Ethics for Forensic Psychology, Uncategorized

Eight Step Ethical Decision Making Process

Five steps make consistent among ethical decision-making models:  Identification of the problem, development of alternatives, evaluation of choices, implementation of the best option, and evaluation of the results (TEXT).  However, the original models lacked the consideration of emotional and situational factors or the potential need for immediate response (TEXT).  Knapp and VandeCreek proposed the benefit of considering emotional and situational factors creates a causal effect in regards to psychologist’s interventions:  The psychologist indulges in self-care activity, understands when personal emotional needs interfere with judgment, and become more alert to the situational pressures (TEXT).  Knapp and VandeCreek also recommend that psychologists assume potential issues that may emerge in practice and then develop implementable decision-making steps when needed (TEXT).  Additionally, the pair believed it essential to consider ethical challenges for developing the highest potentiated course of action.  Therefore, Bush, et al.  proposed an eight-step ethical decision-making model which included the previous five, but considered factors previously not recognized (TEXT).

The belief of Bush and colleagues emphasized that to be of benefit to the legal system and elicit ethicality one should develop a sense of divergence among conflicts of interest (Neal, 2010).  Shifting focus to maximize ethical potential avoids misconduct and enforceable disciplinary action and encourages positive ethicality in one’s profession (Neal, 2010).    Understanding the perception of why some practices are unethical appears as one of the most vital concepts of Bush, Connell, & Denney (Neal, 2010).  Although certain practices are clearly identified as unethical, there are gray areas remain that require the consideration of their implications and the possible repercussions of one’s chosen reaction to the practice (Neal, 2010).  Forensic Psychologists should ponder the issue at hand and determine the course of action that will produce the highest level of ethicality.  The eight-step ethical decision-making model developed by Bush, Connell, and Denney defines a process of decision-making that aims to guide Forensic Psychologists to avoid ethical dilemmas (Neal, 2010).

The eight steps of the model include: 1) Identify the problem, 2) consideration of context and setting, 3) identification and use of ethical and legal resources, 4) consideration of personal beliefs and values, 5) consider possible solutions for the problem, 6) consideration of potential consequences of all possible decisions, 7) choice and implementation of course of action, 8) outcome assessment and implementation of necessary changes (Swanepoel, 2010).  Sequential order is not required for the use of the model as steps may fall out of order throughout the decision-making process (Neal, 2010).

Identifying the problem may prove difficult as Forensic Psychologists note the diversity among behavior potential exists and it is important to keep this in mind when developing a course of action or when consulting with a colleague (Swanepoel, 2010).  Clarify the problem may necessitate the need to establish a distinction between professional, moral, legal and ethical perspectives and analyze the problem according to each perspective (Swanepoel, 2010).  Considering the significance of the context and setting is necessary due to the varying nature and degree of professional appropriateness in different settings and contexts (Swanepoel, 2010).  The initial thought should include the consideration of the psychologist’s competence in the area proposing the issue (Neal, 2010).  Included in this thought should be the gravity of the decision, the ability to work the case through all stages, and potential professional consequences, whether internal or external repercussions (Neal, 2010).  Secondly, the contextual considerations include answers to who, what why, how, and where questions about the issue and the services sought (Neal, 2010).

One of the most challenging steps, identifying and using ethical and legal resources, requires the implementation of the general rule to a particular case (Swanepoel, 2010).  The Forensic Psychologists should have knowledge and understanding of the enforceable code of ethics and the laws underlying the regulation of their profession to choose the proper course of action (Swanepoel, 2010).  The aim of the Forensic Psychologist includes weighing the principles and finding a balance to benefit the greatest good may prove difficult as the professional may choose a course of action that carries a potential of a minor adverse reaction (Swanepoel, 2010).  Between the aim and understanding of the Forensic Psychologist, it implies the vitality of considering the bioethical principles and constitutional principles of the individual(s) involved as a basis for deviating a plan of action that upholds the individual constitutional rights and values while still maintaining the highest level of ethicality (Swanepoel, 2010).

When Forensic Psychologists consider personal beliefs and values, he or she should gain an understanding of their biases and the potential impact their beliefs and values ay have on their decision making (Swanepoel, 2010).   Relying on personal beliefs and values as opposed to professional ethics may reduce objectivity and impartiality creating a bias with the potential of an adverse outcome (Neal, 2010).  It is recommended that when moral reasoning precludes objectivity, the professional is acting on a bias and should abstain from proceeding (Neal, 2010).

When developing solutions for the problem, it is important to develop all possible solutions (Swanepoel, 2010).  However, vitally important is to remain unbiased when choosing which solutions hold the best benefit and least risk to the client and society.  Once solutions have been developed, the Forensic Psychologist 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 final step in the Ethical-Decision-Making Process consists of following up with the chosen solution and implementing changes when needed (Neal, 2010).  As with all other steps win the model, seeking input from colleagues may be necessary to implement change.  However, the possibility of criticism is high, but an objective professional should acknowledge and accept criticism as it may prove beneficial to apply suggestions from colleagues to reduce bias and remain ethical (Swanepoel, 2010).


The Eight-Step Ethical-Decision-Making Model seems to align with the APA Ethics Code and The Forensic Psychologists Specialty Guidelines in the sense that all codes and guidelines are touched on when making a necessary decision.  The emphasis of reducing bias is strategically analyzed throughout the process, and the promotion of understanding the effects of personal beliefs and values holds potential for an adverse outcome.  Additionally, the Model promotes objectivity as the priority from the start to the end.  Remaining objective, causes the professional to learn and develop an understanding of the context and setting allowing the professional to deviate his or her appropriateness in the scenario.  However, despite the positives of the Model, it almost sends a negative vibe.  Forensic Psychologists are trained to properly approach, assess, and solve areas in which their expertise in necessitated.  Following a lengthy Model such as this may be perceived as redundant and unnecessary as many steps overlap and others are repeating previous steps.   For instance, steps five, six, and seven are repetitive thoughts which all end with the same or similar answer:  The solution to the problem and potential consequences.  The Model does force one to think and approach the problem from all possible angles which, ideally, creates a solution driven by ethical motivation, not personal bias.


TEXT:  Ethical Practice in Forensic Psychology: A Systematic Model for Decision Making,  (I have only been able to log in once – hence the info from paragraph 1 only)

Neal, T.M.S. (2010). Choosing the lesser of two evils: A framework for considering the ethics of competence for execution evaluations. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice,10, 145-157. doi: 10.1080/15228930903446724

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



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