No Excuses: The Case for Continuing Education in Ethics

Check out the article discussing continuing education in ethics that featured Dr. Herzog and colleagues in the July 2019 AASP Newsletter!

Tim Herzog, EdD, LCPC, CMPC, BCB – Reaching Ahead LLC
Chelsea Wooding, Ph.D., CMPC – National University 
Amber M. Shipherd, Ph.D., CMPC, Texas A&M University – Kingsville


Ethics allow us to dig into deeper level phenomena regarding the nuanced process of how and why we do certain things in our work. As we put our approaches and behaviors under the microscope, we work to make sure we are doing the “right thing” regarding our clients’ performance or well-being, while also ensuring we meet standards that are moral and ethical. The Ethics Code is a helpful written set of guidelines established as the go-to document for members of AASP and our field. At times, we may see ethics as not important or not as applicable to us, specifically. We may rationalize that: 1) “ethics is boring” (so why bother with it); 2) “I am ethical” (so I don’t need to refer to a code or continue learning about ethics); and/or 3) the ethics code doesn’t apply to me because I “don’t do clinical work.”

Often, such attitudes stem from a lack of understanding regarding how ethics are applied in the real-world for everyone. We all have an obligation to adhere to a set of standards as members of this profession, whether we find it interesting or not. It does NOT matter whether we enjoy ethics, whether we are “one of the good ones” doing ethical work, or whether we do “pure” performance work or psychotherapy – the AASP Ethics Code applies to ALL of us.  We are each responsible for our continuing education on AASP’s and other relevant ethics codes as well as our corresponding behaviors in an ever-changing profession. Here we explore some concrete examples.

The AASP Preamble states, “This Ethics Code provides a common set of values upon which AASP members build their professional and scientific work. This Code is intended to provide the general principles and specific ethical standards for managing many situations encountered by AASP members. It has as its primary goal the welfare and protection of the individuals and groups with whom AASP members work. It is the individual responsibility of each AASP member to aspire to the highest possible standards of conduct.” The Principles are aspirational ideals that can guide our behaviors during mental performance consulting and the other domains of our professional work. Some of the more common concerns faced by practitioners are discussed below (please note this list is not exhaustive). 

Competence
We all need to be humble and recognize that it is impossible to be proficient and an expert in all areas of mental performance. Relevant knowledge is constantly evolving, requiring us to regularly update our understanding. For example, you may need supervision to consider broadening specialty areas (e.g., injury rehabilitation), or you must keep up with ever-changing technology. It is imperative to learn where laws and ethical standards do (and do not) align with each other, and continually work to be better at managing the “gray area” between clinical and performance concerns.

Example:
A former figure skater has been working with you regarding debilitating anxiety that prevented her from attending her freshman year of college this year. After working through identity concerns, she decided to stop figure skating and expressed excitement about attending school this coming fall. However, she has noticeably been losing weight. Her BMI is in the normal range, but she hasn’t menstruated in six months, and her OBGYN cannot identify another reason why. You are clinically trained, but you don’t have a background in eating disorders, what do you do?  Here is how the Ethics code can help guide us through this process:

 2. Boundaries of Competence

  • (a) …. Those trained in clinical and counseling psychology must be aware of potential limitations in their sport science competencies. AASP members trained in the sport sciences must be aware of their limitations in clinical and counseling psychology. Individuals from different training backgrounds must deliver services, teach, and conduct research only within the boundaries of their competence…” (see the Code for the unabridged Standard)

Referring to the Code:
Eating disorders is an area where specialized training is important. To expand beyond the area of current competence would require the supervision of someone with that training. Since there is a therapeutic alliance established, and given the timeline, seeking supervision for continued work is an option that can be seriously considered. However, it might also be suitable to refer out. Beginning by consulting a colleague with expertise and training in this area would be wise.

Confidentiality is a cornerstone of effective consulting work and helps build trust with a client. However, consultants face myriad pressures to maintain that confidentiality. Problems can arise when consultants attempt to “go the extra mile,” perhaps by trying to please everyone while overstepping boundaries, or when expectations regarding confidentiality are not established at the front end of a consulting relationship. 

Example:
You have an inspiring and well-known mental performance (non-therapy) client who you would like to discuss at the upcoming Conference, perhaps even inviting him. You know that if you asked him, he’d agree to whatever you ask, signing whatever documents in the process. At the same time, you have a nagging concern that maybe you still should not ask, knowing that the client would want to “perform” for you as a favor. What do you do?

