Ethics Committee: 2011 Annual Report

February 16, 2012

In 2011, the APA Ethics Committee fulfilled its adjudicative function and continued to develop its educative and consultative programs. The Ethics Committee also responded to Association needs to support special projects.

The chair of the 2011 Ethics Committee was Linda M. Forrest, PhD. Members included James N. Bow, PhD, Jennifer A. Erickson Cornish, PhD; Nadya A. Fouad, PhD, vice chair; Peter N. Mayfield, PhD; James J. Preis, JD, public member; Cynthia A. Sturm, PhD; and Janet T. Thomas, PsyD. Associates were Mark M. Leach, PhD, and Antonio E. Puente, PhD. The liaison from the Board of Directors was Rosie Phillips Bingham, PhD.

The Ethics Committee held one orientation meeting and two committee meetings in 2011. A substantial portion of its agenda included educational, consultation, and governance issues.

Educative Outreach at Convention

Convention provides an important forum for the Ethics Committee’s educational activities. At the 119th annual convention in Washington, DC, the Ethics Committee and Ethics Office presented a vibrant and growing agenda for ethics education. Participation included one preconvention workshop; eight hours of Ethics Committee programs; an invitational breakfast for state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations and APA divisions; and additional symposia on special areas of interest offered in collaboration with APA divisions and groups. This year the Ethics Committee and Ethics Office were involved in a total of 22 hours of continuing education programming at Convention, underscoring their strong commitment to ethics education.

Committees are given eight hours of convention programming. This year the Ethics Committee devoted two hours to "Hot Topics in Ethics," which once again attracted a large number of attendees who participated in discussions of vignettes based on the following topics: boundaries of competence, delegation of work to others, multiple relationships in a small-town practice, multiple relationships in a university psychology department, psychologists’ use of the Internet and social networking sites, plagiarism, reporting ethical violations, and therapy involving couples. Another two hours of Committee programming went to "Negotiating Diversities – Religion and Sexual Orientation" about aspects of diversity in the APA Ethics Code that can sometimes be in tension. An additional two hours were given to "A Day in the Life of the APA Ethics Program," about the APA Ethics program’s approach to achieving its four main objectives of ethics adjudication, education, consultation, and governance. Of the final two hours, one hour went to the annual joint presentation with the Committee on Legal Issues, "Legal and Ethical Issues in Telehealth." The remaining hour was given to "Ethical Challenges in Psychological Assessment – Practical Perspectives From Across the Field," cosponsored with Divisions 5 (Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics), 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology), 40 (Clinical Neuropsychology), 41(American Psychology-Law Society), 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), and 52 (International Psychology).

Convention is the occasion when the Ethics Committee, in collaboration with the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS), awards a $1000 prize for a student paper on ethics. The student, whose trip to convention, convention registration, and hotel expenses are also part of the award, presents the winning paper at Convention for audience comment and discussion. Rachel P. Winograd, MA, of the University of Missouri-Columbia was the winner for her paper titled "The balance between providing support, prolonging suffering, and promoting death: Ethical issues surrounding psychological treatment of a terminally-ill client." Gerald Koocher, PhD, has provided essential support for the award by publishing top student papers in the journal Ethics and Behavior.

At the Ethics Office annual invitational breakfast, Jeffrey E. Barnett, PsyD, was presented with the third annual APA Ethics Committee Award for Outstanding Contributions to Ethics Education. This award is presented annually to a psychologist who demonstrates significant and exceptional contributions to the profession of psychology through ethics education.


Education and Consultation

The Ethics Committee continues active outreach to psychology boards and to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). One aspect of this initiative involves providing staff support to a joint APA/ASPPB task force exploring mutual challenges shared by licensing boards and ethics committees. The task force (called together in 2007 by President Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD), is actively exploring possibilities for joint projects in an effort to deepen the relationship between APA and ASPPB on the national level, as well as between psychological associations and psychology licensing boards on a local level. The task force has been able proceed in its work without requesting additional funding since 2007. Most recently, at the 2011 annual convention in Washington, DC, the task force collaborated with the Ethics Committee, Division 31 (State, Provincial, and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs) and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) to present a session called "Ethical Conduct, the Law, and Licensing Boards – Cross Cutting Dilemmas." On a local level, the Ethics Office collaborated with the Ohio Psychological Association and the Ohio Board of Psychology in an all-day workshop that emphasized the shared concern in enhancing the competent and ethical practice of psychology.

As part of the Ethics Committee’s expanded educative efforts, the Ethics Office continues to develop and offer a vigorous program of ethics presentations. The Ethics Office gives priority to requests from state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations ("SPTAs"). SPTA-related programs offer continuing education credit in ethics or in ethics and law, and raise funds for the SPTAs. In 2011, the Ethics Office collaborated with SPTAs or their divisions or affiliates to offer 17 continuing education programs in 12 states, provinces and territories, out of a total of 31 ethics talks and workshops.

