Principles of Professional Ethics

Standards for professional conduct, usually referred to as ethics, recognize the obligation of professional persons to provide services and to conduct themselves so as to place the highest esteem on human rights and individual dignity.  A code of ethics is an additional professional technique that seeks to ensure that each person served will receive the highest quality of service.  Even though ethical behavior involves interactions between the professional, the person served and employing institutions, responsibility for ethical conduct must rest with the professional.

School psychologists are a specialized segment within a larger group of professional psychologists.  The school psychologist works in situations where circumstances may develop which are not clearly dealt with in other ethical guidelines.  This possibility is heightened by intense concern for such issues as due process, protection of individual rights, record keeping, accountability and equal access to opportunity.

The most basic ethical principle is that of the responsibility to perform only those services for which that person has acquired a recognized level of competency.  Recognition must be made of the uncertainties associated with delivery of psychological services in a situation where rights of the student, the parent, the school and society may conflict.

The intent of these guidelines is to supply clarification that will facilitate the delivery of high quality psychological services in the school or community.  Thus they acknowledge the fluid and expanding functions of the school and community.  In addition to these ethical standards, there is the ever-present necessity to differentiate between legal mandate and ethical responsibility.  The school psychologist is urged to become familiar with applicable legal requirements.

The ethical standards in this guide are organized into several sections representing the multifaceted concerns with which school psychologists must deal.  The grouping arrangement is a matter of convenience, and principles discussed in one section may also apply to other areas and situations.  The school psychologist should consult with other experienced psychologists and seek advice from the appropriate professional organization when a situation is encountered for which there is no clearly indicated course of action.

1.Professional Competency

a)General

1)The school psychologist's role mandates a mastery of skills in both education and psychology.  In the interest of children and adults served in both the public and private sector, school psychologists strive to maintain high standards of competence.  School psychologists recognize the strengths, as well as limitations, of their training and experience, and only provide services in areas of competence.  They must be professional in the on-going pursuit of knowledge, training, and research with the welfare of children, families, and other individuals in mind.

2)School psychologists offer only those services that are within their individual area of training and experience.  Competence levels, education, training, and experience are accurately represented to schools and clients in a professional manner.  School psychologists do not use affiliations with other professional persons or with institutions to imply a level of professional competence that exceeds that which has actually been achieved.

3)School psychologists are aware of their limitations and enlist the assistance of other specialists in supervisory, consultative, or referral roles as appropriate in providing services competently.

4)School psychologists recognize the need for continuing professional development and pursue opportunities to learn new procedures, become current with new research and technology, and advance with changes that benefit children and families.

5)School psychologists refrain from involvement in any activity in which their personal problems or conflicts may interfere with professional effectiveness.  Competent professional assistance is sought to alleviate such problems and conflicts in professional relationships.


2.Professional Relationships and Responsibilities

a)General

1)School psychologists take responsibility for their actions in a multitude of areas of services, and in so doing, maintain the highest standards of their profession.  They are committed to the application of professional expertise for promoting improvement in the quality of life available to the student, family, school, and community.  This objective is pursued in ways that protest the dignity and rights of those served.  School psychologists accept responsibility for the consequences of their acts and ensure that professional skills, position, and influence are applied only for purposes which are consistent with these values.

2)School psychologists respect each person with whom they are working and deal justly and impartially with each regardless of his/her physical, mental, emotional, political, economic, social, cultural, racial, or religious characteristics.

3)School psychologists apply influence, position, and professional skills in ways that protect the dignity and rights of those served.  They promote the improvement of the quality of education and of life in general when determining assessment, counseling, and intervention.

4)School psychologists define the direction and the nature of personal loyalties, objectives, and competencies, and advise and inform all persons concerned of these commitments.

5)School psychologists working in both public schools and private settings maintain professional relationships with students, parents, the school, and community.  They understand the importance of informing students/clients of all aspects of the potential professional relationship prior to beginning psychological services of any type.  School psychologists recognize the need for parental involvement and the significant influence the parent has on the student/client's growth.

6)In a situation where there are divided or conflicting interests (as between parents, school, student, supervisor, trainer) school psychologists are responsible for attempting to work out a plan of action which protects the rights and encourages mutual benefit and protection of rights.

7)School psychologists do not exploit their professional relationships with students, employees, clients, or research participants sexually or otherwise.  School psychologists do not engage in, nor condone, deliberate comments, gestures, or physical contacts of a sexual nature.

b)Students

1)School psychologists are guided by an awareness of the intimate nature of the examination of personal aspects of an individual.  School psychologists use an approach which reflects a humanistic concern for dignity and personal integrity.

