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Challenges Faced by Expert Witness Counselors

Challenges Faced by Expert Witness Counselors

Sample Answer 

Challenges Faced by Expert Witness Counselors

When counselors have inadequate information with reference to the judicial process and system of giving expert testimony, they are at risk of ethical violations. Evidence shows that counselors are completing education programs with insufficient legal and ethical knowledge in expert witnessing (Zlotlow, Nelson, & Peterson, 2011; Pepiton, Zelgowski, Geffner, & Pegolo de Albuquerque, 2014). Counselors must be adequately prepared, especially for cross-examination, to avoid misrepresenting the client and jeopardizing the profession. The first step is to ensure that counselors get the right knowledge from educators. The 2016 standards of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) state that programs offered by accredited institutes should contain  “the multiple professional roles and functions of counselors across specialty areas” (Standard 2F.1.b) and that the training should be done in a manner that upholds “ethical standards of professional counseling organizations and credentialing bodies, and applications of ethical and legal considerations in professional counseling” (Standard 2.F.1.i). Counselors who are better trained and educated increase their competency and decrease the possibility of ethical complaints lodged against professionals (Neukrug & Milliken, 2011).

The counselor acts as a witness in a courtroom and is an educator to the jury and the judge who offers neutral and factual information. The judge must first qualify a counselor as an expert witness based on experience and knowledge, including specific expertise training, presentations, and publications. The opposing attorney can question a counselor’s credentials; hence, the latter should be prepared for such a possibility. Additionally, counselors must provide documented evidence pertaining to particular custody matters or allegations. When a counselor fails to document a single event, it is not considered evidence. A challenge arises when a counselor is called in as an expert witness involving a patient with whom the counselor has already terminated the client relationship over a long time. This is further complicated when the said client has missed appointments. Further, when a counselor makes non-descriptive notes during an appointment, they can be challenged in court. For example, stating that “the child appeared to be neglected by the family” is a non-descriptive statement and could be dismissed in a case. A preferred statement would be, “the child disclosed that he received beatings and was denied meals for four days.”

Another challenge faced by counselors who testify in court is the ethical complaints that can arise against them for activities related to the case. A counselor who testifies is often exposed to scrutiny in court, and any performance and professional flaws that one has are often exposed in the process of the court case proceedings. Ethical complaints against counselors offering expert witness testimony, especially concerning domestic custody disputes, have become more problematic over the years (Patel & Choate, 2014). Further, the lack of competency in the area of court testimony and opinion related to child custody jeopardizes the practice and licensure of counselors in the industry (Bow, Gottleib, Siegel, & Noble, 2010). This is in addition to impeding a professional counselor’s effectiveness in meeting and advocating the clinical needs of the client and family members. Also, the persons involved in a court proceeding often experience vulnerability, emotions that are heightened, as well as the risk of suffering considerable losses. These persons are sensitive to behavior they may deem disrespectful to their rights or as individuals, consequently increasing the probability of raising complaints against the testifying counselors. Some complaints may be based on facts, while others may aim to intimidate and vex the expert witness counselor.

Best Practices for Expert Witness Counselors

According to Moore & Simpson (2012), counselors should notify the client immediately after the former is subpoenaed. The counselor is ethically obligated to explain to the client the confidentiality limits and the information that would be shared in court. The nature of the counselor’s testimony should be explained clearly to the client and any recommendations that the counselor will propose in court. The client should also be given a chance to ask as many questions as possible to ensure the process is clear. Additionally, the counselor should ensure that the information discussed with the client is documented. It is also best practice for the counselor to discuss with their supervisor the most suitable way to handle the case, and if this is not possible, a professional should be consulted. A consultation will help the counselor to get a better case conceptualization.

When counselors gives testimony, they should be aware of attorney tactics to discredit them (Moore & Simpson, 2012). For example, it is common for attorneys to ask the counselor to give their opinion, which is outside their knowledge sphere and role. Often, counselors interact with different family members of the client, but they need to avoid offering a diagnostic opinion without a prior complete evaluation of the said individual family members. Further, counselors should not make personal judgments on the allegations. Counselors should not make any comments on any allegations as though they were factual; the final decision-maker (in this case, the judge) should be the one to draw conclusions on the allegations.

Lastly, a counselor should be a good listener. When giving testimony, the counselor should listen to the entire question asked by the attorney and then formulate a response before giving a response. The response should be in a conversational tone and confidently delivered in a common language, as complicated concepts are generally not compelling. A simple definition should be given where technical terminologies are necessary, as this offers an additional opportunity for the counselor to share their insight and expertise.


Bow, J. N., Gottlieb, M. C., Siegel, J. C., & Noble, G. S. (2010). Licensing board complaints in child custody practice. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice10(5), 403-418.

Moore, R. O., & Simpson, L. (2012). Counselors in the courtroom: Implications for counselor supervisors. Ideas and research you can use: VISTAS 2012.

Neukrug, E. S., & Milliken, T. (2011). Counselors’ perceptions of ethical behaviors. Journal of Counseling & Development89(2), 206-216.

Patel, S., & Choate, L. (2014). Conducting child custody evaluations: Best practices for mental health counselors who are court-appointed as child custody evaluators. Journal of Mental Health Counseling36(1), 18-30.

Pepiton, M. B., Zelgowski, B. R., Geffner, R., & Pegolo de Albuquerque, P. (2014). Ethical violations: What can and does go wrong in child custody evaluations?. Journal of Child Custody11(2), 81-100.

Zlotlow, S. F., Nelson, P. D., & Peterson, R. L. (2011). The history of broad and general education in scientific psychology: The foundation for professional psychology education and training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology5(1), 1.


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Challenges Faced by Expert Witness Counselors

Research Paper:

Discuss current professional issues that affect clinical mental health counselors (e.g., court ordered clients, core provider status, expert witness testimony, child custody evaluations, access to and practice privileges within managed care systems).

Challenges Faced by Expert Witness Counselors

Select one of the issues and provide a review of the literature (following APA style and format) as it pertains to best practices, efficacies of treatment and interventions, and improvement and/or enhancement of service delivery. A.7; J.1; J.2; J.3; I-1

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