Standards of practice relating to many of these ethical areas exist both within each of the mental health professions and within government.

   Many things are unethical that are not illegal, but illegal acts that relate to a practitioner's performance of professional duties are routinely unethical. The range of unethical behavior, therefore is wider than that of illegal behavior.

   Conflicts of interest frequently underlie ethical infractions and in civil proceedings such conflicts as are relevant to the "cause of action" typically casts the practitioner in unfavorable light. Courts tend to assume that practitioners cannot properly perform their duties when they have an interest in potential conflict with these duties. Accepting stock market tips from clients, engaging in sexual activities with patients, and serving as a therapist to one's students are examples of unacceptable practices. In each case the practitioner's singleness of purpose and, by implication, clarity of judgment fall under suspicion.

   Malpractice suits are civil proceedings. Some malpractice actions are brought on the basis of alleged breach of contract. The plaintiff may argue, for example, that the practitioner did not perform what, for a fee he or she promised. Most malpractice suits are filed on the basis of an alleged wrong - some for malice (deliberate injury) but the vast majority for negligence. Typically the plaintiff will hold that the practitioner did not adhere to the standard of care prevalent in the community in the way that a reasonable person (practitioner) of ordinary prudence would have, thus failing to fulfill a duty that he or she owed the client and thereby causing injury. Taking negligent action (eg. administering a harmful treatment) or negligently failing to take appropriate action (eg. not responding to clear signs of suicidal intent immediately prior to a self-destructive act) are grounds for legal action.

   Some professional behavior can be grounds for both a civil suit and a criminal prosecution. For example, a psychotherapist who injures a client with a physically damaging treatment may be brought to trial for assault and battery by the District Attorney as well as named in a civil suit by the client.

"Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed"
Proverbs 15:22