Importance of Personal Ethics in Psychology

Adhering to proper ethical principles is essential in the field of Psychology for several reasons. According to the American Psychological Association or APA, their ethical standards of professional conduct (essentially ethical rules), are based upon six basic principles to which all professional psychologists should aspire. These principles identified by the APA include beneficence and nonmaleficence, which refers to making every effort possible to be a benefit to those with whom they work and also to do no harm in the process of performing their duties [1]. Psychologists should also conduct themselves in a responsible manner within their communities and with those with whom they work, earning the trust of all with which they work. Ethical conduct also includes honesty and integrity toward all, conducting their activities in a way that is always fair and just, and respecting others rights to dignity, properly preserving their privacy and the confidentiality of personal and sensitive information [1]. These principles form the foundation of the ethical standards defined, recognized and required by the APA as an expectation that all psychological professionals should follow. The ethical standards established by the APA outline expected conduct that upholds the six basic principles.

The principles and ethical standards established by the APA really aim to uphold what are essentially universally recognized standards for everyone, including professionals in most fields. However, due to the personal nature of the subjects addressed in psychology, professional psychologists must focus on adhering to a very high level of ethics in order to uphold these principles, because the sensitive nature of a professional psychologist’s work exposes their clients, research subjects and even associates to substantial and serious harm should even one of the aforementioned ethical principles be compromised in the slightest. Hence, for a professional psychologist, it is their duty to maintain a constant awareness of their actions from an ethical point of view, to ensure that they always uphold the highest of ethical standards when practicing in their professional capacity.

Ethics and Impact on Psychological Application

Ethical behavior is not something that one can “switch on” or “switch off” like a light bulb. Rather, ethical behavior is a way of life and defined ethical principles and standards such as those mentioned above, serve as both reminders as well as guidelines that can help us to navigate through life’s circumstances, situations and challenges while still upholding a commitment to ethical excellence [1]. Ethical behavior can seem as if it only applies to our surrounding environment and not within us, however closer inspection reveals that ethical principles also impact us from a very personal and spiritual sense, such as the ideals of integrity that include being true and honest with oneself and upholding a sense of self dignity. Without these qualities, ethical behavior toward others is simply not possible.

From a social perspective, the necessity for maintaining ethical conduct is much more obvious, for built into the social fabric of most cultures are ethical principles that must be upheld in order to establish integrity, credibility, and a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness.  Hence, while the impact of ethics on a personal and spiritual level is rather subtle, the impact of ethical or non-ethical behavior is exceedingly apparent, and is the determining factor in establishing the essential reputation for integrity and credibility that is both necessary and expected of a psychological professional.

Professional ethics from an organizational perspective can be much different than when it is applied to personal and/or spiritual subjects because the process of upholding professional ethical standards may in fact, at times, be in direct opposition to the rules and/or expectations of the organization (the same also holds true from a social perspective). In most cases the code of professional ethical conduct as outlined by the APA is in alignment with organizational standards, however there will be times when the organization (and society as well) may require a professional psychologist to compromise ethics, such as the confidentiality of a client, for the perceived good of the organization. In such cases it is the duty and obligation of the psychology professional to hold to their higher ethical standard without compromise, with the only exception being confidential information that, if disclosed, may prevent certain and severe harm to others (such as if a client disclosed vengeful plans that may lead to the certain harm or death of another) [1].

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Impact of Ethics on Personal Growth

At its core, professional ethics is based upon a code of morality, upon what is considered proper, socially acceptable, and conduct that is professionally responsible, honest and credible. Ethical principles are, with few exceptions, focused primarily on the common good. Personal growth and development involves learning how to conduct ourselves in the world around us, how to interact with our environment in ways that are socially acceptable which is also in accordance with culturally and socially established moral code. To conduct oneself in ways that are contrary to the aforementioned ethical principles creates conflict and stress within our own lives as well as the lives of others by causing harm both to us and to others on social, psychological and physical health (due to stress) levels, ultimately stopping our forward personal growth and development. Hence, to advance in psychological knowledge and principles and to further our understanding in these areas, it is essential for psychology professionals uphold and maintain high ethical standards in everything they do, both in their professional practice as well as in their private lives. Unethical behavior must never be an option in our own lives nor tolerated in the lives of others in order to realize our highest potential contributions to the profession and society.

Parting Thoughts

A degree in psychology offers substantial application flexibility, being applicable in a wide range of fields including private sector business, the health care fields, social work and more. From an ethical point of view, as humans we are obligated to promote good and to be beneficial to the society in which we live. Knowledge and understanding in the field of psychology provides one with opportunity to impact individuals and society in very positive, beneficial ways that enrich the lives of others such as by providing a better understanding of the human psyche (through psychological research), or by working as an instrument of healing (as is the case in clinical psychology), just to name a couple of examples. So although pursuing a degree in another field such as engineering may also prove beneficial to others and society, psychology is a discipline that improves lives from the inside out, rather than merely improving their environment. It is from this perspective that psychology, more than most any other field, serves as a vehicle to fulfill this human and moral obligation.