The Ethics Office has collaborated with the Education Directorate to create a web-based continuing education program on the APA Ethics Code. The program is available at the APA Online Academy. Added during 2008, also in collaboration with the Education Directorate, was a program making the APA Monitor column "Ethics Rounds" available for continuing education credit. These popular programs annually generate funds for APA.

Report on Diversity Training and Representation

At its July 2004 meeting, the Council of Representatives approved a motion that governance groups should include within their annual reports a report on diversity training and representation within the group. The Ethics Committee’s member and associate demographics as of December, 2011: four Caucasian Females, one Latina, one Latino, and four Caucasian males. The age range for committee members is from 40’s to 70’s.

Diversity is a major area of focus for the Ethics Committee and Office. The Ethics Committee addresses diversity at each of its meetings via a standing agenda item on the Ethics Committee’s diversity action plan.

The committee chose Dr. Carolyn Barcus as its diversity speaker at the committee’s April 2011 meeting, after Dr. Barcus received an elder award at the 2011 Multicultural Conference and Summit, in part for her work training Native American psychologists. Dr. Barcus subsequently invited the APA Ethics Committee to participate in the 2011 annual retreat and convention of the Society of Indian Psychologists (SIP) in Logan, Utah. Three committee members and the director of the Ethics Office attended the SIP Convention and made a joint presentation with members of the SIP Ethics Committee during the conference. At the October 2011 Ethics Committee meeting, the committee participated in a discussion led by Linda Forrest, PhD; Cynthia Sturm, PhD; and Janet Thomas, PsyD about their experiences at the SIP convention.

At the APA convention, the APA Ethics Committee chair, the Ethics Office director, and members of SIP were invited to talk with the APA Board of Directors about their collaboration. Additionally, members of the APA Ethics Committee met with the Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Issues to develop a joint project on the intersection of culture and ethics. Members of each of the Ethnic Minority Psychological Associations (EMPAs) have agreed to join members of the APA Ethics Committee to review how the current Ethics Code addresses diversity, and to further develop our thinking about the relationship between culture and ethics. In addition, having members of the four ethnic minority psychological associations share their perceptions of when the Ethics Code assists or hinders their work as psychologists of color will broaden and further enhance the APA Ethics Committee’s understanding of how culture intersects with ethical dilemmas. The Ethics Committee has planned a program for the 2012 Convention entitled "Does It Work for Us? Four Ethnic Minority Psychological Associations Comment on the APA Ethics Code." Two representatives from each of the four EMPAs (Association of Black Psychologists, Asian American Psychological Association, National Latina/o Psychological Association, and the Society of Indian Psychologists) will comment on the APA Ethics Code.

The Ethics Committee had a visible presence at the January 2011 National Multicultural Conference and Summit (NMCS) in Seattle, Washington, with the presentation of two symposia ("Ethics in International Contexts" and "The Ethics of Assessing Cultural Competence"). In conjunction with Division 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues) and APAGS, the Ethics Committee provided funding for four Division 44 students of color to travel to the NMCS. The four student awardees were Daniel K. Birichi, MS, University of Miami, Coral Gables; Stephen L. Gresham, MS, University of Wisconsin-Madison; David P. Rivera, MS, Teachers College, Columbia University; and Richard C. Zamora, MS, New Mexico State University. Funding for these awards was made possible through speaking honoraria to the Ethics Office. The student awardees were recognized at a luncheon program that was attended by APA president Melba J. Vasquez, PhD.

Special Projects

In 2011, the Ethics Committee completed a draft of the commentary addressing the role of psychologists in national security activities. The committee placed this commentary on the APA website for review and comment, in an effort to encourage wide participation in the commentary writing process. As a result of requests from members, the committee extended the comment period until late February 2012.


During the adjudication portion of the two meetings held in 2011, the Ethics Committee reviewed four cases, four membership-related matters not suitable for a mail vote, and nine case-related confidential agenda items. No Independent Adjudications or Formal Hearings took place in 2011. Recommendations related to four cases and three membership matters were referred to the Board of Directors for the final level of association review. Recommendations related to two additional membership matters were referred to the Membership Board. Statistics regarding all stages of adjudication matters in 2011 will be available in the American Psychologist article "Report of the Ethics Committee, 2011," currently projected for publication in the July/August 2012 issue.

Ethics Office Staff

At the end of 2011, staff in the Ethics Office were Stephen H. Behnke, JD, PhD, director; Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD, deputy director and director of adjudication; Patricia Dixon, board and investigative officer; Stephanie Brasfield, JD, ethics investigative officer; Emily Laumeier, governance coordinator; Daisy Clipper, ethics coordinator, information and support; and Kristin Coad, adjudication coordinator.

Linda M. Forrest, PhD, Chair