For psychologists to competently serve all members of the public now and in the future, professional psychology training programs strive to ensure that psychology trainees demonstrate acceptable levels of knowledge, skills and awareness to work effectively with diverse individuals. Clients/patients are complex individuals who belong to diverse cultures and groups. Trainees also bring a complex set of personal characteristics and diverse cultural or group memberships to the education and training process. 

An important component of psychology training to explore is when and how trainees’ world views, beliefs or religious values interact with and even impede the provision of competent professional services to members of the public. It is essential that potential conflicts be acknowledged and addressed during training so that psychologists are prepared to beneficially and non-injuriously interact with all clients/patients.

Preparing Professional Psychologists

Preparing Professional Psychologists to Serve a Diverse Public

This document was prepared as an educational summary by the Working Group on Restrictions Affecting Diversity Training in Graduate Education and approved by the Board of Educational Affairs in March 2013. It was not reviewed by APA's Council of Representatives and thus is not APA policy.

This statement is intended to help training programs address conflicts between trainees’ worldviews, beliefs or religious values and professional psychology’s commitment to offering culturally responsive psychological services to all members of the public, especially to those from traditionally marginalized groups.

Commitment to a Supportive Training Environment

Training environments foster the ability of trainees to provide competent care to the general public, and trainees’ competencies in professional practice are evaluated regularly. Some trainees possess worldviews, values or religious beliefs that conflict with serving specific subgroups within the public. For example, they may experience strong negative reactions toward clients/patients who are of a particular sexual orientation, religious tradition, age or disability status. Trainers take a developmental approach to trainee skill and competency acquisition and support individual trainees in the process of developing competencies to work with diverse populations. Trainers respect the right of trainees to maintain their personal belief systems while acquiring such professional competencies. Trainers also model the process of personal introspection; the exploration of personal beliefs, attitudes and values; and the development of cognitive flexibility required to serve a wide diversity of clients/patients. Training to work with diverse clients/patients is integral to the curriculum, and consists of both didactic coursework and practical training.

Training programs, trainers and trainees cannot be selective about the core competencies needed for the practice of psychology because these competencies are determined by the profession for the benefit of the public. Further, training programs are accountable for ensuring that trainees exhibit the ability to work effectively with clients/patients whose group membership, demographic characteristics or worldviews create conflict with their own. Trainers respectfully work with trainees to beneficially navigate value- or belief- related tensions.  At times, training programs may wish to consider client/patient re-assignment so trainees have time to work to develop their competence to work with client/patients who challenge trainees’ sincerely held beliefs. Trainers utilize professional judgment in determining when client/patient re-assignment may be indicated in this situation as in all other possible situations in which client/patient re-assignment may be considered. The overriding consideration in such cases must always be the welfare of the client/patient. In such cases, trainers focus on the trainees’ development, recognizing that tensions arising from sincerely held beliefs or values require pedagogical support and time to understand and integrate with standards for professional conduct. Thus trainees entering professional psychology training programs should have no reasonable expectation of being exempted from having any particular category of potential clients/patients assigned to them for the duration of training.

Commitment to Transparency in Educational Expectations, Policies and Procedures

Psychology training programs inform prospective trainees and the public of expected competencies to be attained during training. Publicly available program descriptions and admission materials should include the program’s goals and objectives, content about training standards and the commitment to serving a diverse public. These expectations are reiterated throughout the course of training and in documents such as practicum contracts. Training programs are responsible for notifying prospective trainees, current students and the public that the failure to demonstrate appropriate levels of competence as set forth and assessed by the program could lead to dismissal from the doctoral training program.

Commitment to Establishing and Maintaining Standards for Professional Competence to Protect the Public

As the largest professional and scientific organization of psychologists in the United States, the American Psychological Association has sought to create, communicate and apply psychological knowledge for the public’s benefit for more than a century. It does this, in part, by establishing a professional code of ethics and standards for professional education and training for practice. These APA documents mandate that education and training programs take reasonable steps to ensure that doctoral-level graduates are prepared to serve a diverse public.

This statement was prepared as an educative summary of relevant pedagogical principles applicable to doctoral training of psychologists and is consistent with both the APA Ethics Code (2010) and the Guidelines and Principles for the Accreditation of Professional Psychology Programs of the APA's Commission on Accreditation (APA, 2012). APA’s Ethics Committee and the Commission on Accreditation are responsible for interpreting and adjudicating these standards. This statement supports and is not intended to supersede either of these documents.

Competence for Psychological Practice

Professional Psychologist Competencies to Serve a Diverse Public

This document was prepared as an educational summary by the Working Group on Restrictions Affecting Diversity Training in Graduate Education and approved by the Board of Educational Affairs and Board of Professional Affairs in April 2015. It was not reviewed by APA's Council of Representatives and thus is not APA policy.

Commitment to Professional Standards to Protect the Public

As the largest professional and scientific organization of psychologists in the United States, the American Psychological Association creates, communicates, and applies psychological knowledge for the public’s benefit. It does this, in part, by establishing a professional code of ethics and standards for professional practice. The core responsibility of all professional psychologists and their supervised trainees is to provide competent service to the public based on the knowledge, skills, and awareness to work effectively with individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. This statement addresses situations in which psychologists’ religious beliefs or world views conflict with professional psychology’s commitment to offer culturally-responsive psychological services to all members of the public, especially to those from marginalized groups. Though practice settings vary by specialty and focus, psychologists need to interact beneficially and non-injuriously with all clients/patients who seek care. When such conflicts occur, the overriding consideration must always be the welfare of the client/patient.

Commitment to Competent Ethical Practice and Referral

Competence for psychological practice is advanced by the profession and regulated by the psychology licensing boards for the benefit and protection of the public. These entities expect the attainment and maintenance of established professional competencies that are designed to promote public welfare while at the same time respecting the individual rights of psychologists. When psychologists’ religious beliefs or world views conflict with providing competent services to specific subgroups, psychologists must manage these conflicts in the context of serving a diverse clientele. Psychologists are held to an ethical standard that prohibits “unfair discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status or any basis proscribed by law” (Ethical Standard 3.01, p. 5, APA, 2010). The commitment to competent ethical practice and referral applies to psychologists working in all practice settings.  

In independent practice settings, when psychologists decide to make a referral, they strive to refer the client/patient to a psychologist or other qualified provider who can provide effective service and offer a compassionate and respectful context for care. When psychologists make referrals they do so with the best interest of the client/patient as the primary consideration, and they strive to “avoid harming their clients/patients… and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable” (Ethical Standard 3.04, p. 6, APA, 2010).  

In agency, organizational or institutional practice settings, psychologists’ conditions of employment may require them to provide care to all clients/patients because of the setting’s commitment or legal mandate to serve a diverse public. Those employed in such settings may be responsible to provide effective, competent, and ethical services to all clients, as defined at the time of hiring or in subsequent policy statements of the institution. When policies allow referral options for psychologists in institutional practice settings, such policies need to articulate the goal of ensuring that the referral occurs in a compassionate and caring manner with a focus on the best interest of the client/patient.

This statement was prepared as a summary of relevant principles applicable to services provided by psychologists and is consistent with the APA Ethics Code (2010). APA’s Ethics Committee is responsible for interpreting and adjudicating ethical standards. This statement supports and is not intended to supersede the APA Ethics Code.