Ethics Rounds

Several standards in the new code relevant to academic and clinical training represent important changes from the 1992 code. In reviewing highlights of these changes, it is worthwhile both to examine the language of the standards and to consider what this language tells us about the values of our profession.

Student disclosure

Standard 7.04, which is entirely new to the Ethics Code, balances the autonomy and privacy of students with the need for programs to ensure competency and protect safety. The standard balances these interests by saying that programs may not require personal disclosures, unless one of two conditions is present. These conditions represent exceptions to Standard 7.04's rule against required self-disclosures.

Student disclosure of personal information
Psychologists do not require students or supervisees to disclose personal information in course- or program-related activities, either orally or in writing, regarding sexual history, history of abuse and neglect, psychological treatment, and relationships with parents, peers, and spouses or significant others except if (1) the program or training facility has clearly identified this requirement in its admissions and program materials or (2) the information is necessary to evaluate or obtain assistance for students whose personal problems could reasonably be judged to be preventing them from performing their training- or professionally related activities in a competent manner or posing a threat to the students or others.

The first condition is that the program has "clearly identified" the disclosure requirement in its admissions and program materials. The "clearly identified" clause helps students make an informed choice about their training. With this information, students are in a better position to determine how well a particular program will meet their training interests and needs.

At the same time, the "clearly identified" clause allows academic programs and training facilities flexibility in fashioning language that captures their unique circumstances. An academic program, for example, may have a required course on family or systems therapy. If students were expected to draw their own genograms, the program would note this requirement in its admission and program materials. (If students were offered an alternative to the assignment, the disclosure would no longer be required and so would not fall under Standard 7.04.) Likewise, were trainees at an internship site expected to reveal aspects of their own histories in supervision, the site would indicate that this type of supervision is part of its training. (Countertransference supervision, in which supervisees were invited to share their reactions toward clients or patients, would not necessarily fall under the standard, if no further disclosures from the supervisees were required.)

Standard 7.04 provides psychologists who write admission and program materials with flexibility in how they describe their requirements, provided required disclosures are identified. The standard also, of course, permits language that invites or encourages students to ask if they would like to know more about the requirements.

The second condition in Standard 7.04, serving as an exception to the rule against required self-disclosures, promotes competence and protects safety. This condition lays out several ground rules for when a disclosure of personal information may be required. The information must be "necessary" to have the student evaluated or get the student help, and there must be a reasonable judgment that the student's problems either prevent the student from performing in a competent fashion or pose a threat. If the ground rules are met, psychologists may invoke the second condition in order to obtain personal information from a student.

Standard 7.04 balances several interests. The standard is privacy-oriented, insofar as it protects personal information. Through its exceptions, the standard limits that protection in order to prevent harm and to ensure that students are competent to engage in professional activities. Also, by providing that students receive notice ("clearly identified") about necessary disclosures of personal information, the standard promotes autonomy and enhances informed decision-making.

Like Standard 7.04, Standard 7.05 is entirely new to the code. Note three things about this new standard. First, Standard 7.05 furthers the values of autonomy, privacy and health. When therapy is required, students may decide whom they will choose as a therapist and so with whom they will share private information. Clause (b) allows the process of therapy to develop more fully by removing concerns that what is talked about in therapy will play a role in the student's academic progress.

Mandatory individual or group therapy
(a) When individual or group therapy is a program or course requirement, psychologists responsible for that program allow students in undergraduate and graduate programs the option of selecting such therapy from practitioners unaffiliated with the program. (See also Standard 7.02, Descriptions of Education and Training Programs.)

(b) Faculty who are or are likely to be responsible for evaluating students' academic performance do not themselves provide that therapy. (See also Standard 3.05, Multiple Relationships.)

Second, the standard allows students a choice and disallows a category of therapists but does not otherwise limit a program's ability to require therapy or to assess the quality of an outside therapist. Standard 7.05 thus promotes the privacy, autonomy and health of students and, at the same time, protects a program's concept of what constitutes excellent education and training in psychology. Both sets of interests are central to the standard.

Third, because the standard applies only to graduate and undergraduate programs, it allows greater freedom to specialized postgraduate programs, such as psychoanalytic institutes, to consider how best to conduct their training.

Student publication credit

New language in Standard 8.12(c) adds what is potentially a far-reaching aspect to the Ethics Code. This language obliges faculty advisors to begin discussing publication credit with students "as early as is feasible and throughout" the process "as appropriate." The phrase "as appropriate" vests in the advisor the discretion to determine when such discussions make sense. As a clear example, discussions are appropriate when the nature of the working relationship changes in a manner relevant to authorship credit.

Publication credit
(c)...Faculty advisors discuss publication credit with students as early as feasible and throughout the research and publication process as appropriate. (See also Standard 8.12(b), Publication Credit.)

Alongside this discretion lies the import of the new sentence: The issue of publication credit needs to be raised and addressed with students and it is the faculty advisor's responsibility to do so. To the extent that problems arise because discussions about authorship credit take place far along in the process--and as director of APA's Ethics Office I see many problems of this sort--this sentence from Standard 8.12(c) is designed to have those discussions take place before considerable work is done and expectations crystallize. The standard recognizes the difference in faculty-student power and position by calling upon the faculty person to initiate the discussions and ensure that discussions take place in an ongoing manner.

The language from Standards 7.04, 7.05 and 8.12(c) quoted above is new to the Ethics Code. Students and faculty in academic and training programs will want to review the language carefully, not only to see what the Ethics Code requires, but also to consider how the code safeguards and implements values fundamental to our profession.

Further Reading

To access APA's complete new Ethics Code online, go to Ethics Code. Please send questions or comments about this column or suggestions for future "Ethics Rounds" columns to