APA Ethical Code of Conduct (2023)

The American Psychological Association (APA) maintains an ethical code of conduct that all members must agree to follow, including student members. Officially called the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, it's usually referred to as the APA ethics code. Its guidelines govern the activities of psychologists in their professional roles. Violating the ethics code can result in sanctions or penalties that could include expulsion from the association.

APA Code of Ethics Vs. Law

The ethics code is not legally enforceable on its own. Rather, these are APA ethical guidelines to follow in addition to any laws that might apply to the practice of the profession and the regulations of the psychology board. In some cases, the ethics code may have more stringent policies than the laws. When that is the case, practitioners are expected to meet the higher standard of the ethics code.

Aspire to General Principles

There are five general principles – listed as A through E – in the APA code of ethics that are intended to inspire psychologists. Unlike the ethical standards, the general principles aren't applied as regulations that could be used to sanction or penalize those who fall short of them. They are intended to be goals.

Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence

While psychologists strive to benefit their patients and others with whom they work, they are also cautioned in the ethical principles to do no harm. By the very nature of their work, psychologists are affecting the lives of others, so they need to be sure they're doing that without diminishing the rights and welfare of anyone, including animal research subjects. They are specifically advised to be aware that their own physical and mental health can affect others.

Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility

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Psychologists must maintain a high level of trust in their professional relationships, both with patients and colleagues. In addition to establishing trust in their work with patients, psychologists are tasked with a high level of responsibility to their colleagues and the profession. They are advised to spend a portion of their time serving the profession without compensation or personal benefit.

Principle C: Integrity

Honesty is at the heart of the profession, and psychologists are warned against lying, cheating, stealing, fraud and misrepresenting facts. Recognizing that sometimes it may be necessary to be less than truthful to avoid doing harm, they are advised to consider the potential for harm against the benefits of being truthful and the need to re-establish trust afterward.

Principle D: Justice

All persons are entitled to fairness and equal treatment from the profession. However, being human, psychologists must recognize the limits of their knowledge and expertise as well as how their own biases and beliefs could affect their work and their ability to treat everyone fairly.

Principle E: Respect for People's Rights and Dignity


In determining how to preserve every person's rights and dignity, psychologists must be aware of and respect differences in people concerning "age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status." They must take care to not let their own biases or those of others affect their work.

Important Note on Summaries

The summaries of the ethics code are meant to provide simplified explanations but are not a substitute for reading the original document. Not every point can be included in the summaries. Also, the ethics code reiterates several points in every section. Therefore, these points will not be repeated in each summary:

  • The importance of explaining upfront the purpose of treatment or research.
  • Gaining and documenting informed consent from participants for treatments, recordings and release of data.
  • Refraining from having sexual relations with students, direct reports or current/former patients or their families.
  • Understanding what it means to maintain confidentiality and explaining that at the beginning of a patient relationship, including the limits of such confidentiality.
  • Minimizing privacy intrusions by only writing down what is necessary and discussing with other professionals only elements that are necessary.
  • Refraining from revealing information that could lead to the identification of a patient, whether consulting with colleagues or in their writings, lectures or other public forums.
  • Avoiding conflicts of interest.
  • Taking care to avoid harassment based on sex or human differences.
  • Avoiding discrimination based on "age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law."
  • Ensuring accuracy and truthfulness in all statements, public or private.

When Ethical Issues Occur

The ethics code makes clear that psychologists must take great care to prevent ethical issues, but if they do occur, they must resolve ethical issues without delay. Section 1 gives examples of such issues, including:

  • Learning that their work has been misused or misrepresented.
  • When their ethical responsibilities conflict with laws or regulations.
  • If any work they do or activities in which they participate for an organization with which they are affiliated is in conflict with the ethics code.
  • Noticing and either resolving informally or reporting ethical violations by other psychologists.
  • Cooperating with ethics committees.
  • Refraining from discriminating against anyone who has complained about them.

Stay Within Competencies

Psychologists have areas in which they are well trained and knowledgeable and other areas they know little about. It's important that they stay within their areas of competency when treating patients or:

  1. Refer the patient to a psychologist who is competent in that area.
  2. Gain the needed competency through research, training or study.

In an emergency when no other psychologist with the competency is available, the psychologist may treat the patient rather than letting him go without help. However, once the emergency has passed or an appropriate psychologist becomes available, treatment should stop.

