BPS Ethics and ConductThe British Psychological Society (BPS) is the professional body governing the work of all psychologists. This includes those studying at GCSE and A Level (examination boards also provide extra ethical guidelines that must be followed).
The information below is taken directly from the 2006 BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct. It has been paraphrased to make it more accessible to GCSE and A Level psychologists, but it closely follows the structure and wording of the original document to ensure that it is as accurate as possible.
GCSE, A Level, IB and undergraduate students should always conduct their studies in consultation with their tutors - this is especially true in circumstances where the BPS Code of Ethics advises consulting colleagues / peers.
The BPS (2006) Code of Ethics and Conduct is organised into 4 sections:
This includes respecting the privacy and confidentiality of participants, obtaining informed consent and being aware of the effects of power and individual differences.
This includes psychologists only undertaking research and other services for which they are qualified.
This includes responsibility for protecting and debriefing research participants.
This includes awareness of conflicts of interest, avoiding personal relationships with clients and participants and dealing with breaches in ethical conduct.
At all times psychologists must be able to justify their actions in relation to the BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct.
- Respect the dignity and worth of everyone
- Be aware of participants' perception of psychologists' power and authority.
- Respect people's right to privacy and self-determination. Respect individual differences, such as culture, role, age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and religion.
- Respect individuals' knowledge and expertise. Avoid unfair and prejudiced practices.
- Obtain consent from participants or their representatives (guardians / parents of vulnerable persons or children.*
Privacy and Confidentiality
- Maintain confidentiality, only disclosing information that is necessary to the research / treatment, or if required in law.
- Securely record and store confidential information.
- Inform participants / clients of the circumstances in which confidentiality may be breached (for legal / ethical reasons, in consulting with colleages, or in the use of translators, for example).
- Consult with a colleague when a breach of confidentiality may be necessary.
- Document any breach of confidentiality. Make audio, video or photographic recordings only with permission from participants or their representatives.
- Ensure that participants understand the nature and purpose of research or other services so that they may give informed consent.
- Keep records of consent, including dates and how it was obtained.
- Consult with appropriate third parties where a need for treatment is identified and informed consent can not be obtained. In these cases, approval must be obtained from the appropriate ethics authorities, or in consultation with peers and colleagues if this is not possible.
- Consult with appropriate ethics authorities where the nature of the research means that informed consent is not possible. Where no ethics authority exists, consult with peers / collegues.
- Be aware of the restrictions on the consent obtained from detained persons (also applies to those in institutional care / hospital).
- Where consent has not been obtained, research should be restricted to observations of public behaviour in locations and situations where those being studied would normally be observed by other others. In conducting public observations, researchers must be aware of cultural values and maintain the privacy of those being observed, who may not be aware they are being observed.
- Obtain further consent if the nature of the research / treatment changes.
- Only withhold information from participants / clients if it is necessary to protect the integrity of the research / treatment or in the public interest.
- Avoid intentional deception of participants / clients, unless it is necessary to the research / treatment. Any deception must be disclosed as soon as possible.
- Support the self-determination of participants / clients (their ability to make decisions and judgments about their situation, requirements etc.). Inform and make sure participants / clients are aware of their right to withdraw at any time.
- Comply with requests to withdraw and destroy all data relating to those who withdraw.
- Develop and maintain an awareness of professional ethics, including the Code of Ethics.
- Make ethical considerations a part of all practices.
- Be aware of ethical dilemmas and accept responsibility to resolve these, in consultation with others if necessary.
- Ensure that decisions follow the Code of Ethics.
- Be aware that legal obligations may conflict, and adhere to the Code of Ethics as far as possible whilst meeting any legal requirements.
- Only engage in practices that are within the psychologist's competence. Engage in continued professional development.
- Maintain up to date knowledge and awareness of developments in relation to practices.
- Seek consultation and supervision as required.
- Be aware of the limitations of methods and conclusions obtained.
- Ensure that others also comply with the Code of Ethics.
- Be aware of any changes in personal health or circumstance that may impair professional competence.
- Refrain from practice if competence is impaired.
- Encourage colleagues to seek professional consultation if impairment is indicated.
- Avoid harm to participants / clients.
- Avoid activities that might bring the profession into disrepute.
- Be aware of activities of others.
- Inform clients of the conditions under which services may be terminated.
- Take advice if there is any ambiguity about whether services should be continued.
- Terminate services where clients do not appear to be benefitting from them and are unlikely to do so.
- Refer participants / clients to alternative services as appropriate.
- Consider the research from participants' point of view so that all risks to well-being, health, values and dignity can be eliminated.
- Be aware of the effects of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion etc. and consult with others about these effects.
- Ask participants about personal factors that may lead to harm and inform them of actions that could be taken to reduce this harm.
- Do not use financial or other incentives that may cause participants to risk greater harm than they would in normal everyday life.
- Obtain approval from independent advisors where harm, discomfort or negative consequences may follow from the research. Obtain further consent from participants if this is the case.
- Inform participants that any financial compensation is not affected by their right to withdraw.
- Inform participants that they may refuse to answer questions and that this may lead to termination of their participation.
- Inform participants of any psychological or physical problem if not doing so may endanger their wellbeing.
- Be cautious in giving advice and refer to others if required.
- Maintain the highest standards of animal welfare - further guidelines on this are published separately to the Code of Ethics.
- Debrief participants at the end of their participation, informing them of the outcomes and full nature of the research.
- Identify any unforeseen harm, discomfort or misconceptions and address these, arranging for further assistance as necessary.
IntegrityHonesty and Accuracy
- Be honest and accurate about professional qualifications and affiliations, correcting any misrepresentations.
- Be honest about conclusions and findings, including potential limitations.
- Inform clients of the costs / payments for services.
- Provide due credit for the work of others, only claiming ownership of own work.
- Do not encourage unrealistic expectations about services.
- Be aware of personal relationships that may conflict with future professional relationships.
- Avoid forming relationships that may conflict with professional relationships.
- Inform participants / clients of potential conflicts of interest.
- Do not abuse professional relationships in order to advance personal interests.
- Recognise that conflicts of interest and inequality may still apply after the termination of participation / services.
- Do not engage in personal relationships with clients or participants. Maintain a workplace free from harassment - harassment can be any act that another person finds intimidating, hostile or offensive.
- Inform all parties as part of induction that harassment policies exist in the workplace and the BPS.
- Ensure that all parties are aware of power structures and tensions.
- Challenge colleagues who appear to have engaged in ethical misconduct and consider bringing allegations.
- If allegations of ethical misconduct are made, this should be without malice or breach of confidentiality.
- Take all reasonable steps to assist those investigating an allegation of ethical misconduct.
[Download BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct (March 2006)]