Ethics Rounds

This past May I was delighted to accept an invitation from a group of colleagues in Istanbul, who have recently completed writing the Turkish Psychological Association's first ethics code. Over my week-long visit, I met with psychologists and psychology students to discuss what ethical dilemmas are most pressing for psychologists in Turkey, to understand how the Turkish Psychological Association feels these dilemmas are best addressed, and to hear how psychology students in Turkey study ethics. I also had a chance to explore how our two associations may differ in our conceptualizations of ethical dilemmas and ethical decision-making. It was a wonderful opportunity for APA to learn from colleagues who live and work in a culture very different from our own and to benefit from an international perspective on APA's Ethics Code.

The derivation of the word "ethics"-from the Greek word that can mean "custom"-helps explain how we benefit from collaborating with colleagues from other countries. The etymology of "ethics" retains its force to this day; discussions about ethics inevitably rest upon a specific cultural context. A "culture-free" ethics is a contradiction in terms, insofar as any discussion of ethics involves a given set of individuals or groups at a given time and in a given place. To remove culture from the equation deprives those involved of the elements that make them and their setting unique. The notion of "ethics" as culture-bound is therefore not a criticism. Much to the contrary, a fuller appreciation for culture can make our understanding of ethics much richer and more interesting and our discussions of ethical dilemmas more satisfying and helpful. Discussing ethics with psychologists from another country and culture has the added benefit of pressing us to define more clearly how our own cultural presuppositions enter into and influence our thinking in ways that we are not entirely aware of.

This point, about respecting local customs and culture, was impressed upon me the first day I was in Istanbul. My hosts had arranged for Ms. Zeynep Sunbay, a student at Bogazici University, to give me a tour of the city. She took me to the sites tourists will visit, and to a favorite coffee shop for Turkish coffee and a grain that is served along with coffee. In the late afternoon we walked through the covered bazaar and the spice market and then out into an open space, in front of a mosque, where Ms. Sunbay purchased two small plates of grain and handed me one. As I lifted the plate to my mouth for a hearty swallow, Ms. Sunbay, alarmed, grabbed my arm; the grain was intended to feed the pigeons in the square and was not for human consumption. From then on it seemed best to watch and learn how things are done in my hosts' city.

The following day I met with the three psychologists who had developed the initial draft of the Turkish Psychological Association (TPA) Ethics Code: Yesim Korkut, PhD, Serra Muderrisoglu, PhD, and Melis Tanik, PsyD. It was exciting to listen to these three psychologists describe their work and to see how they had drawn from various texts, including the APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2002), to fashion an ethics code that was suitable for their colleagues and their association. Drs. Korkut, Muderrisoglu and Tanik are rightfully proud of what they have accomplished, yet also respectful of the hard work that lay ahead in teaching and implementing the new ethics code throughout Turkey.

In reviewing the TPA Code, I was interested in both how their code is similar to APA's, and in how it differs. I noted five differences of particular interest. First, the TPA Code explicitly prohibits psychologists from using coercion to obtain information or a confession; our colleagues in Istanbul may be considered prescient for having included such a prohibition. Second, among other things that psychologists cannot require students to disclose-such as sexual histories, histories of abuse or neglect, and histories of psychological treatment-are "political preferences." The explicit inclusion of "political preferences" in the code suggests a heightened sensitivity to how disclosing this type of information may affect an individual. Third, the TPA Code has an absolute prohibition against sexual involvements with former clients; this prohibition reveals a heightened awareness of the enduring possibility of exploitation once a professional relationship has been initiated. Fourth, the TPA Code makes explicit that a psychologist may choose not to accept a client for services, if the psychologist determines that the client will not benefit from the service. Fifth, the TPA Code does not permit disclosure of test data to a client. Test data may be released only to another professional who is qualified to interpret the data. Discussing any of these differences would lead to an interesting exploration of how the culture of psychology differs in Turkey from that of the United States.

Following my meeting with Drs. Korkut, Muderrisoglu and Tanik, I was scheduled to give an ethics talk for psychology students of Bogazici and Istanbul Universities, which highlighted similarities in our respective approaches to ethics. The talk was given at Bogazici University, which looks out over the deep blue waters of the Bosphorus, across to Asia. Having delivered my talk-to an auditorium filled with students at 6 p.m. on a Friday evening, marking a clear cultural difference between Turkey and the United States-I was struck how the students were posing questions that I could easily get at a talk in the United States: Does a psychologist have a duty to break confidentiality to report a past crime? How can we be sure that a psychological intervention will be helpful, and not harmful, to a client, and what are the ethical implications if we cannot be certain? Is it appropriate to report child abuse, when the behavior would not be considered "abuse" in a particular subculture? Our discussion impressed upon me the universality of ethics in psychology, and how we all struggle with closely related challenges.

The following day, I held a workshop for members of the Ethical Committee of the Istanbul Branch and of the General Office of the TPA, as well as for psychologists who will serve as independent investigators for cases involving ethics complaints. In the workshop, we discussed developing an ethics program that allows for ethics adjudication, education, and consultation. The discussion focused on the relationship of ethics adjudication to other program components, and explored which of the three components-adjudication, education or consultation-it made most sense for the Turkish Psychological Association to develop first. Our discussion was remarkably similar to many I have had with colleagues about the priorities of APA's ethics program.

Having never visited Istanbul before, I was struck by the city's beauty and the warmth of the welcome I received from my hosts. I felt honored to be invited to participate in the early development of an ethics program, and delighted the TPA would feel that the APA Ethics Office has something of value to offer. While I departed Istanbul feeling that I had taken away much more than I had given, I hope to address that feeling by returning to Istanbul to participate in an ethics program at a future TPA event. Collaborating with colleagues from other national psychological associations will enhance APA's approach to ethics and press APA to come to a deeper and clearer understanding of the ethnic and cultural underpinnings to our own Ethics Code.

Further Reading

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Previous "Ethics Rounds" columns can be found at APA Ethics, in the "From the Director" section.