Ethics Committee: 2008 Annual Report

In 2008, the APA Ethics Committee fulfilled its adjudicative function and continued to develop its educative and consultative programs.  The Ethics Committee also responded to Association needs to support special projects.

The chair of the 2008 Ethics Committee was W. Brad Johnson, PhD.  Members included Jeffrey E. Barnett, PsyD, vice chair; Connie S. Chan, PhD; Sue C. Jacobs, PhD; Nancy A. McGarrah, PhD; Lynne T. Porfiri, JD (public member); Diane S. Salter, PhD, JD; and Susana P. Urbina, PhD.  Associates were Cyndie M. Buckson, PsyD, and Melanie M. Domenech Rodriguez, PhD.  The liaison from the Board of Directors was Douglas C. Haldeman, PhD.

Educative Outreach at Convention

Convention provides an important forum for the Ethics Committee’s educational activities.  The Ethics Committee’s 2008 convention program included two preconvention workshops; eight hours of Ethics Committee programs; an invitational breakfast for state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations and APA divisions (focusing on impaired colleague programs in state psychological associations); and numerous additional symposia on special areas of interest offered in collaboration with APA divisions and groups.  Attendance, interest, and participation were high throughout the sessions.

Each year, two of the Ethics Committee hours are devoted to a persistent favorite, “Top Ethical Dilemmas Posed to the APA Ethics Office.”  In 2008, another two hours of Committee programming explored ethical considerations in working with intersecting identities with “Ethics and Issues of Cultural Competency and Diversity,” cosponsored with Divisions 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology), 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues), and 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues).  Of the final four Ethics Committee hours, one hour went to the annual joint presentation with the Committee on Legal Issues, “Legal and Ethical Pitfalls Facing Practitioners: On the Road to Resolutions”; another provided an update on the commentary/casebook on ethics and interrogations; a third went to a program sponsored by the Divisions for Social Justice on hate crimes; and the final hour was devoted to “Colleague Assistance and the Professional Community: Practice, Regulatory, and Ethical Perspectives,” cosponsored with the Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance (ACCA), a committee of the Board of Professional Affairs, and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.  Additionally, Ethics Committee members and Ethics Office staff participated with other groups presenting their own programs.

Convention is the occasion when the Ethics Committee, in collaboration with the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS), awards a $1000 prize for a student paper on ethics.  The student, whose trip to convention and hotel expenses are part of the award, presents the winning paper for comment and discussion.  This year’s winning paper was “Ethical Challenges in the Treatment of Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities.” by Zachary W. Adams and Sara E. Boyd of the University of Kentucky.  Gerald Koocher, PhD, has provided essential support for the award by publishing top student papers in the journal Ethics and Behavior. 

Education and Consultation

The Ethics Committee provides support and ideas for “Ethics Rounds,” a column in the APA Monitor on Psychology written by the Ethics Office Director or Deputy Director.  The column focuses primarily, although not exclusively, on ethical issues of concern to practicing psychologists.

The Ethics Committee continues active outreach to psychology boards and to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).  In 2007, cumulative efforts led to the first meeting of a joint APA/ASPPB Task Force on Licensing Board and Ethics Committee Training.  Called together by 2007 APA President Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD, the members of the task force included  (from APA) Linda F. Campbell, PhD; Lisa Grossman, JD, PhD; and Brian H. Stagner, PhD; (from ASPPB) Kenneth G. Roy, EdD [substituting at the initial meeting for Alex M. Siegel, JD, PhD]; Jack B. Schaffer, PhD; and Martha N. Storie.  Stephen H. Behnke, JD, PhD, Ethics Office Director, and Stephen T. DeMers, EdD, ASPPB Executive Officer, are staff for the group.  The task force met twice in 2008 and due to fortuitous timing has been able proceed in its work without requesting additional funding for either 2008 or 2009.

As part of the Ethics Committee’s expanded educative efforts, the Ethics Office has developed a vibrant program of ethics presentations.  The Ethics Office gives priority to requests from state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations.  Association-related programs offer continuing education credit in ethics or in ethics and law, and raise funds for the associations. In 2008, the Ethics Office offered 24 continuing education programs to 17 associations or their affiliates, out of a total of 60 ethics talks and workshops.

The Ethics Office has collaborated with the Education Directorate to create a web-based continuing education program on the APA Ethics Code.  The program is available at the APA Online Academy and generates funds for APA as a top-selling course.  During 2008, also in collaboration with the Education Directorate, the Ethics Office began making the APA Monitor column “Ethics Rounds” available for continuing education credit.

In addition, in 2008 the Ethics Committee planned for a visible presence at the 2009 National Multicultural Conference and Summit (NMCS), resulting in the presentation this January of two symposia and a breakfast discussion in New Orleans.  In conjunction with Division 44, the Ethics Committee sponsored four student travel awards to attend the 2009 NMCS with all expenses paid, and partially subsidized travel for five additional students. (Funding for these awards was made possible through honoraria to the Ethics Office director.)  The Ethics Office director speaks at schools and universities that traditionally serve diverse student populations, such as Howard and Gallaudet Universities in Washington, DC; and participated in a panel in November 2008 at the National Latino Psychological Association conference.

Special Projects

Throughout 2008, the Ethics Office continued to provide staff support for the Association as it addresses the ethical aspects of psychologists’ involvement in interrogations, which includes support for the Ethics Committee in the writing of a casebook/commentary on APA’s policy statements and Council resolutions related to this issue.  Documents related to APA’s positions in this area can be found on the Ethics Office Web site.  Of special note are documents pertaining to an ongoing examination of a psychologist’s obligations when ethics and law conflict. 


The Ethics Committee held two meetings in 2008, reviewed 6 cases, 5 membership-related actions, 6 case-related confidential agenda items, 7 non-case-related confidential agenda items, and 55 nonconfidential agenda items.  No Independent Adjudications took place in 2008.  Since the revision of the Rules and Procedures of the Ethics Committee (APA, 2002) and as of January 15, 2009, approximately 73 psychologists have resigned under ethics investigation and approximately 12 psychologists have been automatically expelled from the Association.  Statistics regarding all stages of complaint processing in 2008 will be available in the American Psychologist article "Report of the Ethics Committee, 2008," currently projected for publication in the July/August 2009 issue.

Ethics Office Staff

At the end of 2008, staff in the Ethics Office were Stephen H. Behnke, JD, PhD, director; Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD, deputy director; Patricia Dixon, board and investigative officer; Stephanie Brasfield, JD, ethics investigative officer; Jennifer Royster, ethics coordinator; and Emily Laumeier, governance coordinator. Rhea Jacobson, office manager, retired in November 2008.

Report on Diversity Training and Representation

At its July 2004 meeting, the Council of Representatives approved a motion that governance groups should include within their annual reports a report on diversity training and representation within the group.  The Ethics Committee’s member and associate demographics as of December, 2008: 3 Caucasian Females, 2 African-American females, 1 Asian-American female, 2 Latina females, and 2 Caucasian males.  The age range for committee members is from early-40’s to mid-60’s.