Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Preferred Strategies for Learning Ethics in the Practice of a Discipline

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Preferred Strategies for Learning Ethics in the Practice of a Discipline

Article excerpt


There are very few formal evaluations of the impact of instructional practices on the effectiveness of strategies for learning professional ethics. The assessment of ethical knowledge and skills is important in current discussions of professional mobility across North American jurisdictions. The present study investigated adult learners' perceived level of helpfulness of seven strategies when learning seven different ethical content areas. Adult learners rated interactive strategies as more helpful for learning compared to traditional didactic methods. Adult learners rated the helpfulness of various strategies differently for different content areas, indicating that several strategies may be useful. We conclude by making recommendations for further investigation of the effectiveness of various learning strategies in terms of knowledge gained and subsequent behaviour.

The increasing emphasis on ethical issues in the science and practice of psychology requires psychologists to carry out more empirical studies on the effectiveness of learning strategies. There are very few published evaluations of the effectiveness of instructional practices or outcomes in the teaching of ethics in psychology. Faculty, thus, are relying on the good-hearted assumptions that current ethics courses have been appropriately designed (Welfel, 1992).

The literature relating to ethics and professional accountability in psychology was almost nonexistent until after World War II, but it has increased significantly since the 1970s (Sinclair, 1993). The impetus for addressing ethics may have come from two precipitating factors. One was the postwar disclosure of atrocities conducted in Nazi Germany in the name of science. The other was the rapid postwar professionalization of applied psychology (Sinclair, 1993; Sinclair, Simon, & Pettifor, 1996).

The first formal regulation of psychological practice in North America began in Connecticut in 1945. Since then American states and the Canadian provinces have all adopted regulatory legislation. Regulation requires the definition of standards for competent and ethical practice. Ethics questions are included on the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology and on oral examinations that are required by most regulatory jurisdictions (Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, ASPPB, 1999). The accreditation of professional training programs in Canada and the United States requires the teaching of ethics (American Psychological Association, 1996; Canadian Psychological Association, 1991b).

Professions develop codes of ethics to guide the behaviour of their members in the practice of their discipline. Aspirational codes of ethics articulate the fundamental moral values on which behavioural standards are based. Professional disciplines avoid intruding on the personal values and behaviours of members as long as they do not bring discredit to the profession (Pettifor, 1996). Nevertheless, the underlying values of codes of ethics reflect the cultural values and mores of the society in which they are formulated, and therefore significant conflict between personal and professional values normally would not occur. Professions may also develop codes of conduct to define specific behaviours that are expected of members and for which violations may incur disciplinary sanctions (Association of Provincial and State Psychology Boards, 1991). All professional codes of ethics and codes of conduct address in one way or another the issues of respect, rights, confidentiality, informed consent, diversity, well-being of consumers, competency, professional boundaries, conflict of interest, honesty, and, sometimes, responsibility to society. Psychologists require knowledge of the profession's requirements for ethical standards and they require skill in recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas. Strategies for developing knowledge may differ from strategies for developing skills. …

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