Ethical Grounds of Psychological Help as a Means of Preserving Mental Health of a Person

(Tetiana Yablonska, Natalia Bulatevych)

Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (Ukraine)


Introduction. Practical psychological service is actual and significant field of psychologists’ activity in modern society. Society is becoming more and more aware of the importance of psychological assistance and human support in various spheres of its life: in the educational process, in professional activity, in solving personal and family problems, in overcoming difficulties in severe life situations.

Social changes in Ukraine in recent years have led to an increase in the number of people who need professional psychological help, which is called to support in preserving their mental help. This puts difficult tasks for psychologists and they need to improve their professional skills and adhere high professional standards in work, above all ethical ones.

It is obvious that professional standards, professional ethics ensure the quality of psychological services, and protection of the interests of both a psychologist and their clients.

Purpose. The purpose of this article is to analyse the ethical dimensions of psychologists’ professional activity through the prism of psychologists’ perceptions of the ethical aspects of psychological counselling

Methodology. Professional ethics means a system of moral norms, values, principles of behaviour that specify the requirements for objectives, tasks and conditions of a certain type of work, and serve as an internal regulator of behaviour and relationships in the community of professionals (Myagotin, 2011). The ethics of psychologists’ work is based on universal moral values, including free and comprehensive development of a person and respect for him/her, intimacy of people, creation of a just, humanitarian, and prosperous society. The ethical principles and rules of the psychologists’ work form the conditions under which their professionalism, humanity of their actions, respect for people, and the real value of their efforts are preserved and increased (Krylov, Yuryev, 2000).

In addition to general ethical principles, specific ethical standards are developed for psychologists’ activity. In particular, the EFPPA Code of Ethics (European Federation of Professional Psychological Associations). Ukraine become a member of EFPPA in 2017. Code of Ethics of EFPPA includes provisions governing the professional activities of psychologists which are united into 4 general principles:

Respect for a person’s rights and dignity means awareness of and respect for the knowledge, insight, experience, and avoidance of practices as a result of unfair bias, which may lead to unjust discrimination; confidentiality; work based on a client’s informed consent.

Competence means awareness of the limits of competence derived from education, training and experience, awareness of the limits of procedures for particular tasks, and the limits of conclusions that can be derived in different circumstances and for different purposes; professional development; obligation not to practice when ability or judgement is adversely affected, including temporary problems.

Responsibility means psychologists’ responsibility for the quality and consequences of their professional actions, promotion and maintenance of high standards; avoidance of the misuse of psychological knowledge or practice; responsibility towards a client, which continues after the formal termination of the professional relationship.

Integrity means honesty and accuracy, accuracy in presenting information, hypotheses, conclusions, and opinions expressed in professional reports and statements; avoiding double relationships with a client in financial issues of counselling / psychotherapy, (Meta-Code of Ethics)1.

The issues of the ethical principles of psychologists’ activities, the underpinning values of their work are actively discussed in psychological studies (Bondarenko, 2012; Bocheliuk, Zaritska, 2007; Bulatevych, 2015; Corey, Corey & Callanan, P., 2007) Vorobyeva, 2009). The scientists note that psychologists’ professional activities are bound to work with a person’s inner world and personality, which requires observance of special principles and rules of ethics.

According to the researchers (Karandashev, 2000), the most important principles of psychologists’ professional ethics are: professional competence (a psychologist must know their rights and duties, professional capability and act only within their professional competency); non-infliction of harm to a person (psychologist’s activities should not harm the health and interests of a person); objectivity (a psychologist must hold an objective position, in particular by applying standardized, reliable, valid adapted techniques as well as use adapted methods for data processing and interpretation); respect toward a client (a psychologist must respect the dignity of their clients and show honesty in communicating with them); professional confidentiality.

In modern psychological practice many ethical problems of psychologists’ activities remain unresolved. Thus, excessive regulation of such activities leads to psychologists’ decisions being too formalized. The psychologists’ professional ethics is divided into “mandatory ethics”, which is the minimum of ethical rules and guidelines to be followed by psychologists, and “aspirational ethics”, which is that level of compliance with ethical guidelines when a psychologist acts in the client’s best interest (Corvey, 2016). There are other aspects of psychologists’ activities related to ethical issues:

◦ incorrect assessment and psychological diagnostics in counselling (psychotherapy) may result in wrong diagnosis and accordingly his/her stigmatization;

• a formalized, technological approach involving short and standardized interventions;

• an insufficiently defined attitude of the professional community to multiple relationships in counselling (combining the roles of a teacher and a therapist, a supervisor and a therapist, counselling of friends, employees, relatives, common business with a client, etc.), which is the basis for the emergence of ethical dilemmas in the psychologists’activity (Corvey, 2016).

