Privacy and Confidentiality in the Work of a Psychologist

Introduction

Psychology is the study of how people behave and their unconscious and conscious mental processes. It involves rational and emotional issues. The field of psychology serves an important role in education and health. Clinical psychology is the discipline that deals with treating individuals with mental disorders. Psychologists apply the science of psychology to ease psychology-based problems and suffering to achieve welfare and personal fulfillment (American Psychological Association).

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Ethics refer to the branch of psychology which deals with questions about morality. It focuses on understanding the nature of mortality, the ways in which moral standards can be established, how a moral conclusion can be achieved in unsure situations and the morals that are usually followed by people. Psychologists usually deal with people who are vulnerable and in sensitive circumstances. Therefore, it is important to be careful in assisting these people. Knowledge of ethical issues is an obligation of a psychologist as it will guard against problems such as litigation (American Psychological Association).

The issue at hand in this case involves a psychologist facing a dilemma as to whether or not to reveal information that was given in confidence. If she conceals the information there will be negative consequences and his or her professional ethics will be questioned. On the other hand, if she discloses the information, there will also be unpleasant consequences. It is vital that the best decision is made concerning this important matter (American Psychological Association).

Practicing psychologists in America have the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and the Code of Conduct that they should adhere to in their work.

Ethics Code

The ethics code presents a common set of standards and principles which psychologists are to follow. According to the American Psychological Association, these principles should always be used by psychologists in arriving at a moral result for difficult issues. However, the ethics code is not definite thus it may not contain all the necessary guidelines. These rules depend on the issues being dealt with and psychologists in different discipline will use the principles differently according to the context presented (American Psychological Association).

The ethics code is quite broad and includes areas such as counseling, school practice of psychology, teaching, policy development, and supervision of trainees, public service, forensic activities, evaluation, social intervention, conduction assessments, educational counseling, and administration. Nevertheless, they are not limited to the above subjects. Psychologists have to consider the ethics code as well as the psychological board regulations and the relevant laws. In reaching an ethical conclusion, psychologists can consult with other professional psychologists. Psychologists are allowed to make professional judgments in their works as long as it is reasonable. Reasonable meaning the judgment that can be used by other psychologists who are engaged in similar actions in similar conditions. They should bear human rights in the decisions they make. (American Psychological Association)

General Principles

The American psychological association provides five General Principles which should be considered. The five principles are Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, Fidelity and Responsibility, Integrity, Justice, and Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity. The Beneficence and Nonmaleficence principle refers to the practice of striving to benefit and help the people who come to them for assistance. The psychologist should protect the rights and welfare of the affected people while diminishing harm (American Psychological Association).

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Fidelity and Responsibility refer to creating trust with the people to have more meaningful relationships. Such a relationship is very valuable in the assistance of the patients. The psychologist takes responsibility for the patient by ensuring that the decisions he or she makes are in the best interest of the patient. Integrity is a principle that requires ensuring that the psychologist is honest, accurate, and truthful in the training, science, and practice of psychology. They have to keep their promises and avoid unethical activities like stealing, fraud, lying, etc. In this regard, the psychologist has the responsibility of correcting any damaging effects that are consequences of such immoral behavior (American Psychological Association).

The justice principle means that there should be justice and fairness for all people. This is especially important for the psychologists involved in forensic psychology. The last principle is respect for people’s rights and dignity. The psychologist is expected to respect people by ensuring the right to privacy, free will, and confidentiality. Psychologists should not be biased in regard to the gender, age, ethnicity, national origin, religion, culture, disability or socioeconomic status (American Psychological Association).

Ethical standards

Various ethical standards are used. The most relevant to the case in question is Privacy and confidentiality.

Privacy and confidentially

Privacy and confidentially refers to the obligation that psychologists have to keep confidential information that has been obtained from a patient. The pertinent limits of confidentially and the expected uses of the information should be discussed with the person with whom a professional relationship is being entered (College of Saint Benedict). This discussion should be done at the beginning of the relationship and anytime during the session with him should it be deemed important. Should there be a need to record the image or voice of a client, he or she should be informed and permission sought. Any information that is generated by the psychologist should be for the reason of benefiting the client (American Psychological Association).

It should be noted that it is allowed for psychology to reveal information if it is necessary. However, it should be done only when there is consent from the patient or another person authorized on behalf of the patient. It is also possible for the psychologist to legally disclose the information given him or her without receiving direct permission. This is in the case where disclosing such information will protect the client or others from harm or engage in useful consultations with colleagues. Another reason can be to offer professional services like in the case of a forensic psychologist (American Psychological Association).

