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Ethical guidance is not static. Ethical demands on therapists have changed as practice demands have changed. With direct access in all 50 jurisdictions and the District of Columbia, the Code of Ethics was reviewed for its applicability to today’s more complicated practice demands. It was determined that the Code of Ethics no longer provided adequate guidance to practitioners facing more ethical issues as a result of more independent practice. A complete revision was adopted by the House of Delegates of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and it went into effect on July 1, 2010 (APTA, 2010).

To best understand and appreciate the differences between the new and old documents, it is important to compare and contrast the documents, particularly the preamble. The preamble sets “the stage” for the difference between the old documents and the new documents.

The old preambles simply state that physical therapists (PTs) are responsible for promoting ethical practice and that physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are responsible for maintaining high standards of conduct while acting in the best interests of patients/clients.

The preamble to the new Code establishes the uniqueness of physical therapy as a profession—emphasizing that, as PTs perform multiple roles across a variety of settings, the ethical principles and standards of conduct with which they are expected to comply apply regardless of role or venue. A foundation of autonomy, responsibility, and accountability is established in the preamble and resonates through the Code.

The preamble to the new Standards of Ethical Conduct, meanwhile, cites the PTA’s obligation to facilitate patients’/clients’ achievement of greater independence, health, and wellness.

Both new preambles note that the documents are not exhaustive and do not address every situation. The Code and Standards provide guidance, and consultation with colleagues using the Code and standards is the best way to manage ethical problems. The Code of Ethics for the physical therapist and the standards of Ethical Conduct for the physical therapist assistant are documents that belong to the American Physical Therapy Association, the professional association. They are binding on all PTs and PTAs regardless of whether they are association members.

The Code of Ethics and Standards of Ethical Conduct are available at:


The principles enumerated in the Code build on core values of accountability, altruism, compassion, excellence, integrity, professional duty, and social responsibility. These values are described in the APTA document Professionalism in Physical Therapy: Core Values (available at “Core Documents”).

Both the principles of the Code and the standards of the Standards of Ethical Conduct reflect the uniqueness of the field of physical therapy. Both documents establish for practitioners, employers, employees, and, most importantly, the public the responsibility that PTs and PTAs assume for their own and their colleagues’ ethical behavior. Both documents also reflect the ...

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