An Ethical Code of Conduct for Psychologists

An Ethical Code of Conduct for Psychologists

Last update: 05 July, 2018

Psychology is the science that studies human behavior and the corresponding cognitive processes. The end goal of psychology is to improve our quality of life. It seeks to incentivize and care for our mental health. But, who or what is responsible for making sure that psychologists follow these principles? Here is where the psychology code of ethics comes in.

The Ethical Code of Conduct for psychologists is a guide for anyone who practices psychology. In Spain, it’s commonly known as the Deontological Code. This code was the result of the 1st Conference of the Official College of Psychologists that happened in Madrid in May of 1984. At the conference, psychologists identified the need to regulate the practice. They proposed a working group of all Spanish psychologists to come up with a guide to avoid malpractice from an ethical standpoint.

There are 59 articles in total in the ethical code of conduct. These articles regulate professional competency, intervention, research, teaching, procurement/use of information, publicity, remuneration, and procedural guarantees. Non-compliance with any of these articles means that a disciplinary committee will carry out an evaluation of the offending professional. Once they decide the gravity of the offense, they will give the corresponding sanction. This sanction might be mild or serious. They can even end up revoking the person’s title and license to practice.

In this article, we offer a brief summary of the principles in the ethical code of conduct. These principles provide a general idea of the objectives of this code. Articles 5 through 15 in the code of conduct define these principles.

man in therapy

General principles of the ethical code of conduct

The first of the general principles (article number 5) defines the purpose of psychology. The purpose is oriented to human and social objectives like well-being, health, quality of life, etc. Any practice in psychology that goes against these goals, would be against professional ethics.

Article 6 is all about the sincerity of the practicing professional. A psychologist with factual information cannot change them or transmit a false version. All professional activity must be based on responsibility, honesty, and sincerity for the clients and the public. Professional activity should only make use of scientific and objective instruments and techniques. 

The next principle, article 7, talks about the use of psychology for ill-intentions. The code of conduct absolutely prohibits psychologists from using what they’ve learned to limit individual freedom or engage in mistreatment. There are no situations that justify the incorrect application of psychology. Whether it is armed conflict, obligation, civil war, revolution, terrorism, or any other situation that tries to justify the crime.

Article 8 requires all psychologists to report  any knowledge of human rights violations, abuse, or cruel imprisonment. Consequently, client privilege or confidentiality agreements do not apply in these situations. Unfortunately, this article is one that psychologists violate the most.

The next general principle, (article 9) talks about respecting moral and religious beliefs of clients. That being said, respect doesn’t prohibit psychologists from questioning beliefs if it’s necessary within the framework of intervention.

psychologist seeing patient

Article 10 prohibits psychologists from discriminating. This includes discrimination based on race, gender, sex, creed, ideology, or any other differentiating factor. The practice of psychology is universal. Consequently, it must respect the principle of non-discrimination.

The general principle in Article 11 states that psychologists should not use their position of power or superiority to gain some kind of benefit from patientsThat goes for personal benefits as well as benefits for a third party. To take advantage of their status goes against the goals of psychology.

Article 12 prescribes caution when it comes to writing reports or diagnoses. Mental disorders and psychological evaluations often carry social stigmas and labels. As a result, psychologists must use the utmost care with their language. They must try at all times not to socially degrade any of their clients.

Article 13 seeks to avoid bad patient referral. It also covers unlawful appropriation of clients. Psychologists should never monopolize clients. They must follow established legal avenues for patient referral. This assures that the patients receive the best treatment possible for their problems.

In article 14, the code of conduct prohibits psychologists from lending their name or signature to a third party. The only person who can sign is the psychologist themselves. This is to avoid unqualified people from practicing psychology. In addition, it addresses any cover-ups of pseudoscientific practices.

Last but not least, we have article 15. This article addresses conflict of interest. When there are conflicts of interest, psychologists must try to act as impartially as possible. In addition, psychologists must defend themselves in front of institutional authority if the situation arises.

The importance of an ethical code of conduct

Now we’ve seen the general principles of the ethical code of conduct. So, why is it so important to have a guide for professional ethics? Don’t forget that clinical psychology is a health profession. As a result, clients demand that services be adequate and trustworthy. The bottom line is that the practice of individual psychologists reflects the profession as a whole.

ethical code of conduct

But there’s another reason why an ethical code of conduct is important. It helps guide the aspirations and regulations within the values of the field of psychology. We want a science that is pro-progress and well-being. Therefore, it’s necessary to create a code of professional conduct that prevents the practice of psychology from deviating from those goals.

In conclusion, we have to add that it’s the duty of all psychologists to reflect critically on their own behavior. Do they have their own code of ethics? A continuous debate among committed psychologists is beneficial to all. It helps improve the practice and make sure we are working in favor of science and the well-being of those we help.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.