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The Place of Ethical Concerns in Psychology

Ethics plays an important role in psychology from the beginning of the treatment process through rehabilitation. There are many ethical concerns that can arise all of which must be dealt with along the way. These various concerns can also vary from one psychological setting to another. These settings include: hospitals, physical rehabilitation centers and facilities specializing in chronic diseases to name only a few. As the number of psychologists and other professionals working in this field increases, so does the need to focus on areas of ethical concern (Lucignano and Lee). The ethical issues that can arise reach far beyond the medical setting and are present in other situations as well.

Important Ethical concerns include: role delineation, working within the medical model, taking on multiple responsibilities and maintaining confidentiality (Lucignano and Lee). Before any ethical issue can be recognized it must first be clearly defined. Though this article cannot encompass them all, those listed here are commonly encountered and must be dealt with on a regular basis.

The first ethical concern that will be discussed is role delineation. This is a primary concern because it lays the ground work for the responsibilities and expectations of the psychologist; however, there is not a consensus on specifically what constitutes the role of the psychologist in a medical setting. Since many psychologists work in the medical profession, this can present somewhat of a gray area. Instead, diverse terminology has often been used to define this particular role. Terms used include: health psychology, medical psychology, clinical psychology and behavioral medicine. This has presented past arguments over whether or not this lack of clarity in actual definition of terms is more than semantic confusion (Lucignano and Lee). The primary argument here is whether a psychologists’ actions and activities are included under one of these terms that are, for the most part, considered to be unstandardized in this context.

Working within the medical model is another ethical concern that must be considered in the medical field. In these instances, psychologists are usually working on teams that include a physician, social worker, speech pathologist, physical therapist and occupational therapist. Though all teams may not include every role listed above, it is very likely there will be at least two members on each. When this is the case, it is necessary for each person to work within his or her role in order to provide maximum treatment. Ethical awareness is an essential part of providing psychological treatment within the medical model. In a hospital, for instance, unique areas of stress may be present which effect both patients and members of the treatment team (Lucignano and Lee). As a result, there may be difficulties when it comes to the overall decision making process. There may be several causes for this because many people are working to rehabilitate one person. There are several patients so that team may, in effect, be responsible for rehabilitating a wide range of people all of whom are dealing with very different situations. Team members will not always agree on everything and important issues may need to be carefully examined by each team member when it comes to resolving them.

Taking on multiple responsibilities can also bring up ethical issues for psychologists no matter where they work. When treating patients, psychologists take a look at each as an individual and treat each situation accordingly. There are, of course, many responsibilities that come with providing treatment and the solution to a particular need may not always coincide with traditional means and methods of resolution. A psychologist in this type of situation may feel pressured by the many responsibilities he or she must tackle on a daily basis and may be torn between handling a specific one through traditional means or in a way that is unique to the situation. The more administrative duties the psychologist is given, the less time he or she will be able to spend rehabilitating patients. While this may not be an issue that is of top concern, it can arise nonetheless and will need to be dealt with in a way that allows the psychologist to take care of important job-related duties and provide the best treatment possible to all patients.

Maintaining confidentiality is a very important concern. While psychologists don’t have a problem keeping important patient details confined within the facilities with which they are employed, ethical issues can arise when it becomes necessary to discuss certain situations with other professionals. When this occurs, the psychologist involved must decide whether or not the information needs to be passed onto the person requesting it or if a particular piece of information needs to be disseminated to someone else for treatment purposes.

In other situations, a psychologist may be asked for specific information about a current or former patient. While the information in question may be important in the given context, the confidentiality of the patient may be breeched if it is provided. Here the psychologist is faced with a moral dilemma of sorts. He or she knows the information is important and the person requesting it probably should be made aware, but is under a professional obligation to the patient to keep from sharing it. Should this occur, the psychologist can talk to the patient about the situation, informing him or her of the request and why it was made. The final decision of whether or not to provide the information will then be left up to the patient who will be responsible for its dissemination should this be the end result.

