Professional Ethics for Psychologists

Professional Ethics for Psychologists

Big Questions: Values, ethics, decisions

What are your personal values?

How do these values influence your morality and decision-making?

What are ethics?

How do psychologists make ethical decisions, and deal with ethical conflicts?

Values vs. Ethics vs. Laws



Your personal belief system, what is important to you

A set of behaviors that a group has identified as “correct” or appropriate


Enforceable rules about what to do/not to do in a specific community

Ethical Codes: What’s the point?

APA developed Code in 1950s

Purposes of codes

Protect consumers / Protect the profession

Give identity to profession (outline values)

Guide professional behavior

Offer framework for decision-making

Protecting clients

Clients often vulnerable to exploitation, manipulation

Clients in distress may bring out inappropriate feelings/behaviors in counselors

Protecting the profession

Provides acceptable standard of behavior/standard of care among psychologists

Can offer some defense of behavior in legal setting

Ethical codes: What’s the point?

Ethical Codes: What’s the point?

Codes change over time, as society changes, or professional values change

No code is perfect

Does not always give clear answers

Can’t predict every potential issue, can’t always “keep up” with societal changes

Conflicts can exist between codes/laws/values

Ethics and Values

“Values-Aware” Counseling vs. “Values-Free” Counseling

Nearly impossible to be “values free”

Can be dangerous to ignore influence of your values!

We must ask: “Whose needs are being met?”

If unsure, must consider *who* I’m doing this for

Must act in client’s best interest, even if we don’t 100% agree

Our responsibility to always uphold ethics

Joining a profession, or holding license, means you agree to uphold ethical code

What are your Values?

Rokeach Value Survey (1983)

“Your goal is to rank each value in its order of importance to you. Study the list and think of how much each value may act as a guiding principle in your life…. When ranking, take your time and think carefully. When you have completed the ranking… the result should represent an accurate picture of how you really feel about what’s important in life.”

Rokeach: Rank Values 1-18


EQUALITY (equal opportunity for all)



FREEDOM (independence, free choice)

INNER HARMONY (free from inner conflict)

HEALTH (physical, mental well-being)

MATURE LOVE (sexual/spiritual intimacy)

NATIONAL SECURITY (protection, safety)

PLEASURE (enjoyable, leisurely life)

SALVATION (saved; eternal life)

SELF-RESPECT (self-esteem)


SOCIAL RECOGNITION (respect and admiration)



A WORLD OF BEAUTY (beauty of nature and the arts)

A WORLD AT PEACE (a world free of war and conflict)

Ethics and Values

What were your Top 3 values? Bottom 3 values?

In what areas do you think it is possible that your personal values and professional ethics may conflict?

A case of conflict… Julea Ward vs. Board of Regents of Eastern Michigan University

Ethics and Values

Read the article about Ward v. EMU and answer these questions as a group:

What is the issue the student (Julea Ward) had?

What position did her program at EMU take?

What was the outcome of the case?

What is happening in other states that may affect future conflicts of this kind?

What do you think? What side of the issue would you agree with?

Ethical Codes: What’s it all about?

The welfare of the client is highest priority

APA Code of Ethics:

Principle A: “Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm….psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally (APA, 2010).”

What’s in the Code: APA Guiding Principles

APA 2010 General Principles

Beneficence and Nonmaleficence

Fidelity and Responsibility



Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity

What do Ethical Codes Cover?

1. Resolving Ethical Issues

2. Competence

3. Human Relations

4. Privacy & Confidentiality

5. Advertising & Other Public Statements

6. Record Keeping & Fees

7. Education & Training

8. Research & Publication

9. Assessment

10. Therapy

So what’s the problem?

“Hot Spots” – areas psychologists often have trouble

Legal issues (e.g., reporting/not reporting)

Social/Cultural Issues

Boundary Issues (e.g., dual relationships)


Informed Consent

Professional Practice Issues (e.g., competence, misrepresentation)

Hot Spots: Major Ethical Issues

Legal issues

Understand state laws governing practice

Understand duty to report, duty to warn

Duty to warn mandatory in MA, not in RI

Hot Spots: Major Ethical Issues

Social/Cultural issues

Practice culturally aware/competent services

Code 2.01 (b): “Where scientific or professional knowledge in the discipline of psychology establishes that an understanding of factors associated with age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic status is essential for effective implementation of their services or research, psychologists have or obtain the training, experience, consultation, or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services…”

Hot Spots: Major Ethical Issues


Strictly protect confidentiality, and know its limits

Code 4.01: “Psychologists have a primary obligation and take reasonable precautions to protect confidential information obtained through or stored in any medium, recognizing that the extent and limits of confidentiality may be regulated by law or established by institutional rules…”

Hot Spots: Major Ethical Issues

Boundary Issues/Multiple relationships

Multiple relationship: having both a professional and non-professional relation w/ client

Avoid or manage “multiple relationships”

Code 3.05 (a): “A psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist’s objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the relationship exists…”

Hot Spots: Major Ethical Issues

Informed Consent

Therapy clients, research participants, students, supervisees need to know what to expect, so they can decide to participate (or not)

Code 3.10 (a): “When psychologists conduct research or provide assessment, therapy, counseling, or consulting services … they obtain the informed consent of the individual or individuals using language that is reasonably understandable to that person or person…”

Hot Spots: Major Ethical Issues

Professional Practice issues

Practice only what you are competent to do

Code 2.01 (a): “Psychologists provide services, teach, and conduct research… only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience

Hot Spots: Major Ethical Issues

Professional Practice issues

Clearly, accurately represent qualifications/credentials

Code 5.01 (b): “Psychologists do not make false, deceptive, or fraudulent statements concerning their training, experience, or competence; their academic degrees; their credentials; their institutional or association affiliations; their services; the scientific or clinical basis for, or results or degree of success of, their services…

(c) Psychologists claim degrees as credentials … only if those degrees (1) were earned from a regionally accredited educational institution or (2) were the basis for psychology licensure…

Ethical decision-making

Ethical Problem-solving Model (Forester-Miller, et al)

Identify problem (Ethical? Clinical? Legal?)

Review relevant ethical guidelines, and applicable laws

Determine nature of dilemma, impact on guiding principles

Beneficence, Justice, Fidelity, Integrity, etc.

Consult, consult, consult!

Consider possible courses of action, potential consequences

Select, evaluate a course of action

Test of justice

Test of publicity (“newspaper test”)

Test of universality

Implement action, assess the outcome

What’s a psychologist to do? Ethical decision-making

Know the Code and follow it

Know the law and follow it

Carry liability insurance

Various orgs offer low-cost insurance for students (ACA/HPSO  less than $50/year)

Inform your supervisor/director of any potential ethical violations, legal issues

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