Other ethical standards are competence, human relations, advertising and other public statements, record keeping and fees, education, research and publication, assessments and therapy. Competence is to do with the qualifications that psychologists should possess (College of Saint Benedict). Psychologists have to obtain relevant training and experience and supervision so that they can carry out their profession effectively. When a psychologist is called upon to assist in forensic roles, he or she should get familiar with the law that governs them (American Psychological Association).

The Human relations aspect deals with how the psychologists relates to those who he is in a professional relationship with. They should not be involved in sexual harassment of their clients by making unwelcome advances or using verbal means to make the client feel sexually intimidated (American Psychological Association).

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Alternative courses of Action

The school psychologist can decide to disclose the information given to him or her about the planned assault on the members of staff. By doing this she will be protecting other people from harm using the information she got from the patient.

Another course of action that may be adopted is keeping the information secret. She will do so to maintain the trust that has been established with the student. This will also uphold the confidentiality principles.

Relevant Facts and Consequences of Each Option

Should the psychologist reveal that there is an attack on the school staff that is being planned, there is likely to be a lot of animosity toward the student from others. This will expose her to unknown discrimination and mistreatment. The psychologist also has the moral obligation to protect the staff members from unruly students. Her action may not be viewed as being professional unethical because it will be helpful to others.

If the psychologist does not reveal the information, it will be a very risky situation because the staff members will be assaulted some being badly hurt and maybe others will be killed in the process. There will be continued trust between the student and the psychologist but she could suffer psychologically knowing that if she had blown the whistle none of the bad things could have happened. Such a choice may eventually put the morality of the psychologist in question because she did not inform anyone about the problem she knew would happen.

Relevant moral Principles

As the psychologist she will have to make use of the general principles and the Code of Conduct that are provided. Confidentiality will have to be considered. (American Psychological Association) She is supposed to keep any information she is given by a client secret and only reveal it with the permission of the client. If she reveals the information without the client’s direct permission, she could face legal action.

The psychologist has the obligation to ensure that no harm falls on the client as a result of the decisions he or she makes (American Psychological Association).Revealing this information will expose the patient to a lot of harm. The students who are capable of planning to attack teachers and other staff members will definitely have no problem hurting her.

Integrity is a central part of a psychologist’s character and should it be known that a certain psychologist is a liar, then they risk having their careers terminated (American Psychological Association). The psychologist promised the student that she would not disclose any information that she is given. If she discloses this information about the plans by other students she will have lied about her unconditional silence on any privacy issue.

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The fidelity and responsibility principle which is to do with developing trust between the client and the psychologist is very important (American Psychological Association). The psychologist is supposed to ensure that the client completely trusts him or her so that it is possible for the client to open up and give relevant and useful information. This will enable the psychologist to be able to treat the patient better.

The Decision

My decision in this case is that the psychologists should inform the school administration about the plans that the students have. She can explain to the student the importance of letting the truth be known and how risky it is if the situation goes unabated. She should also be assured of her safety in the school. Once the student is convinced and gives consent for the confidential information to be released, then the psychologist will not have breached any of the set principles. The students who are behind the disorder should be expelled immediately to prevent them from victimizing the innocent student.

Justification

In taking this cause of action, the psychologist will be showing wisdom and will be abiding by the General Principles. The psychologist is allowed to reveal confidential information if this will prevent harm or injury from befalling the patient or others. (American Psychological Association) The members of staff will not be attacked and by revealing the information, she will have saved the day.

Trust between the students and the psychology will not be lost since a request will be made before the dissemination of the confidential information. On the contrary, the student will be able to trust the psychology more seeing that the right choices were made and also because the student was not in danger. Therefore the Principle of fidelity and Responsibility will be upheld.

The overall safety of the staff is enough justification for the psychologist to give out the confidential information. The information should only be kept undisclosed if there is no likelihood of harm to anyone. Therefore even if the student does not give consent for the information to be given, the psychologist should go ahead and alert the authorities. It is not just what is in the principles that should be considered but a psychologist should also have good judgment as the situation requires.

Works Cited

Psychology Students Ethical Issues in Psychology.2009. College of Saint Benedict. Web.

Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. 2003. American Psychological Association. Web.

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