2)School psychologists inform the student/client about important aspects of their relationship in a manner that is understood by the student.  The explanation includes the uses to be made of information, persons who will receive specific information, and possible implications of results.

3)School psychologists recognize the obligation to the student/client and respect the student's/client's right of choice to enter, or to participate, in services voluntarily.

4)School psychologists inform the student/client of the outcomes of assessment, counseling or other services.  Contemplated changes in program, plans for further services and other pertinent information are discussed with the student as a result of services.  An account of alternatives available to the student/client is included.

5)The student/client is informed by the school psychologist about those who will receive information regarding the services and the type of information that they will receive.  The sharing of information is formulated to fit the age and maturity of the student/client and the nature of the information.

c)Parents

1)School psychologists confer with parents regarding assessment, counseling, and intervention plans in language understandable to the parent.  They strive to establish a set of alternatives and suggestions that match the values and skills of each parent.

2)School psychologists recognize the importance of parental support and seek to obtain this by assuring that there is direct parent contact prior to seeing the student/client.  They secure continuing parental involvement by a frank and prompt reporting to the parent of findings and progress.

3)School psychologists continue to maintain contact with the parent even though the parent objects to having their child receive services.  Alternatives are described which will enable the student to get needed help.

4)School psychologists discuss recommendations and plans for assisting the student/client with the parent.  The discussion includes alternatives associated with each set of plans.  The parents are advised as to sources of help available at school and in the community.

5)School psychologists inform parents of the nature of records made of parent conferences and evaluations of the student/client.  Rights of confidentiality and content of reports are shared.

d)Service Delivery

1)School psychologists employed by school districts prepare by becoming knowledgeable of the organization, philosophy, goals, objectives, and methodology of the school.

2)School psychologists recognize that a working understanding of the goals, processes and legal requirements of the educational system is essential for an effective relationship with the school.

3)Familiarization with organization, instructional materials and teaching strategies of the school are basic to enable school psychologists to contribute to the common objective of fostering maximum self development opportunities for each student/client.

4)School psychologists accept the responsibility of being members of the staff of those schools.  They recognize the need to establish an integral role within the school system and familiarize themselves with the system and community.

e)Community

1)Although enjoying professional identity as a school psychologist, school psychologists are also citizens, thereby accepting the same responsibilities and duties expected of all members of society.  School psychologists are free to pursue individual interests, except to the degree that these may compromise fulfillment of their professional responsibilities and have negative impact on the profession.  Awareness of such impact guides public behavior.

2)As citizens, school psychologists may exercise their constitutional rights as the basis for procedures and practices designed to bring about social change.  Such activities are conducted as involved citizens and not as representatives of school psychologists.

3)As employees or employers, in public or private domains, school psychologists do not engage in or condone practices based on race, handicap, age, gender, sexual preference, religion, or national origin.

4)School psychologists avoid any action that could violate or diminish civil and legal rights of clients.

5)School psychologists in public and private practice have the responsibility of adhering to federal, state, and local laws and ordinances governing their practice.  If such laws are in conflict with existing ethical guidelines, school psychologists proceed toward resolution of such conflict through positive, respected and legal channels.

f)Related Professions

1)School psychologists respect and understand the areas of competence of other professions.  They work in full

cooperation with other professional disciplines in a relationship based on mutual respect and recognition of the multidisciplinary service needed to meet the needs of students and clients.  They recognize the role and obligation of the institution or agency with which other professionals are associated.

2)School psychologists recognize the areas of competence of related professions and other professionals in the field of school psychology.  They encourage and support use of all the resources that best serve the interests of their students/clients.  They are obligated to have prior knowledge of the competency and qualifications of a referral source.  Professional services, as well as technical and administrative resources, are sought in the effort of providing the best possible professional service.

3)School psychologists working within the school system explain their professional competencies to other professionals including role descriptions, assignment of services, and the working relationships among varied professionals within the system.

4)School psychologists cooperate with other professionals and agencies with the rights and needs of their student/client in mind.  If a student/client is receiving similar services from another professional, school psychologists assure coordination of services.  Private practice school psychologists do not offer their own services to those already receiving services.  As school psychologists working within the school system, a need to serve a student may arise as dictated by the student's special program.  In this case, consultation with another professional serving the student takes place to assure coordination of services for the welfare of the student.

5)When school psychologists suspect the existence of detrimental or unethical practices, the appropriate professional organization is contacted for assistance and procedures established for questioning ethical practice are followed.

g)Other School Psychologists

1)School psychologists who employ, supervise, and train other professionals accept the obligation of providing experiences to further their professional development.  Appropriate working conditions, fair and timely evaluation, and constructive consultation are provided.