When psychologists need to delegate responsibility to an employee, assistant or other person, the psychologists should:

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  1. Ensure there are no conflicts of interest or multiple relationships that could affect objectivity or lead to exploitation.
  2. Delegate only work the person can perform competently.
  3. Supervise the work to ensure it's done competently.

Psychologists should also make sure their own personal problems don't interfere with their competence by:

  1. Not undertaking work that could be compromised by their personal problems.
  2. Seeking professional help to ensure that their problems don't limit their competence.
  3. Stopping the work that could become compromised or performed incompetently.

Avoid Negative Human Relations

In the human relations section of the ethics code, it is stated that psychologists should be aware of negative consequences that could result from their actions and take care to avoid them in all work situations, including:

  • Causing harm to those with whom they work.
  • Physical or mental torture_,_ whether engaging in or facilitating it.
  • Exploiting colleagues, assistants, students or patients in any way.

In 2016, the wording about avoiding harm was amended, and the point against torture was added to the ethics code.

Positive Human Relations to Follow

The human relations section of the ethics code also includes directives of positive steps psychologists should take when working with patients, colleagues and others:

  • Exercise caution in multiple relationships where the psychologist and patient have another type of relationship, such as knowing a relative or friends of friends – so the multiple relationship does not affect objectivity or outcomes and to resolve problems that occur before they cause harm.
  • When working with organizations, explain which individuals will be involved, the scope of the work, how results will be used, who will have access to the information and the limits of confidentiality. Explain if law or the organization prohibits the psychologist from any of these steps.
  • Devise a contingency plan for services to continue if the psychologist becomes unavailable due to illness, death, retirement, relocation or other circumstances.

Advertising, Statements and Media

According to the APA code of ethics, psychologists are expected to exercise ethical principles any time they speak to the public, answer questions from the media or advertise their services. Specifically, they are advised to:

  • Clearly identify paid advertisements and ensure their truthfulness.
  • Refrain from compensating in any way media persons who include in their news reports the psychologist's comments or information regarding her services.
  • Not request testimonials from individuals who may be vulnerable to undue influence.

Integrity in Records and Fees

Maintaining and holding accurate records is important for use in possible future treatment, for justifying charges and to validate that all actions were done according to laws and regulations. Psychologists should:

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  • Store records with protection of confidentiality and privacy.
  • Substitute code words for names when entering patient data into research or other databases.
  • Plan how records will be transferred when the psychologist stops practicing.
  • Not withhold records in an emergency only because payment hasn't been received.

Psychologists can expect to be fairly and promptly compensated. To act with integrity involving fees, they should:

  • State fees and fee arrangements in advance of services.
  • Address late payments with clients before using collection services.
  • Barter for services (exchanging services in lieu of fees) is permissible only when it is clinically feasible and does not exploit either party.
  • Base fees for referrals on the services provided, not as payment for the referral.

Education and Training Ethics

This section of the code of ethics refers to psychologists who are involved with planning, designing and/or teaching courses. Psychologists are advised to:

  • Ensure that the material covered meets requirements for licensing, certification and the goals of the program.
  • Maintain a current, accurate description of the program requirements and have it readily accessible to students.
  • Provide an accurate syllabus and method of evaluation for each course.
  • Not require students to reveal personal information about their relationships or past history unless this requirement is clearly stated in program materials, the information is needed to obtain assistance for the student, there is concern for the student's ability to complete the program or for the student's safety or the safety of others.
  • Allow students to choose a therapist outside of the program when therapy is a course requirement and not permit the instructor to serve as the therapist.

Research and Publication

Many psychologists conduct research and need participants for their studies. Since the research involves mental health, however, care must be taken to protect the most vulnerable. The ethics code sets guidelines for research, such as:

  • Clarify when research is on experimental treatments, how control and treatment groups are chosen, what treatment the control group will receive, alternatives for those who don’t want to participate or want to withdraw during the research period and any incentives, compensation or costs involved.
  • Protect students from the negative effects of not participating and, if it is required for a course, offer them an alternative.
  • Any inducements offered should not be of such high value that students feel coerced to participate, and services offered in exchange for participation should be clarified with risks and limitations explained.
  • If the research includes deception, that should be revealed to participants as soon as possible, and deception should not include hiding negative possibilities such as pain.
  • Debriefing should occur soon after research ends with conclusions and results given, and any harm that was done should be corrected quickly.
  • Ensure that animals in the research are treated humanely.

