Psychology is a scientific discipline and a profession of a generally sociosanitary nature that is practiced by a large number of professionals in the world.
The practice of our profession is complex and we usually deal with very intimate and personal aspects of the patients or users who come for consultation. We have a responsibility as professionals to our patients or users, and there are many aspects that must be taken into account if we want to offer a quality service.
In this sense, in addition, it is necessary that there are general principles and rules that allow all psychologists to exercise safely for both the user and the psychologist, respecting the rights and obligations as a professional. These norms have been collected by the official colleges of psychologists in a Code of Ethics of the Psychologist, about which we are going to talk throughout this article.
Deontological code: what is it and what is it for?
It is understood as deontological code to the set of norms, guidelines, criteria and guidelines that must be put into practice by all the professionals dedicated to a specific profession, in order to provide a unitary, ethical, responsible and professional service to the beneficiaries or clients of said profession. In other words, it is a document that includes the main guidelines and rules that all professionals must follow in order to be able to practice.
In the case of the deontological code of the psychologist, it is based on the principles of coexistence and legality established by the State and on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, as well as the rights and duties of the professional, in such a way that It allows to know what is the role of the psychologist in various fields and with respect to different aspects of the profession and what its exercise implies.
It allows orienting the professional and facilitating a development of psychology in a responsible, integral and respectful way with the right and dignity of the people. Thus, its compliance protects clients and their well-being, the profession and the professional itself by offering a common framework in which they can exercise. Likewise, the norms stipulated in it are not mere suggestions but rules for the development of the practice of psychology as a profession. Failure to comply can lead to various sanctions, which can amount to penalties such as professional disqualification and even in some cases incur a criminal offense.
It must be borne in mind that the deontological code may vary slightly depending on the Official College of Psychologists that issued it, although the basic content and in general the provisions and standards are the same. The deontological code that we will discuss in this article is that of the General Council of Official Colleges of Psychologists, from which all others emanate. In this there are a total of 61 articles divided into eight norms or general areas.
Main aspects on which regulates the profession
The professional practice of psychology is not simple, and there are many aspects and elements that must be taken into account when it comes to being able to correctly perform the functions that correspond to this type of profession.
In this sense, the deontological code organizes its articles around eight major norms or thematic blocks within which the various articles mentioned above would be broken down. Said norms or sections would be the following.
1. General principles
This block or section stipulates general rules of conduct and good practices for the psychologist, including work aimed at achieving the well-being and development of the client, the disposition and treatment of the patient and their rights, confidentiality and its exceptions, respect to the idiosyncrasy and beliefs of the patient, the impartiality in the treatment, the search for the maximum beneficence and the minimum maleficence for the client, the non-pursuit of profit or benefit of his position in relation to the patient, care and caution to the time to assess and make reports or the possible need for collaboration with other professionals from the same or other social care areas.
2. Professional competence and relationship with other professionals
This second large section of the deontological code talks about the main duties and rights of the psychologist as a professional, the need for a correct training (which must be continued) and to recognize the limits of their competence. It also stipulates the need to use contrasted and validated methods, or by warning the patient in advance of not yet testing the technique to be used.
Other aspects that include the custody of the reports and instruments used, or in case it is necessary to contact other competent professionals in other socio-health areas. The right to respect for one’s professional activity and that of other colleagues is also valued.
The third of the deontological code blocks is dedicated to guide and guide the professional regarding how the type of intervention should be and the assessment of how it can be used. Thus, if you take into account that you should avoid those services that are known to be misused.
It also indicates the non-lengthening of the intervention when the professional or techniques used do not give results, the possible referral to another professional, the determination of whether and to whom should be communicated the problems and aspects treated in consultation (for example the parents or legal guardians in the case of minors or legally incapacitated persons) or the non-interruption or boycott of the interventions of other professionals.
It also stipulates the need not to confuse situations regarding the role of the professional, not take advantage of the situation of power that can confer the status for their own benefit, favor the patient’s autonomy even if he wants to abandon or try with another professional (now, the psychologist can refuse to perform a simultaneous intervention, something that on the other hand can be harmful or confusing for the patient) or the use of truthful data in cases in which it is required to perform assessments .
4. Research and teaching
Apart from the clinic, a psychologist can also practice as a researcher or teacher. In this sense the deontological code stipulates the need to seek scientific progress and the profession with research that follows the scientific method and with a teaching in which it can transmit such knowledge.
It also stipulates the need for explicit authorization by patients or legal guardians in the event that it is necessary to use clinical data, as well as avoid unnecessary or irreversible damage to avoid other major.
