Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Canadian Code of Ethics and the Regulation of Psychology

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Canadian Code of Ethics and the Regulation of Psychology

Article excerpt


This article addresses the question of whether and how the Canadian Code of Ethics has been used as a regulatory document in Canada. After a discussion of the philosophy of codes of ethics and the principles associated with the regulation of professions, the various responses of Canadian regulatory bodies to the CPA Code of Ethics is reviewed. Some of the strengths and limitations of the Canadian Code of Ethics as a regulatory document are discussed, as is the relationship between the Canadian Code of Ethics and other regulatory standards and regulations.

There is no doubt that the Code of Ethics (referred to as "the Code" or "the CCOE" hereafter; Canadian Psychological Association, 1988) is one of the great achievements of Canadian psychology. As this and other articles in this series attest, the influence of the Code has been far-reaching, including in the training, research, regulatory and practise dimensions of the discipline. The Code has also had an effect outside of Canadian Psychology, and is reflected in the recent APA Code of Ethics (American Psychological Association, 1992), the ethics guidelines of the research councils of Canada, as well as other health disciplines.

In this article we will examine the potential and actual use of the Code of Ethics as a regulatory document. After discussing the general philosophy that underlies ethical codes in professional settings, and then addressing the regulation of professions in general and psychology in particular, we will review the different reactions that provincial regulatory bodies have had to the CCOE. The review will highlight the utility of the Code as a regulatory document, and will suggest that although the Code serves legitimate and important purposes, it has regulatory limitations. Recommendations drawn upon these conclusions are provided.

The philosophy of codifying conduct

As has been previously documented (Granger, 1993; Hogan, 1979; Sinclair, 1993) the history of professions is that they typically begin as guild interests, often with the interest of advocating on behalf of members of the profession. As the profession grows in strength and stature, however, it becomes important to demonstrate to the public a certain willingness by the profession to hold accountable the conduct of its members. "This social contract is based on attitudes of mutual respect and trust, with society granting support for the autonomy of a discipline in exchange for a commitment by the discipline to do everything it can to assure that its members act ethically in conducting the affairs of the discipline within society;..." (Preamble, Canadian Psychological Association, 1991). One effective way to demonstrate accountability is through the development of various behavioural strictures. Although professions have varied dramatically in the level of development and the explicitness of their prohibitions and permissions, the existence of a code of ethics or conduct is almost the sine qua non of a contemporary profession (Sinclair, 1993). As Hogan (1979) has noted "The construction of a professional code of ethics will be one of the first and most important tasks of the profession,..." (p. 220). Indeed, it is through the code of ethics that the social contract is fulfilled, because to the extent that the profession's members are enjoined to engage in helpful, and refrain from harmful behaviours, the public that uses that profession's services should be protected from harm.

The mere existence of a code of ethics does not ensure that it has high utility or that members of the profession will behave consistently with the code. The value of an ethical code is dependent upon a number of features, some of which include:

1. its applicability -- the more broadly applicable a code is, the more likely it is to be used by professionals in divergent practice areas;

2. its specificity -- the more specific, and tied to concrete ethical dilemmas a code is, the more applicable it is to the practitioners' everyday lives;

3. …

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