Ethics Committee: 2009 Annual Report

March 1, 2010

In 2009, the APA Ethics Committee fulfilled its adjudicative function and continued to develop its educative and consultative programs.  The Ethics Committee also responded to Association needs to support special projects.

The chair of the 2009 Ethics Committee was Jeffrey E. Barnett, PsyD.  Members included Jennifer A. Erickson Cornish, PhD; Linda M. Forrest, PhD; Peter N. Mayfield, PhD; Nancy A. McGarrah, PhD, James J. Preis, JD (public member); Dianne S. Salter, PhD, JD; and Susana P. Urbina, PhD.  Associates were Cyndie M. Buckson, PsyD, and Melanie M. Domenech Rodriguez, PhD.  The liaison from the Board of Directors was Melba J. T. Vasquez, PhD.

Educative Outreach at Convention

Convention provides an important forum for the Ethics Committee’s educational activities.  At the 117th annual convention in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the Ethics Committee and Ethics Office continued to present a vibrant and growing agenda for ethics education. Participation included one preconvention workshop; eight hours of Ethics Committee programs; an invitational breakfast for state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations and APA divisions; and additional symposia on special areas of interest offered in collaboration with APA divisions and groups. Attendance, interest, and participation were high throughout the sessions.

Committees are given eight hours of convention programming.  Each year, two of the Ethics Committee hours are devoted to an enduring favorite, “Hot Topics in Ethics.”  In 2009, another two hours of Committee programming explored ethics and a particular aspect of diversity, “Am I Competent Enough? Latina/o Voices and Diversity,” cosponsored with Divisions 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology), 29 (Psychotherapy), 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women), and 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues).  Out of the final four Ethics Committee hours, one hour went to the annual joint presentation with the Committee on Legal Issues, “Subpoenas, Court Orders, and Other Legal Oddities: A Stress-Reducing Primer for Practitioners”; another was cosponsored with the Board of Scientific Affairs on the topic “Research Ethics 101”; and a third went to a program cosponsored with Division 31 (State, Provincial, and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs) titled “‘Thinking Together’ APA and ASPPB Explore Where Ethics and Licensure Converge.”

The final hour, titled “(Un)comfortable Connections: Boundaries in Campus Counseling Centers” and cosponsored with APAGS, was for the presentation of the 2009 Graduate Student Ethics Prize.  Convention is the occasion when the Ethics Committee, in collaboration with the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS), awards a $1000 prize for a student paper on ethics.  The student, whose trip to convention and hotel expenses are part of the award, presents the winning paper for comment and discussion.  Starla Armstrong of Auburn University won the 2009 award for her paper “Managing Non-Sexual Multiple Relationships in University Counseling Centers:  Recommendations for Graduate Assistants and Practicum Students,” which provided the basis for her convention presentation.  Gerald Koocher, PhD, has provided essential support for the award by publishing top student papers in the journal Ethics and Behavior.

Education and Consultation

The Ethics Committee provides support and ideas for “Ethics Rounds,” a column in the APA Monitor on Psychology written by the Ethics Office Director or Deputy Director.  The column focuses primarily, although not exclusively, on ethical issues of concern to practicing psychologists.

The Ethics Committee continues active outreach to psychology boards and to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).  One aspect of this initiative involves providing staff support to a joint APA/ASPPB task force exploring mutual challenges shared by licensing boards and ethics committees. The task force (called together in 2007 by President Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD), is actively exploring possibilities for joint projects in an effort to deepen the relationship between APA and ASPPB and between psychological associations and psychology licensing boards.  As a result of fortuitous timing the task force has been able proceed in its work throughout 2008 and 2009 without requesting additional funding for either year. Most recently, the Task Force collaborated with the Ethics Committee on a program at the 2009 annual convention in Toronto, presenting a joint session with Division 31 titled “Thinking Together – APA and ASPPB Explore Where Ethics and Licensure Converge.”

