Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Empirical and Theory-Driven Investigations of the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Empirical and Theory-Driven Investigations of the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists

Article excerpt

This article summarizes empirical and theoretical research focusing on the structure and content of the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (Canadian Psychological Association [CPA], 1986, 1991, 2000). Functional grammar and content analyses show that, compared to other codes, the CPA code is written in a way that is empowering for the decision-maker. Moreover, it is more likely than other codes of ethics to provide a rationale for ethical behaviour. Preliminary support for the hierarchical organisation of the ethical principles of the CPA code exists but more research is needed to determine if the hierarchy leads to more consistent decision-making in the resolution of ethical dilemmas. Recommendations for future research directions are outlined.

Keywords: CPA code, ethical principles, ethics, Canadian Psychological Association


Cet article résume les recherches empiriques et théoriques portant sur la structure et la teneur du Code canathen de déontologie professionnelle des psychologues (Société canathenne de psychologie [SCP], 1986, 1991, 2000). Des analyses de grammaire fonctionnelle et du contenu révèlent que, en comparaison d'autres codes de déontologie, celui de la SCP est rédigé de façon à habiliter le décideur. En outre, plus que d'autres codes, il est susceptible de fournir un fondement au comportement éthique. Il existe déjà un appui à l'organisation hiérarchisée des principes de déontologie du Code de la SCP, mais il faudra d'autres études pour déterminer si une telle hiérarchisation mène à une plus grande uniformité dans les décisions relatives à la solution de dilemmes éthiques. Sont mises de l'avant des recommandations quant à l'orientation de futures études.

Mots-clés : code de la SCP, principes de déontologie, éthique, Société canathenne de psychologie.

Although the development of the original version of the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (CCEP, CPA, 1986; 1991; 2000) was based, to a considerable extent, on empirically derived information (Sinclair, Poizner, Gilmour-Barrett, & Randall, 1987), research on the code itself has been relative sparse. The goal of this article is to review the research that has been conducted on the various versions of the CCEP, to generate recommendations about the way in which research findings could inform future revisions of the code and to point toward unanswered questions that could be empirically investigated.

The Original Empirical Basis of the CCEP

As Sinclair et al. (1987) pointed out, the CCEP was originally designed to reflect the collective wisdom of Canadian psychologists. As such, original development work commenced with the creation of 37 vignettes representing hypothetical ethical dilemmas. The dilemmas were based on issues stressed in the code of ethics of the American Psychological Association (APA, 1977). Moreover, these dilemmas were designed to reflect pertinent issues in psychological practice, situations involving conflict between ethical principles as well as innovative but untested approaches. Psychologists with expertise in research and teaching assisted with the development of vignettes relating to areas outside professional practice (C. Sinclair, personal communication, June 23, 1998). Each vignette was followed by six questions that were designed to elicit self-accepted ethical principles (e.g., "What is your choice of action? Why? What would be the minimal circumstance you can conceive in this situation that would lead to a different choice of action? What would that action be? Why?).

Invitations to participate were extended to 400 psychologists. While most of them were selected at random, a significant portion was invited because they were known to have a special interest in ethics (C. Sinclair, personal communication, June 23, 1998). Of those who were invited, 125 agreed to participate and were each sent two or four hypothetical dilemmas. In all, 59 responses were received. …

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