2)School psychologists acting as supervisors to interns review and evaluate assessment results, conferences, counseling strategies, and documents.  They assure the professional training in the field is supervised adequately.

3)When school psychologists are aware of a possible ethical violation by another school psychologist, they attempt to resolve the issue on an informal level.  If such informal efforts are not productive and a violation appears to be enacted, steps for filing an ethical complaint as outlined by the appropriate professional association are followed.

3.Professional Practices

a)Advocacy

1)School psychologists consider the pupils/clients to be their primary responsibility and act as advocates of their rights and welfare.  Course of action takes into account the rights of the student, rights of the parent, the responsibilities of the school personnel, and the expanding self-independence and mature status of the student.

2)School psychologists outline and interpret services to be provided.  Their concern for protecting the interests and rights of students is communicated to the school administration and staff.  Human advocacy is the number one priority.

b)Assessment and Intervention

1)School psychologists strive to maintain the highest standard of service by an objective collecting of appropriate data and information necessary to effectively work with students.  In conducting a psychoeducational evaluation or counseling/consultation services, due consideration is given to individual integrity and individual differences.  School psychologists recognize differences in age, sex, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and strive to select and use appropriate procedures, techniques, and strategies relevant to such differences.

2)School psychologists insist on collecting relevant data for an evaluation that includes the use of valid and reliable instruments and techniques that are applicable and appropriate for the student.

3)School psychologists combine observations, background information, multi-disciplinary results, and other pertinent data to present the most comprehensive and valid picture possible of the student.  School psychologists utilize assessment, counseling procedures, consultation techniques, and other intervention methods that are consistent with responsible practice, recent research, and professional judgment.

4)School psychologists do not promote the use of psychoeducational assessment techniques by inappropriately trained or otherwise unqualified persons through teaching, sponsorship, or supervision.

5)School psychologists develop interventions which are appropriate to the presenting problems of the referred student/client, and which are consistent with the data collected during the assessment of the referral situation.

6)The student/client is referred to another professional for services when a condition is identified which is outside the treatment competencies or scope of the school psychologist.

7)When transferring the intervention responsibility for a student/client to another professional, school psychologists ensure that all relevant and appropriate individuals, including the student/client when appropriate, are notified of the change and reasons for the change.

c)Use of Materials and Computers

1)School psychologists are responsible for maintaining security of psychological tests which might be rendered useless by revealing the underlying principles or specific content.  Every attempt is made by school psychologists to protect test security and copyright restrictions.

2)Copyright laws are adhered to regarding reproduction of tests or any parts thereof.  Permission is obtained from authors of noncopyrighted published instruments.

3)School psychologists who utilize student/client information in lectures or publications, either obtain prior consent in writing or remove all identifying data.

4)When publishing, school psychologists acknowledge the sources of their ideas and materials.  Credit is given to those who have contributed.

5)School psychologists do not promote or encourage inappropriate use of computer-generated tests analysis or reports.

6)School psychologists maintain full responsibility for computerized or any other technological services used by them for diagnostic, consultative, or information management purposes.  Such services, if used, should be regarded as tools to be used judiciously without abdication of any responsibility of the psychologist to the tool or to the people who make its operation possible.

7)In the utilization of technological data management services, school psychologists apply the same ethical standards for use, interpretation, and maintenance of data as for any other information.  They are assured that the computer programs are accurate in all areas of information produced prior to using the results.

d)School-Based Research and Evaluation

1)School psychologists continually assess the impact of any treatment/intervention/counseling plan and terminate or modify the plan when the data indicate that the plan is not achieving the desired goals.

2)In performing research, school psychologists accept responsibility for selection of topics, research methodology, subject selection, data gathering, analysis and reporting.  In publishing reports of their research, they provide discussion of limitations of their data and acknowledge existence of disconfirming data, as well as alternate hypotheses and explanations of their findings.

e)Reporting Data and Conferencing Results

1)School psychologists ascertain that student/client information reaches responsible and authorized persons and is adequately interpreted for their use in helping the student/client.  This involves establishing procedures that safeguard the personal and confidential interests of those concerned.

2)School psychologists communicate findings and recommendations in language readily understood by the school staff.  These communications describe possible favorable and unfavorable consequences associated with the alternative proposals.

3)When reporting data that are to be representative of a student/client, school psychologists take the responsibility for preparing information that is written in terms that are understandable to all involved.  It is made certain that information is in such form and style as to assure that the recipient of the report will be able to give maximum assistance to the individual.  The emphasis is on the interpretations and recommendations rather than the simple passing along of tests scores, and will include an appraisal of the degree of reliance and confidence which can be placed on the information.

