Professional Ethics and Enhancement of Competent Practice

Karel A. Soudijn and Ype H. Poortinga

in The Oxford Handbook of International Psychological Ethics

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199739165
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Professional Ethics and Enhancement of Competent Practice

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  • Psychology
  • History and Systems in Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology



Professional codes of ethics are meant to set standards for the competence of psychologists and the quality of their professional actions (for which we will also use the term interventions). The codes encourage psychologists to continuously improve their level of competence. This chapter presents arguments as to how the standards or rules in such codes can contribute to the overall objective of competent practice and to the enhancement of competence practice. First we show that standards of competence can never be absolute. We also mention some distinctions between categories of rules in professional codes of ethics, adding one further distinction to existing categorizations; namely, between constituent rules that define a game and the tactical rules that are used by players. We see tactical rules as indicating ways in which psychologists can improve the level of quality of their actions. We then address the question of what constitutes the foundation for the competence of psychologists in some of the internationally better known codes. We subsequently describe four ways of anchoring ethically competent actions. Three of these are a matter of the profession and its members, viz: (i) the fund of scientific knowledge that exists in psychology and the psychologist's familiarity with this through education; (ii) the fund of professional knowledge and expertise; and (iii) professional experience. The fourth mode of anchoring places competence in broader contexts, referring to clients, sponsors, the public at large, and the legislation in a country that applies to the profession of psychology. This mode refers to the interactions between the profession and stakeholders from outside. In the concluding section we list four questions that refer to four sets of stakeholders. These questions set a frame for competent practice of psychologists; they are interrelated in the sense that an answer to one of them imposes constraints on how the others should be answered.

Keywords: professional ethics; standards of competence; standards of conduct; EFPA Meta-Code; stakeholders

Article.  7998 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; History and Systems in Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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