Ethical and Legal Responsibilities

In the interest of promoting ethical conduct on the part of psychiatric and psychological practitioners and social workers, each state has created an ethical code which, while it does not assure ethical conduct on the part of professionals, it does provide a set of guidelines and a mechanism for enforcing behavior judged by the state to be minimal requirements of ethical behavior of its workers. The National Association of Social Work (NASW) code states that a code of ethics cannot settle all ethical disputes, but rather that they set standards of ethical values and principals to which professionals should be held accountable.

American Psychological Association (APA) code on the other hand adds that the maintenance of ethical standards need a personal obligation on the part of each individual to a life long effort to perform ethically (Leighton & Killingbeck 2001). The ethical standards set forth by American Psychological Association (APA) consist of carefully defined rules for conduct. These standards are not complete, which means that if a behavior is not particularly defined by the ethics code, it is either ethical or unethical (Ethical Principles Of Psychologists1992).

In a fast changing world, guidelines, principals and value systems must be dynamically adjusted to suit the situation. For example, 50 years ago, keeping patient records on an unencrypted and unprotected server was not an issue. Ethical standards are created to alleviate problems pertaining to the best interests of the client base in any community. Washington State subscribes to the national standards of ethics set by the APA, and posts links to these on its public site. In addition a page of other links, and there is a state hotline for practitioners to call for help and discussion of ethical issues. In Washington State the ethical issues of primary concern include Boundaries of Competence, Unfair Discrimination, Multiple Relationships and Disclosures.

Most definitions of ethical practices are simple common sense, but the power of the state to access information and the technological developments of recent years make some issues very difficult and some become more important than before, because either state power or technology has changed the attendant problems. Information concerning patients and clients of government programs is one area in which the landscape is constantly changing.

The state hotline becomes very important in areas like this, because practitioners need guidance in ethical boundaries and responsibilities for the protection of client information. While most of the related guidelines and policies for this issue are listed under the Privacy and Confidentiality heading in the APA code, there is actually nothing there concerning the limits and responsibilities of practitioners and government entities for the protection of client information.

This is an unbelievable oversight in view of the extreme consequences of the inadequate protection of client information. Considering that identity theft alone is a huge national problem, this information is important and the client has the right under the constitution to adequate protection of all their personal information which is collected and used by psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and government social institutions which serve the public good. The guidelines are woefully out of date and totally inadequate.

In order to alleviate this and other problems of keeping up with a changing world, the APA has instituted a site where dialogue can take place concerning current ethical issues involving such things as practitioners in a consulting or advisory relationship with national security.

“The Ethics Committee of the American Psychological Association seeks critical incidents and vignettes for the casebook and commentary on psychological ethics and national security. The goal of the casebook and commentary is to provide ethical guidance to psychologists advising or consulting to national security-related interrogations.” (APA online 2008)

Perhaps Washington State could add its own commentary site for practitioners and government workers so that anecdotal discussions can take place on these and other issues. After all, bare guidelines and policies have no meaning until they are applied, discussed and a consensus or shared understanding is reached.

Another important issue is the importance of including the health care assistants while discussing this issue (Roberts, Battaglia,.& Epstein. 1999). The problems faced by nurses in control over their work environment to that of the ethical aspects of the clinical situation are many and varied. Nurses and administrative staff encounter many ethical problems while dealing with their work environment. There are times, more numerous than most would believe, when the interests of patients clash with the policies and set rules of the organization, and this creates problems (Penticuff, Hinson,J. Walden, Marlene.2000).

It is the essential duty of the worker to be aware of the political situations and initiate changes in policy and legislation to improve the social conditions for the betterment of society and thereby promote social justice. They should help in promoting conditions that facilitate respect for culture and social diversity globally. By ensuring social justice, the discrimination and exploitation of the groups should be prevented by these social workers (Leighton & Killingbeck.2001).

It is in including all workers in the group bearing responsibility that the APA guidelines fall short. Just because a person does not have a job title which designates them as workers in direct contact with clients or a list of letters after their names does not mean they have no responsibility to promote social justice, to prevent discrimination and exploitation of their client base. Considering that all workers involved in any one case carry out functions which are important to clients, these issues are important and the responsibilities should accrue to all personnel, not just social workers, nurses and health practitioners.

These are just two of the issues with which I have problems, because of the inadequacy of the governing guidelines and policies. While increasing the complexity and defining more scope for ethics can change legal and administrative responsibilities and provide for accountability, the target audience for the total understanding of all of these will need more useful resources. Discussion forums, newsletters of current ethical issues and more telephone support are all valuable additions I would like to see. Ethical guidelines and policies are only as useful as their implementation. Nothing that is not completely understood and internalized by the target audience can be implemented. Therefore, this program needs some expansion.


A.P.A. online, 2008, ethics: solicitations for anecdotal matieral pertaining to ethical issues. Web.

Ethical and legal responsibility. Web.

Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. 1992. Web.

Leighton,P & Killingbeck,D.. 2001. Professional Codes of Ethics. Web.

Penticuff, Hinson,J. Walden, Marlene. 2000. Influence of Practice Environment and Nurse Characteristics on Perinatal Nurses’ Responses to Ethical Dilemmas. Web.

Roberts,L.W, Battaglia,J.& Epstein,R.S. 1999. Frontier Ethics: Mental Health Care Needs and Ethical Dilemmas in Rural Communities. Web.

Vittal, N. 2001. Web.

Find out your order's cost