4)School psychologists ensure the accuracy of their reports, letters, and other written documents through reviewing and signing such.

5)School psychologists comply with all laws, regulations, and policies pertaining to the adequate storage and disposal of records to maintain appropriate confidentiality of information.

4.Professional Practices - Private Settings

a)Relationship with School Districts

1)Many school psychologists are employed in both the public and private sectors, and in so doing, create a possible conflict of services if they do not adhere to standards of professional ethics.  School psychologists operating in both sectors recognize the importance of separation of roles and the necessity of adherence to all ethical standards.

2)School psychologists engaged in employment in a public school setting and in private practice, may not accept a fee, or any other form of remuneration, for professional work with clients who are entitled to such service through the schools where the school psychologists are currently assigned.

3)School psychologists in private practice have an obligation to inform parents of free and/or mandated services available from the public school system before providing services for pay.

4)School psychologists engaged in employment in a public, as well as private, practice setting, maintain such practice outside the hours of contracted employment in their school district.

5)School psychologists engaged in private practice do not utilize tests, materials, or services belonging to the school district without authorization.

6)School psychologists carefully evaluate the appropriateness of the use of public school facilities for part-time private practice.  Such use can be confusing to the client and may be criticized as improper.  Before the facility is utilized, school psychologists enter into a rental agreement with the school district and clearly define limits of use to the district and the client.

b)Service Delivery

1)School psychologists clarify financial arrangements in advance of services to ensure to the best of their ability that they are clearly understood by the client.  They neither give nor receive any remuneration for referring clients for professional services.

2)School psychologists in private practice adhere to the conditions of a contract with the school district, other agency, or individual until service thereunder has been performed, the contract has been terminated by mutual consent, or the contract has otherwise been legally terminated.  They have responsibility to follow-up a completed contract to assure that conclusions are understood, interpreted and utilized effectively.

3)School psychologists in private practice guard against any misunderstanding occurring from recommendations, advice, or information given a parent or child which a school may not be prepared to carry out, or which is in conflict with what the district is doing for the child.  Such conflicts are not avoided where the best interests of those served require consideration of different opinion.  Direct consultation between the school psychologist in private practice and the school psychologist assigned to the case at the school level may avoid confusing parents by resolving at the professional level any difference of interpretation of clinical data.

4)School psychologists provide individual diagnostic and therapeutic services only within the context of a professional psychological relationship.  Personal diagnosis and therapy are not given by means of public lectures, newspaper columns, magazine articles, radio and television programs or mail.  Any information shared through such media activities is general in nature and utilizes only current and relevant data and professional judgment.

c)Announcements/Advertising

1)Considerations of appropriate announcement of services, advertising and public media statements are necessary in the role of the school psychologist in private practice.  Such activities are necessary in assisting the public to make appropriate and knowledgeable decisions and choices regarding services.  Accurate representation of training, experience, services provided and affiliation are made by school psychologists.  Public statements must be made on sound and accepted theory, research, and practice.

2)Individual, agency, or clinical listings in telephone directories are limited to the following name/names, highest relevant
degree, certification status, address, telephone number, brief identification of major areas of practice, office hours, appropriate fee information, foreign languages spoken, policy with regard to third party payments, and license number.

3)Announcements of services by school psychologists in private practice, agency or clinic are made in a formal, professional manner limited to the same information as is included in a telephone listing.  Clear statements of purposes with clear descriptions of the experiences to be provided are given.  The education, training, and experience of the staff members are appropriately specified.

4)School psychologists in private practice may utilize brochures in the announcement of services.  The brochures may be sent to professional persons, schools, business firms, governmental agencies and other similar organizations.

5)Announcements and advertisements of the availability of publications, products and services for sale are presented in a professional, scientific, and factual manner.  Information may be communicated by means of periodical, book, list, directory, television, radio, or motion picture and must not include any false, misleading, or comparative statements.

6)School psychologists in private practice do not directly solicit clients for individual diagnosis or therapy.

7)School psychologists do not compensate in any manner a representative of the press, radio, or television in return for personal professional publicity in a news item.

8)School psychologists do not participate for personal gain in commercial announcements for advertisements recommending to the public the purchase or use of products or services.

B.Procedural Outline for Filing Complaints

1.If you are faced with a situation on your job that you think may conflict with your sense of professional standards or ethics, you are welcome to call either your regional director or the MASP Professional Standards committee chairperson for advice.  We can let you know if it is a common problem and how others in your situation have dealt with it.

