With an updated Ethics Code in place, APA is primed to rouse new interest in ethics issues among Members, and who better to start with than students? That's the idea behind the Graduate Student Ethics Prize, awarded for the first time in August to Nancy Lewis, a fourth-year graduate student at the Georgia School of Professional Psychology, who won for her paper on the ethical dilemma clinicians face when they treat battered women.
The prize, to be given annually, rewards the year's best student paper on psychology and ethics and is a collaboration between APA's Ethics Committee and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS). The two groups launched the prize to promote the ethical practice of psychology and help students understand that psychology ethics is about more than obligations and punishments.
"The Ethics Code can be thought of as the collective wisdom of our association, as handed down from one generation of psychologists to the next," says Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD, director of APA's Ethics Office. "The prize encourages students to begin thinking about these critical ethical questions at the very beginning of their professional lives."
The winner receives $1,000 and a round-trip ticket to and two nights stay at APA's Annual Convention.
APAGS also hopes the prize piques students' interest in the important role ethics plays in students' graduate school years--from negotiating graduate school relationships to performing academic requirements in an ethical manner, says APAGS Executive Director Carol Williams-Nickelson, who often fields calls from students who have problems with ethical implications.
"Students wonder how to deal with authorship issues with professors, what to do if they are concerned about the well-being or competence of a classmate, what to do when they perceive a faculty-student boundary has been violated and many other serious and important questions," she says. "Students sometimes want a black-and-white answer to an ethical situation, but there are few black-and-white answers."
Lewis's prize-winning paper looked at how clinicians who work with domestic violence victims can step into some of those gray areas. Drawing on experiences she had working at a domestic violence agency in Atlanta, Lewis explored the dilemma a clinician faces when a battered female client discloses concurrent child abuse. When that happens, the clinician struggles between the ethical obligation to preserve client confidentiality versus compliance with mandatory reporting laws about child abuse and the ethical duty to protect a child from harm.
Lewis's paper went beyond just identifying the problem, notes Behnke. She looked to feminist theory to propose a way psychology might respond to the dilemma, which was exactly the type of creative thinking and thorough examination of psychology values they'd wanted to honor with the prize.
Psychology is Lewis's second career. She worked as an accountant and bookkeeper for more than 15 years, and then turned a downsizing at her firm into an opportunity to return to college nine years ago to pursue psychology--her lifelong career dream. When Lewis earns her doctorate in October 2004, she hopes to start a private practice and maybe teach part time. With her prize money, she purchased a new computer for writing her dissertation. She plans to submit her winning paper for publication and hopes to research the ideas she proposes in her paper.
She encourages her fellow students to take a deeper look at psychology ethics as they transition into their careers. "Ethical issues and dilemmas are endemic in our field," she says. "It is so important that we understand the many ways that our behavior and decisions can affect our clients and that we be proactive in thinking about potential ethical issues before they happen."
Students who are interested in applying for the 2003 Graduate Student Ethics Prize can find more information at the APA Ethics Web site. The application deadline is March 7.
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