School Psychologists' Ethical Decision Making: Implications from Selected Social Psychological Phenomena

Article excerpt

Abstract. School psychologists routinely engage in ethical decision making, and existing models have served as useful tools for systematically approaching ethical dilemmas. However, few of these models have taken account of the rich and salient body of social psychology research. This article reviews social psychological phenomena that present clear implications for school-based ethical decision making and, in light of such applications, provides recommendations for practicing school psychologists. Case examples are provided to illustrate key concepts.


School psychologists operate in ecosystemic contexts that offer unique challenges (Borgelt & Conoley, 1999; Curtis & Stollar, 2002; Lusterman, 1992). Moreover, the practice of psychology in the schools presents a number of ethical concerns that are specific to the nature of working with teams, systems, and groups. School psychologists must frequently navigate systems' boundaries, conflicting values and beliefs, and multiple roles. As assessors, consultants, counselors, and administrators, school psychologists routinely address complex issues of privacy, confidentiality, informed consent, and multiple relationships when working with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. Therefore, understanding ethical decision making in the context of social, organizational, and family systems necessitates an understanding of social influence. This article addresses the influence of relevant social psychological phenomena on school psychologists' ethical decision making, examines the potential effects of specific constructs in social psychology, and presents case examples to illustrate the constructs' potential emphasis on ethical decision making. The article concludes with recommendations for practice.

Ethical codes and standards such as the American Psychological Association's (2002) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, the National Association of School Psychologists' (2000) Principles for Professional Ethics, and the American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council on Measurement in Education's Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (1999), and legal constraints including federal, state, and statutory regulations provide frameworks for distinguishing ethical conduct from unethical conduct. However, school psychologists, by virtue of the unique contexts of their work, frequently experience vexing ethical dilemmas that are not adequately addressed by existing codes. To address these more difficult decisions, psychologists have developed ethical decision-making models.

The purpose of ethical decision-making models is to provide practitioners with a systematic, organized way of addressing ethical concerns. A variety of existing models share common features. Generally, these models involve an initial conceptualization of the problem's parameters, gathering additional data, consultation with peers, cost-benefit analysis, commitment to a decision, and ongoing monitoring (Haas & Malouf, 1989; Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 1998). The advantage of the decision-making models is that they promote careful study of the dilemma, thoughtful consideration of potential pitfalls, and documentation that the final decision was made using a rational process. However, one disadvantage of ethical decision-making models is that they often fail to address the effects of significant and powerful social psychological phenomena on the contexts in which ethical dilemmas arise. Although social psychology research has been applied broadly to the practice of school psychology (Medway & Cafferty, 1992, 1999), the specific implications for ethics have not yet been addressed. The need to address the ethical decision making of school psychologists through an understanding of social psychological phenomena is significant because such decisions occur in social contexts. …


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