Ethics in Psychological Assessments

Psychologists face many ethical dilemmas in their scope of work. Among the most common issues usually occur in assessment where testing services are rarely offered at the request on one individual. People who visit psychologists for assessments are more often than not referred by concerned parties such as disability insurance companies, school teachers, potential employers, attorneys, or medical professionals, among others. These parties usually seek answers to questions that require the psychologist to interfere with an individual’s privileges or normal life. No matter how strictly the psychologist attempts to follow laid procedures during testing, there is always a chance that the individual being tested will suffer the consequences of assessment. Ethical issues can arise before, during, or after the test. In any case, the psychologist must be aware of the codes of practice in order to minimize the chances of inflicting harm to the person being tested. This paper reviews the codes of practice and ethical issues that must be considered when using psychological assessments.

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            Perhaps multicultural and diversity issues are some of the most unnoticed given the current rate of diversification in the population. Traditionally, psychologists did not have to account for diverse populations when undertaking assessments. However, the age of globalization has led to an increase in diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, culture, and language, among other diversity factors (Suzuki, & Ponterotto, 2007). Today, psychological tests that rely on monolingual and standardized test instruments and procedures may not appeal to certain people. In fact, the use of standardized tests in minority groups has caused controversies, with various groups citing the possibility of bias especially in situations where test results differ with ethnic groups. Divergence of test results has fueled controversy with many diverse groups arriving at the conclusion that psychological tests are biased. According to Principle E in the psychologist ethical code of conduct, psychologists are required to maintain respect for people’s rights and dignity. The application of special safeguards to protect the rights and welfare of communities and persons whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making are thus necessary. Psychologists should always respect individual, cultural, and role differences whether based on age, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, culture, disability, language, race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. They should acknowledge that evaluation of culturally diverse individuals raises many issues that need to be addressed in order to come up with accurate diagnosis (Suzuki, & Ponterotto, 2007). In particular, additional layers of complexity especially when the patient has a different ethnic or cultural background from the assessor should be taken into account. It is the psychologist’s responsibility to develop competence in terms of knowledge, attitudes, and skills before engaging in any assessment that involves potential multicultural and diversity issues. Additionally, psychologists need to be well informed about their own identity and attitudes towards minorities because these can affect how they interact with people.

            Another critical ethical issue relates to confidentiality. Some types of communication between the psychologist and the person under assessment are considered “privileged” in that they cannot be divulged or discussed by third parties (Kocet, 2006). This is critical for the therapeutic alliance because it creates an environment of trust. Nevertheless, exceptions may be made in special cases such as when the principle of confidentiality conflicts with the duty to protect or warn. A case in point is when the participant is involved in homicidal or suicidal, elder abuse, child abuse, and other forms of abuse to another party. The principle of confidentiality ends where public risk begins. Certainly, the rationale behind the duty to protect or warn is clear. The psychologist must protect the lives of third parties as well as provide warnings in case of any risks. Various issues associated with the duty to warn and protect are the scale and kind of threat that should merit warnings and at what point the psychologist should prioritize protection of potential victims over the client (Meyer et al., 2001). Psychologists should always discuss with their clients about the limits of confidentiality and foreseeable uses of information generated from the assessment.

            Psychologists should also abide by the principle of informed consent to avoid ethical issues that arise when permission to carry out the assessment is not granted by the participant. Essentially, informed consent is the process of describing the scope of the assessment and obtaining the subject’s permission to participate in the research based on their understanding of the goals and methods of the assessment (Shum, O’Gorman, Myors, & Creed, 2006). Standard 9.03 “Informed consent in assessments” sets forth that psychologists should inform their subjects about (1) the purpose of the assessment, (2) their right to decline or withdraw, (3) the foreseeable consequences of withdrawing, (4) the foreseeable factors that may influence the subject’s decision to participate, such as discomfort, adverse effects, or potential risks (5) limits of confidentiality, as discussed above, and (6) whom to contact for questions (Ponton & Duba, 2009: Fisher, & Fried, 2003). Specifically, psychologists are expected to inform clients as early as is feasible about the nature of the assessment relationship, what is expected in therapy, involvement of third parties, fees, and limits. The phrase “as early as is feasible” indicates that information may be provided at various times depending on the circumstances. Some psychologists may find it comfortable or suitable to provide more general information at the beginning of the assessment and more specific information in the course of assessment. Therefore, informed consent is more of an ongoing process than an instant event. Even so, there are pieces of information that the psychologists must disclose to the client before the onset of the assessment. Issues in informed consent may arise on failure to disclose certain information or when there are multiple conflicting relationships. According to Ethical standard 3.05a of the American Psychological Association, a multiple relation occurs when a psychologist has is in a professional role concurrently with two persons who are closely related. The psychologists should refrain from entering a multiple relationship if the relationship can impair objectivity, effectiveness, and competence in performing duty or risks harm or exploitation to the primary client.    

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In conclusion, psychologists should adhere to ethical principles in psychological assessment. They should avoid diversity and multicultural issues by developing competence in terms of knowledge, attitudes, and skills before engaging in any assessment that involves potential multicultural and diversity issues. Psychologists must protect the lives of third parties as well as provide warnings in case of any risks. They should always discuss with their clients about the limits of confidentiality and foreseeable uses of information generated from the assessment. Finally, psychologists should describe the scope of the assessment and obtain the subject’s permission to participate in the research based on their understanding of the goals and methods of the assessment, as well as refrain from entering a multiple relationship if the relationship can impair objectivity, effectiveness, and competence in performing duty or risks harm or exploitation to the primary client.

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