Ethics in Psychology: Meaning and Application

APA outlines general ethical principles that ensure the safety and well-being of the participants involved in a study. In addition, APA has a list of ethical standards, including protection against harm, harassment, and discrimination.

What are Ethics?

Ethics are defined as moral or philosophical codes that focus on the concept of the things that are right and which are wrong. An ethical approach guides individuals' behavior toward what is right and wrong. In the field of Psychology, ethical guidelines are adopted to ensure that the patients who are given therapy and the participants involved in research conducted by Psychology researchers do not face any negative consequences as a result of their participation. Ethics in Psychology are of utmost importance and protect the right and dignity of individuals. Ethics in Psychology apply to various fields, including therapy, research, education, and publication.

Five general principles of APA

Following are the five general principles of APA −

  • Beneficence and Non-maleficence − The first principle of APA states that during the study or research, psychologists and researchers need to safeguard the rights and welfare of the individuals involved in the study and maximize their benefits. This principle states that researchers must work freely from biases and prejudices. Hence, researchers must conduct research without biases that may negatively affect the study.

  • Fidelity and Responsibility − This principle highlights the importance of conscientiousness in the research and study conducted by psychologists. It is a universally understood principle and is concerned with compliance with ethical principles with colleagues and others in the work network. Ethical misconduct by researchers needs to be pointed out whenever spotted by others, but the respect and dignity of the researcher should not be violated in the process.

  • Integrity − The third principle highlights what researchers are not supposed to do during the study. This comprises practices of manipulation, fabricating results, fraud, plagiarism, and deception. It ensures that deception should be avoided, and psychologists should weigh if the harms of the study outweigh the advantages.

  • Justice − The fourth principle states that fairness and justice should be practiced by all researchers, such that equality is practiced throughout the study and all the participants benefit from the services and the research conducted by the practitioners.

  • Respect for Rights and Dignity − The fifth principle of APA emphasizes obtaining individuals' consent before the study's conduct and safeguarding the autonomy and confidentiality of the participants involved in the study. Psychologists need to be aware of and respect cultural, linguistic, and gender differences and not violate the rights and dignity of the individuals while the research is being conducted.

Ethical considerations in Psychology

The code of ethics given by the American Psychological Association guides the appropriate conduct of psychologists and practitioners. Psychologists often need a specific framework of guidelines that help maintain their ethical practices in their specific professional context. The APA code of ethics clarifies the appropriate professional behavior in the various aspects of practice. Psychologists deal with sensitive situations, and ethical concerns play a vital role in this case.

Informed Consent

Psychologists and practitioners play multiple roles as researchers, therapists, consultants, and educators. For example, while dealing with patients, therapists must inform them about the services offered and what to expect from them. While conducting research, it is important to let participants know about the purpose of the study and the potential risks involved.

Client Welfare

Psychologists must ensure that the services they provide work toward their client's welfare and do not harm them.


Psychologists must ensure that patients' sensitive information and details are not shared with a third party and that privacy and confidentiality are not breached.


Therapists should only lie about their areas of expertise and provide services in the areas they are competent in if it is an emergency.

Ethical considerations followed by researchers

  • Avoiding harm to participants caused during the study.

  • Conduct the study truthfully and honestly to convey the findings to others.

  • Include the strengths and weaknesses of the study in the research article.

  • Collect facts and details accurately before actually carrying out the assessment.

  • Assure that the participants are provided with informed consent before the conduction of the study and are made aware of their rights.

  • Maintaining the confidentiality and anonymity of respondents and the results of their study.

Ethical considerations followed by Practicing Psychologists

These are −

  • Fidelity − Fidelity, or being trustworthy, involves the principles of loyalty, faithfulness, and fulfilling commitments. Practitioners who comply with the principle of fidelity act under the trust and faith invested in them by the client, aim to meet clients' expectations and honor their clients' confidentiality and privacy along with safeguarding their dignity.

  • Autonomy − This principle allows clients the freedom of action and choice. This involves the ability of Psychologists and practitioners to encourage the clients to be self-dependent and make their own decisions wherever possible. The practitioner has the responsibility to help the clients understand the impact of their actions on themselves and society and help them make rational and responsible decisions in the future.

  • Beneficence − This principle highlights the importance of acting in a way that serves the participants' best interests and looks after clients' welfare. Furthermore, it focuses on strictly working within the competence and providing adequate services by trained professionals.

  • Non-Maleficence − Non-maleficence is the principle that focuses on not causing harm to others at any cost. It focuses on not causing intentional or unintentional harm to others in any way and avoiding social, sexual, and financial exploitation of the clients. The practitioner is responsible for tackling any harm that may befall their clients.

  • Justice − This principle highlights the importance of treating all clients equally and fairly, irrespective of their cultural, religious, linguistic, and gender differences. Justice does not necessarily imply treating all participants equally but proportionately, and there needs to be a rational explanation for the choice to treat a client differently from others.


It is crucial for Psychology to articulate certain principles of ethics, being a scientific discipline. It gives credibility and respect to the researchers and practicing Psychologists and help in resolving ethical issues which may be ambiguous by proving guidelines and an ethical code of conduct. There are arguments that, in the past, ethical considerations may have been broken, taking an example of Little Albert's experiment conducted by Watson because it caused harm to the participant of the study. Others argue that unethical researches are a thing of the past Psychology is evolving, and ethics have become much more important in the present than in the past.