Ethics: What is the Role of Ethical Standards?

Morse Code Straight Key J-38
Morse Code: A Standard for Communicating to Others.

A recent news report by KENS 5, San Antonio Texas says, San Antonio council woman Jennifer Ramos is speaking out about the ethics rule she has been accused of breaking. An ethics review board found that Ramos violated a section of the ethics code by using city computers to email her then-employer, the WellMed Charitable Foundation. But the board agreed to dismiss the most damaging allegation, reporting there’s no proof she used her position to unfairly advance the interests of WellMed (Kens 5 San Antonio). What is apparent from the report is a potential for ethical dilemmas that are a common to the daily business of life.

A good question to pose is: what is the role that ethical standards should play in a professional capacity being served? Like politicians and other professionals, psychology professionals are faced with a challenge to provide competent-ethical services. A point of view about standards is that, “ethical codes provide normative ethical expectations that apply to all members of a profession” (Ford, 2006, p. 1). Further understanding of what an ethical standard does is expressed in greater description indicating at least 4 reasons for developing ethical standards: [1.] To clarify their sense of professional identity by distinguishing themselves from those practicing other professions and occupations. [2.] An ethical code is a way of communicating to students and practitioners of the profession the basic principles, ideals, and interests of the profession. [3.] To address questions and problems relating to ethical matters. [4.] Establishes standards of professional conduct that provide specific behavioral guidelines that provide specific behavioral guidelines and serve to sensitize all members of the profession to ethical issues involved in the practice of the profession (Ford, 2006, p. 4)

A point taken from these reasons is that the objectives fulfilled in a code of ethics are, “to educate professionals about sound ethical conduct … provides a mechanism for professional accountability … serve as a catalyst for improving practice (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2009, p. 8). In addition to the internal component of the code of ethics that relates to the professional practicing, the overarching theme for the code of ethics serves the function “to safeguard the welfare of the client by providing what is in their best interest (p. 8). Therefore, standards provide an information base that educates a logical process in decision making. Ethical standards provide an objective standard for evaluation of specific areas of potential conflict.

The role that ethical standards ethical codes play in decision making is to enable a bi-directional process of induction and deduction. A code is not designed to discourage intuitive ethical judgments but to enable a process where thinking and reasoning can be applied and critical-evaluative ethical judgments can be made with a dependable basis (Welfel, 2006, pp. 20-21).

As a result the process that the code puts in place is an analytical reasoning process in which decisions must be formulated in a particular construct to enable a response. What can happen is that, “it will enable professionals to differentiate contexts involving multiple, or competing, ethical considerations from those that are less complex…[and] provide a template of steps professionals can take to resolve complex ethical issues in a rational manner” (pp. 82-83).

In the case of the council woman’s ethical dilemma, “the board agreed to dismiss the most damaging allegation, reporting there’s no proof she used her position to unfairly advance the interests of WellMed. Ramos said she’s pleased with the outcome, but the issue needs to be addressed” (Kens 5 San Antonio) providing a reasonable way that a decision could be made between competing interests.

Consequently, development of professional codes of ethics provides a substantive basis for decision making which provides guidance in what is expected of professionals and what is acceptable responses to problems which arise.


Corey, G., Corey, M. S., & Callanan, P. (2009). Isssues and Ethics in the Helping Profession (7th ed.). Belmont, CA, USA: Brooks/Cole. Ford, G. (2006). Ethical reasoning for mental health professionals. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications.

Kens 5 San Antonio. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2011, from Kens Welfel, E. R. (2006).

Ethics in counseling & psychotherapy (3rd ed.). Belmont, California, USA: Thomas Higher Education.


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