Category Archives: Ethics

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.


Ethics and Recruiting Business: The Problem of Using Invalid Research

United States Supreme Court building in Washin...
The Supreme Court

An  I/O psychologist working as a personnel consultant for a local industry has success in recruiting new business for a consulting practice; then, presents work done in a report of positive changes through employee retention for companies using the approaches designed by the consultant to achieve ROI for consulting services and further understands that business people identify with numbers. In a scenario such as this, does advertising and promoting the successful results and approach without scientifically validated research create a ethical caveat that will potentially create an ethical dilemma?

Problem Identification

Advertising Service within the Boundaries of Competence.

The idea of a psychology professional promoting, advertising, making claims of outcome based upon a particular modality or treatment has the flavor of a multi-level marketing strategy. It raises a question about what is appropriate in making a presentation to a prospective organization seeking services from an I/O psychologist.

What are the issue at stake when promoting services that are within the bounds of competency and professional ethic? The specific area that the example calls to attention is how an organizational consulting psychology practitioner represents professional services offered.  One specific issue which is an underlying consideration is, Principle C: Integrity (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010) which addresses a Kantian maxim (Ford p.63) which could be express as a self evident truth in the practice of personnel psychology. Therefore, it should be rationally understood that honesty, integrity, and using deceptive practices to enhance business are clearly a breach of ethical practice, but has occurred in the case example.

The question of how to address the issue is the question that is the object of interest in a resolution of the matter of what has happened.  One answer to address how to respond to the dilemma is inherent within the problem solving approach and code of ethic for psychologist.  Maybe, a more important issue is how to prevent unethical breaches might be better addressed by appealing by giving consideration to, 2.01 Boundaries of Competence (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010) in how practitioners are provided professional training.

Problem Focus

Competence in Connecting Research to Scientifically Validated Outcomes.

The code is specific in directing attention to the fact that, “Psychologists provide services, teach, and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience” (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010).  If a reverse outline were constructed of the case example, what would be demonstrated is the use of invalid research statistics used to enhance the ability of the instruments used by the practitioner to achieve results in “employee retention” (Ford p. 193) has no empirical basis.

The fact that this information is used in a spurious manner is an indication of either intentional dishonest, or simply not understanding the ethical implications of how research data is to used in an ethical manner.  A rationale for understanding what should be done is expressed in Evidence Based on Test Content, “ Important evidence can be obtained from an analysis between a test’s content and the construct it is intended to measure” (2008, p. 11). As well as using evidence based testing approaches, a level of competency should be evident in post graduate certification to administer and interpret test results.

Process Rationale

Focusing on Competencies Rather than Ideology.

Therefore, to address the particular dilemma indicates that psychologist/consultant necessitates developing the ability necessary for problem solving by:

focusing on competencies or “end states,” rather than specific course work requirements to be included in an academic curriculum, the developers of the Principles have acknowledged the reality that competence in any given area may be achieved through a variety of avenues, such as course work, supervised practice, apprenticeships, or seminars and workshops, to name but a few (Fuqua).

Consequently, identifying the ethical problems and developing outcomes that will bring the necessary competency will require the practicing psychology consultant to submit to a competency development process that builds upon existing expertise through restricting activity to areas of competency and developing areas that require expertise prior to representing service outcomes.


Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2010, from Amercan Psychological Association:

Ford, G. (2006). Ethical reasoning for mental health professionals. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications.

Fuqua, D. &. Academic perspectives on the principles for training in consulting psychology. . Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research , 54 (4), 223-232. doi:10.1037/1061-4087.54.4.223.

Standards for educational and psychological testing. (2008). Washington, D.C., USA: American Educational Research Association.

