Informed Consent in Psychology

August 18, 2019
Informed consent is one of the most important requirements within professional practice. Read all about it here!

Informed consent in psychology is related to a person’s autonomy. It’s one of the most important requirements within professional practice, and it should occur before any psychological evaluation or treatment.

After reading or hearing any suitable information, informed consent is when the patient states that they agree to any procedure that might affect their health.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt-

A person studying the mind.

Historical precedents

The moral recognition of the patients’ right to information and to make medical calls is new.

In 1931, the German Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda issued a regulation concerning medical therapies and experiments on humans. It recognized the patient’s right to consent their participation in medical trials or experiments. However, this regulation wasn’t upheld in Germany during World War II. It wasn’t enforced in concentration camps nor applied to gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, etc.

After the Nüremberg trials, the regulation was enforced to ensure ethics and legalities involved in research and experimentation on humans.

The importance of informed consent in psychology

In the past, the doctor-patient relationship had a paternalistic principle of beneficence, meaning that the sick person’s wellbeing and consent was irrelevant.

The right to informed consent has improved the relationship between psychologists and patients. Furthermore, this right dominates and precedes every other right and has the following characteristics:

  • The process is verbal.
  • Must be voluntary.
  • It’s an informative process.
  • It requires the ability to understand the agreement.
  • The process ends with a decision.
An stethoscope on a book.

Benefits of informed consent

  • Legal benefits. Informed consent protects the medical professional by detailing what’s going to happen, as well as the patient’s compliance with it. It also protects the patient by telling them about their rights and duties.
  • The quality of shared information. It allows the patient to access truthful, coherent, and specific information about their condition.
  • The extent of disciplinary knowledge: The quality of the information given to the patient will allow them to properly communicate it to their inner circle.
  • Improves the quality of the intervention. The knowable relationship and the joint decision-making will lead to more commitment on the patient’s part.
  • Boosts clinical research. Informed consent is a tool in the development of human research, with all due respect to fundamental ethical principles.
  • Agreement and commitment. It pinpoints the participants’ actions and it clarifies the agreement. This eliminates any uncertainties that may interfere with the therapeutic process.
A confused woman.

Cons of informed consent

Those who oppose the patient’s involvement in decision-making believe informed consent has cons such as:

  • The patient doesn’t have the ability to understand this information.
  • Patients don’t like bad news.
  • The information can scare the patients and make them reject medical interventions with minimal risks.
  • Knowing the naked truth and the psychologist’s limitations take away the hope and trust that a placebo effect might have on the patient.

All of these arguments are part of a traditional point of view. From a logical point of view, they just seem to be rationalizations and justifications of pre-established professional practices, not objective reasoning.

Nowadays, psychologists have the duty to inform and educate their patients so they’re able to make decisions. Once informed of the whole process, the patient has the last word.

  • Katz, J. (2002). El mundo silencioso de médico y paciente. JHU Presione.
  • Luelmo, A. D. (2001). Régimen jurídico del consentimiento informado y la historia clínica de los pacientes en la ley gallega 3/2001, de 28 de mayoRevista xurídica galega, (33), 327-342.