Ethical Dilemmas in Psychology: A Critical Analysis of the Violation of Standard 3 of the American Psychological Association’s Code of Ethics
In the course of their practice, a psychologist is likely to encounter situations that challenge their professional code of ethics (Trull & Prinstein, 2012). Under such circumstances, the professional is forced to make a decision based on the numerous competing ethical principles facing them.
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The decision taken by the practitioner in such situations may not be regarded as right or wrong. On the contrary, it is expected that the individual will adhere to the hierarchy of ethical principles set out in their area of practice.
In the US, the American Psychological Association (herein referred to as APA) regulates the conduct of psychologists practicing in the country. The association has a series of guidelines that are formulated to inform the practice.
The current essay is based on the APA principles and code of conduct for professional psychologists. In the essay, the author analyzes situations under which violation of the policies is likely to arise. The best course of action to take in resolving such violations is suggested in the paper.
The reviews made in the essay are aimed at challenging the practitioner to come up with solutions aimed at upholding the integrity of their profession (Trull & Prinstein, 2012).
Standard 3 of APA’s code of ethics is identified as the regulation that is violated in this paper. The standard addresses the issue of human relations. The author provides a critical analysis of how the code is violated, and how such cases can be resolved in an ethical manner.
Standard 3: Human Relations in Psychology
As already indicated, this is the code that is disregarded in the scenario highlighted later in this paper. According to Trull and Prinstein (2012), psychologists are not immune to relationships in the society.
However, there are certain cases where these interactions lead to conflicts in the practitioner’s professional life. Such situations bring about ethical dilemmas. The development is related to the nature of interactions that a psychologist has with their patients.
The ethical code of conduct that is violated is Standard 3. The code talks about human interactions with regards to psychology as a profession (American Psychological Association, 2002). Standard 3.06 revolves around conflict of interest, which applies in the case highlighted below.
The code restricts psychologists from handling patients that may bring about conflicts. In this case, a number of factors lead to inconsistencies. Such factors include the legality of the interaction and personal interests.
A dilemma of such dimensions can present itself when a psychologist takes on board a client with unresolved self-esteem issues. The professional may pair such a patient with a friend to boost their self confidence. However, along the way, the friend may fall in love with the said patient.
The friend is likely to seek the professional help of the psychologist, who happens to be their acquaintance. At the same time, the patient will start complaining of sexual advances from the friend in reference. In such a scenario, a serious case of conflict of interest presents itself due to the multiple relationships established (Trull & Prinstein, 2012).
Violation of Standard 3
The code on human relations can be violated in a number of ways. For example, it can be breached in the case where a psychologist gets romantically involved with their patient. In such instances, the code of ethics prohibits further interactions between the practitioner and the client.
The reason is that the judgment of the professional is likely to be impaired owing to the emotional ties with their patient (American Psychological Association, 2002). The code is violated when the psychologist decides to carry on with the relationship based on principle A of APA’s general guidance.
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The principle mentioned above prohibits a psychologist from inflicting any harm on their (American Psychological Association, 2002). The practitioner must be aware of the dangers associated with compromising their integrity.
However, the professional is likely to continue treating their client in the event that the patient has serious trust issues. The same can present itself when such a patient insists that they cannot open up to anyone else apart from the psychologist they are in love with. Trull and Prinstein (2012) suggest that such ethical dilemmas result from the trust built in both relationships.
Another instance where standard 3 may be violated is the conflict of interest cited in the previous example. In such a case, the psychologist is faced with a conflicting situation where a patient complains that one of the practitioner’s friends is harassing them sexually.
On their part, the friend in question seeks help from the same practitioner with regards to their sexual feelings. In such cases, a psychologist may breach the code of ethics in a bid to convince their friend to terminate the relationship. Such a move is likely to affect the confidential relationship between the patient and the practitioner.
Resolving the Issue
Addressing the Dilemma
It is important to note that it is not easy to control human relationships. As such, psychologists should ensure that their interactions with other people, including their patients, do not breach their code of conduct. Trull and Prinstein (2012) hold that juggling between a romantic and a professional relationship is not an easy task.
As a result, a psychologist who is romantically involved with a patient should help improve their (the patient’s) self-esteem. By boosting their confidence, the practitioner will be able to convince the client to seek help from another professional. The same applies to the second scenario above, where a conflict of interest arises.
Addressing the Issue through Ethical Obligations
The first principle in the guidelines set out for psychologists is structure to ensure that therapy is primarily beneficial to the patient (American Psychological Association 2002). As a psychologist, I would ensure that any romantic relationship with a patient is terminated before it matures.
I would discourage such an engagement before it grows to prevent further emotional distress on the part of the patient. In the second scenario above, I would avert a possible conflict of interest by referring my friend to a different psychologist.
Personally, I believe that ethical dilemmas are avoidable in my practice. Such dilemmas can be deflected when a psychologist believes in the greater good of their patient.
In this paper, the author addressed the issue of ethical dilemmas in psychology. An analysis of possible scenarios under which Standard 3 of APA’s code of ethics may be violated was provided. Recommendations to address such violations were made.
The author of this paper believes that ethical dilemmas in psychology can be prevented. A practitioner can avoid such situations by prioritizing the interests of their patients.
American Psychological Association. (200). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from www.apa.org/ethics/code/principles.pdf
Trull, J., & Prinstein, M. (2012). Clinical psychology. Connecticut: Cengage Learning.