Ethical Issues for Professional Psychologist in Clinical Psychology: Respect and Integrity

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Describe and discuss with examples the ethical issues a professional psychologist should consider when working in the field of Clinical Psychology.


The purpose of this paper is to present the ethical issues a professional psychologist should consider when working in the field of Clinical Psychology. A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional who strives to promote psychological wellbeing and works towards reducing behavioural, emotional and psychological distress in people. Their role requires them to be fully aware and practice the ethical codes and conduct that which governs their profession. At the core of all their clinical therapies, lies ethics. Corey et al. (1998) defined ethics as the appropriate behaviour adopted by a person or a group. Ethical standards of respect, integrity, competency and responsibility are considered in this paper. Under each principle comes an ethical issue that a clinical psychologist should be aware of and work towards tackling it in their workplace. In addition, how these ethical issues affect the wellbeing of a client is also discussed in this paper.

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Main Body

Respect of people’s rights and dignity is one of the most fundamental ethical principle a Clinical Psychologist should consider. This principle directs psychologists to recognise that all humans are equally worthy of respect and dignity; regardless of their ethical origin, social status, culture and other individual differences (BPS, 2018). In implementing this principle, ‘informed consent’ is the ethical issue a professional psychologist should consider. This involves getting permission from a client before carrying out any assessment or intervention. In this process, a psychologist should highlight benefits, risks and alternatives of a given intervention, so that the client can make their own informed decision (NHS, 2019). If psychologists are not providing them with this information, then according to the principle of respect for autonomy, they are denying them their rights and the respect that is due to them (Kitchener, 2000). This has an effect on client’s recovery period. According to research, Clients feel motivated to make positive life changes i.e. adhere to prescribed medications and report faster recovery, when they know their right to autonomy is respected (Singh & Hylton, 2015). This honesty in psychological treatment helps to maintain the professional integrity, which is another key ethical principle.

The principle of integrity is set to further promote and protect the rights of a client. Integrity requires clinical psychologists to demonstrate honesty, accuracy and truthfulness while conducting their professional responsibilities (BPS, 2018). This includes being honest about their professional affiliation, education and to make sure they are not misrepresenting psychology erudition (APA, 2017). In implementing this principle, ‘self-interest’ is the ethical issue a professional psychologist should consider. The term ‘self-interest’ refers to psychologists working for their personal benefits. However, true practice of integrity is only possible when a psychologist leaves self-interest aside and does what is in the patient’s best interest. A good example of practicing Integrity is when a clinical psychologist in a private practice, dismisses therapy because it is in the patient’s best interest; even though continuing it is financially beneficial for him (Kitchener, 2000). This shows us that psychologist recognise their moral responsibility to uphold high ethical standards.

It is also an ethical standard to remain competence throughout one’s psychological career (Dean, 2010). This is necessary for psychologist to fulfil the responsibility of their role. They ‘should be fully trained, keep up-­to-­date, and be good at what they do. Otherwise they should stop doing it’ (Swenson, 1997). Psychologists are instructed to provide services only within their area of expertise. This also creates a framework for accountability to the public.

In implementing this principle, ‘cultural competency’ is the ethical issue a professional psychologist should consider. To function effectively in a multicultural society, awareness and knowledge of different cultures are necessary. Many people who seek out for professional help of clinical psychologists belong to a variety of different ethnic backgrounds. Making efforts to address issues of cultural sensitivity is a requirement rather than just a goal of ethical psychologists. A culturally competent psychologist has the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures. Most psychologists need to put their effort into developing this skill by self-assessing their prejudices and implicit biases, and then working on developing cross-cultural skills. This starts with being aware of the cultural differences and by having a positive attitude towards these differences. According to Owen et al. (2011) clients form stronger working relationship with their therapist, once they perceive their therapist as culturally competent. This results in positive therapy outcomes too. This shows us that being culturally competent is a necessity of a psychologist to fulfil the responsibility of their role.

To make sure the trust of a client is not abused, the fourth ethical principle is responsibility. Due to the nature of their work, psychologist enjoy professional autonomy. They exercise independent decision-making during the performance of their job. For example, a clinical psychologist assesses clients’ risk, considering their mental health and social needs when performing interventions. Having responsibilities makes a psychologist accountable for all their decisions, actions and overall duty of patient’s care. In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, information supporting these decisions should be made available, in a way that is understandable (NHS, 2004). Alongside clients, clinical psychologists are also accountable to the head staff and the organisation who employed them. For example, a principal clinical psychologist is accountable to the consultant clinical psychologist.

The Belmont Report, these general principles provide basic guidance for psychologists wishing to achieve what the organization deems to be the highest ethical ideals. Violation of these principles by practicing clinical psychologists constitutes grounds for disciplinary action, potentially resulting in license revocation.


The ethical standards of respect, integrity, competency and responsibility provides basic guidance for psychologists wishing to achieve what Psychological Society believes to be the highest ethical ideals. These principles are the ethical requirements a clinical psychologist need to fulfil to work effectively in their field. In respecting the rights of a client, ‘informed consent’ is an ethical issue psychologist should be tackling by providing all the information a client needs to make an informed decision about their treatment. To further support this idea, the principle of integrity demands honesty and accuracy. Psychologists need to prioritise the ‘best interest’ of clients over ‘self-interest’. The principle of competency requires psychologists to provide their services to requisite professional standard. This includes tackling the issue of cultural competency, so psychologist can effectively interact with people from different backgrounds. Finally, the principle of responsibility reminds us, all these principles are not merely recommendations but a responsibility of a professional psychologist. Psychologists should be exercising autonomous professional responsibility for assessment and treatment. In tackling these ethical issues, psychologists form culturally inclusive environment for their clients.


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  2. The Ethics Committee of Psychological Society. (2018). Code of Ethics and Conduct.
  3. National Health Service. (2019, March 29). Consent to treatment.
  4. Kitchener, K. S. (2000). Chapter 5. Respecting Others with Informed Consent, Foundations of ethical practice, research, and teaching in psychology (1st ed., pp. 55-75). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
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  9. Owen, J. J., Leach, M., Tao, K., & Rodolfa, E. (2011). Clients’ perceptions of their psychotherapists’ multicultural orientation. Psychotherapy 48(3), 274-282. 10.1037/a0022065


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