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Foundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in PsychologyReview - Foundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in Psychology
by Karen Strohm Kitchener
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Review by Heike Schmidt-Felzmann
Aug 9th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 32)

Karen Strohm Kitchener's Foundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in Psychology is intended as an introduction to professional ethics for practicing psychologists. Kitchener, who is a professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of Denver and a longtime member and former chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Psychological Association (APA), brings together philosophical approaches to ethics and a profound knowledge of psychological practice, especially in psychotherapeutic and academic settings. Her book has grown out of her more than 15 years of engagement with ethical issues in psychology, and is an accordingly comprehensive and thorough approach to these issues. Kitchener's principal aim in this book is "to provide a foundation for thinking well about ethical issues" (xi), a foundation that will enable her readers to independently identify and find solutions to ethical issues in their personal practice.

What distinguishes this book from many others that are currently available in the field is Kitchener's understanding that the development of professional ethical competence requires more than an extensive introduction to the APA ethics code and ample case material, even though these are still very prominent in her presentation and the extensive appendix. Elaborating further on a position which she has been developing since the 1980s, Kitchener argues once again for the importance of a philosophical foundation of ethical reasoning in professional practice. In her account she relies heavily on the so-called "principle-based approach" to bioethics. However, she does not confine herself to blindly repeating the "Georgetown mantra" (as the routine invocation of the principles of autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice is sometimes mockingly referred to in bioethics circles). Instead she tries to show how these principles link up not only to broader issues in ethical theory, but also and in particular to the different elements in the APA ethics code and to the personal decisions psychologists face in their practice. As a part of this she proposes a "9 step" model for practical ethical decision making, in which both foundational principles and the APA code play an important role.

In her more specific discussion of psychological practice, she selects a number of general areas of concern for a more thorough discussion. She dedicates one chapter each to informed consent, confidentiality, multiple role relationships, sexualized relationships, competence and social responsibility. The majority of these feature prominently in any kind of discussion of ethical issues in psychology; however, what is less common - and laudable - is Kitchener's emphasis on social responsibility, a "general principles" from the APA code that is often given only scant attention. Kitchener gives a detailed account of the relevance of each of these ethical issues in different kinds of settings. In doing so, she connects them to the philosophical principles that she has previously proposed as a philosophical foundation for ethical decision making, thereby giving the reader an opportunity to see her general approach in action.

Foundations of Ethical Practice is a text that perhaps most closely resembles Ethics in Psychology (Koocher, Keith-Spiegel, 1998), in style as well as in its focus on the APA guidelines, even though it is somewhat less comprehensive in scope. Despite containing a considerable number of cases, it does not come across as specifically designed for use in the classroom, as e.g. Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions (Corey, Corey, Callanan, 1998), Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counseling (Pope, Vasquez, 1998) or The Virtuous Therapist (Cohen, Spieler-Cohen, 1998). Above all, Kitchener seems interested in showing her readers how ethical reasoning can arrive at well-founded solutions, instead of reaching them primarily by engaging them in reflection on controversial issues.

Kitchener's approach is definitely thought-provoking and well founded. In addition to her integration of ethical theory and professional ethics, her emphasis on social and gender issues throughout the book (and not just in a separate section dedicated to "special populations") shows an awareness of the pervasiveness and ethical relevance of these issues that is still lacking in the profession at large. The reader should however be aware of the rather specific scope of the book:

First of all, Kitchener considers only some areas of psychology. She is mostly silent on those fields of psychological practice that are not related to clinical-therapeutic, forensic or academic settings (as e.g. occupational and school psychologists). No book on ethics in psychology should necessarily be expected to cater to all possible recipients in psychology, but the comprehensive sounding title is at least misleading - "practice in psychology" may be reasonably expected to include more than psychotherapy.

In a similar vein, even though the near exclusive focus on the APA makes sense in a book for psychologists, perhaps some more pluralism, over and above merely mentioning ethics codes of other mental health organizations in passing, might have been helpful for the reader, especially when looking for information on the ethical dimensions of therapeutic practice (which is after all the main focus of the book). Even with respect to the focus on the APA, there is one slightly curious omission: In the Appendix B the "Rules and Procedures" of the APA Ethics Committee are reprinted in full length (an impressive 33 pages), while nowhere in the main text are the point and the workings of the Ethics Committee explained in any detail.

One should also be aware that Kitchener's selection of critical issues is definitely that - a selection. Dual relationships, sexual and non-sexual, comprise roughly a third of her discussion of specific issues, while a number of ethical problems feature only marginally, e.g. the questions of client dependency in therapy, of ending therapy, and of different approaches to therapy. However, given that Kitchener's principal aim is "to provide a foundation for thinking well about ethical issues" and not to teach her reader ethical practice in every detail, this may after all not be considered a problem.

In any case, taking into account the overall scope and intent of the book, these are truly minor points. On the whole, Foundations of Ethical Practice, Research and Teaching in Psychology is a valuable and distinctive addition to the literature on ethics in psychology and achieves what it sets out to do.

© 2001 Heike Schmidt-Felzmann.  First serial rights

Heike Schmidt-Felzmann holds graduate degrees in philosophy and psychology from the University of Hamburg, Germany. She is currently a doctoral candidate in philosophy and works on ethics in psychotherapy.


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