Ethics can be difficult to define since ethics are standards to live by. Ethics can be considered moral guidelines; ones that should be followed and respected especially in the field of psychology. Since ethics are so important in this field the American Psychological Association (APA) created an ethics guideline known as the APA Ethics Code. Shaughnessy, Zechmeister, and Zechmeister (2009), state that “the APA Ethics Code sets standards of ethical behavior for psychologists who do research or therapy or who teach or serve as administrators (as cited in American Psychological Association, 2002, p. 1062).
Ethics play a particular role in psychological research. According to Shaughnessy, Zechmeister, and Zechmeister (2009), “Many of the standards in the APA Ethics Code deal directly with psychological research (see especially Standards 8.01 to 8.15 of the Code), including the treatment of both humans and animals in psychological research” (p. 59). These codes require that both humans and animals be treated with care, respect, and in the case of humans, with privacy.
Ethics, while an extremely valuable tool to those in the psychological field or any field for that matter, can also be a source of conflict. The conflict can arise in many scenarios but especially in situations that require legal action. Since the privacy of each patient is of utmost importance, it can become an issue when a psychologist is required to testify against a patient. If that patient is a danger to his or herself, or to others, it is necessary for the counselor to notify the authorities. However, sharing information about a patient is frowned upon in the Code of Ethics. So, while the Code helps to set standards for those in the psychology field, they can also become the source of conflict. There may come a time when a person abiding by the Code of Ethics would be forced to make a judgment call to go against the Code if the circumstances warrant it.
Shaughnessy, J., Zechmeister, E., and Zechmeister, J. (2009). Research Methods in Psychology (8th edition). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill