The legal aspect of professional psychology concerns itself with adherence to law and ethics governing the profession in areas relating to treatment of mental patients and subjects in empirical research. Government regulation of psychology profession is mostly done through formulation of relevant laws and creation of means of understanding the legal issues and questions in the field of professional psychology.
The professional practice of psychology has become increasingly complex in modern society which has resulted in renewed attention on issues regarding its legality and ethics. Ethics refer to the rules and guidelines that govern the conduct of psychology professionals.
These are clearly outlined in the American Psychology Association’s ethics code which provides the standards of professional conduct that psychologists are expected to adhere to when dealing with clients. On the other hand, law refers to a body of rules that govern the affairs of a specific community.
While the ethics code has the force of law in situations where it is used as a licensing regulation, its violation does not necessarily imply violation of law.
Legal Issues Relating To Informed Consent and Refusal
The principle of informed consent dictates that participants in any form of psychology research and therapy should be adequately informed in an easy to understand language, of all the significant factors that could affect their willingness to participate in such processes (Rivera, 2010).
The patients have a right to be informed about the possible physical and emotional risks associated with the treatment process and the psychologist should also inform them of alternative forms of treatment and their effects in order for patients to be able to make informed decisions.
In the event where the patient is unable to understand the medical procedure consequently hindering his ability to make a decision, the professional psychologist should look for an experienced attorney in the health care field who should make the decision on behalf of the patient.
In absence of such a person, the doctor is under obligation to look for another authorized practitioner with whom they make appropriate decision of behalf of the client.
The basis of legal doctrines of informed consensus lies in the ability of adult patients of sound mind to make decisions regarding the doctor’s proposed medical procedure in self-determination (Rivera, 2010). Psychologist and their clients engage in an extensive discussion regarding the medical procedure, which serves to inform the patient of the possible risks and benefits associated with the procedures.
In addition, the law requires such professionals to take rational steps to converse with patients in situations where there exists a communication barrier so that they are able to give an informed consent regarding their treatment.
The right to give an informed consent also creates a provision for refusal rights. Patients and clients have a right to turn down any form of treatment regardless of its necessity upon which the professional psychologist should initiate further discussions.
The patient may choose to reject the medication due to lack of trust, fear, depression, religious views among other factors and the practitioner should not use coercive means to convince the patient to agree to undergo treatment.
Legal Issues in Assessment, Testing, And Diagnosis in Professional Psychology
Psychological testing has continued to be a major mode of professional inquiry and is most commonly used in psychological research to measure varying constructs. Through psychometrics, professional psychologists analyze samples of the subject’s behavior in order to assess their functioning.
Often, concerns have been raised over ethical and legal issues regarding human treatment during the process of psychological assessment and testing. Consequently, facilities that conduct psychological testing are regulated through institutional review boards which govern the way subjects are treated during such processes.
Through psychological assessment, psychologists engage in comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the subjects in order to come up with a diagnosis. Psychologists are under obligation to effectively communicate the results of the assessment to the client using clear and easy to understand language.
If the practitioner does not present the results in person, it should be agreed upon prior the assessment and he should ensure that the person delivering the information does so in a clear and competent manner. The security of results and client diagnosis should also be ensured and availability of the results should be limited to the client and the referral source unless otherwise indicated by the client.
Legal issues relating to testing, assessment and diagnosis further seek to address the test bias associated with the process. Systematic error in measurement may occur in specific incidences due to existence of biasness towards minority groups, especially in intelligence tests, psychopathology, and potential academic tests.
In response to this, proposals to outlaw some of the psychological tests and develop more appropriate psychological assessment have been put forward.
The law further requires that subjects in psychological research be treated in a humane way. Subjects in research should be reasonably and adequately compensated for their time and should be protected against stigmatization and discrimination.
The United States Congress has passed a number of influential legislative acts that relate to testing and assessment such as the civil rights Act, Americans with disability Act, and truth in testing law among other legislation.
Importance of Maintaining Confidentiality in the Therapeutic Relationship
Professional psychologists are obligated to ensure that the client’s right to privacy is maintained through maintenance of confidentiality. It is regarded as a fundamental component of therapeutic relationships since it promotes trust between the practitioner and the client consequently facilitating positive outcomes.
