Ethics are an important concern in all professions since they express the key foundational values. The American Psychological Association (APA) has an ethics code that dictates psychologists’ ethical principles in psychology. It sets common principles upon which psychologists base their scientific and professional work, thereby ensuring the welfare and protection of groups and individuals working with psychologists. Additionally, it educates members and other stakeholders on the profession’s ethical standards. In doing this, APA’s Ethics code ensures that ethical standards are not solely based on an individual’s assessment of what is morally acceptable. However, a significant challenge most psychologists face is considering to what extent their success depends on being unethical. Therefore, APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct outline six general principles to guide psychologists toward the highest values in the different disciplines of psychology.
Competence in psychology is one of the guiding principles in APA’s code of ethics. As such, psychologists strive to make competency a lifelong goal in their work. They recognize the limitations and boundaries in their expertise and only provide services using techniques, education, and experience they are qualified for. Psychologists also recognize that competencies required in teaching, serving, or studying individuals or groups of people vary with different groups’ characteristics (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct). Therefore, they make cautious decisions to protect the welfare of the parties involved.
Another purpose of the ethics code is to establish and maintain integrity in the profession. This guiding principle ensures psychologists seek to maintain integrity in the practice and teaching of psychology. As such, psychologists should remain honest and avoid professional fraud. However, in some cases, deception can be used as a therapeutic tool (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct). In such cases, psychologists strive to make cautious and informed decisions to prevent harm to the individuals involved.
Professional and scientific responsibility
This code of conduct holds psychologists to professional conduct by clarifying their obligations and professional roles. They also seek to cooperate and work with other institutions and professions to the extent that serves their clients, patients, and other service recipients’ best interest. Furthermore, the psychologists’ moral conduct and standards are private, similar to other professions. However, psychologists’ conduct can compromise their professional duties leading to public distrust in psychology (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct). Psychologists hold their colleagues’ professional and scientific conduct and, when necessary, consult each other to avoid unethical conduct.
Respect for people’s rights and dignity
Respect for people’s rights is a universal principle in most scientific and professional disciplines. As such, psychologists respect their clients’ dignity, worth, and fundamental rights such as the right to privacy, autonomy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Additionally, they are aware of the role, cultural, and individual differences (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct). This awareness helps them eliminate biases in their approach based on these differences.
Concern for others’ welfare
Psychology is a complex science that involves dealing with different people; their welfare is among the priorities in the APA’s code of ethics. Psychologists contribute to the welfare of every individual or organization they deal with. They weigh the rights and welfare of the affected members and attempt to resolve occurring conflicts using solutions that minimize harm (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct). These situations require psychologists to be sensitive to the power differences between them and others and avoid misleading and exploiting others during and after their professional relationship.
Most professions, especially psychology, are aware of their scientific and professional responsibilities to the societies and communities they work and reside. They strive to make their knowledge accessible and public as a service to the community. In doing this, they contribute to finding solutions to the causes of human suffering. They also seek to advance the science of psychology and avoid misuse of their work. They should also aim to contribute part of their time for no personal gains.
School psychologists, similar to other professionals, are required to exemplify the principles of ethics. These include overcoming personal attitudes, cultural, and social values and carrying out their duties that have the students, parents, communities, and all parties involved in the best interest(Rogers-Sirin & Sirin, 2009). Furthermore, they are expected to respect children’s rights, and should any issues hinder the organization or individuals’ best interest, members should try to resolve the differences by clarifying the ethical principles from the organization or the individual’s perspective.
The APA code of ethics requires school psychologists to follow the guiding principles and should ensure they cater to the well-being of their students and the institutions. The psychologist should be able to apply the best approach to different individuals based on their age, race, gender, etc. When dealing with different age groups, psychologists can face ethical dilemmas. They may be forced to make decisions that jeopardize one party in favor of the party’s well-being. For instance, There confidentiality issues could arise when working with adolescents regarding whether to share the information with their parents (Rogers-Sirin & Sirin, 2009). However, the code of ethics acknowledges that only parents can issue consent for the treatment on behalf of a minor. Therefore, they have a right to know the treatment content until the minor is of legal age. In this case, the parent can only be informed of the treatment with the child’s consent.
