Ethics Rounds

Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya gave a rendition of Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise" that nearly brought down the house. Dr. Rosie Bingham followed with a plenary address, "Empowerment Through Inclusion in the Daily Battle with Oppression," that had participants rocking in their seats. Awards were presented to the accompaniment of a gospel choir and posters were discussed to the beat of Taiko Drummers. Keynote speakers-Dr. Melba Vasquez on "The Challenges of Conflict among Allies," Dr. Eduardo Duran on "Liberation Psychology," and Dr. Beverly Greene on "The Complexity of Diversity"-had the halls abuzz with participants discussing "The Psychology of Multiple Identities," the fifth National Multicultural Conference and Summit's (NMCS) title and topic. The 2007 NMCS explored different ways of learning and knowing. It was an academic conference that was part networking opportunity, part revival, and all inspiring.

When I arrived to pick up my registration materials, the organizers were working to accommodate nearly twice the number of attendees they had anticipated; while initial estimates were about 450, well over 900 people showed up. Four APA divisions hosted the conference and summit-Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology), Div. 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women), 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 chairpersons, Drs. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, William Liu, Helen Neville and Arlene Noriega, created a program that welcomed and released an energy and dynamism that suffused the meeting. Ethics was central to the conference as the APA Ethics Code was evoked on both substantive and process levels.

On a substantive level, our Ethics Code returns repeatedly to the role of culture and individual differences. Note how Principle E both affirms respect for individual characteristics and conveys a strong and unequivocal message against bias:

Principle E: Respect for People's Rights and Dignity Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices.

The first sentence of Principle E calls upon psychologists to "respect" people's dignity and worth. How respect is shown is highly dependent upon an individual's cultural background and setting.

Throughout the Ethics Code culture is addressed in two ways, as an impermissible basis for unfair differential treatment and as a necessary consideration for psychologists in their work-related activities. Standard 3.01, for example, prohibits unfair discrimination, while Ethical Standard 9.06 affirms the importance of taking culture into consideration:

3.01 Unfair Discrimination In their work-related activities, psychologists do not engage in 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. 9.06 Interpreting Assessment Results When interpreting assessment results, including automated interpretations, psychologists take into account the purpose of the assessment as well as the various test factors, test-taking abilities, and other characteristics of the person being assessed, such as situational, personal, linguistic, and cultural differences, that might affect psychologists’ judgments or reduce the accuracy of their interpretations.

Competence is sometimes referred to as the cornerstone of ethics because psychologists cannot do good (beneficence) or avoid harm (nonmaleficence) unless they are competent in their work. Ethical Standard 2.01 makes diversity and culture central to our understanding of competence:

2.01 Boundaries of Competence(b) Where scientific or professional knowledge in the discipline of psychology establishes that an understanding of factors associated with age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic status is essential for effective implementation of their services or research, psychologists have or obtain the training, experience, consultation, or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services.

A central contribution of the NMCS is to emphasize how psychologists do not achieve multicultural competence in a single course or workshop, but rather that multicultural competence is achieved through a process of learning how we learn about culture, and of coming to respect the centrality of diversity and culture in a client's lived experience. Dr. Garrett-Akinsanya used the metaphor of a cultural guide. As we have a map, or a guide, when we travel in a land foreign to us, so too we can use supervision and consultation with colleagues to help guide our work with clients whose culture or other individual characteristics found in Standard 2.01 differ from our own. Throughout the conference speakers gave many examples of culture affecting the work psychologists do, such as by virtue of: how time is conceived and organized; the means by which clients compensate professionals for their work; how the role of spirituality in healing or in a healing relationship is understood; and what constitute appropriate boundaries in a professional relationship.

Our Ethics Code is written flexibly. Parts of the code that do not explicitly mention culture nonetheless leave ample room for psychologists to make culture central to their ethical analyses. Standard 3.05, for example, invites psychologists to explore the role of culture in assessing whether a multiple relationships is ethically appropriate:

3.05 Multiple Relationships A psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologistís objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists.

When asking whether a multiple relationship creates a reasonable expectation of impairment in a psychologist's objectivity, competence or effectiveness, the psychologist will explore many features of the situation, including the cultural context. To engage in a particular multiple relationship in one setting may be unequivocally out of bounds; in another setting, not to enter the same multiple relationship could undermine any prospect of a productive treatment or research program.

Along with addressing substantive issues and dilemmas that emerge in psychologists' work, the NMCS had multiple "difficult dialogues" that propelled the meeting forward through a process of discourse on subjects that had evoked strong and contrary feelings among the participants. I had the opportunity to attend "The Psychology of Men and Masculinities in Multicultural Perspective: Race, Ethnicity, and Sexual Orientation," and witnessed a deeply moving discussion of an event at the previous NMCS that had been the source of considerable pain to those who had been present and involved. This meeting's "difficult dialogue" presented a compelling model for how we as psychologists can work toward reconciliation with our colleagues, when we are willing to listen to and tolerate points of views and experiences that differ from our own.

Ethics is a developmental process on both the individual and the group level. As individual psychologists, our understanding and appreciation of ethics grow throughout our professional lives. Likewise, APA matures ethically as an association. Part of APA's process of maturation is a deeper incorporation of multicultural orientations and ways of thinking into the life of our association, and over time we will move from cultural competence to cultural proficiency.

The National Multicultural Conference and Summit is taking on an important role in APA's ethical development. For that reason, attending future meetings will be essential to my own understanding of the unfolding ethics of our profession. If the 2007 meeting was any indication, the journey will be both educational and inspiring.

Furher Reading

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