Cover Story

Psychologists will need to familiarize themselves with a new Ethics Code by June 1, as a result of action by APA's Council of Representatives, which unanimously approved a revamped code at its August meeting.

Slimmer by almost 20 percent since it was last revised in 1992, the Ethics Code has been updated to reflect changes to the discipline and evolving societal needs. "The incorporation of comments received by over 1,300 APA members and the unanimous council vote reflect that this code represents the values and concerns of psychology," says Celia B. Fisher, PhD, chair of the Ethics Code Task Force, which drafted the revision.

Among the most notable changes are:

  • New standards on the release of test data. Standard 9.04 requires psychologists to release test data to any client or client-designee when the client signs a release form. Part of the reason for the change was the passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which requires psychologists to release health information to clients who sign release forms. "If APA hadn't made this change, the code would have put some psychologists in conflict with the law and with their clients," Fisher points out.

Standard 9.04(a) also states that there are instances in which the psychologist does not have to release test data--for example, if the psychologist suspects that the data would be misused or would otherwise harm a patient. Such exceptions, however, would often be governed by laws that "place restrictions on the psychologist's discretion, so psychologists would need to carefully consider withholding any test data information," explains Fisher.

  • Expanded protection of student privacy. Several new standards reflect concerns voiced by graduate students about programs that require psychotherapy as part of training. Among these changes is Standard 7.02, which calls for programs that require psychotherapy to say so in their applications. Standard 7.05, stipulates that if therapy is required, faculty who evaluate students' academic performance cannot provide such services.

  • More information on informed consent in research. The code now stipulates what information research psychologists must tell participants about intervention studies (Standard 8.02b). Requirements include information on the experimental nature of the treatment, services that will or will not be available to control groups, the means by which assignment to treatment and control groups will be made, and available treatment options.

  • More guidance on using new therapies. The code speaks out for the first time on what psychologists should tell their patients when they use treatments for which generally recognized techniques and procedures have not been established. Under Standard 10.01, psychologists are obligated to inform patients of the developing nature of the treatment, what risks may be involved with such interventions and whether there are other treatments available.

  • Clarity on terminating therapy. The 1992 code did not stipulate what constituted abandonment. In fact, says Fisher, sometimes psychologists continued treatment long after it should have ended for fear of being accused of abandonment. In the new code, Standard 10.10 articulates more clearly when psychologists should terminate treatment and how to do it.

APA members are encouraged to read the new code, available at www.apa.org/ethics. It will be published in the December American Psychologist, and an expanded report on the code's changes will appear in the January Monitor.

Multicultural guidelines

The Council of Representatives also adopted the Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice and Organizational Change for Psychologists as APA policy.

A joint project of APA Divs. 17 (Counseling) and 45 (Society for the Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), the document outlines important knowledge and skills for psychologists in today's society. "The guidelines encourage psychologists to take a look at whatever setting they work in--from research to practice to industrial/ organizational psychology--and explore ways to improve their cross-cultural interactions," says Nadya Fouad, PhD, who co-chaired the team that developed the guidelines.

There are six guidelines in all. Each summarizes relevant literature in the area and provides concrete recommendations that psychologists can use. The guidelines call for psychologists to:

  • Recognize that they may hold attitudes and beliefs that can detrimentally influence their perceptions of and interactions with individuals who are ethnically and racially different from themselves.

  • Recognize the importance of multicultural sensitivity, knowledge and understanding about ethnically and racially different individuals.

  • Employ the constructs of multiculturalism and diversity in psychological education.

  • Recognize the importance of conducting culture-centered and ethical psychological research among people from ethnic, linguistic and racial minority backgrounds.

  • Apply culturally appropriate skills in clinical and other applied psychological practices.

  • Support culturally informed policies and practices in all facets of society, from the private sector to government agencies.

"The guidelines reflect transformation in the organization," says guideline co-chair Patricial Arredondo, PhD. "Passage by the council is a statement that ethical practice also means multicultural preparation and responsiveness in all of our endeavors as psychologists."

The full guidelines are available at www.apa.org/pi.

Bylaws changes

As a result of council action, members will also be asked to vote on three proposed changes to APA bylaws this month:

  • Adding "education" to APA's mission statement. If approved, APA's mission would state: "The objects of the American Psychological Association shall be to advance psychology as a science and profession and as a means of promoting health, education, and human welfare by the encouragement of psychology in all its branches in the broadest and most liberal manner; by the promotion of research in psychology and the improvement of research methods and conditions; by the improvement of the qualifications and usefulness of psychologists through high standards of ethics, conduct, education, and achievement; by the establishment and maintenance of the highest standards of professional ethics and conduct of the members of the Association; by the increase and diffusion of psychological knowledge through meetings, professional contacts, reports, papers, discussions, and publications; thereby to advance scientific interests and inquiry, and the application of research findings to the promotion of health, education and the public welfare." If approved by the membership, the changes will go into effect immediately.

  • Giving a greater voice to APA's student members, which make up one-third of APA's membership. The council voted to establish a voting seat for the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) on APA's Council of Representatives and a nonvoting seat on APA's Board of Directors. The APAGS chair would serve as the representative to both the board and council.

If approved by members, the APAGS voting member of council and nonvoting member of the Board of Directors will begin serving in January.

  • Creating a new category of APA members for Two-Year College Teacher Affiliates. Last winter, members approved the establishment of a two-year teacher affiliate category. Members are now being asked to remove language that limited membership in this category. The restriction had the unintended effect of excluding most community college faculty from joining APA in the two-year teacher affiliate category. If members approve the change, it will go into effect immediately.

APA will mail the ballot for these bylaw changes to members on Nov. 1. To be enacted, two-thirds of all members who vote must approve each measure. Results of the vote will appear in the January Monitor.

Other action

During its meeting, the Council of Representatives also:

  • Approved a preliminary 2003 budget calling for a $526,600 surplus. Earlier this year, APA had been facing a potential $6 million deficit, due in large part to the faltering national economy, a significant budget shortfall in electronic product sales and escalating spending. To trim its expenses, APA's Central Office reduced the number of face-to-face meetings of the association's boards and committees, implemented many administrative cost-containment measures and asked for voluntary reductions in its staff, since staff and benefits costs represent approximately 45 percent of APA's budget. With reluctance, the Finance Committee and the Board of Directors also recommended that APA member dues be increased by $10--a move that the council endorsed. Although the deficit for 2002 is currently estimated at $1.8 million, the 2003 budget approved by the council is projected to result in the association's first, albeit modest, surplus in recent years.

  • Approved the launch of gradPSYCH, a new magazine for psychology students. The 48-page, full-color magazine will be issued three times a year to APAGS members, and will offer tips on succeeding in graduate school, career insights and profiles of new psychologists. While some council members questioned why APA would launch a magazine during tough economic times, others pointed out that publication will generate new income in several ways: through display and classified advertising sales, through sales of APA products and services promoted in the magazine, and through the retention and recruitment of student and new psychologist members.

  • Endorsed the "Psychology Awareness Initiative in Secondary Schools." APA developed the initiative to further promote the field to the hundreds of thousands of students who are introduced to psychology in secondary school. APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools--which just celebrated its 10th anniversary--will launch the initiative by working through its network of state coordinators and disseminating information and resources on its Web site.