Ethics, Consulting, Fees and Billing: The Problem of Unexpected Expenses

An I/O consultant providing consultation services looks at consulting proposal and gives an estimate of services to be provided based upon a careful analysis of time and resources required to complete the company’s employment recruiting program.  However, after the initial interview with the HR staff, it is discovered that the process will be much more labor intensive than had been projected.  Feeling that it would be unethical to submit a bill for an amount to cover additional cost, the decision is made to absorb the cost. (Ford, 2006, p. 199)

Analyzing key ethical principles of the case that raises important questions about financial benefit that might impinge upon decision making and poses the question about what constitutes ethical behavior within a consulting role in this situation. This example presents a common problem that consultants might be faced with and presents a challenge to identify what issues are of concern and understand what the correct course of response may be when unexpected issues have an impact upon fees increasing.  How can the problem should be handled ethically?

The problem

The problem that is presented is whether it is ethical to change payment or billing amounts after discovering that a situation in a consult is more complicated after the fact. Narrowing the problem to an identifiable question redirects attention to asking what the code of ethics says about payment for services: 6.04 Fees and Financial Arrangements which states, “(a) As early as is feasible in a professional or scientific relationship, psychologists and recipients of psychological services reach an agreement specifying compensation and billing arrangements” (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010).  One fundamental problem that is not answered in the study is whether or not informed consent is a part of the financial agreement for services. In 10.01 Informed Consent to Therapy, the stipulation is made that:

(a) psychologists inform clients/patients as early as is feasible in the therapeutic relationship about the nature and anticipated course of therapy, fees, involvement of third parties, and limits of confidentiality and provide sufficient opportunity for the client/patient to ask questions and receive answers (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010).

As a result to make a decision, hypothetically there needs to be a Q&A with the consultant to determine if informed consent has been used and has the terms and course of the services for therapeutic services been accurately developed, presented, and an opportunity to a proposed plan of treatment to be executed.  A further problem that seems to be present is that only an estimation of anticipated cost has been given which may point to a competency issue in analysis of proposed services.

A Process

A recommendation that might prevent this situation is to make an attempt to be as thorough as possible in the preparation of informed consent documents that represent as accurately as possible the scope and terms of services rendered.  Another approach is to use an open clause in the process that stipulates what is understood to be a reasonable course of action and a disclaimer which allows the informed consent to have an addendum to services based upon research findings.  In the event that services are beyond reasonable limits for a client, then the practitioner has to make a value decision in how to proceed with consulting responsibilities.  In a question of feasibility of service, one question is centered in the general Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility and Principle C: Integrity that may demonstrate a potential conflict in the Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010). Consequently, a decision must be evaluated in respect to the matter of whether the services offered can be provided at an optimum level that guards the principle of doing no harm, while providing services for the agreed terms.


Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2010, from Amercan Psychological Association:

Ford, G. (2006). Ethical reasoning for mental health professionals. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications.

Related Articles

Ethics, Theory Construction, and Compliance

Cover of "The APA Dictionary of Psycholog...
Cover of The APA Dictionary of Psychology

Ethics and Compliance

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (2007) defines the IRB as the, “abbreviation for INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD” (VandenBos) which quite honestly was not a term in my vocabulary before I began the PhD program. As it relates to the content area of  research in multicultural ethics, Ford (2006) establishes a connection between Ethics, Values, and Theory Construction, by stating, “Behavioral research is generally conducted to test specific hypothesis arising from psychological theories” which posits a corollary construct between what has been written in theory to what is done in practice for researchers. Therefore, and assumption is made that compliance lies somewhere between the theoretical didache of research and the utility found in the real life experience of practice.

One of the challenges that can be identified in the work of researchers is balance.  In a psychological research program the task is is to find common ground for the work of research within the ethical constructs of acceptable ethical principles is found in ethical codes, philosophical assumptions, and application of acceptable norms. Therefore, there are principles to guide the work of ethical research. The principles found in the code of ethics reflect generally accepted and identifiable area where violations can be possible.  Within the principles there are philosophical assumption that are expressed in way principle address concerns.  The intent is to speak to the needs of people who are made of diverse populations and cultural representations  Principles inform problem solving approaches with information to clarify reason and develop approaches to clarify what “should”or “ought” to be done in resolving a conflict.

The defining task is to identify the challenge and provide an assumptive reasoning that describes a process that is indicated; given that all things are equal in a perfect world.  The process describes the fundamental thinking process that guide understanding involved which calls attention to an underlying area of competence for psychological research, expressed in a design resolve a conflict.  Therefore, what is contained in a formula for response declares the basic principles that are a concerned couple with assumptions about how value is expressed in rank of importance i.e., the code of ethics, meaning, and intent of the ethical code.  In addition, the theoretical connection of what research means to the study of psychology is also firmly established in being able to understand, articulate, and connect the philosophical assumptions that inform ethical decisions in a reflective process that connects the philosophy to the lived experience of the researcher in psychology.  Ford (2006) describes the impact of the process upon the outcome of research by saying, “Researcher’s personal values might affect not only what issues they study, but also how they evaluate the evidence (i.e., data) they obtain” (p. 222)  As a result, the challenge can be understood in a development of a response that is informed not only by principles of facts, but also by the dynamic relationship of a developing interaction of the person and values of the researcher upon the object and persons involved in research.

Ultimately, the buck must stop somewhere in decision making and that is where the determination is made to determine what is acceptable.  In Ford (2006), suitable standards are decided by, the IRB [who] is the official entity that reviews research proposals involving human participants to determine whether the studies are ethically acceptable” (223).  Therefore, the challenge that is present for researchers is to maintain diligence in understanding, evaluation, and application of acceptable, normative approaches to guarantee that participants are not endangered or harmed in the implementation of research in the practice of psychological inquiry.

The challenge of psychologists in maintaining fidelity to the principle of Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010) is how to respond with a meaningful thoughtful method of evaluating a broad range of possible ethical area of concern.  The principle places emphasis upon a need to utilize a thought process that utilizes a provisional review process that focuses upon principle, process, and potential.  An important component to the research done by psychologist is to engage in research that is based in a scientific validation process  which establishes empirical credibility to research.  In addition having a theoretical approach to validate ethical balance, provides a foundation that enhances evidence based approach to the methodology in the work of research.

This can is realized within populations, groups, or individual to whom measuring risk is a very subjective process. Therefore, because there are times when ethical responses are difficult to measure, “researchers (and IRB’s) have an ethical obligation to calibrate the standards that will qualify a ‘minimal risk’” (225) which places a process in hand that goes beyond principle, philosophy and personal values, to a consensus of ideas and opinion which adds validity to apply what is known, understood and believed into a cogent and reasonable argument that is well supported.

What is observable and knowable about Ethics, theory construction, and compliance is that the code of ethics does in deed provide principle that can address a significant number of ethical concern, philosophical systems of thought can provide a rationale for decision making, but compliance is not always a clearly defined issue when dealing with areas that the code and philosophies do not adequately address to protect participants from harm.  So the value that is offered by the IRB is that it adds another voice that is constructed of expertise in the field of research that can ask the questions that can provide substantive consideration to what is in the best interest of research among psychology professionals


Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2010, from Amercan Psychological Association:

Ford, G. (2006). Ethical reasoning for mental health professionals. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

The Ethics of Psychology and Christainity in Review of a Theoretical Orientation

The Influence of Theoretical Orientation, Vision, and Values     The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Does the way a theoretical orientation, conceptual vision, and underlying values are possessed have a potential to become an ethical dilemma for a practitioner? The simplest approach to an  answer is to consider how core values have impact decision making processes. Every practitioner is an individual holding  a set of value contained in an orientation that is a part of how decisions are made personally and professionally that express individual person-hood. An example of how personal values have an influence can be illustrated in the evangelical Christian value system which is a minority view among psychologists. For those who hold this point of view, it is reasonable to believe that beliefs held will encounter resistance from some traditional perspectives in the field of psychology.  This potential conflict is noted by Meyer (1988) who describes how psychology programs respond to Christian applicants:

Studies have shown that the religious population, particularly in the traditional institutional sense, is underrepresented in the profession of psychology (Malony, 1972; Ragan, Malony, & Beit-Hallahmi, 1976; Shafranske & Gorsuch, 1984). Gartner (1986) found evidence of an “antireligious prejudice” in admissions to doctoral programs in clinical psychology after sending mock applications to graduate programs (p. 486). What is apparent is that there may be a correlation between religious orientation and acceptance into graduate psychology programs.

