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Decoding the Ethics Code

Decoding the Ethics Code
A Practical Guide for Psychologists

Fourth Edition

April 2016 | 568 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
Revised to reflect the current status of scientific and professional theory, practices, and debate across all facets of ethical decision making, this latest edition of Celia B. Fisher’s acclaimed book demystifies the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. The Fourth Edition explains and puts into practical perspective the format, choice of wording, aspirational principles, and enforceability of the code. Providing in-depth discussions of the foundation and application of each ethical standard to the broad spectrum of scientific, teaching, and professional roles of psychologists, this unique guide helps practitioners effectively use ethical principles and standards to morally conduct their work activities, avoid ethical violations, and, most importantly, preserve and protect the fundamental rights and welfare of those whom they serve.

Part I: Introduction and Background
Chapter 1: A Code of Ethics for Psychology: How Did We Get Here?

The 2010 Amendments: The Controversy Over Psychologists’ Involvement in Inhumane Military Interrogations

Format and Distinctive Features of the APA Ethics Code

Chapter 2: The Introduction and Applicability Section, Preamble, and General Principles: What Do They Mean?
Understanding the Introduction and Applicability Section and the Preamble

What Is the Relevance of Specific Language Used in the Ethics Code?

How Is the Ethics Code Related to APA Ethics Enforcement?

How Is the Ethics Code Related to Sanctions by Other Bodies?

How Is the APA Ethics Code Related to Law?

General Principles

Chapter 3: The APA Ethics Code and Ethical Decision Making
Ethical Commitment and Virtues

Ethical Awareness and Moral Principles

Ethical Awareness and Ethical Theories

Ethical Absolutism, Ethical Relativism, and Ethical Contextualism

Ethical Competence

Steps in Ethical Decision Making

Doing Good Well

Part II. Enforceable Standards
Chapter 4: Standards for Resolving Ethical Issues
1. Resolving Ethical Issues

Chapter 5: Standards on Competence
2. Competence

Chapter 6: Standards on Human Relations
3. Human Relations

Chapter 7: Standards on Privacy and Confidentiality
4. Privacy and Confidentiality

Chapter 8: Standards on Advertising and Other Public Statements
5. Advertising and Other Public Statements

Chapter 9: Standards on Record Keeping and Fees
6. Record Keeping and Fees

Chapter 10: Standards on Education and Training
7. Education and Training

Chapter 11: Standards on Research and Publication
8. Research And Publication

Chapter 12: Standards on Assessment
9. Assessment

Chapter 13: Standards on Therapy
10. Therapy

Appendix A: Case Studies for Ethical Decision Making


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  • A Microsoft® Word® test bank is available containing multiple choice, true/false, short answer, and essay questions for each chapter. The test bank provides you with a diverse range of pre-written options as well as the opportunity for editing any question and/or inserting your own personalized questions to effectively assess students’ progress and understanding.
  • Editable, chapter-specific Microsoft® PowerPoint® slides offer you complete flexibility in easily creating a multimedia presentation for your course. Highlight essential content and features.

“This book is to be praised for emphasizing a working decision-making model as opposed to the ‘What should you do if…?’ hypothetical approach that can create a false sense of security. It is gratifying to hear students approach ethical questions in this way. . .”

Dr. Tom J. Brian
The University of Tulsa

“I have continued to use the Fisher text because I find it clear, succinct, current, and accessible. Student reviews have been consistently positive about the text over the years.”

Richard P. Halgin
The University of Massachusetts Amherst

“I think [the Hot Topics and Need to Know sections] are very attractive components of the text, especially given the organizational structure of walking step by step through the code.”

Jeff Ashby
Georgia State University

“The Hot Topics and Need to Know boxes are excellent additions. They bring in the most relevant practice changes in the field.” 

Dr. Ida Dickie
Spalding University
Key features


  • Over 30 new chapter-ending Ethics Cases with Discussion Questions encourage readers to apply key concepts to real-world dilemmas.
  • Up-to-date coverage of new Affordable Care Act requirements gives practitioners and researchers the information they need to apply the APA Ethics Code to inter-professional health care settings.
  • New content covers applying the Ethics Code in psychotherapy with sexual and gender minorities, new specialty guidelines for forensic psychology, and the core competency guidelines for training in professional practice.
  • Updated Digital Ethics sections cover ethical practices in the use of new technologies for assessment, psychotherapy, research, consultation, and teaching.
  • Revised coverage of ethical theories and ethical decision making includes new examples relevant to advances in the field.
  • Updated Hot Topic sections inspire ethical exploration and debate.
  • Recent controversies include new APA guidelines on psychologists’ involvement in military interrogations, whether religious beliefs can exempt students from training with diverse populations, and prohibitions against the use of conversion therapys for sexual and gender minorities.  


  • Scholarly reactions to the Ethics Code shed light on its application since its 2002 adoption.
  • Cases that explore important real-world issues inspire readers to debate them with their fellow students, transforming the classroom environment into an interactive learning experience.
  • An alternate Table of Contents draws attention to how standards throughout the Ethics Code relate to specific concerns and settings.
  • Chapter-ending Hot Topic sections demonstrate how the code applies to emerging moral debates, such as the integration of religion and spirituality in therapy.
  • “Digital Ethics” and “Need to Know” sections explore the widening endorsement of "self-care" as an essential ethical tool in ensuring competence in psychological work; ethical challenges and opportunities in the use of social networking and other new media in research and practice; and implications of the APA's evolving commitment to human rights and social justice to ethical decision making in an increasingly global world.

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 5

Chapter 13

For instructors

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