Ethics Committee: 2010 Annual Report

February 8, 2011

In 2010, 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 2010 Ethics Committee was Nancy A. McGarrah, PhD.  Members included Jennifer A. Erickson Cornish, PhD; Linda M. Forrest, PhD, vice chair; Nadya A. Fouad, PhD; Peter N. Mayfield, PhD; James J. Preis, JD, public member; Cynthia A. Sturm, PhD; and Susana P. Urbina, PhD. Associates Mark M. Leach, PhD, and Antonio E. Puente, PhD were appointed in fall 2010 and will attend their first Ethics Committee meeting in spring 2011. The liaison from the Board of Directors was Barry S. Anton, PhD.

The Ethics Committee held two meetings in 2010.  A substantial portion of its agenda included educational, consultation, and governance issues.

Educative Outreach at Convention

Convention provides an important forum for the Ethics Committee’s educational activities.  At the 118th annual convention in San Diego, California, the Ethics Committee and Ethics Office continued to present a vibrant and growing agenda for ethics education. Participation included one preconvention workshop; eight hours of Ethics Committee programs; an invitational breakfast for state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations and APA divisions; and additional symposia on special areas of interest offered in collaboration with APA divisions and groups. This year the Ethics Committee and Ethics Office were involved in a total of 28 hours of continuing education programming at Convention, underscoring their strong commitment to ethics education.

Committees are given eight hours of convention programming. This year the Ethics Committee devoted two hours to “Hot Topics in Ethics,” which once again attracted a large number of attendees who participated in discussions of vignettes based on the following topics: potential problems with social networking; supervision issues; language issues in testing, providing feedback, and making treatment recommendations; author conflicts in research publications; religious issues affecting custody decisions; ethical obligations concerning impaired colleagues; and issues related to Internet psychotherapy. Another two hours of Committee programming went to “Foundations for Psychology’s Next Ethics Code: Approaches and Perspectives.” An additional two hours were given to “When Aspects of Client Diversity Collide: Ethical Considerations” co-listed with Divisions 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology), 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues), and 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues). Of the final two hours, one went to the annual joint presentation with the Committee on Legal Issues, “Common Ethical and Legal Dilemmas: Psychologists, Families, and Divorce Wars.” The other was on “Mental Illness, Self-Assessment, and Insight Among Psychologists: Ethical Challenges in Self-Care,” cosponsored with Division 29 (Psychotherapy) and co-listed with the Task Force on Severe Mental Illness, the Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance, and the Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology.

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, convention registration, and hotel expenses are part of the award, presents the winning paper at Convention for audience comment and discussion.  John-Paul Legerski and Sarah L. Bunnell of the University of Kansas won the 2010 award for their paper “The Risks, Benefits, and Ethics of Trauma-Focused Research Participation.” Gerald Koocher, PhD, has provided essential support for the award by publishing top student papers in the journal Ethics and Behavior.

At the Ethics Office annual invitational breakfast, Karen Kitchener, PhD, was presented with the second annual APA Ethics Committee Award for Outstanding Contributions to Ethics Education. This award is presented annually to a psychologist who demonstrates significant and exceptional contributions to the profession of psychology through ethics education.

Education and Consultation

The Ethics Committee continues active outreach to psychology boards and to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).  One aspect of this initiative involves providing staff support to a joint APA/ASPPB task force exploring mutual challenges shared by licensing boards and ethics committees. The task force (called together in 2007 by President Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD), is actively exploring possibilities for joint projects in an effort to deepen the relationship between APA and ASPPB on the national level and between psychological associations and psychology licensing boards on a local level. The task force has been able proceed in its work without requesting additional funding since 2007. Most recently, the task force collaborated with the Ethics Committee on a program at the 2010 annual convention in San Diego, California. A joint session titled “Colleagues Thinking Together: APA and ASPPB Explore Where Ethics and Licensure Converge,” was co-sponsored by Divisions 42 (Psychologists in Independent Practice), 1 (Society for General Psychology), 29 (Psychotherapy), 31 (Division of State, Provincial, and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs), 56 (Trauma Psychology), and APAGS.

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 (“SPTAs”). SPTA-related programs offer continuing education credit in ethics or in ethics and law, and raise funds for the SPTAs. In 2010, the Ethics Office collaborated with SPTAs or their divisions or affiliates to offer 15 continuing education programs in 11 states, provinces and territories, out of a total of 46 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.  Added during 2008, also in collaboration with the Education Directorate, was a program making the APA Monitor column “Ethics Rounds” available for continuing education credit. These programs continue to generate funds for APA.

Special Projects

Throughout 2010, the Ethics Office continued to provide staff support for the Association as it addresses important ethical issues.  In 2010, the Ethics Committee completed its work to amend the Ethics Code to (a) resolve the discrepancy between language in the Introduction and Applicability section, Standard 1.02 (Conflicts Between Ethics and Law, Regulations, or Other Governing Legal Authority), and Standard 1.03 (Conflicts Between Ethics and Organizational Demands) and (b) make clear that these standards can never be interpreted to justify or defend violating human rights. 

Details concerning the process of amending the Ethics Code can be found in the “Report of the Ethics Committee, 2009” (APA, Ethics Committee, 2010).  Extensive resource materials from all stages of the Association’s consideration of this issue remain available through the Ethics page of the APA website.

The amended Ethics Code went into effect on June 1, 2010. In addition, hard copies of the amended Ethics Code are available from the Ethics Office.

Adjudication

During the adjudication portion of the two meetings held in 2010, the Ethics Committee reviewed eight cases, nine membership-related matters not suitable for a mail vote, and six case-related confidential agenda items.  One appeal of an Ethics Committee decision to an Independent Adjudication panel took place in 2010.  Recommendations related to five cases and two membership matters were referred to the Board of Directors for the final level of association review.  Recommendations related to five additional membership matters were referred to the Membership Board.  Statistics regarding all stages of adjudication matters in 2010 will be available in the American Psychologist article "Report of the Ethics Committee, 2010," currently projected for publication in the July/August 2011 issue.

Ethics Office Staff

At the end of 2010, staff in the Ethics Office were Stephen H. Behnke, JD, PhD, director; Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD, deputy director and director of adjudication; Patricia Dixon, board and investigative officer; Stephanie Brasfield, JD, ethics investigative officer; Emily Laumeier, governance coordinator; Daisy Clipper, ethics coordinator, information and support; and Beverly Rhodes, temporary executive assistant.

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, 2010:  four Caucasian Females, two Latinas, one Latino, and three Caucasian males.  The age range for committee members is from 40’s to 70’s.

Additionally, the Ethics Committee addresses diversity at each of its meetings via a standing agenda item on the Ethics Committee’s diversity action plan. The Ethics Committee also strives to reserve time for a diversity presentation at each of its meetings.  At the March 2010 meeting, Elyn Saks, JD, videoconferenced with the Committee to discuss stigma and mental illness as an aspect of diversity. At the November 2010 meeting, the Committee viewed a DVD recording of a Harvard Divinity School panel on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth and religion.  In addition, in offering ethics talks and workshops the Ethics Office strives to work with training programs serving diverse populations.

Nancy A. McGarrah, PhD, Chair