The utilitarianism perspective argues that if confidentiality is not maintained, patients may fail to disclose all the relevant information which would prove damaging to the healing process (Anonymous, 2008).
The deontology perspective argues that the role of maintaining client confidentiality is a universal moral obligation that therapists should seek to maintain (Anonymous, 2008). The relationship between the patient and therapist is based on the expectation that any form of information that the client reveals is going to be kept confidential failure to which results in undermining the universal moral obligation.
Maintaining a client’s confidentiality is viewed as respect to the individual’s autonomy which enables him or her to have control over issues relating to own life such as the right to keep private information and make independent decisions regarding one’s health.
There exist ethical and legal provisions that regulate confidentiality in therapeutic relationships. Failure to adhere to these regulations may lead to punitive measures which negatively impact on the practitioner’s career. However, various bodies have acknowledged that confidentiality cannot be absolute.
For instance, The Australian Medical Association code of ethics, 2004 creates a provision for exceptions in maintaining confidentiality for cases where there is a serious risk to the patient or other people (Anonymous, 2008). Various legislations have also been enacted to deal with confidentiality issues which create provisions which render therapists liable in case of breach of confidentiality.
Influence of Legislation on Professional Psychology
Professional psychology practice in modern world is heavily influenced by various government legislations. Countries have formulated psychology profession acts which aim at regulating the activities carried out by psychology professionals.
The acts often outline the qualifications of psychologist practitioners and dictates that such practitioners’ posses a valid license in order to establish their practice. This serves to protect mental patients from unqualified practitioners who may be out to exploit them rather than providing them with the necessary treatment that they require.
In United States, a number of legislations have been enacted which directly or indirectly affect the profession of psychology. Most of these acts are established by the federal government hence vary from one state to another. In most states, there exist specific laws that outline the educational requirement for such professionals.
In the state of Virginia, practitioners should hold a doctorate degree in a psychology profession program from a recognized University and should be accredited by the American Psychology Association. This serves to ensure that the licensed psychologists are adequately trained and skilled to deal with the patient’s problems.
The law further governs the profession of psychology through control of bodies which deal with issuance of license and have the ability to revoke such licensees upon failure by practitioner to adhere to rules and regulations governing the profession. In order to ensure that they remain in operation, professional psychologists adhere to the legal and ethical standards while dealing with clients.
This ensures that the client’s rights are upheld during the process of treatment which also plays an important role in the recovery process. Persons licensed by boards are also subject to other disciplinary actions upon failure to comply with the legal standards of the profession. A client who feels that his rights have been violated against during the course of treatment may sue the practitioner in a court of law for damages.
Role of Competence in Professional Psychology
The nature of work in professional psychology requires competent practitioners who are capable of dealing with diverse issues facing human mental health. This has led to shift within the profession towards emphasis on acquisition and maintenance of competence.
This is achieved through development of educational programs that aim at producing competence and establishment of bodies that award credentials and certify practitioners as competent.
Embracing a culture of confidence within the psychology profession promotes learning and innovation where practitioners can develop new and more effective means of dealing with psychological problems. Ensuring competence among professional psychologists protects the patients from unqualified practitioners and serves to promote effective service provision in the health sector.
Legal aspects of psychology play a key role in regulating the practice of professional psychology in society. It is especially important since it serves to protect the psychological ill from selfish drives of incompetent practitioners. The legal aspects seek to address issues regarding confidentiality of patient’s information and protection of patients during the treatment period.
Legal legislations relating to such issues serve to protect patients undergoing treatment and subjects in psychological research against exploitation and inhumane treatment. The law has therefore played an essential role in regulation of the client therapy relationship, which has boosted patients’ confidence encouraging them to seek help for various mental problems.
Anonymous, (2008). Confidentiality in Therapeutic Relationships: The Need to Develop Comprehensive Guidelines for Mental Health Professionals. Web.
Rivera, R. (2010). Legal Aspects of Professional Psychology. Web.