Psychology is a scientific discipline and a generally socio-health profession that is practiced by a large number of professionals around the world.
The practice of our profession is complex and we usually deal with very intimate and personal aspects of the patients or users who come for consultation. We have a responsibility as professionals towards our patients or users, and there are many aspects that must be taken into account if we want to offer a quality service.
In this sense, moreover, it is necessary that there are some general principles and rules that allow all psychologists to practice safely both for the user and for the psychologist himself, respecting the rights and obligations that he has as a professional. These norms have been collected by the official associations of psychologists in a Code of Ethics for Psychologists , which we will discuss throughout this article.
Code of ethics: what is it and what is it for?
A code of ethics is understood to be the set of rules, guidelines, criteria and orientations that must be put into practice by the set of professionals dedicated to a specific profession, in order to provide a unitary, ethical, responsible and professional service to the beneficiaries or clients of said profession. In other words, it is a document that contains the main guidelines and rules that all professionals must follow in order to be able to practice.
In the case of the psychologist’s code of ethics, it is based on the principles of coexistence and legality established by the State and based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both the rights and duties of the professional, in such a way that it allows us to know what the role of the psychologist is in various fields and with respect to different aspects of the profession and what its exercise implies.
It allows to guide the professional and to facilitate a development of the psychology in a responsible, integral and respectful way with the right and dignity of the persons. Thus, its compliance protects the clients and their well-being, the profession and the professional himself by offering a common framework in which they can come to practice. Likewise, the rules stipulated therein are not mere suggestions but rules for the development of the practice of psychology as a profession. Non-compliance with them may lead to various sanctions, which may even involve penalties such as professional disqualification and even in some cases a criminal offence.
It should be noted that the code of ethics may vary slightly depending on the Official College of Psychologists that has issued it, although the basic content and in general the provisions and rules are the same. The deontological code we will talk about in this article is the one of the General Council of Official Associations of Psychologists, from which all the others emanate. A total of 61 articles can be observed in this one, divided into eight norms or general scopes .
Main aspects on which the profession is regulated
The professional practice of psychology is not simple, and there are many aspects and elements that must be taken into account when it comes to the correct exercise of the functions that correspond to this type of profession.
In this sense, the code of ethics organizes its articles around eight major standards or thematic blocks within which the various articles mentioned above would be broken down. These rules or sections would be as follows.
1. General principles
This block or section stipulates general rules of conduct and good practices for the psychologist, including work aimed at achieving the well-being and development of the client , the disposition and treatment of the patient and his or her rights, confidentiality and exceptions, respect for the patient’s idiosyncrasies and beliefs, impartiality in treatment, the search for maximum benefit and minimum maleficence for the client, not seeking profit or benefit from their position in relation to the patient, care and caution when assessing and reporting or the possible need for collaboration with other professionals in the same or other socio-health fields.
2. Professional competence and relationship with other professionals
This second major section of the code of ethics n tells you about the main duties and rights of the psychologist as a professional, the need for proper training (which must be continued) and the recognition of the very limits of his or her competence. It also stipulates the need to use contrasted and validated methods, or to warn the patient in advance of the non-contrast of the technique to be used.
Other aspects that they include are the custody of the reports and instruments used, or in case it is necessary to contact other competent professionals in other socio-health areas. The right to respect for one’s own professional activity and that of other colleagues is also valued.
The third block of the code of ethics is dedicated to orienting and guiding the professional with respect to the type of intervention he should perform and the assessment of how it can be used . Thus, if you take into account that those services that are known to be misused should be avoided.
They also indicate not to prolong the intervention when the professional or the techniques used do not give results, the possible referral to another professional, the determination of whether and to whom the problems and aspects dealt with in consultation should be communicated (for example the parents or legal guardians in the case of minors or legally incapacitated persons) or not to interrupt or boycott the interventions of other professionals.
It also stipulates the need not to give rise to situations that are confusing with respect to the role of the professional, not to take advantage of the situation of power that can be conferred by one’s status for one’s own benefit, to favour the autonomy of the patient even in the case that he or she wants to give up or try another professional (however, the psychologist can refuse to carry out a simultaneous intervention, something that on the other hand can be harmful or confusing for the patient) or the use of truthful data in cases where he or she is required to carry out counselling.
4. Research and Teaching
Outside the clinic, a psychologist can also work as a researcher or teacher. In this sense, the deontological code stipulates the need to seek scientific progress and progress in the profession with research that follows the scientific method and with teaching in which he or she can transmit this knowledge.
It also stipulates the need for explicit authorization by patients or legal guardians in the case of the use of clinical data, as well as the need to avoid doing unnecessary or irreversible damage even to prevent further damage.
