Competence – Ethical Standard 2 for Psychologists

Competence – Ethical Standard 2 for Psychologists


Readings on Ethics for Psychologists

Read Standard 2

Ethical Notes

Changes in Standard 2 This section is largely unchanged as well, but additions were made to expand the scope of the code and removed some conflicts. Psychologists may now provide some services in emergency situations, and in underserved areas in which the options are limited to lower quality services or no services at all. In the past, psychologists were sometimes caught in the ethical bind of either offering services with a lack of competence, or turning away a client who could not get services otherwise. Cultural issues also take on greater importance, as it is now expected that where knowledge of cultural factors “is essential for effective implementation of their services” psychologists are expected to gain the knowledge needed. The list of diverse groups also expanded to include gender identity. Finally, ensuring competence of those to whom services are delegated is stressed even more.

Competence is a tricky issue, in that knowing what you don’t know is tough. Forensic cases are especially so, and you could open yourself up to a lawsuit. Remaining up to date in the field is also a form of competence, as new instruments, methods, and theories develop. Journals, conferences, workshops, books, and classes are important.

Professional Competence
Competence covers a large area. This is mainly because psychology is such a large area, and can be applied to many industries, problems, and purposes. Basically, other psychologists are the best ones to determine our competence, but they often can not see everything we need to know and consider, so we have to each carefully watch ourselves to make sure we do “know what we think we do” and are not assuming we know it all. While in emergencies or a crises we may be able to “wing it,” and the services we provide may be better than nothing, we are charged to know the extent of our limitations.

Competence also means maintaining everything you know. The oft quoted number is that a graduate degree in psychology has a halflife of seven years. That means that in seven years, half of what you know is out of date. Clearly, staying competent will take an active effort, and is required in order to continue to draw conclusions from out work. The problem for others is that they likely can not tell when we have sufficient competence and when we don’t in order to support what we say. Thus, we are charged again to know the extent of our limitations, as well as the limitations of the people working under us.

Finally, this standard challenges us to be aware of when our competence “slips” due to personal or other kinds of reasons. Burnout and vicarious trauma, as well as personal crises like divorce and loss, can impair our work seriously, and we are charged to be aware of and proactive to deal with this.

Illinois Law on Competence

(15/15. Disciplinary action – Grounds)
Section 15. Disciplinary action; grounds.
The Department may refuse… any license… or take other disciplinary action… for…:
(15) Physical illness, including but not limited to, deterioration through the aging process, mental illness or disability that results in the inability to practice the profession with reasonable judgment, skill and safety.

Illinois Law on Awareness of personal problems

Disciplinary Action
(15/15. Disciplinary action – Grounds)
The Department may refuse… any license… or take other disciplinary action… for…:
10) Habitual or excessive use or addiction to alcohol, narcotics, stimulants, or any other chemical agent or drug that results in a clinical psychologist’s inability to practice with reasonable judgment, skill or safety.

Healthy Psychologists and Well-Being

Coster and Schwebel PPRP 28(1) 5-13
Schwebel and Coster PPRP 29(3) 284-292
They surveyed 107 department heads and 339 licensed practitioners, and did in depth interviews with six healthy psychologists. All stressed that being a healthy psychologist required:

  • self-awareness, sometimes through personal therapy and family of origin work
  • a balanced personal and professional lifestyle, including vacations
  • a good relationship with a spouse and with friends
  • having personal values

Department heads added supervision during training (as well as graduate school atmosphere and ethics training), and having a mentor. Practicing psychologists added development of professional identity and continuing education as important. Most programs had little in place for all students to support well-functioning; time, money, and faculty or student resistance were top constraints.

They suggest programs:

  • don’t take vulnerable students
  • orient students and help them adjust, and allow student concerns to be heard
  • revise curriculum to include a focus on student’s mental health
  • foster peer group work and a sense of connection to one’s peers
  • respect for diversity and difference but focus on some cohesiveness
  • employ practitioners who model well-functioning

Questions for Thought:

  • What does it take to be competent?
  • Why does the State require some people to obtain licenses before offering services to the public?
  • Why couldn’t you provide feedback to the “clients” you tested for class practice?