The AAMFT Ethics Committee (hereafter, the Committee) has the ability to investigate ethical complaints made against AAMFT members. The complaint process is governed by the AAMFT Procedures for Handling Ethical Matters.
Initiating a Complaint
Complaints of unethical conduct must be initiated by someone with personal knowledge of the alleged behavior or by someone in a position to supply relevant reliable testimony or other evidence on the subject. Most of the complaints filed with AAMFT are filed by either current or former clients.
The Committee may also proceed on its own initiative when presented with sufficient allegations. Complaints initiated by the Committee are typically based on publicly available information from regulatory bodies and news sources. Whether initiated by an individual or the Committee, the complaint process is a paper review process.
Preliminary Review of Complaint
When a complaint is filed with AAMFT, AAMFT staff review the complaint materials for jurisdiction and completeness. In order for the complaint to be forwarded to the Ethics Committee Chair, complainants must waive therapist-client confidentiality and permit AAMFT to use their name and forward a copy of the allegations to the member, if charged with a violation of the AAMFT Code of Ethics.
Determining Whether to Open a Case
Once the Chair receives the complaint materials, the Chair, in consultation with AAMFT’s legal and ethics staff, determines whether the allegations, if proven factual, would constitute a violation of the Code. If so, a copy of the complaint materials and a charge letter are sent to the member for a response. If not, the case is closed.
With limited exceptions, when a case is opened based on a complaint that has been filed concurrently with a regulatory body, AAMFT’s case will be held in abeyance.
Consideration by the Full Committee
Once all case materials are received, the case will be submitted to the full Committee at its next meeting. The Committee typically meets once annually. Only the full Committee can make a finding that a violation has occurred. If the Committee determines that a violation has occurred, the Committee will recommend an appropriate sanction based on the severity of the violation. In cases where the member has already been disciplined by a regulatory body, the Ethics Committee will presume that the findings of that body are correct and will move on to its discussion of appropriate sanctions.
For lesser violations, the Committee may require the member to take a certain number of continuing education courses or to practice under supervision for a period of time. For more egregious violations, the Committee may recommend the revocation or termination of membership. In cases where membership is terminated with a permanent bar to readmission, that fact will be published in AAMFT’s Family Therapy Magazine once the Committee’ s decision becomes final.
Appeal to Judicial Committee
After the Committee has made its decision, the member will be notified and given the opportunity to appeal the Committee’s findings and recommendations to the Judicial Committee. The member must provide a written request for a hearing within 15 days after receiving notice of the Ethics Committee’s findings and recommendations. If the member does not appeal within the allotted time, the Ethics Committee’s decision becomes final.
Manner of Judicial Committee Hearing
The member may choose either an in-person hearing or a written review process. In-person hearings are typically held in Alexandria, VA before a Judicial Committee Panel. During the hearing, the Ethics Committee Chair and the member may be assisted by counsel, present witnesses, cross-examine witnesses and make brief opening and closing statements. The Judicial Committee panel is required to render its decision within 30 days of the hearing. If the member requests a written review process, the member and the Ethics Committee will provide written submissions to a Judicial Committee Panel, which will review the materials and render its decision within 30 days of the review.
Appeal to AAMFT Board of Directors
A member may make a final appeal to the AAMFT Board of Directors if the member believes that a procedural violation substantially impaired the member’s ability to defend against the charges. The Board will review the appeal at its next scheduled meeting and will render a decision within 30 days of the meeting. The Board renders its decision based solely on the member’s written statement and the response from the Judicial Committee or AAMFT’s legal counsel.
Confidentiality of Ethics Matters
All information obtained by the Ethics Committee and all case proceedings are confidential with limited exceptions. At this time, termination of membership with a permanent bar to readmission is the only sanction that is routinely published in AAMFT’s Family Therapy Magazine. In cases that involve a finding of no violation(s) and cases that involve lesser sanctions, typically the only notification is to the member and complainant. The Procedures permit AAMFT to provide a limited report on an ethics case to a regulatory body or another professional association upon request. If such a report is provided, a copy of the report is sent to the member.
How to Obtain a Complaint Packet
To obtain a complaint packet, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact AAMFT by phone at 703-838-9808.