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Code of Ethics: Objectives & Legislation

Updated on July 30, 2014

by Amber Maccione

The mission statement of the American Counseling Association states that their mission is “to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession, and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity” (American Counseling Association, 2014). This mission statement sums up the three objectives of the American Psychological Association: to educate professionals about sound, ethical conduct; provide a mechanism for professional accountability, and being a catalyst for improving practice. Allow the code of ethics is a guideline for psychologists, it also plays a role in helping psychologists abide by the legislation that surrounds it. HIPPA and the mandate that psychologists are to protect individuals they counsel as well as individuals who could come into harm because of their client. It is important that psychologists understand that through their training that the highest responsibility of theirs is protecting human dignity: keep things confidential but make known if those confidential things could help protect someone from causing harm or being harmed.



There are eight recommendations that are offered to prevent ethical lapses in judgment. The first one asks that psychologists continue to be aware of their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities (Tjeltveit, & Gottlieb, 2012). People cannot always do things on their own, hence the field of psychology (Tjeltveit, & Gottlieb, 2012). Psychologists are people as well, which is the second point, and need people such as colleagues, mentors, and supervisors who are there to help guide and direct individuals when they need it to ensure that things are being handled ethically (Tjeltveit, & Gottlieb, 2012).

All career fields require excellence and the field of psychology is no different. There are policies in place to help psychologists stay accountable and ethical in how they handle clients and how they help clients solve life’s problems (Tjeltveit, & Gottlieb, 2012). Part of this excellence also comes from psychologists taking care of their own life too: a balance of work and private life as well as remembering to practice self-care (Tjeltveit, & Gottlieb, 2012). Part of working ethically, requires a body that is healthy mentally, physically, and emotionally (Tjeltveit, & Gottlieb, 2012). Psychologist should take care of those three aspects of their health as well as continually assess themselves so they can make improvements in their own health and well-being. By doing this, a psychologist can develop and live according to values and beliefs that are based ethically.

Lastly, everyone, even the best of the best, can fall victim to poor choices and decisions. It is important that we notice those working with us when they are having issues and help them with early intervention and help them also learn to prevent things when their own vulnerabilities and weaknesses creep in (Tjeltveit, & Gottlieb, 2012).


When we notice our colleagues having difficulties, we reach out and help. Our code of ethics asks us to do so. The general principles under the code of conduct ask psychologists to be competent, lead a life of integrity, be professionally and scientifically responsible, respect people’s rights and dignity, have concern when it comes to the welfare of others, and act socially responsible (American Psychological Association’s Counsel of Representatives, 1992). When a psychologist doesn’t act in this, he is accountable to the others he works with and the organization that employed him. These guidelines are given so that psychologists know what is expected from them within this profession.

Be a Catalyst

In psychology, psychologists work with clients to help them improve themselves. There is a constant talk and requirement to look at behaviors and thoughts that are negative and in need of remolding. The same is expected of the psychologist and the profession. Through self-reflection and research within the profession, psychologists should be improving themselves as psychologists and also looking for ways to help improve the overall profession of psychologist to help clients even more than the profession is already doing. Also, by improving themselves, psychologist are making themselves better in ethics and overall health so that they are more equipped mentally, spiritually, and physically to help each client that comes to them.



In the case of Tarasoff, one psychologist was made known that his client wanted to kill a lady, whom it was later learned to be Tarasoff. Moore was the psychologist and Poddar the client. Although Moore made the assessment that Poddar was dangerous and should be placed in a mental facility, those that evaluated him said that he was not dangerous but rational and would not harm Tarasoff. Although Moore followed up with trying to get Poddar seen as dangerous, his supervisor destroyed everything and nothing was done. Taraoff and her family were never notified. Eventually, Poddar killed Taraoff and the family took it to court where they eventually won (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011). This case lead the way to psychologists accurately diagnosing their clients and that they have a duty to warn and break confidentiality when they feel the client or others are in danger. The psychologist in this case did his duty, but should have gone further to warn the victim (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011).

Fulfillment of Objectives

Psychologists are to make sure they educate themselves on ethical guidelines and the mandatory rules so that their actions are ethical. Being held accountable is what the code of ethics provides to psychologists. It gives them a guide of what is expected of them and how to go about fulfilling these codes. There are also the aspirational laws, which is what psychologists are to strive for. There is always a starting point, but also there is always an area to grow in since each is human with flaws and weaknesses that need to be improved on. Continuing education and training within the profession as well as knowing the guidelines within the code are important for the psychologist to stay ethical and to grow professionally. Like in the case above, Moore did his duty and even went above and beyond because he notified other people about Poddar, but the code of ethics in this case made the duty go even further – a duty to warn individuals if they are in harm’s way (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011). The duty is in breaking the confidentiality agreement to inform a third party that can help in stopping the client or even to go as far as warning the target (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011).

Effects on the Profession

In the profession of psychology, the code says that what is talked about in the sessions remains private unless the client gives consent to have the information released and to whom they give consent to release it to. Exceptions to this come when the psychologist believes that harm can come to the client or to another person. Therefore, it is then the duty of the psychologist to break confidentiality and notify the third parties needed to prevent harm. Because of the case of Tarasoff, a psychologist can break confidentiality if they are told by a family member or even they the client himself that harm will come to a certain person and inform the potential victim that the client is intending to cause harm to them (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011). Psychologists are obligated to prevent violence if they can. Notifying the correct parties, intended victim and third party agencies, is the ethical thing to do.

Ethics is what guides psychology and makes sure that problems are handled in the utmost way. Psychologists are here to help individuals learn to do this eventually on their own and they build a sense of confidence and trust with the client in doing so. Sometimes though, things are revealed that shouldn’t be keep confidential and the code of conduct gives us guidance in what to do. The key to understanding what to do in each situation is molded into the American Counseling Association – “to enhance the quality of life” and “to promote respect for human dignity and diversity” (American Counseling Association, 2014). Confidentiality can be broken when a client is attempting to lower the quality of life or have no respect for it. It comes down to the psychologist to educate himself in the code and the guidelines, be accountable for the decisions he makes and inquiring help from others who may have more knowledge within the area, as well as continuing to improve self in his own knowledge and well-being.


American Counseling Association. (2014). “ACA Code of Ethics.” Retrieved from

American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives. (1 December 1992). “Ethical

Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.” Retrieved from

Corey, G., Corey, M. S., & Callanan, P. (2011). Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions.

(8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Tjeltveit, A. C. & Gottlieb, M. C. (2012 April). “Avoiding ethical missteps.” American

Psychological Association. Retrieved from


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