Therapy and Assessments

When conducting individual, couples or family therapy, psychologists should follow these rules.

  • If the therapist is a trainee, explain this and give the name of a supervisor.
  • Consider a potential patient's welfare before taking on a client who is being treated elsewhere.
  • End therapy when it's no longer needed or of benefit or if threatened by a patient and provide counseling or referral if appropriate.

When conducting assessments, psychologists should:

  • First examine the patient or explain why examination isn't possible.
  • Use assessment tools that are valid for the individual and his language.
  • Consider the patient's circumstances that could be influential when interpreting results.
  • Release test data to patients according to the law unless releasing data would be harmful to the patient.


Why is the APA Ethics Code important? ›

The Ethics Code is intended to provide guidance for psychologists and standards of professional conduct that can be applied by the APA and by other bodies that choose to adopt them. The Ethics Code is not intended to be a basis of civil liability.

How do you cite the APA Code of Ethics in a paper? ›

References for ethics codes follow the same format as reports. When the author and publisher are the same (as in the examples), omit the publisher name to avoid repetition. To cite a specific section of an ethics code, create a reference to the full code and then indicate the specific section in the in-text citation.

How long is the APA Code of Ethics? ›

These situations were reviewed by a select committee that was tasked with organizing these dilemmas into broad themes. The original Code of Ethics was 170 pages in length, though it has been revised nine times over the years, the most recent of which was in 2010.

What are the 7 codes of ethics? ›

Seven golden ethical principles
  • Be an ethical leader.
  • Use moral courage.
  • Consider personal and professional reputation.
  • Set the right tone at the top.
  • Maintain an enquiring mindset.
  • Consider the public interest.
  • Consider 'the right, the good and the virtuous' actions"
20 Feb 2019

Why is the APA Code of Ethics revised? ›

Comment: APA's Council of Representatives voted to amend the association's Code of Ethics to make clear that its standards can never be interpreted to justify or defend violating human rights.

What are the four important ethical issues that the APA research guidelines address? ›

Here are five recommendations APA's Science Directorate gives to help researchers steer clear of ethical quandaries:
  • Discuss intellectual property frankly. ...
  • Be conscious of multiple roles. ...
  • Follow informed-consent rules. ...
  • Respect confidentiality and privacy. ...
  • Tap into ethics resources.

What was the first APA ethical code based on? ›

The first APA Ethics Code to include a specific principle or standard that directly addressed conflict between law and ethics was 1981. (See below.) Prior to that time, except for the 1953 code, there was a principle called "Moral and Legal Standards."

When did the APA create the code of ethics? ›

The American Psychological Association (APA) promulgated the first Code of Ethics for psychologists in 1953.

How do I cite the 2017 APA code of ethics? ›

How To Cite The APA Code Of Ethics
  1. Begin with the name of the author. ...
  2. The date of publication follows in parentheses. ...
  3. Next is the title in italics: Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct.
  4. The location of publication in Washington, DC.
  5. Finish with the name of the author again, or just the word "Author."
14 Apr 2022

How do you cite the ethical principles of psychologists and code of Conduct 2017 in APA? ›

Example: American Psychological Association, Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2017), https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/.

How do you cite the Social Work code of ethics in APA? ›

Cite the NASW Code of Ethics according to APA (American Psychological Association) style, as follows: Workers, N. A. (2008). NASW Code of Ethics (Guide to the Everyday Professional Conduct of Social Workers). Washington, DC: NASW.

When was the last time the APA code of ethics was updated? ›

The principles are considered to be aspirational while the standards are enforceable by agencies adopting them, including the APA. The current version of the code was developed in 2002, became effective in 2003, and was amended in 2010.

What is the difference between APA and ACA code of ethics? ›

ACA has very extensive requirements and prohibitions relating to therapeutic relationships; APA is more general with a principle-driven approach. ensure protection for those who are receiving services from an organization. professionals which allow members more freedom in their decision-making.

What happens if a counselor violates the code of ethics? ›

A breach of the code has certain consequences, while a violation of law has other consequences. If a professional counselor does something unethical, we might remove them from ACA membership, but if that counselor breaks a law, they can actually go to jail or pay a significant fine.

