Competence is the foremost ethical principle for professionals. Their training should be appropriate to the services they render. The only possible exception to when a professional psychologist should offer services that are outside of the realm of his or her training is in emergencies when otherwise service of any type would be denied or unavailable (APA, 2010). Professionals should keep up with the prevailing research trends, by attending professional development seminars and other self-improvement methods. When the parameters of their chosen area of specialization change, the practitioner is obliged to receive the necessary training or education to continue delivering services under the title or license they are given. For example, if the individual specializes in treating schizophrenia and a new treatment intervention has been identified, it is important that the person know how to administer that intervention or can at least refer the client to someone who can. Competence is also ensured by evidence-based practice, in that the professional does not make decisions or assessments or deliver treatments based on non-scientific principles. It is also important that the psychologist ensures the competence of any source of reference or referral. Thus, if a practitioner refers a client to another professional, there must be a reasonable degree of certainty that the other professional is also competent. The same is true for the delegation of services. When delegation takes place, the person being delegated to must also be proficient in the task they are assigned (APA, 2010). If at any time the practitioner is unable to perform duties with full competence, there must be full disclosure or outright refraining from practice. Thus, if a practitioner has an illness or a preoccupation preventing him or her from providing services with competence, that practitioner must cancel appointments in accordance with ethical codes.
Ethical Principle 2: Privacy and Confidentiality
It is crucial that the psychologist maintain the client's privacy and practice with confidentiality. This means never disclosing information about the client, divulging a client list, or talking about the client with anyone outside of the session. The therapeutic relationship must be maintained with strict privacy and confidentiality in order to create and maintain trust with the client. The client will not trust a therapist knowing that his or her information could be used against them. There are some exceptions to the privacy and confidentiality codes of ethics, such as when law enforcement requires information or when there is reasonable suspicion that the client is going to harm self or others. The therapist must always warn the client when the session is being recorded. Recordings of sessions should be safeguarded at all costs, and if possible, coded in ways that ensures client confidentiality. Similarly, billing should be conducted in a manner that does not violate patient confidentiality. For example, the therapist should not send a bill to a client's place of employment or home when the client prefers the therapeutic relationship to remain private. Violations of the privacy and confidentiality agreement should result in severe penalties for the therapist, in order to maintain the integrity of the profession. If the therapist needs to discuss a client with a fellow professional, names and other personal information should be left out of that conversation.
Ethical Principle 3: Truth and Honesty
The professional psychologist must maintain truth and honesty in all matters relating to the therapeutic relationship and the professional practice. This means always representing the services rendered honestly, and telling the truth about credentials and backgrounds. The therapist should never misrepresent himself or herself, such as professing expertise in any given area. This also means that the therapist should not deliver services that are not covered under the provision of their range of expertise. Truth and honesty also applies to the research setting. When the psychologist is conducting research, all data and results must be truthfully presented. No plagiarism will be tolerated in the profession, with regards to publications in academic journals. The therapist must make no false claims in advertisements of services. With regards to fees, the therapist must disclose them in a reasonable manner and not use tactics involving hidden fees or extortion.
Ethical Principle 4: Therapeutic Relationship
The therapeutic relationship has boundaries that both the client and the therapist need to be aware of, especially with regards to intimacy. Because there is a large degree of transference of energy and intimacy in the therapeutic relationship, the therapist needs always to maintain distance and never engage in romantic or sexual liaisons with a client. If a romantic or sexual attraction emerges during the course of therapy, the professional relationship should be immediately terminated and the client referred to another therapist. The APA (2010) advises that therapists refrain from pursuing a sexual relationship with a former client for a period of at least two years, and even after that time, to be extremely cautious so as to avoid exploitation. The therapist is advised to never take on former lovers as clients (APA, 2010). There is potential for exploitation in the therapeutic relationship, and this can be avoided by never engaging in any behavior that takes advantage of the power differential between therapist and client. Thus, when bartering for services, the therapist must be very careful about how to value services rendered vs. services or products received. The therapist must also take care to be aware of personal biases and prejudices, and avoid discrimination at all costs. All types of harassment should be avoided. It is also critical to eliminate any conflicts of interest in a therapeutic relationship, or to maintain multiple relationships with potential for conflict of interest. For example, a therapist who is treating one member of a divorcing couple might not be able to treat the other member unless there has been an express request for couples counseling. The therapist also needs to ensure that the counseling sessions are terminated when the client is ready, rather than exploiting the client just to make extra money. However, when the relationship is being terminated, the therapist also needs to ensure the client is ready and has access to transitional services, if necessary (APA, 2010).
Ethical Principle 5: Diagnoses
A clinical diagnosis has a huge impact on the patient's self-concept, self-esteem, and outlook on life. Furthermore, a clinical diagnosis creates a potential stigma or label for the individual. That label can potentially impact such things as job security or legal issues such as child custody concerns. There are a whole host of reasons why psychologists must be dutifully careful when making any diagnosis. Diagnoses of clinical conditions also warrant certain types of treatment interventions. If a psychological diagnosis is made in haste or without comprehensively considering all the dimensions of the client's life, then the person could be subject to adverse side effects due to medications. The relationship could even become exploitative, if the therapist is using the diagnosis for personal experimentation, as in to see if a certain type of therapy works on patients with a specific diagnosis. In other cases, therapists may be pressured by the pharmaceutical companies or insurers to make diagnoses with the express purpsoes of financial gain. Such uses of diagnoses are patently unethical.
Federal Communicaitons Commission (FCC) Chairperson Newton Minow delivered an address to the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961. Minow's speech warned that the television media was becoming a "vast wasteland." Minow (1961) based his assessment on his observations of programming: "game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder…and, endlessly, commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending." Minow's observations remain true fifty years later.
Although there is a plethora of educational and enlightening programing, there is far more to be seen on television that fits Minow's notion of the "vast wasteland." For example, so-called reality shows can be…