Ethics Rounds

I have now completed my second APA Annual Convention as deputy director of the Ethics Office, and I am still awed by the depth and vibrancy of APA's ethics education program. The continued interest of APA members in ethics was visible in both the number and attendance of the various convention sessions: 47 sessions involving ethics were listed in the convention program, of which members of the APA Ethics Committee and the Ethics Office were involved in 11.

Bringing ethics leaders together

One of the most gratifying sessions was this year's Ethics Office Invitational Breakfast, which brought together leaders from the state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations, and divisions. This year's discussion was a continuation of a dialogue begun in New Orleans after the tragic hurricanes that affected both patients and psychologists and a disaster response discussion held in California at last year's convention. Dr. Leonard Tamura, the chair of Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance (ACCA), a committee of APA's Board of Professional Affairs, opened the discussion of colleague assistance and the ethics of self-care with a summary of the mission of ACCA, its ongoing research efforts, and the resources available to support state psychological associations.

Dr. Michael Ranney of the Ohio Psychological Association shared thoughts on the myriad issues that can arise in creating colleague-assistance programs. Dr. Samuel Knapp of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association rounded out the discussion with a summary of the wellness-focused educational programming that his association has found most helpful in reaching out to its members.

At the center of the breakfast discussion was the movement from an impairment model toward a lifespan perspective of self-care. The challenges of raising a family as an early career psychologist, how the profession is aging, and the impact on psychologists of tragedies such as Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the suicide of several psychologists during 2007, and the murder of a psychologist by a patient in New York City this year highlight the importance of these ongoing colleague assistance discussions. The APA Ethics Office is proud to be a facilitator of such discussions.

The discussion of the ethics of self-care and our responsibility to ourselves, our patients and our colleagues continued at a joint session between the Ethics Committee, ACCA, and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, which I had the pleasure of introducing. The session highlighted the importance of finding personal ways of managing the normal stresses of life in productive ways - one of the same goals we would have for our patients. The session also emphasized the importance of self-monitoring and self-care in order to remain competent and effective in treating patients throughout one's career.

Another strong focus of collaboration at the Boston convention was a session introduced by Ethics Committee Chair Dr. W. Brad Johnson entitled, "Ethics and Issues of Cultural Competence and Diversity," with such luminaries as Dr. J. Manuel (Manny) Casas, Dr. Linda Forrest, and Dr. Frederick T.L. Leong. An early career psychologist, Dr. Kirstyn Y.S. Chun, provided an entertaining, poignant and invaluable perspective on ethical considerations in working with intersecting identities. Understanding the ethical importance of knowledge concerning the client's individual community and the ways in which our psychotherapist perspective of a client's needs may differ from those espoused by his or her community was highlighted. This exciting session was the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing collaboration of the Ethics Committee and Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology), Div. 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues) and Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues). The Ethics Committee was so energized by the collaboration that it is working to foster increased ethics focus at the upcoming 2009 National Multicultural Conference and Summit: "Advancing Our Communities: The Role of Social Justice in Multicultural Psychology," Jan. 15-16 in New Orleans.

The ethical importance of knowledge concerning the client's individual community was also a focus of a program on international ethics as the Ethics Office continued to participate in programs concerning ethics on an international scope. Dr. Neal Rubin chaired an "International Ethics Rounds," with three experts in international psychology - Dr. Rodney Lowman, Dr. Gerard Jacobs and Dr. Michael Wessels - joined by APA Ethics Office Director Dr. Stephen Behnke, as discussant. The vignette-based program explored ethics from an international perspective and examined the "fit" between the APA Ethics Code and work that psychologists do in international settings. Central to the discussion was the need for psychologists working abroad to listen for the wisdom of the community and follow its lead when offering assistance rather than imposing a Western view of "helper" in international settings.

Most popular sessions

Other ethics programs at convention included a perennial favorite "Top Ethical Dilemmas Posed to the APA Ethics Office," which remained an "Ethics Office bestseller" as did the annual joint Ethics Committee and Committee on Legal Issues session, "Legal and Ethical Pitfalls Facing Practitioners - On the Road to Resolutions." One vignette that prompted energy from the audience dealt with the converging responsibilities of the psychology graduate program, internship site and licensing board, as well as individual psychologists writing letters of recommendation, to manage the issue of a trainee whose personality characteristics may raise questions concerning his or her ability to provide competent care to patients. The discussion of individual and collective responsibility to protect the public and the profession, as well as the responsibilities to the trainee who may have expended considerable funds and time in graduate school, expanded the attendees, as well as my own, perspective of the ethics of a thorny training issue.

An overflow crowd participated in the session "MySpace, YouTube, Psychotherapy and Professional Relationships - Crisis or Opportunity" in which Dr. Behnke, Ethics Committee Vice Chair Dr. Jeffrey Barnett, Dr. David V. Powers and 2007 Graduate Student Ethics Prize winner Keren Lehavot spoke about these issues. The attendance at the session illustrated how issues involving the Internet, as well as the intersection between our private and professional identities, have become an important part of our ethics education (see article on page 56).

The Ethics Committee and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students developed the annual Graduate Student Ethics Prize, and each year the winning paper is presented at convention. I anticipate that this year's recipients, Zachary Adams and Sara Boyd of the University of Kentucky, have also raised issues that will be discussed within psychology for the foreseeable future. They gave a passionate presentation on the ethical obligation of all practitioners to become competent in the treatment of individuals with intellectual disabilities and to consider the means by which they could support the autonomy of such individuals in the therapy context. (The presentation of next year's winning paper will be made to a wider audience of psychologists during a scheduled convention session. The deadline for submission of papers for the 2009 Graduate Student Ethics Prize is Dec. 1. See for more information concerning the prize.)

APAGS and the Ethics Office also collaborated with Div. 40 (Clinical Neuropsychology) in a vignette-based session that explored conflicts that arise during neuropsychological supervision. In a new area of focus on undergraduates, ethical aspects of teaching undergraduate psychology were explored in a session chaired by Dr. Maureen McCarthy, president of Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology) and including Dr. Behnke and two members of the Ethics Committee, Dr. Sue Jacobs and Dr. Connie Chan.

The Ethics Committee has already begun planning for APA's 2009 Annual Convention in Toronto. The hope is that next year's convention will provide the Ethics Office and Committee with opportunities for both ongoing and new collaborations that continue to develop ethics education at APA. Any suggestions you might have concerning such collaborations are greatly appreciated. Please send your comments to Ethics Rounds.

Note from APA Ethics Director, Stephen Behnke, PhD, JD: This month's column is written by Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD, deputy director of the Ethics Office, who will be writing occasional "Ethics Rounds" columns in her areas of ethics expertise.