Research must be done with respect for personal dignity and avoiding as much as possible causing harm or suffering, whether research is done with people or with animals. In those in which aversive stimuli such as electric shock are going to occur, the subjects must have clearly given their consent without any type of coercion and in full freedom, knowing in advance what is going to be done. In case of wanting to leave the research or experiment, the subject may do so at any time.
5. Obtaining and using information
A very relevant aspect of the profession is confidentiality: patients, clients or users are bringing to the knowledge of the psychologist very sensitive information about their life, what they have lived, their emotions, thoughts, hopes and plans. In this sense, the fifth section of the deontological code of the psychologist establishes the need to scrupulously respect the right to privacy, seeking only the information deemed necessary and aimed at improving the client’s situation.
Professional secrecy must be maintained except in cases of force majeure or by judicial decree (or by parents or legal guardians, in the case of minors or incapacitated persons).
The subject must also be able if he wishes to know the content of any report that is made and issued as long as it does not endanger the subject or the professional. The data collected can only be expressed to third parties with the authorization of the patient.
In case of using the clinical data for educational or informative purposes, this should be done in such a way that it is not possible to identify the patient from which he / she leaves (unless the subject of his / her explicit consent for it).
At the level of teaching it is also stipulated that the presence of practitioners or students will only be possible with the consent of the client. If the patient dies, stops going or disappears, the professional will remain subject to professional secrecy.
As a profession that is, psychologists also need to publicize and make themselves known in order to get patients or clients. In this sense, the deontological code establishes the need to adjust their conduct in such a way that they safeguard the integrity of the profession and professional secrecy.
It also stipulates that the attribution of a title that is not possessed is a serious violation, as well as of qualifications that lead to error. In case of using a pseudonym, the professional must declare it in the General Council of the Psychologists’ Official Colleges.
It also establishes that the psychology professional can be part of counseling campaigns at the cultural level, educational, health, labor or social.
7. Fees and remuneration
The salary or remuneration that a psychologist will obtain with his services is an aspect that, although it depends to a great extent on the decision of the professional, also receives a consideration within the deontological code.
In this sense it is stipulated that the fees charged by the professional must be informed to the client previously, in addition to the fact that it is not possible to receive remuneration for making referrals to other professionals. The official schools offer guidance criteria, but as long as it does not mean denigrating the profession or performing an unfair competition, the price in question is stipulated by the professional.
8. Procedural guarantees
The last major section of the deontological code is dedicated to procedural guarantees. Thus, in this section we observe articles that stipulate the need to denounce infractions of the rules of the deontological code before the Deontological Commission (after which the Governing Board will proceed to adopt the resolution that competes).
Another element to highlight, characteristic of article 59, is that the General Council of Psychologists’ Professional Colleges guaranteed the defense of professionals attacked or threatened in the exercise of their functions, defending the dignity and independence of the psychologist. It also stipulates that the norms stipulated by the deontological code imply a formal commitment to society and that they are part of legal systems.
It is noteworthy, in Article 61, the fact that if in some specific case some of these rules conflict with each other the professional must resolve in conscience and inform both the Ethics Commission of the school in which it is registered and the various concerned parties.
Some of the most relevant basic principles
Each and every one of the articles of the deontological code are relevant to the professional practice of the psychologist. However, perhaps the most important are the general principles, among which, as mentioned above, the follow-up of a series of basic guidelines for good exercise as a psychologist stand out.
In the first place we find the need to seek the maximum beneficence and not maleficence. This implies that the professional practice of psychology is primarily aimed at achieving the promotion, protection and improvement as far as possible of the welfare and autonomy of the client. Regarding non-maleficence, this concept refers to the fact that such search should not incur the cause of damage to the client either by action or omission of it. This does not mean that treatments or therapies do not involve work on an emotional level that may be partly aversive, but it does not mean causing harm in the process.
Another of the basic principles of the deontological code is the responsibility of the professional in the development of his profession, taking into account the obligations and rights that he possesses and specifying the need to comply with the deontological norms, as well as to train continuously in order to to offer the best possible service.
In addition, integrity and honesty in dealing with the patient or user is necessary, seeking sincere contact in which there is no deceit, fraud, omission or unwise or unfounded practices.
Another of the main elements is impartiality and justice: the psychologist must practice his profession without discriminating on the basis of sex, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, language, religion, race, socioeconomic status or other reasons. This does not imply, however, that there is no right to derive if the case in question is beyond our competence or we consider that we can not offer the user fair and impartial treatment.
Also essential is the ability to not judge or criticize the patient regardless of their condition or situation.