Human beings are generally adaptive over time. We are looking to evolve into more effective versions of ourselves through reflective learning and trialling new, sometimes risky, but potentially more informed ways of being.
What are Ethics?
Ethics refers to the reasonable standards of right and wrong. These may be cultural, familial, or professional and are set out to give us counsel on how we are supposed to act. In general, these standards reference fairness and our mutual obligations and rights, such as human rights, the right to freedom from injury, and the right to privacy. They also consider perceived benefit to society, which may outline behaviours that are not considered acceptable. For example, we are expected to not assault, rape, or murder; to not steal, slander, or commit fraud. Specific virtues are also upheld through ethics, valuing ideals such as compassion, loyalty, and honesty.
The study and development of one’s own standards of right and wrong is a lifetime journey. To quote Alexander Pope, “to err is human.” This highlights that getting it wrong and finding forgiveness can make for useful lessons. It also suggests deviation from what is known to be ethical happens beyond an individual’s feelings, but can be present across standards in our law, politics, business, and social norms. Individuals may be socially dysregulated and reinforced in such a way it is apparently natural or obligatory to comply with unethical standards. However, we do have the right to choose. Taking responsibility for our own standards means making choices, knowing we will deal with both positive and negative consequences. This is to be expected no matter which standard we publicly and/or personally align with.
In this light, it is crucial to have an ongoing conversation with our self to reflect on how we live up to our personal standards of right and wrong. It could be useful to question: Are my standards reasonable? Are they well-founded on my experience or expectations? How do I feel about my conduct at home, with friends or family, at work, in general? How do I manage the consequences of my choices?
Following from taking responsibility to better uphold and develop our own ethics, is the natural shift to supporting an ethical framework for the social settings that we participate in. On a large or small scale, how exciting to believe we can find that voice.
Categories of Ethics
When considering how we discuss ethics, the subject is split into three categories. There is understandably information flow between these categories.
- Meta-ethics: investigation of more theoretical concepts of meaning and moral propositions; this domain is interested in the evaluation of underlying truth values.
- Normative ethics: a real world domain looking at practical, naturalistic decision making for a moral course of action.
- Applied ethics: relates to what is expected of a person in specific contexts or roles, which is where we find the prescribed standards of ethics in psychology.
Ethics and Psychology
In the context of psychological practice, applied ethics provides a strong framework for standards of conduct, professional responsibilities, and confidentiality.
Australian psychologists are required to practice within a clear set of guidelines, the Code of Ethics. The Australian Psychological Society (APS) developed the document, with its instruction being part of early professional training. This code is considered comprehensive and has been adopted by the Psychology Board of Australia to apply to all registered practitioners.
The overarching goals of the APS Code of Ethics are to 1) safeguard the welfare of persons accessing psychological services, and 2) maintain the integrity of practitioners. A series of Ethical Guidelines, which apply The Code to matters that may arise in professional practice, accompany The Code.
Knowing what to generally expect when seeing a psychologist is considered a reasonable request by the APS. Consequently, The Charter was developed and then agreed to by APS members. The charter for clients of APS psychologists is provided in full below:
- You will be treated with respect;
- You will receive a clear explanation of the service you will receive;
- Your consent for any service will be sought by the psychologist prior to the service commencing and as it progresses;
- You will receive an explanation about the nature and limits of confidentiality surrounding the service;
- You will be clear about the goals that you and the psychologist are working toward;
- You will receive competent and professional service;
- You will receive a clear statement about fees;
- An estimate of the number of sessions required to achieve your goals will be discussed;
- You will receive a service free from sexual harassment;
- You will be shown respect for your cultural background and language tradition.
In addition to applied ethics, psychological practice is often well informed by both the meta-ethics and normative domains. Given the importance in practice, it can be a useful process to start a conversation regarding ethics with your psychologist. If you would like the opportunity to talk more, M1 Psychology at Loganholme has experienced and qualified psychologists with appointments available.
Author: Dr Amanda White, PhD, B Psych (Hons), B Beh Sc, DipH, MAPS.
Amanda is not currently taking bookings, however, we have a number of clinicians available for bookings. To make an appointment please visit our webpage here to learn about our highly qualified clinicians, or call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
- APS Overview of Ethics Australian Psychological Association. URL accessed 18/05/15
- Ethics Codes, Guidelines, and Policies Psychology Board of Australia. URL accessed 18/05/15
- Kant, I. (1785). First Section: Transition from the Common Rational Knowledge of Morals to the Philosophical. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.
- Mackie, J. L. (1990). Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. London: Penguin.
- Newton, J. (2000). Complete Conduct Principles for the 21st Century. Massachusetts: Nicer Century World Publishing.
- Pope, A. (1711). An Essay on Criticism.
- Singer, P. (2000). Writings on an Ethical Life. London: Harper Collins Publishers.