Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Critical History of CPA's Various Codes of Ethics for Psychologists (1939-1986)

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Critical History of CPA's Various Codes of Ethics for Psychologists (1939-1986)

Article excerpt


Codes of ethics are historical products of the professionalization process; the form and content of codes of ethics develop within the specific historical context of the professionalization process of the occupational group for which they are written. During the 1950s and 1960s, the CPA's decisions regarding adoption of a code of ethics were centred on two major professionalization needs; namely, to secure a market niche for 'psychologists' as this was defined by CPA and to sustain this image as the basis for continuing funding for related psychological research. Different historical factors resulted in the decision by CPA, in the 1970s, to produce a made-in-Canada code of ethics. These were a) the need of CPA to produce a document of professional self-regulation that recognized problems faced by psychological practitioners employed within various organizational structures, and (b) organizational problems of the CPA related to disciplinary unity and achievement of a national leadership role. The results of this critical historical analysis confirm the importance of codes of professional ethics as strategies of professionalization as hypothesized by Johanne Louw in 1990.

A Critical Approach To Writing A History Of Codes Of Ethics

Professional groups typically view their codes of ethics primarily as regulatory devices to protect the public from incompetent and unethical practices by certified members of the profession. However, some authors in philosophy, psychology, sociology and history (e.g., Bucher and Strauss, 1961; Danziger, 1990; Elliot, 1972; Freidson, 1986; Gyamarti, 1975; Hamnett, Porter, Singh, and Kumner, 1967; Harries-Jenkins, 1970; Johnson, 1972; Kultgen, 1988; Larson, 1977; Louw, 1990; MacIver, 1955; MacNiven, 1982; Marshall, 1965; Schuler, 1982; Van Strien, 1976) suggest that production of a code of ethics plays a central role in the professionalization process of an occupational group and in the development of politically powerful associations of professionals. Critically viewed, they primarily have been productions that advanced the professionalization of self-interested participants.

The term "professionalization process" has received many different theoretical treatments in the above literature, only some of which employ a "critical" historical perspective. A critical historical perspective does not take at face value the explanations of the participants in the professionalization process as historical explanations for their productions; rather, it looks to the specific sociocultural, political, and economic conditions as causal contexts for the development of professional practices and products (Danziger, 1990; Van Strien, 1985).

Unlike a critical historical approach, functionalist histories of professionalization employ an historiography in which the story of the development of characteristics of professions (e.g. accrediting agencies, codes of ethics) is told from the perspective of their assumed social utility. Functionalist histories assume that the relationship between the professions and society is essentially one of a rationally organized mutual dependency; the development of a profession's defining characteristics is often taken for granted as one which naturally results from this dependency. The primary function of codes of ethics, for example, is often viewed in a manner compatible with that presented by the professions themselves (e.g., protection of the public from charlatans).

These approaches are uncritical historically in the sense that they do not take into account such questions as why and how such dependencies emerged, why they took a particular form within and without the emerging profession, or what role was played by various players and social forces in the definition of such dependencies. The move toward critical historiographies of the professionalization process began with these kinds of questions being raised by critical sociologists (Freidson, 1984, 1986; Gyamarti, 1975; Haskell, 1984; Johnson, 1972; Kultgen, 1988; Larson, 1977). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.