code of Ethics into your music therapy practice. Here’s my attempt to do so:

The Code of Ethics (COE) is a document that is adopted by the Assembly of Delegates–representatives from each region of AMTA that represents the membership in making policy decisions (another reason to be a member–to have a voice in your representation!). It begins with a Preamble, which states the purpose of the COE and states that members of AMTA, collectively and individually, affirm the statements within the document.

There are 13 sections. The first section addresses Professional Competence and Responsibilities. The 10 items in this section relate to being honest about our credentials, training, and behaving in a professional, respectful, and legal manner. They also address staying within one’s scope, only doing what one is trained to do.

Section 2 is General Standards. The 3 items in this section state that we will provide high quality services that conform to the Standards of Clinical Practice (another post, later), and will respect the moral and social expectations of the communities we work in. It also states that we will refuse to participate in illegal, inhumane, or discriminatory activities, or those that violate another’s civil rights.

The third section has 12 items about Relationships with Clients/Students/Research Subjects¬†that outline how we will protect the welfare of those with whom we have professional relationships. This means we will protect the rights of the individuals we work with and will be mindful of the power we hold in those relationships. We use caution in predicting the results of our work and avoid misrepresentations, using research and evidence-based practice to support our work. We will use informed consent and protect our client’s confidentiality.

Section 4 is on Relationships with Colleagues. The 5 items in this section address professional integrity, not offering music therapy to another music therapist’s clients, interacting professionally with other professionals, and collaborating with other treatment team members.

Relationships with Employers is Section 5 and has 6 items that relate to being truthful and ethical at work, and while using the employer’s resources.

The seventh section, Responsibility to the Profession/Association, has 5 items that talk about respecting our professional association and increasing the knowledge within our profession.

Section 8 is about Research. The seven items in this section cover treating research participants with respect and confidentiality, as well as appropriate publication credit.

Fees, Business, and Commercial Activities are covered in section 9. This section (and the next) have been the topic of conversation lately among music therapy business owners. The 8 items in this section state that music therapists will participate in their businesses in ways that are consistent with the COE.

Section 10 has 7 items on Announcing Services. Music therapists are to “adhere to professional rather than commercial standards” when we advertise our services. We will not solicit clients of other music therapists. The conversation mentioned above came from misinterpreting the COE to say that we cannot advertise our businesses. I don’t think that was the intent or what this section of the COE is saying. It’s just saying that we must be professional, rather than using commercial standards of practice.

Section 11 refers to Education (Teaching, Supervision, Administration). Seven items in this section state that educators will model ethical practice and teach within their scope, making sure to remain educated on advances in music therapy and related health fields.

Section 12 has only one item called Online Presence and states that music therapists must ensure that their social media online presence is consistent with the COE.

Section 13 is called Implementation and outlines the grievance/reporting/resolution process in 6 items. The first item is Confronting Ethical Issues and begins by stating that MTs have an obligation to understand the COE, which is why I recommend reading it every year. If you are unsure about a situation or action would violate the COE, you should consult a member of the Ethics Board. We are obligated to report COE violations to the Ethics Board, but to not do so frivolously. Our aim should be to protect the public and integrity of our profession, rather than to harm the person we are accusing. The first step, then, in resolving a COE violation that we might have witnessed is to discuss it with the person we believe violated the COE. The details about how to do this and to document it are in the item called Informal Resolution of Ethical Violations. If an informal resolution isn’t appropriate because of serious reasons, like sexual harassment, fear of physical retaliation, or imminent threats to your employment, then a formal grievance may be filed. A Mid-Level Resolution of Ethical Violations might be recommended by an Ethics Board member, but must be agreed to in writing by both the observer and the person accused of violating the COE. Both parties would complete a questionnaire that would be returned to the Ethics Board member in a secure, confidential manner. Follow-up conversations would be scheduled to determine if a resolution has occurred or a Formal Resolution may be filed. For a formal resolution, the observer must submit a written report to a member of the Ethics Board. There are specific items that the COE specifies must be in the written grievance. It must be made within one year of the violation of the COE. The respondent will be notified in writing of the grievance and has 60 days to respond in writing. The Ethics Chairperson, the respondent and the observer will negotiate a resolution, or a formal hearing procedure will be initiated. Section 13 of the COE also outlines what Corrective Actions may be taken.

This process of reporting and resolution with the Ethics Board is for AMTA members, since the Ethics Board is an AMTA entity. Ethics Board members are also available for consultation on ethical matters to AMTA members. I did notice that all of the members of the Ethics Board, who are elected by the Assembly of Delegates, are from the Great Lakes (1 member), Mid-Atlantic (3 members), New England (1 member), and Southeastern Regions of AMTA (1 member), which means that Western, Southwestern, and Midwestern Regions are not represented on this board.

The COE is broad and does not cover every situation that might arise. Cheryl Dileo wrote a great book called Ethical Thinking in Music Therapy. She outlines a decision-making process for ethical decisions that may or may not have a clear answer.

Have you read the COE lately? How do you make ethical decisions?