If it is true that a bias exists against those who hold certain religious perspectives, a potential conflict may be present in the way candidates in the process of applying for graduate programs face disqualification which may indicate a larger issue of  general attitudes about religious issue in counseling setting.  What is apparent is that there is a noticeable gap in how religious orientation is viewed from traditionally held psychological perspective that may be affecting how the delivery of competent training is cited in this research. An a area of concern that is raised in how will those trained in an atmosphere of bias be adequately be considered competent to provide services to those who make up a a religious culture of clients when appropriate education, training, and ethical development is not represented.

There may be a mythology held by some in psychological education which minimizes religion as a non issue while maximizing scientific approaches as maximum intellectual truth.  The result informs an attitude that posits beliefs and values thought to be scientific as accepted principles for determining how religious people will be treated in matters related to faith.  As a result, the anti-religious sentiment represented establishes an ethical norm systematically imposed upon professional practice through training—educating of graduate students.

One way the disparity can be approached is by providing a reasonable approach to addressing religious issues. Then, determining what ethical issues and which principles may be relative to understanding the disparity. Identifying the philosophical assumptions is the foundation of understanding  for where the source of conflict is created.  Four key assumptions relating to ethical research are, ontological, epistemological, axiological, and methodological (2010, p. 4)

Both perspective have one fixed reality—ontological, possess an assumption about how truth is sourced—epistemology, emphasis upon certain values—axiology, and a rationale for how decisions are made—methodology. While both would claim to use a scientific approach that is based upon a particular empiricism, the source of conflict is a fundamentally different epistemology. When the question of where truth comes is asked for a Christian the answer is from God, or specifically what is known in a scientific study of theology about God.  For the secular theorist a philosophy of how truth is determined is either Kant’s formalistic rationalism, a utilitarian best case scenario, situational relativity, or contextual ethics.   One holds a Theo-centric epistemology while the other holds an anthropocentric-person, experience centered as a  locus of truth.  Therefore, what is reasonably assumed to be true and translated as a value is what each acts from.  In the same way that cultures differ in beliefs, mores’, and values, cultures, peoples, and races must be understood in context with ethically appropriate behaviors. The disparity that is seen in under-representation and bias among graduate schools indicate a potential ethical complexity and a potential for conflict in inadequate understanding, training, and representations to enable higher levels of competence.

Providing a rationale with support for the ethical conflict can be found within ethical codes prescribed by professional organizations.   Using a problem solving approach to resolve the potential conflict leads to B.1. Respecting Client Rights B.1.a. Multicultural/Diversity Considerations (2005, p. 7) and  2.01 Boundaries of Competence:

Psychologists provide services… within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience … [with] 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 (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010).

Based upon the principles expressed, the central question raised related to competency.  Is a therapist who was trained in an educational environment that is under-represented, described with a  bias against the culture of conservative religion, reasonably assumed to be competent and comply with the ethical code’s principle of competence?  If the answer is presumed to be negative, what is apparent is that there is an ethical dilemma and the counselor will be challenged to find ways to ethically,  professionally, and competently address a significantly represented cultural group who are underrepresented in multicultural training.


Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2010, from Amercan Psychological Association:

Ford, G. (2006). Ethical reasoning for mental health professionals. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications.

Meyer, M. (1988). Ethical principles of psychologists and religious diversity. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice , 19 (5), 486-488. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.19.5.486.

PhD Weekend experience SOSBS T2. (2010). Minneapolis, MN, USA: Capella University.

The ACA Code of Ethics. (2005). Retrieved October 1, 2009, from