Standard 18 is helpful in recognizing how to approach confidentiality to the benefit of clients: 

18. Maintaining Confidentiality

  • (c) …AASP members do not disclose in their writings, lectures, or other public media, confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their patients, individual or organizational clients, students, research participants, or other recipients of their services that they obtained during the course of their work, unless the person or organization has consented in writing or unless there is other ethical or legal authorization for doing so…” (see the Code for the unabridged Standard)

Referring to the Code:
Your initial conclusion might be: This might really benefit the field (and enhance your own notoriety)!  However, after consulting others (including possibly the Ethics Committee), and reading ethical Standard 18 and 4 (Exploitation and Harassment), which states in part that, “AASP members do not exploit persons over whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or other authority, such as students, supervisees, employees, research participants, and clients or patients,” you may decide to reconsider.

Titles 
Unfortunately, misrepresentation continues to be one of the most common ethical blunders in the field of sport psychology. Your educational training, certification, licensure, background, and state or territory of practice will all determine the appropriate (and ethical) titles you might use. Remember, the terms “psychologist,” “psychological,” and “psychology” are legally protected in many states and can only be used by those who are clinically trained and licensed as a psychologist. Therefore, in the United States, practitioners from a sport science and kinesiology background, even with a degree in Sport Psychology, should avoid titles like Sport Psychologist or Sport Psychology Consultant. There are no restrictions on the title Mental Performance Consultant, and certified consultants are encouraged to use the title “Certified Mental Performance Consultant®” 

Example:
You have a Master’s (or Doctorate) degree in Sport Psychology from a reputable kinesiology program. You are interviewed by someone for your local newspaper, but the newspaper quotes you as the local “sport psychologist.” What do you do?  Standard 16 reminds us that representing ourselves ethically in our titles is the responsibility of the consultant:

16. Definition of Public Statements

  • AASP members are responsible for the clarity and honesty of public statements about their work made to students, clients, colleagues, or the public, by themselves or others representing them. If AASP members learn of deceptive statements about their work made by others, AASP members make reasonable efforts to correct such statements. 

Referring to the Code: Looking at Standard 16 above, your answer is clear! Reach out to the newspaper and ask them to print a correction. Document your efforts; it may seem unfair, but you are responsible for what is printed!

Multiple Relationships/Boundaries
As multiple relationships can be commonplace in our work, it is important that professionals recognize the importance of ethically managing these roles. Virtue ethics serves as a valuable guide (e.g., Aoyagi & Portenga, 2010), and readers are encouraged to revisit the crucial differences between boundary crossings and violations. 

Example:
You work at a university and do some consulting for the athletic department. One of the student-athletes with whom you consult informs you that he will be taking your sport psychology course next semester. What do you do?  Multiple relationships can be helpful when they truly serve the best interests of clients, but can be rationalized, as in the previous confidentiality example, such that the client’s welfare is not front and center. Standard 9 provides a guide:

9. Multiple Relationships

  • … (b) An AASP member refrains from taking on professional or scientific obligations when preexisting relationships would create a risk of such harm… (see the Code for the unabridged Standard).

Referring to the Code:
University professors in sport psychology often consult for athletic departments. The risks associated with the student-athlete receiving performance coaching in one domain, while simultaneously being evaluated in another domain as a student, warrants careful consideration. Levels of risk factors can include: 1) group consulting (more didactic) versus individual sessions (more personal); 2) the possibility that the student-athlete needs or wants therapy (depending on what was negotiated with athletics – even more personal); or 3) the possibility for impaired objectivity on the part of the practitioner. (What if the athlete works hard in one domain but not the other or expects special treatment?) These risks can be mitigated to some extent by ensuring informed consent and exploring available options. Actions to minimize or eliminate multiple/dual relationships could include, but are not limited to, waiting a semester before assuming one of the roles, referring to another professional, or encouraging the student-athlete to make use of other resources to avoid the situation (e.g., online class or remote work with another consultant). When nothing else is viable, clear communication from the onset that outlines expectations and boundaries is crucial to remaining ethical (again, we encourage the reader to review literature on virtue ethics). 

Summary
Whether a seasoned veteran consultant, an early professional, or a graduate student in your first internship, we encourage you to continually document your attempts to address ethical issues. As some say, even if you did the “right thing,” if it is not recorded, “it didn’t happen.” The importance of consulting trusted (and ethical) colleagues cannot be overstated. Lastly, the AASP Ethics Committee is always available for consultation on any questions that arise. Though not everyone might have the same passion and excitement for ethics that we do, we hope this article successfully highlights the importance of continued education in ethics, and encourages you to maintain an ethical practice.  

References

Aoyagi, M., & Portenga, S. (2010). The role of positive ethics and virtues in the context of sport and performance psychology delivery. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41(3), 253-259.

Association for Applied Sport Psychology (n.d.). Ethics Code: AASP ethical principles and standards. Retrieved from http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/about/ethics/ethics-code/

2019-07-18T14:58:01+00:00 By |Career, Mental Skills|

About the Author:

Alex Oldham
Master's student in Sport Psychology at Florida State University. Intern at Reaching Ahead Counseling and Mental Performance.

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