When it comes to issues of professional competence, APA’s Ethics Code requires psychologists to prepare before practicing in a new area, typically through advanced coursework, training or at least supervision. That’s a lesson licensed child and family psychologist Nancy McGarrah, PhD, says she wishes she’d learned earlier in her career—before she found herself on the witness stand in a therapy patient’s child abuse case, with no training in forensic psychology and little understanding of how to testify in court or stay within her role as treating psychologist. She was providing professional opinions and advice beyond her role and level, and the oversight could have landed her in front of a psychology licensing board for working outside her scope of practice, she says. So, she took steps to make sure it never happened again by getting training in court-related issues.
Most situations that land clinicians in front of licensing boards—or escalate to lawsuits and even a loss of license—start off gradually and often involve practitioners who believe they have their patients’ best interests at heart, says Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD, interim director of APA’s Ethics Office.
“That’s one of the biggest risk factors for a lot of psychologists—they often just want to be helpful,” she says.
The Monitor spoke with ethics experts about three of the most common ethical risks for psychology practitioners—and steps practitioners can take to avoid these pitfalls.