Forensic psychologists perform various activities, some of which include assessment, public statements, and treatment, among others. While performing these duties, they conform to specific sections in the ethics code. Psychologists should familiarize themselves with the administrative and judicial rules governing their roles when assuming forensic duties (Bush, 2018). Psychologists base opinions on their recommendations and diagnosis of forensic testimony based on professional, scientific judgment. However, Issues may arise as to the validity and accuracy of the diagnosis as Shuman and Greenberg (2003) argue that mental health professionals testifying in courts mislead the judge.
This accusation can inspire doubt in the ethical practice of forensic psychology. For instance, when dealing with high profile cases, putting an expert opinion against another may raise doubts among the public as to the motivations of the expert and their intention since it is hard to comprehend how two competent professionals come up with opposite opinions regarding the same subject (Brodsky & McKinsey, 2002). In such cases, the psychologists should acknowledge that although legal practitioners abide by a code of ethics, they are obligated to fight for the client’s best interest which sometimes can conflict with the psychologist’s need for scientific rigor and objectivity. For example, a lawyer failing to prepare their client for a psychological test is unethical. On the other hand, coaching a client on how to take a psychological test is contrary to ethical behavior from a forensic psychologist’s perspective. Shuman and Greenberg (2003) propose impartiality as a means to strike a balance between the ethical obligations of a forensic psychologist and the trial’s adversarial needs.
Health care is another field in which ethical challenges occur regularly. Some of these issues include respect for patients’ confidentiality and dignity, informed consent, and striking a balance between family and patient rights. Practicing health psychology requires the psychologist’s intercultural skills, which requires them to be sensitive to the patient’s medical culture as well (Pagliaro et al., 2018). They must therefore maintain a high level of integrity in their duties, especially in times when clinicians resort to psychologists in attempts to reduce the stigma associated with disciplines such as psychiatry. Psychologists are not allowed to provide services for cases involving mental health cases if they have not obtained the necessary competence required. In such cases, psychologists with closely related experience or prior training can provide the services to ensure the patients are not denied service (Banyard, & Flanagan, 2013). However, they can only provide such services if they make reasonable efforts to obtain relevant training, research, or study.
Moreover, psychologists should carefully consider the patient’s welfare and treatment issues when dealing with mental cases. In such cases, the psychologists should discuss with their client, patient, or legally authorized caretakers on behalf of the patient to prevent confusion and minimize the risk of conflicts. Additionally, they consult with other caregivers when necessary and be sensitive to the therapeutic needs.
Ethics are essential in counseling since they protect the counselor and the client’s welfare by outlining what is important and appropriate. Counselors often encounter sensitive and difficult subjects who might be in a vulnerable position. Therefore, it is expected of a psychologist to adhere to the ethics code. They have a duty to the clients, and by their professional nature, they are required to act in the client’s best interest, protect their rights, promote client goals and minimize client harm. There are several ethical concerns and dilemmas in counseling. One challenge that normally arises is that no two people are alike, so psychologists are not always equipped to deal with all problems.
One ethical dilemma psychologists encounter setting and maintaining boundaries. This is one of the most important ethical concerns since it is necessary for psychologists to avoid developing relationships with clients. Failure to set boundaries can result in confidentiality and privacy problems. However, this is not always the case. Intense connections and emotions may arise from either parties when discussing difficult subjects. For example, the code of ethics dictates that a psychologist should not engage in sexual relationships with subjects since such involvements can be exploitive and lead to impaired judgment. Additionally, psychologists should avoid working with friends, family, and people they know to allow every subject a fair and unbiased therapy where they are free to express their worries and insecurities.
Counseling psychologists are responsible for maintaining confidentiality between their clients. The shared information should be kept both secret and private. However, there are a few exceptions to this. For example, in case the psychologist suspects immediate harm to the client or other people around them. Another exception is in the case of minors. In this case, a psychologist is not allowed to treat a minor without prior consent from the parents or guardian. The parents have a right to know the content of the treatment if needed. The psychologist may also face a dilemma when dealing with adolescents where they wonder if some minor information regarding the child, such as sexual issues. However, the code of ethics requires them to share the information with the guardian if the need arises.