When it comes to solving ethical dilemmas, it is important to first understand the code that has been established. When going to work for a particular entity, psychologists will receive information that will instruct them on the various policies and regulations. In order to solve the issues that are bound to arise at one time or another, they will need to assess the individual situations and make a determination on what to do based on the ethical principles that have been set forth. Some dilemmas will be easier to solve than others and will be based around more black and white issues of right and wrong. Other times, distinguishing between right and wrong will not be so easy to do. In some cases, the answer will not lie in a simple context of right and wrong, but instead will be specific to the various factors involved. When this occurs it is often not quite so easy to make the determinations that solve these ethical dilemmas. When this happens, psychologists depend heavily on the ethical principles they have learned as well as the specific policies established by the entities for which they are employed.

One common problem that occurs is in solving particular ethical dilemmas by using the principles when the situation is not completely clear. Sometimes problems arise that call for extensive decision making based on individual factors that cannot be figured into the original ethical principles. Each situation is different and must be treated as such and therefore, will have an individual set of issues that may arise. When this occurs, the psychologist must make a determination based on the specific factors involved while using the ethical principles in a way that will solve the problem without causing an ethical conflict.

Ethics are present for a reason. They are necessary when solving a wide variety of problems that may arise on an individual basis. Though these issue are just that, individual, a uniform code is needed to help psychologists understand and deal with certain types of situations. The place of ethical concerns in psychology applies to psychologists both as researchers and practitioners. Ethics are present in every aspect of psychological practices and must be adhered to in every context. A set of ethical guidelines has been established to aid psychologists in figuring out what to do when these situations arise. All psychologists are bound by these guidelines.

Though ethical guidelines have been established, there is often a debate on whether or not certain issues fall within them and what psychologists should don when they occur. Still, the place of ethics in psychology is not newly found. Aristotle made several important psychological observations concerning the limits beyond which humans cannot control their own behavior, sanity and their capacity for emotional response (Upton). Though these principles have been studied for many years, other issues have arisen specific to new situations and debates. That is why understanding the code of ethics and why it has been established is essential to solving various issues that can, and often do occur.

The code of ethics outlines the responsibilities of the psychologist and establishes what is considered acceptable and unacceptable in regards to the practice of psychology. This code of ethics is multi-dimensional and must be adhered to in order for a psychology to maintain his or her license (Kafka). Since licenses are granted by each individual state of residence, a psychologist working in any particular location is bound by the specific practices established in that place. This practice is defined through roles and obligations a psychologist will possess so there will be consistency within the field. Likewise, the license a psychologist obtains will have meaning to the public who can easily learn what is expected of a professional working in the field.

The main goal is the psychological code of ethics is to insure that all clients and patients are treated in a professional, lawful and respectful manner when seeking treatment (Kafka). Here behaviors are defined that specify how the psychologist will handle the various situations that may arise during the course of treatment for all clients or patients. The ethical code regulates the way in which many behaviors are dealt with and how situations may be resolved. This includes both the private and institutional practice of psychology. This guarantees that anyone who receives service from a psychologist who is adhering to the code of ethics is insured professional, humane treatment that causes no psychological or physical harm. Should the ethical code be breeched for any reason, the situation is investigated and handled accordingly.

The code of ethics is also designed to protect the public from uses and abuses that may result from the mishandling of a particular situation. These protections include: physical, emotional or even financial and cover a wide range of factors related to the practice of psychology. The code contains numerous clauses that clearly specify practices that are considered to be acceptable in regards to billing procedures, file maintenance procedures and even what should occur during appropriate therapy termination. Many aspects include: job handling, office management and client handling. The acceptable versus unacceptable behaviors are defined as well as what actions should be taken if any part of the code is breeched.

The code of ethics directs both the psychologist and client or patient away from conflicts of interest. The existence of dual roles is one conflict that can occur when inappropriate relationships are established between psychologists and those they serve. The ethical code specifies how these situations should be handles and helps both parties in maintaining lawful, socially responsible behavior. This insures the psychologist will be able to treat clients or patients in a positive manner that will promote rehabilitation while clearly drawing the line for those receiving the treatment that clearly defines the appropriate relationship of psychologist and patient. While there may be many arguments surrounding specific situations and what actually constitutes an ethical dilemma, the code is clearly defined and should be closely followed at all times. There are many situations that can certainly present ethical dilemmas, but the code remains in place to help guide psychologists when they must deal with issues that may prove rather difficult. This well-established code not only serves as a guide but also as a way of protecting everyone involved in the treatment process. The ethical code is an important part of the psychological practice because it clearly defines how to deal with important issues that can arise during the course of treatment. This aids psychologists in making important decisions and helps them to better understand the psychological professional as a whole.