Ethics for Psychologists
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Those who practice psychology are in a unique position. Much like when a person takes their automobile to a mechanic and trusts in the mechanics skill to repair the vehicle, clients trust their psychologists to help repair a number of issues. But a mechanic’s job applies exclusively to the vehicle and if his or her skill falters, it is usually an isolated problem. Psychologists’ work varies by specialty, but the nature of the work gives it far-reaching consequences. Whether a person seeks psychological help for marital counseling, drug and alcohol related problems, depression, or mental illness, every area of their life, and the lives of those around them will be affected by the psychologist’s treatment. People come to a psychologist expecting them to be more knowledgeable in the area at hand, to be trained and confident. People come to a psychologist for the answers. Because of this view, clients are likely to trust psychologists fully and follow their advice, as they interpret it, to the letter. Therefore, a client may not realize it immediately if a psychologist is acting in an unethical manner. A woman moving toward a divorce might think to herself that if her marriage counselor asked her out for drinks, it must be okay. Perhaps it is a part of the counseling process. Likewise, someone seeing a hypnotherapist may accept that a massage is just a part of the hypnosis process.
Because of the great influence a psychologist can have on their clients, the importance of ethical behavior cannot be stressed enough. Ethical violations often result from incompetence. Chapter 4 in the textbook examines four areas of competence for psychologists. They are: achieving and maintaining their competence while acting in their professional role, keeping within their boundaries of competence and limitations of their techniques, maintaining competence in matters of human diversity in practice and research, and protecting others’ welfare when standards of competence are lacking (70). These four areas of competency are easily described. A psychologist should only practice in areas they have received adequate academic training for. A psychologist must be aware of his/her own bias and keep cultural, socioeconomic, and sexual orientation factors in mind when evaluating and treating patients. A psychologist must use the general principle of Beneficence and Nonmaleficence when necessary and research all resources available to them for new situations that arise. A psychologist must obtain accredited education in their field of practice and remain current through continuing education classes, seminars, and new research and clinical evidence.
This area of achieving and maintaining competence applies ethics not only to the student or practicing psychologist, but also to the psychology professor. A psychology professor has a high obligation in the area of ethics, since for many psychology students the professor is their first role model for how a professional should behave. This being said, a psychology professor must take particular care to avoid a violation of ethics and maintain high standards of competency. The information professors use to teach students must be valid and current, since this is the same information the beginning psychologists will use in making diagnosis and treating patients in the field. Giving lectures with out-of-date references and studies can be considered a violation of ethics for a psychology professor. The professor has an obligation to provide students with the most up to date research and clinical studies. A psychology professor also has an ethical obligation to teach only those areas he or she is academically trained in. A psychology professor, who specialized in youths during their education and practiced in the field counseling children from divorce, should not be found teaching a criminal psychology class at the local university. It would be unethical to attempt to instruct a student in something the professor had not studied or researched in themselves.