Competence: Doing Good and Avoiding Harm
To incompetently engage in research, practice, or teaching is a violation of the fundamental obligation to benefit those psychologists have agreed to serve and can lead to substantial harm. Additionally, disparity in services to a particular group because of incompetence is a fundamental violation of the principle of justice. In research, incompetence can lead to false claims and the waste of valuable and scarce resources. As Swenson ( 1997) suggested, psychologists "should be fully trained, keep up-to-date, and be good at what they do. Otherwise they should stop doing it" (p. 64). The basic tenant should be that if you are not competent to adequately fulfill the responsibilities associated with your role, do not perform your role unless you are under the supervision of someone who is competent.
Because competence provides the foundation for ethically fulfilling all of the roles psychologists play, one of the first standards in the 1992 ethics code is on competence. Standard 1.04, boundaries of competence, emphasizes that psychologists should perform their roles within the limits of their competence, which is based on education, training, supervised experience, or other appropriate professional experience. In addition, when psychologists move into new areas, they should seek further education, training, supervision, and/or consultation from others who are already competent in those areas. Finally, in emerging areas of psychological practice where training standards do not exit, psychologists should take reasonable steps to ensure their competence and protect consumers and others with whom they work from harm. The burden of responsibility for maintaining competence in areas of existing expertise and developing competence in new or emerging areas always remains with the psychologist ( Canter et al., 1994).
Even though the ethics code ( APA, 1992) emphasizes the importance of competence, it is easier to require psychologists to be competent than it is to define what competence means. As