Ethics for Forensic Psychology, Uncategorized

Case Scenario: Possible Dual Relationship?

A forensic mental health professional (who specialized in criminal cases) retired from practice about 10 years ago. She was asked by her husband’s boss to conduct a custody evaluation. The boss is seeking full-time custody of her two young children and alleges that her ex-husband has severe mental health issues.

What are the potential ethical issues raised in this scenario? Be sure to support your response with the appropriate ethical guidelines from the APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct and Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology. What action would you take and why? Be sure to describe your process of ethical decision making.


According to the APA Code of Ethics, a psychologist should practice within boundaries of competence (Code 2.01) – those areas in which they have received training, education, supervised experience, consultation, or study (American Psychological Association).  In the scenario, the retired professional specialized in criminal cases.  However, her husband’s boss is asking her to conduct an evaluation for parental custody.  Although the professional may have the ability to conduct the evaluation, the scenario explains the evaluation is for severe mental health issues.  Additionally, the Specialty Guidelines suggest the professional is responsible to develop and maintain competencies by gaining updated knowledge and skills as the field develops (American Psychology-Law Society, 2011).  The professional in the scenario has been retired for ten years.  Although she may have made the effort to continue updating her knowledge, it is likely that she has not maintained skills and may use outdated approaches or assessments to evaluate the husband.  APA Ethics Code 3.05, Multiple Relations declares one behaving unethically if he or she enters into a professional role with a person closely associated or related to the individual in need (American Psychological Association).  Entering into such a relationship may cloud the professional’s judgment and reduce objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in their role (American Psychological Association).  Additionally, engaging in the boss’s proposition, the profession increases her chances of creating conflict of interest (Code 3.06) and breaking confidentiality (4.01) (American Psychological Association) as there appears to be an interpersonal relationship with her husband’s boss.  The APA also states it is vital that the professional avoids any undue harm to the client and all others involved (Code 3.04) (American Psychological Association).

It is the professional’s choice as to whether she will conduct the assessment.  However, it is important for her to abide by the ethical guidelines outlined by the APA.  In doing so, she should remain unbiased when choosing which solutions hold the best benefit and least risk to the client and society.  Once solutions have been developed, she should establish all possible negative and positive outcomes for each possible solution (Swanepoel, 2010).  It is important to weigh the risks and benefits to determine the most positive and ethically charged approach to solving the problem (Swanepoel, 2010).  Sometimes, the highest gain coincides with risks, and the risk should achieve greater benefit to the majority creating an ethical solution.  When choosing the course of action, implementation in a timely manner is sometimes necessary to achieve the most significant result (Swanepoel, 2010).

The issue is clear:  The boss is requesting the retired professional to conduct an evaluation on her husband for a child custody battle.  Considering the context of the circumstance, the professional is retired and may be outdated in knowledge and skill.  There is also a pre-existing relationship between the requestor and the professionals husband (and an inferred relationship with the professional).  The ethical considerations should include the potential of breaching confidentiality, practice outside of professional scope, potential repercussions for her husband’s employment, etc.  Possible solutions may include referring the boss to anther professional or reporting the offer made to the courts, both of which may come with repercussions.  The professional should weigh all potentials within the possibilities.  For instance, the potential of breaching confidentiality or using deceptive statements as her thoughts and opinions may have the possibility of being persuaded by the boss due to her relationship with the professional’s husband.  Persuasions could create bias and deceptiveness.  If the professional did not expose the results desired by the boss, there could be repercussions for the husband.  However, the professional could be accused of accepting a barter if she does take the request because her husband is employed by the requestor.


American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Ethical principles of psychologists and
code of conduct including 2010 amendments
. Retrieved from http://www.apa.

American Psychology-Law Society. (2011). Specialty guidelines for forensic
. Retrieved from

Swanepoel, M. (2010). Ethical decision-making in forensic psychology. Koers, 75(4), 851-872. Retrieved from



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