Organizational psychology can also be defined as industrial psychology, which is a study of people’s behavior in social organizations and work settings and the implementation of knowledge gained from the study towards the growth and improvement of the organization. Ethics is one of the key tenets in ensuring that psychological science is carried out in a way that guarantees the well-being of all involved parties. Ethics in organizations deals with defining what is wrong or good by justifying it based on a rational system that clearly outlines what a person or subject ought to do. Despite its importance, organizational ethics is rarely considered in industrial psychology. The lack of focus on the subject does not mean unethical behavior is not a problem in organizations. Ethical issues can be categorized into different hierarchies comprising morality (Doris et al., 2010). Whether acquired or inherited, there is a widespread consensus that moral psychology includes thoughts, feelings, and ethical behavior. Although these are precise in their value, they are part of the guiding principles that represent the highest psychological ideals American Psychological Association, 2013).
One of the ethical dilemmas in this psychology discipline is respect for people, which is one of the guiding principles. Moral theories emphasize the importance of the subjects’ right to be treated with dignity in addition to autonomy, freedom, privacy, and confidentiality. However, dilemmas may arise. For instance, these rights and freedoms can be denied when they interfere with other individuals’ rights. Fairness and justice are other principles of ethics defined by APA. As such, psychologists must strive to strike a balance between rights and obligations (Vullinghs et al., 2020). When dealing with organizations or social institutions, other issues such as social justice prevail, which gives the psychologist a task to seek fairness by balancing how a certain course of action burdens or benefits a social system.
One of the ethical dilemmas faced by psychologists is the foreknowledge of harm to a subject inflicted by a third party. For instance, when an organizational psychologist is tasked to help in creating plans to reduce the workforce and learns that the organization has no intentions of notifying the affected employees on time. The senior managers may be concerned with productivity decrease if the news is announced too early, and the psychologist is expected to work with the dictated timeline.
Ethics play a crucial role in ensuring the public credibility and acceptance of the different disciplines in psychology. As such, the ethics code recommends that all members refer to the outlined guidelines endorsed and adopted by APA and other scientific, psychological, and professional organizations. Both scientific and professional guidelines are essential, as indicated in the ethics code. These guidelines provide guiding principles and help psychologists in different contexts in their field. Therefore, they are expected to stick to them and report a potential violation by other members. They should also consider the privacy and confidentiality rights of the affected members and should try and solve it informally by involving another psychologist to resolve the issue. However, these decisions should be made cautiously since the integrity of APA’s ethics can be compromised if psychologists file reckless complaints.
American Psychological Association. (2013). Guidelines for psychological practice in health care delivery systems. American Psychologist, 69, 1– 6.
Banyard, P., & Flanagan, C. (2013). Ethical issues in psychology. Routledge.
Brodsky, S. L., & McKinsey, R. K. (2002). The ethical confrontation of the unethical forensic colleague. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33(3), 307-309.
Bush, S. S. (2018). Ethical issues in forensic geropsychology. American Psychological Association.
Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. (n.d.). American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved May 18, 2022, from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx
Pagliaro, S., Lo Presti, A., Barattucci, M., Giannella, V. A., & Barreto, M. (2018). On the effects of ethical climate (s) on employees’ behavior: A social identity approach. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 960.
Rogers-Sirin, L., & Sirin, S. R. (2009). Cultural Competence as an Ethical Requirement: Introducing a New Educational Model. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2(1), 19-29.
Shuman, D. W., & Greenberg, S. A. (2003). The expert witness, the adversary system, and the voice of reason: Reconciling impartiality and advocacy. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34(3), 219-224.
Vullinghs, J. T., De Hoogh, A. H., Den Hartog, D. N., & Boon, C. (2020). Ethical and passive leadership and their joint relationships with burnout via role clarity and role overload. Journal of Business Ethics, 165(4), 719-733.