As part of the Ethics Committee’s expanded educative efforts, the Ethics Office has developed a vibrant program of ethics presentations.  The Ethics Office gives priority to requests from state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations.  Association-related programs offer continuing education credit in ethics or in ethics and law, and raise funds for the associations. In 2009, the Ethics Office offered 12 continuing education programs to 11 associations or their affiliates, out of a total of 43 ethics talks and workshops.

The Ethics Office has collaborated with the Education Directorate to create a web-based continuing education program on the APA Ethics Code.  The program is available at the APA Online Academy and generates funds for APA.  Added during 2008, also in collaboration with the Education Directorate, was a program making the APA Monitor column “Ethics Rounds” available for continuing education credit.

The Ethics Committee had a visible presence at the January 2009 National Multicultural Conference and Summit (NMCS) in New Orleans, with the presentation of two symposia (“Am I Competent Enough?  Multicultural Competence from an Ethics Perspective” and “When Aspects of Diversity Collide:  Ethical Considerations”) and a breakfast roundtable discussion (“Ethical and Professional Implications of Diversity Competence:  Graduate Student Perspectives and Experiences”).  In conjunction with Division 44, the Ethics Committee sponsored four student travel awards to attend the 2009 NMCS with all expenses paid, and partially subsidized travel for five additional students. (Funding for these awards was made possible through speaking honoraria to the Ethics Office.)  A luncheon awards ceremony was held in New Orleans for the four students who were awarded the travel grants.

Special Projects

Throughout 2009, the Ethics Office continued to provide staff support for the Association as it addresses important ethical issues.  In response to a directive from Council, the Ethics Committee and Ethics Office have posted extensive materials related to Ethical Standard 1.02 (Conflicts Between Ethics and Law, Regulations, or Other Governing Legal Authority) and Ethical Standard 1.03 (Conflicts Between Ethics and Organizational Demands) on the APA Ethics webpage for members to review and comment upon.  The Ethics Committee made a recommendation to the Board of Directors regarding amendment of the Introduction and Applicability section of the Ethics Code, as well as of Standard 1.02 and Standard 1.03, for Council’s consideration at its February 2010 meeting.


The Ethics Committee held two meetings in 2009, reviewed 12 cases, 4 membership-related actions, 6 case-related confidential agenda items, 10 non-case-related confidential agenda items, and 52 nonconfidential agenda items.  No Independent Adjudications took place in 2009.  Since the revision of the Rules and Procedures of the Ethics Committee (APA, 2002) and as of October 2009, approximately 78 psychologists have resigned under ethics investigation and approximately 12 psychologists have been automatically expelled from the Association.  Statistics regarding all stages of complaint processing in 2009 will be available in the American Psychologist article "Report of the Ethics Committee, 2009," currently projected for publication in the July/August 2010 issue.

Ethics Office Staff

At the end of 2009, staff in the Ethics Office were Stephen H. Behnke, JD, PhD, director; Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD, deputy director; Patricia Dixon, board and investigative officer; Stephanie Brasfield, JD, ethics investigative officer; Emily Laumeier, governance coordinator; Daisy Clipper, ethics coordinator, information and support, and Beverly Rhodes, temporary administrative assistant. Jennifer Royster, ethics coordinator, retired at the end of May 2009.

Report on Diversity Training and Representation

At its July 2004 meeting, the Council of Representatives approved a motion that governance groups should include within their annual reports a report on diversity training and representation within the group.  The Ethics Committee’s member and associate demographics as of December, 2009: 3 Caucasian Females, 2 African-American females, 2 Latinas, and 3 Caucasian males.  The age range for committee members is from late-30’s to early 70’s.

Additionally, the Ethics Committee addresses diversity at each of its meetings via a standing agenda item on the Ethics Committee’s diversity action plan.  In 2009, the committee developed the role of diversity ombudsperson, a role assigned on a rotating basis to two attendees per meeting.  The diversity ombudspersons facilitate and create a space for diversity awareness during meetings.  The Ethics Committee also strives to reserve time for a diversity presentation at each of its meetings.  At the October 2009 meeting, Drs. Irene W. Leigh and Virgina Gutman of Gallaudet University visited with the Ethics Committee to discuss deafness as an aspect of diversity.

Jeffrey E. Barnett, PsyD, Chair