The Ethical Principles of Psychologists According to the APA

The ethical principles of the APA are a framework of reference used by professionals all over the world. They're a really helpful creation that both holds psychologists accountable and protects them.
The Ethical Principles of Psychologists According to the APA
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Written and verified by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Ethical principles are essential in the profession of the psychologist. They’re important in relation to any interventions they develop. More particularly, they involve the establishment of limits.

Various organizations have constructed different principles with exhaustive explanations to guide the professional conduct of the psychologist. One of these is the American Psychological Association (APA), which we’ll be examining today.

To begin, we’ll define psychological ethics. Later, we’ll talk about the universal declaration of ethical principles for psychologists. Finally, we’ll examine those that have been formulated by the APA.

“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs.”

-Albert Einstein-

Girl at the psychologist

Psychological ethics

Ethics, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as ‘moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity”. In other words, they’re the moral principles and rules that regulate the activities we perform.

Psychological ethics are ethics applied to the field of psychology. Their principles are concerned with the decisions made by the professional or scientific community with respect to telling their clients how they should behave. Their aim is to guarantee the well-being of the people with whom psychologists work and of the professionals themselves, through respect for human rights.

In addition, psychological ethics have, as their objective, the specialized study of dilemmas. For example, those that may arise from the relationship between the professional and the user, patient, or client. To this end, various principles have been constructed. Some are universal and others are specific to each country or adapted to each individual context.

Universal declaration of ethical principles for psychologists

The scientific and academic community in psychology has created codes that serve to guide the professional conduct of the psychologist, explaining the principles and norms of the profession. They emphasize the following:

  • Values.
  • Identity.
  • Communication.
  • Differentiation.
  • Decision making.
  • Control.
  • Protection.

A shared worldwide framework has been created as a guide for professionals in psychology. It was adopted by the International Union of Psychological Science and the Board of Directors of the International Association of Applied Psychology.

Statement of Ethical Principles

In this declaration, there’s a description of the ethical principles associated with a series of values. The objectives of the construction of this framework are to:

  • Provide a universal standard through which the psychological community can evaluate the codes of ethics and the progress of the profession.
  • Adopt a set of moral principles worldwide.
  • Provide an ethical frame of reference to be shared by various representatives of the psychological community.
  • Adopt a common basis for evaluating unethical conduct.

Let’s look at some of the principles of this statement.

  • Respect for dignity. This consists in recognizing the value of each human being regardless of their differences. It takes into account equity and justice, respect for diversity, and protection of confidentiality. In this sense, the right to free and informed consent is ensured.
  • Competent care for the welfare of others. This means working for the benefit of others. Thus, any potential damage is minimized. It implies applying knowledge and skills assertively according to the context. In addition, it ensures that the relationships that are established are in tune with benefits and the reduction of harm.
  • Integrity. This relates to honest and accurate communication. For instance, recognizing and controlling potential biases, multiple relationships, or other conflicts of interest that could harm the client, the psychologist, or their relationship. In addition, this principle is linked to confidentiality, truthfulness, and non-exploitation.
  • Professional and scientific responsibilities toward society. This is in tune with the contribution to the knowledge of behavior. Also, in understanding people and ethical standards.
psychologist with patient

Ethical principles of psychologists according to the APA

The American Psychological Association (APA) created a code of ethics that came into force in June 2003. It adopted the general principles proposed by bioethics. Let’s take a look at them.

  • Beneficence and non-maleficence. Psychologists must make an effort to make a positive addition to the team into which they’re integrated. This is regardless of where they may be on the ladder in the particular company or institution.
  • Fidelity and responsibility. They must establish relationships of trust with those they work with. In addition, they should maintain the standards of professional conduct, accept responsibilities, and handle conflicts of interest appropriately.
  • Integrity. This promotes precision, honesty, and truthfulness in science, teaching, and the practice of psychology, without intentionally misappropriating, defrauding, or engaging in any fraudulent activity.
  • Justice. Psychologists must recognize the importance of equality and justice with the people with whom they work. In addition, in their services, they should be reasonable, leave their prejudices aside, and recognize the limits of their competence.
  • Respect for the rights and dignity of people. They must recognize and be aware of guaranteeing the protection and well-being of the people with whom they work. To do this, they should respect any cultural, individual, role, age, gender, gender identity, race, nationality, religion, language, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomic status differences.

Worldwide guidelines

According to Carmen Del Río Sánchez, author of the book,  Guia de ética profesional en psicología clinica  (Guide to Professional Ethics in Clinical Psychology) the principles proposed by the APA code are important throughout the world. They serve as guidance for the psychology professional.

In addition, the colleges and associations of psychologists in various countries take the APA code into account for the construction of their own codes. It’s a wonderful frame of reference for psychologists, in teaching them how to be good professionals.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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