Research should be conducted with respect for personal dignity and with the utmost avoidance of harm or suffering, whether research is conducted on humans or animals. Where aversive stimulation such as minor electrical shocks are to be produced, subjects must have given clear consent without any form of coercion and in full freedom, knowing in advance what is to be done. If the subject wishes to stop the research or experiment, he/she may do so at any time.
5. Collection and use of information
A very relevant aspect of the profession is confidentiality : patients, clients or users are making the psychologist aware of very sensitive information regarding their life, what they have lived, their emotions, thoughts, hopes and plans. In this sense, the fifth section of the psychologist’s code of ethics establishes the need to scrupulously respect the right to privacy, seeking only information that is considered necessary and directed towards improving the client’s situation.
Professional secrecy must be maintained except in cases of force majeure or by court order (or by parents or legal guardians in the case of minors or disabled persons). The subject must also be able to know the content of any report made and issued if he or she wishes to do so, as long as this does not endanger the subject or the professional. The data collected may only be disclosed to third parties with the consent of the patient.
If the clinical data are used for educational or informational purposes, this should be done in such a way that the patient to whom they pertain cannot be identified (unless the subject explicitly consents).
At the teaching level, it is also stipulated that the presence of trainees or students will only be possible with the client’s consent. If the patient dies, stops attending or disappears, the professional will continue to be subject to professional secrecy.
As a profession, psychologists also need to advertise and make themselves known in order to get patients or clients. In this sense the code of ethics establishes the need to adjust their conduct in such a way as to safeguard the integrity of the profession and professional secrecy .
It also stipulates that the awarding of a degree that one does not hold is a serious violation, as well as of degrees that are misleading. In case of using a pseudonym, the professional must declare it to the General Council of Official Associations of Psychologists. It is also established that the professional of psychology can take part in counselling campaigns at a cultural, educational, health, labour or social level.
7. Fees and remuneration
The salary or remuneration that a psychologist will obtain with his/her services is an aspect that, although it depends largely on the decision of the professional, also receives consideration within the code of ethics.
In this sense it is stipulated that the fees charged by the professional must be informed to the client in advance , in addition to the fact that it is not possible to receive remuneration for making referrals to other professionals. The official associations offer guidance criteria, but as long as it does not involve denigrating the profession or engaging in unfair competition the price in question is stipulated by the professional.
8. Procedural guarantees
The last large section of the code of ethics is dedicated to procedural guarantees . Thus, in this section we observe articles that stipulate the need to report violations of the rules of the code of ethics to the Deontological Commission (after which the Governing Board will proceed to adopt the corresponding resolution).
Another element to highlight, typical of article 59, is that the General Council of Official Associations of Psychologists guarantees the defence of professionals attacked or threatened in the exercise of their duties, defending the dignity and independence of the psychologist. It also stipulates that the rules stipulated by the code of ethics imply a formal commitment before society and that they are part of the legal system.
In Article 61, it is important to note that if in any specific case any of these rules are in conflict with each other, the professional must make a conscientious decision and inform both the Ethics Committee of the college in which he is registered and the various parties concerned.
Some of the most relevant basic principles
Each and every one of the articles of the code of ethics is relevant to the professional practice of the psychologist. However, perhaps the most important are the general principles, among which, as we have mentioned previously, the monitoring of a series of basic guidelines for good practice as a psychologist stands out.
First of all we find the need to seek the maximum benefit and not maleficence. This implies that the professional practice of psychology is primarily oriented to the achievement of the promotion, protection and improvement as far as possible of the welfare and autonomy of the client. With regard to non-maleficence, this concept refers to the fact that this search should not cause damage to the client, either by action or omission. This does not mean that treatments or therapies do not involve work at an emotional level that may be partly aversive, but that they do avoid causing harm in the process.
Another of the basic principles of the deontological code is the responsibility of the professional in the development of his profession, taking into account the obligations and rights that he has and specifying the need to comply with deontological rules, as well as the need for continuous training in order to offer the best possible service.
In addition, integrity and honesty in dealing with the patient or user is necessary, seeking a sincere contact in which there is no deceit, fraud, omissions or unwise or unsubstantiated practices.
Another of the main elements is impartiality and justice: the psychologist must exercise his or her profession without discrimination on the basis of sex, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, language, religion, race, socioeconomic level or other reasons. This does not mean, however, that there is no right of referral if the case in question is beyond our competence or we consider that we cannot offer the user impartial and fair treatment. The ability not to judge or criticize the patient regardless of his or her condition or situation is also a fundamental requirement.
Finally, the practice of psychology is subject to the law in force , and rights such as confidentiality, privacy, capacity to decide/autonomy must be respected
- Official College of Psychologists of Spain. (2010). Code of Ethics. Available at: https://www.cop.es/pdf/codigo-deontologico-consejo-adaptacion-ley-omnibus.pdf