How do you write a code of conduct? ›

Tips for writing a code of conduct

Use simple, clear language that all employees can understand. Use examples of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour to clarify points. Get someone else to read the document before finalising it. A friend or family member can help, but a professional proofreader would be best.

What are some examples of code of ethics? ›

Personal code of ethics examples
  • I will treat others as I wish to be treated. ...
  • I will be honest and transparent in my personal and professional life. ...
  • I will always put forth my best effort, and I will maintain a healthy work-life balance. ...
  • I am dedicated to continually improving myself.

What is code of conduct with example? ›

A code of conduct in practice can range from big picture ideals to specific rules. For example, a code of conduct can outline how employees should behave to reflect the organization's wider mission, but it can also define fixed regulations related to internal practices such as dress code or break policy.

What are the 6 APA ethical guidelines? ›

The APA's Professional Standards
  • Resolving Ethical Issues.
  • Competence.
  • Human Relations.
  • Privacy and Confidentiality.
  • Advertising and Other Public Statements.
  • Record Keeping and Fees.
  • Education and Training.
  • Research and Publication.
13 May 2022

How often are ethics codes revised? ›

After 5 years, seven drafts and a series of public comment periods, psychologists now have a newly revised Ethics Code to guide their work. The 2002 Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct will become effective on June 1 this year.

What are modifiers in the Ethics Code and why are they used? ›

The modifiers used in some of the standards of this Ethics Code (e.g., reasonably, appropriate, potentially) are included in the standards when they would (1) allow professional judgment on the part of psychologists, (2) eliminate injustice or inequality that would occur without the modifier, (3) ensure applicability ...

What are the APA ethical guidelines for human research? ›

Five principles for research ethics
  • Discuss intellectual property frankly. ...
  • Be conscious of multiple roles. ...
  • Follow informed-consent rules. ...
  • Respect confidentiality and privacy. ...
  • Tap into ethics resources.

What was the first APA ethical code based on? ›

The first APA Ethics Code to include a specific principle or standard that directly addressed conflict between law and ethics was 1981. (See below.) Prior to that time, except for the 1953 code, there was a principle called "Moral and Legal Standards."

What are the 4 principles of ethics? ›

The Fundamental Principles of Ethics. Beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice constitute the 4 principles of ethics.

How do you cite the Social Work code of ethics in APA? ›

Cite the NASW Code of Ethics according to APA (American Psychological Association) style, as follows: Workers, N. A. (2008). NASW Code of Ethics (Guide to the Everyday Professional Conduct of Social Workers). Washington, DC: NASW.

What are the 6 APA ethical guidelines? ›

General ethical principles
  • Principle A: Beneficence and nonmaleficence.
  • Principle B: Fidelity and responsibility.
  • Principle C: Integrity.
  • Principle D: Justice.
  • Principle E: Respect for people's rights and dignity.
  • Resolving ethical issues.
  • Competence.
  • Human relations.

What are some of the ethical codes of research answer? ›

The following is a general summary of some ethical principles:
  • Honesty: Honestly report data, results, methods and procedures, and publication status. ...
  • Objectivity: ...
  • Integrity: ...
  • Carefulness: ...
  • Openness: ...
  • Respect for Intellectual Property: ...
  • Confidentiality: ...
  • Responsible Publication:
30 Aug 2022

When was the APA ethics code created? ›

The APA Ethics Code

The American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, adopted by the APA Council of Representatives in August 2002, became effective in June 2003.

What is the relationship between the APA ethical principles and ethical standards? ›

What is the relationship between the APA Ethical Principles and Ethical Standards? Standards are specific applications of the principles. The APA Ethical Principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence mean: protection from harm.

What happens if a counselor violates the code of ethics? ›

A breach of the code has certain consequences, while a violation of law has other consequences. If a professional counselor does something unethical, we might remove them from ACA membership, but if that counselor breaks a law, they can actually go to jail or pay a significant fine.

Which of the following are the functions of a code of ethics? ›

The purpose of a code of ethics is to inform those acting on behalf of the organization how they should conduct themselves. A code of ethics reiterates the organization's values and morals so that employees and third parties understand the standards they are accountable to uphold.


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