Psychology: The Need for Ethical Codes and Principles
The need for a standardized monitoring of professional conduct is quintessential to the very existence of that profession. Additionally, an adherence to applicable principles secures the integrity of the profession. Specifically, according to some consensus, there are two major purposes for codes of ethics: (1) to promote optimal behavior by providing aspirational principles that encourage reflection and accurate decision making within a moral framework, and (2), to regulate professional behavior through monitoring and through disciplinary action against those who violate prescriptive and enforceable standards of conduct (Pettifor, 2004).
Ethical standards can be classified as being either “minimal” or “aspirational”. Minimal ethical standards, as reflected in the APA Ethics Code is intended to be applied by the APA Committee and by other bodies that chose to adopt specific standards (APA, 2002b). Actions that violate the standards of the Ethics Code may also lead to the imposition of sanctions on psychologists or students whether or not they are APA members by bodies other than APA, including state psychological associations, other professional groups, psychology boards, other state or federal agencies and payers for health services (Fisher, 2009). In contrast to the Ethical Standards, as stated in the General Principles, the aspirational principles of the Ethics Code are not intended to represent specific obligations or the bases for imposing sanctions.
General Principles, as opposed to Ethical Standards, are aspirational in nature (Bersoff, 2008). Their intent is to guide and inspire psychologists toward the very highest ethical ideals of the profession. General Principles, in contrast to Ethical Standards, do not represent obligations and should not form the basis for imposing sanctions. A clear-cut distinction between minimal required standards and aspirational standards lies in enforceability. Aspirational standards are not enforceable (Fisher, 2009).
Examples of Aspirational Standards might include Principle A: Beneficience and Nonmaleficense. As an example, psychologists strive to be aware of the possible effect of their own physical and mental health on their ability to help those with whom they work or psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people (Bersoff, 2008).
Examples of Minimal required standards include the resolution of ethical issues, the exhibition of competence, an understanding of human relations, respect for client’s privacy and confidentiality, and the avoidance of false and/or deceptive statements (Bersoff, 2008).
American Psychological Association (2002b). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologists, 57, 1060-1073.
Bersoff, D. L. (2008). Ethical conflicts in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Fisher, C. B. (2009). Decoding the ethics code. A practical guide for psychologists. California: Sage Publications.
Pettifor, J. L. (2004). Professional ethics across national boundaries. European Psychologist, 9, 264-272.