2.Your next step is to make an appointment with your immediate supervisor to discuss the problem verbally.  Explain that you have a concern related to professional ethics or standards that make it difficult to comply with a policy, procedure, or request and ask that it be reconsidered.

3.If the response is unsatisfactory or if a decision to respond to your request is delayed, then ask for another appointment to discuss the problem.  At this time it would be best to give your immediate supervisor a written memo detailing your concerns along with a suggested solution.  You may also provide your supervisor with a copy of the MASP professional standards document.

4.If your request is denied or delayed, a good strategy at this point may be to offer to have a local person who is knowledgeable in the area of concern, and who can be a neutral third party, arbitrate the complaint.  This tactic should demonstrate to your supervisor that you are serious in your concern and intend to follow up on the matter.  If a university with a school psychology training program exists in your area, one of the department faculty members may be a good resource person here.  Your regional MASP director is another possibility.  This person would usually meet separately with you and your supervisor.,  The opinion rendered is often a compromise between the opposing positions.  Of course, any arbitration decision would be non-binding on all sides.

5.If a satisfactory resolution cannot be agreed upon, then suggest to your supervisor than an opinion be requested from the MASP Professional Standards committee.  An informal opinion can be requested by a telephone call to the chairperson.  A formal opinion should be requested  by writing to the committee chairperson or the president of MASP.

6.Upon receiving a written request for an opinion, the chairperson will consult with other members of the committee and with the president of MASP.  The person’s supervisor is also called to get the other side of the issue.  A written opinion from the Professional Standards committee will be sent to the referring person’s supervisor that requests the supervisor to respond in writing within 15 days.

7.The supervisor’s response will be discussed with the referring person.  If the response is judged unsatisfactory, or it no response is received, then a second letter will be sent to the supervisor.  This time copies will also be sent to the intermediate or local school superintendent and the county special education director.  The letter will request a response in writing within 15 days.

8.The supervisor’s response will be discussed with the referring person.  If the response is still judged unsatisfactory, or it no response is received, then a third letter will be mailed to the supervisor.  This time copies will be sent to the intermediate or
local school superintendent, the county special education director, and the Department of Special Education in Lansing.  The letter will request a response in writing within 15 days.

9.The supervisor’s response will be discussed with the referring person.  If the response is still judged unsatisfactory, then the best course may be to follow normal grievance procedures if they are available in your school or agency.  If you belong to a teacher’s union, you can seek counsel from you local union representative.  You should be aware that teachers’ unions do not always want to become involved in issues unrelated to teaching, but it is a good place to start.

10.At this point you have probably exhausted all informal and local courses of action.  If the problem is an important issue for you, then by all means stand by your convictions.  All subsequent remedies will be more formal and will involve due process proceedings.  A formal complaint under the Michigan special education code should be sent to the intermediate school district superintendent, who then is responsible for sending a copy of the complaint to the Department of Special Education in Lansing.  The complaint should list what parts of the special education code are being violated or compromised.  A several layer due process mechanism will then go into effect.  You cannot be fired from your job for filing a complaint so you will have some temporary job protection.

11.If you are a member of NASP or APA you may ask for the case be reviewed by their standards and ethics committee.  If you later decide to file suit in a court of law, these organizations will sometimes file an amicus brief in support of your position.  MASP can provide you with names and addresses of people to contact.

12.If a satisfactory resolution is still not reached after this procedure, then it is suggested that the referring person seek legal counsel.  You may wish to appeal to the MASP board for a legal opinion from the attorney representing MASP.  You may consult an attorney of your choice, however, you should know that MASP cannot assume any legal expenses the person may incur.

13.If no other legal recourses are available or are denied, then the only logical solution would be to risk to be reassigned to another position or ask that a new job description for your position be written.  A final alternative would be to resign from your job in protest.  This is sometimes effective in preventing the same problem from reoccurring with the next person hired.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The complete sequence as outlined above would seldom be either necessary or desirable.  The sequence could be terminated at any point by the referring person.  Since school psychologists do not have tenure and many do not belong to a teachers’
union, they have less protection in terms of job security.  If a job description for your position does not exist, it may be difficult to define your exact role and responsibilities.

Be advised that some supervisors will react adversely to any “outside interference” from professional organization such as MASP.  Choose your battles carefully and be prepared to stand by your convictions.  MASP cannot assume responsibility for any job repercussions dues to filing a complaint.  We are glad to offer professional advice but MASP cannot provide any job protection or legal restraint to protect persons who file complaints.

Submitted to the MASP board  May, 1986, by John Connors, Professional Standards Chair.

Third Revision, Approved May, 1986.