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Peer support specialists function within a professional ethical framework. Codes of ethics have been created by various professions and organizations to help practitioners to define the limitations of ethical behavior. Ethical behavior is a formal way of respecting the rights of clients and setting the boundaries for relationships between peer support specialists and their clients.

One of the most important points with regard to ethics in addiction treatment is respecting the client’s right to confidentiality regarding treatment. Federal law (42 CFR) outlines the parameters for disclosure of confidential client information. Many states also have confidentiality regulations. In cases where both federal and state laws are applicable, counselors should adhere to the most restrictive law, which is often the federal law.

Boundaries issues for peer support specialists include disclosure, touch, sexual attraction and dual relationships. Peer support specialists are responsible for maintaining boundaries in the peer relationship and have an ethical responsibility to report boundary violations committed by themselves and others. Peer support specialists are mandated by law to report child abuse or abuse of a vulnerable adult.

The ability to respond respectfully and effectively to diverse individuals is known as cultural competence, which is a critical ethical concerns for peer support specialists. Peer support specialists and other helping professionals have a responsibility to recognize their own cultural biases or filters and to see beyond these biases when providing services. A person-centered approach to delivering services helps to support culturally competent practice.

Other professional responsibilities of peer support specialists include:

  • appropriate use of supervision
  • understanding and respecting the chain of command
  • ongoing professional development
  • maintaining personal wellness