Friends are important, no matter who you are. But psychologists' careers may depend on friendship, says Brad Johnson, PhD, a professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics and Law at the U.S. Naval Academy and former chair of APA's Ethics Committee.
"There's lots of evidence that human beings are generally not especially accurate when it comes to any assessment of a character trait or a skill," he says. "Sadly, the same applies to health-care professionals — we are not very good at accurately assessing our own level of competence."
Johnson and others urge psychologists to create "competency communities" through which they can engage in feedback from trusted friends and colleagues. Such a network was critical to Johnson, who turned to his clinical psychologist sister Shannon Johnson, PhD, as well as colleagues Jeffrey Barnett, PsyD, and Douglas Haldeman, PhD, when he was being treated for a brain tumor. "I really think that if I had been an isolated person in private practice at that point, this really would have been more problematic," says Johnson.
APA President Nadine Kaslow, PhD, of Emory University in Atlanta, says the friends and colleagues in her "competence constellation" have supported her through good times and bad. "I greatly value the strength of these bonds, the honesty in these relationships and the diversity of perspectives these colleagues offer," she says.
To spur a culture change away from independence and more toward mutual trust and compassionate feedback, these psychologists have recommended changes to the APA Ethics Code that obligates psychologists to look out for one another. "If we don't take adequate care of ourselves, eventually, our ability to care for others does deteriorate," Barnett says.
— Anna Miller
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