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by Judy E. Hall, Ph.D.

Professionals like psychologists have a special obligation, an unwritten contract, to serve the public interest. This special contract with society emanates from the fact that psychology has been accorded the status of a profession. In return for being granted the right to establish education, training and credentialing standards, to develop an ethics code and discipline as needed, and to determine who is qualified to serve the public, psychologists are granted the status of membership in a profession. A profession has certain obligations. While not mandated, it is expected that a professional provides pro bono services. Law firms often publicize the amount of pro bono services contributed in a year. Healthcare professionals frequently contribute their time to free healthcare clinics. Universities are evaluated on what contributions they make to the community. Today, in the wake of the Enron and similar scandals culminating in passage the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, non-profit professional organizations are increasingly required to define the way they serve the public interest, even though they may not be mandated to do so by law (as licensing bodies are).

There are other ways to serve the public interest. By adhering to the profession’s ethics code which has been properly developed and updated over time, professionals honor that commitment. One element is ensuring that one’s knowledge and expertise stays current. Continuing professional development, while mandated by many licensing bodies for renewal of the license to practice, or voluntary as in some Canadian jurisdictions, is expected of professionals who provide services to the public. In the public’s mind, continuing to practice solely on the basis of what was learned in graduate school 30 years ago is unacceptable. Whether mandatory or voluntary, a professional must stay abreast of changes in the scientific and professional foundation for practice, applications of that knowledge to service delivery, and revisions of the ethical code. While that is a large target, reading articles on ethical practice helps psychologists rethink how they should practice and thus contributes to their continuing effectiveness.

This issue focuses on three aspects of professional ethics. Dr. Celia Fisher and Mathew Oransky of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education examine the many facets of providing effective informed consent prior to engaging in intervention. Drs. John Norcross and Jeffrey Barnett discuss the ethical responsibility to care for ourselves so that we may continue to effectively serve clients. Doctoral students Emma Sterrett (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Jacqueline Donnelly (Duke) collaborate on confidentiality issues with the adolescent population. By reading these articles we hope you will be better informed and thus able to better serve patients. The online continuing education at E-Psychologist.org will also assist you in meeting licensure renewal requirements. Continuing education is offered free to Registrants by the National Register.

For more information on how the National Register serves the public interest, seeNationalRegister.org and FindaPsychologist.org.