In order to empirically study the views of psychologists and clients on ethical norms, the author’s questionnaire was used, in which statements were formulated based on the psychologists’ ethical code. The questionnaire includes the questions requiring open answers of the respondents (in the form of unfinished sentences), and the wording reflecting the basic requirements of the ethical code with the proposal for their evaluation.

The four categories from the Ethical Code of the European Federation of Professional Psychological Associations (EFPPA)2 were used in content-analysis of the psychologists’ and clients’ statements: respect for a person’s rights and dignity, competence, responsibility, integrity. The methods of content analysis of unfinished sentences were used for data processing, together with linguistic and semantic analysis of a statement frequency (Glukhov, 2008; Tarasova, Cheremukhin, 2017), Student’s t-criterion, and Pearson correlation coefficient.

Results. The psychologists’ views on the important ethical aspects of psychologists’ professional activities were studied. The empirical study was carried out on 46 psychologists aged 22 to 59 years, an average of 38.7 years, having a work experience of 1 to 34 years, average experience of 12.6 years.

Peculiarities of psychologists’ representations about ethical values and standards in their professional activity were singled out as a result of the survey analysis. Thus, the majority of polled psychologists (78%) consider confidentiality and respect for a client as the basis of professional activity. Another important basis for professional activity, is understanding of the limits of psychologists’ competence (60% of respondents). The third place in the frequency of references is the subjective well-being of the psychologist and the inadmissibility of the use of directives, instructions, tips (30% of those polled). 26% of the respondents considered important psychologist’s work with their own personal problems and subjective well-being of a psychologist, observance of the limits during counselling (a contract), responsibility for used techniques. Less important, but often mentioned are such aspects of activity such as good organization of counselling conditions and customer safety (21% of respondents), creating conditions for a client’s personal development (21%).

As a result of the content-analysis, it was found out that the statements related to the category of "respect for a person’s rights and dignity" constitute 37.2% of all statements, they are mentioned by 95.7% of the surveyed psychologists.

As much as 25.62% of the statements were categorized as "competence", and78.3% of the surveyed psychologists pointed out the importance of standards pertaining to competence.

Only 7.43% of all the statements belong to the category of "responsibility". The psychologists’ responsibility as the ethical value and standard of professional work is highlighted in the responses of 47.8% of the surveyed psychologists.

The statement belonging to the "integrity" category make up 23.14% of all statements and 82.7% of the surveyed psychologists mentioned them.

The analysis of frequency of statements classified into a certain category allows us to speak of a peculiar "rating" that represents the values and ethical norms of professional activities in the psychologists’ views. Hence, the standards related to respect for a client are the most important, the principles and standards described by the categories of competence and integrity are rated a bit lower, and responsibility has the lowest importance.

The performed analysis has revealed statements difficult for categorization and describing an emotional, “human” side of the relations between psychologists and their clients. These are the following concepts: indifference, trust, emotional comfort, a stable emotional state, emotional and mental inclusion, openness, acceptance, and faith in a client. These statements make 6.61%, but they are mentioned by 47.8% of psychologists, which indicates the significance of emotional aspects of their activities.

Limitations and strengths of the study. The research performed shows that the ethical code of a psychologist is a sufficiently reliable basis for effective interaction with the client, but, at the same time, it does not solve all practical contradictions of the process of providing psychological assistance, and sometimes stands in opposition with the organization of such practice.

Practical/Social value. The consequences of communicating with a psychologist have a great personal significance for the client. Compliance or not with the ethical principles of professional activities influence the counselling results, developing or destroying client’s identity.

The significance of this study of views about professional ethics and the prospect of further researches is seen in the perspective of increasing the professional competence of future psychologists regarding the issue of mental health and improving the quality of providing psychological assistance to clients.

Conclusions. The ethical principles of psychologists’ professional activities are aimed at the establishment of universal humanitarian and social values; the main ethical principles are respect for a person, protection of human rights, sense of responsibility, honesty and sincerity with respect to a client, professional competence, commitment to the counselling purpose and confidence in its scientific basis.

It has been empirically discovered that psychologists’ views on ethical principles in their activities are fairly logical and consistent, the correspond with the provisions of the ethical code. It has been discovered that psychologists’ views on ethical principles’ importance (respect for person’s rights and dignity, competence, responsibility, integrity) and emotional aspects of interaction determinated by psychologists’ orientation on a certain “framework” and the rules of interaction. At the same time, ethical requirements, not being the subject of work with the client, provide security, trust, and cooperation, exactly the conditions that are the basis of effective psychological assistance.

Keywords: mental health, psychologists’ professional ethics, ethical values, psychological counseling.

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