The contribution of ethical concepts to the development of professional applied psychology



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Cranfield University



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In this PhD by publication, the author’s work concerning what it is to be a psychologist operating - sometimes simultaneously - within different ethical domains will be examined using conference papers, journal publications and book chapters. This material, which spans a period of 20 years, demonstrates a fundamental concern with the normative ethical question of “what we ought to do” as psychologists in complex situations; it will be argued that this work has contributed to the academic debate and influenced policy and thus practice. In order to position the body of work, and to introduce Codes of Ethics (which seek to operationalise ethics within prescribed domains), the thesis begins by introducing normative ethics. It is argued that psychology’s stance is essentially deontological, whilst organisations are utilitarian in orientation. This implicit tension is addressed in the author’s contributions, which are examined within their (historic) academic context using a comparison of the British Psychological Society’s 1985 and the significantly revised 2006 Code of Ethics. These codes, rather than the more usual positioning within one specific literature, are used to provide a coherent narrative concerning the development of the author’s thinking in this domain, though, necessarily, different overlapping academic literatures are accessed depending on context. The cumulative academic contribution of the published work has been to advance ethical ideas in some areas of professional applied psychology. For example, in the 1985 code, the complexity of operating within organisational contexts was barely acknowledged; this has now significantly changed. The body of work examined here has emphasised how psychologists must consciously and deliberately coexist and act The contribution of ethical concepts to the development of professional applied psychology within overlapping, and sometimes competing, professional and organisational ethical contexts, domains and philosophical positions. In this synoptic piece, after the presentation, positioning, and examination of the contribution of extant published material, possible future directions for research and practice are indicated. For instance, preliminary material will be presented suggesting that, in occupational psychology, where complex differing ethical perspectives are present, public ethical debate appears to be relatively neglected; some hypothesis are presented. More theoretically, areas for development include the extension of recent philosophical ethical ideas to these particular domains of applied psychology, including thinking that suggests that ethical considerations precede other kinds of social obligation. Finally, and linking the academic more firmly to practice and policy, a brief theoretical examination of the possible impact of statutory registration on different branches of psychology is briefly attempted, and potential practical and philosophical ethical consequences for UK psychologists and psychology are briefly outlined.


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