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The Ethical Dilemma in Learning Task Two
Jacqueline Munroe
EDPS 604: University of Calgary
Dr. Irene Estay


The Ethical Dilemma in Learning Task 2

You are a graduate student doing your doctoral dissertation on the experiences of women
who have been sexually involved with previous therapists. The women have been referred to the
project by their current therapists, have consented to share their experiences, and have been
assured of confidentiality. In conducting your interviews, you are told the names of two of the
previous therapists who had become sexually involved. You had not asked for this information
and, in fact, had asked that the women not reveal the identities of the therapists with whom they
had been sexually involved. You now wonder what your responsibilities are. Should you report
the two therapists to their respective regulatory bodies? Should you persuade and assist the
women to make formal complaints themselves? Assuming this issue is outside your research
mandate, should you do nothing? (Companion Manual Vignette Research #38).
As an aside to the 10 Steps of Ethical Decision Making Process (Canadian Psychological
Association, 2001) my first question in the following vignette would be to determine whether the
women who had mentioned names of their therapist had been sexually involved with their
therapists at the time of therapy, or at some point in time after therapy had completely concluded.
The Professional Standards (CPA, 2000) state that psychologists must refrain from sexual
relationships with clients for at least 2 years after termination of professional services or for as
long as the client is vulnerable to the psychologists influence (Truscott & Crook, 2004, p. 91).
The later statement can be found under the ethical principle of Responsible Caring; Value,
Minimizing Harm (CPA, 2000) and would indicate that if the time after treatment has been less
than two years, the responsibility must be on the psychologist (therapist) to ensure the following:
that a clear contract of terminated services has been addressed, the emotional bond established
between a psychologist and client has disappeared and that the relationship is not based on a
power imbalance, inherent in a psychologist client professional relationship (Truscott & Crook).
Best case scenario, if it has been two years since termination of contract for both women, the
graduate student could possibly have no ethical dilemma, however, realistically this would not
have been the case. Therefore,
Step 1. Identification of the Individuals and Groups Potentially Affected by the Decision
The individuals I see who may be potentially affected by any decision I might come to
are the research participants, the named therapists, and on a broader perspective, any current
clients of the therapists, as well as myself (and my future within the CPA). Lastly, the discipline
of psychology may be impacted as the social contract held by these therapists and mentioned in
the values statement for Principle I, Respect for the Dignity of Persons, is based on public trust
Step 2. Identification of Ethically Relevant Issues and Practices, Including the
Interests, Rights, and Any Relevant Characteristics of the Individuals and Groups Involved
and of the System or Circumstances in Which the Ethical Problem Arose.
A chart which outlines the Code of Ethics for Canadian Psychologists, and includes the
The Four Ethical Principles with their Respective Values and Standards (CPA, 2001, p. 107)
will be used to highlight the key ethical values at play in this dilemma. I have identified 10
ethical values needed to further examine my dilemma; three each under Respect for the Dignity
of Persons (I) and Responsible Caring (II) and two each under Integrity in Relationships (III) and
Responsibility to Society (IV).
The Four Ethical Principles with their Respective Values and Standards as Found in the
Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (2000)

I. Respect for the
Dignity of Persons

II. Responsible

III. Integrity in

IV. Responsibility
to Society

1. General Respect

1. General
Caring (II.1-II.5)

1. Accuracy/ Honesty

1. Development of
Knowledge (IV.1-
2. General Rights

2. Competence
& Self
Knowledge (II.6-
2. Objectivity/ Lack
of Bias (III.10-III.13)
2. Beneficial
Activities (IV.4-
3. Non-

3. Risk/ Benefit
Analysis (II.13-
Openness (III.14-
3. Respect for
Society (IV.15-

4. Fair Treatment/
Due Process (I.12-

4. Maximize
Benefits ( II.18-

4. Avoidance of
Disclosure (III.23-

4. Development of
Society (IV.19-

5. Informed Consent

5. Minimize Harm

5. Avoidance of
Conflict of Interest

5. Extended

6. Freedom of
Consent (I.27-I.30)

6. Offset/ Correct
Harm (II.37-II.44)

6. Reliance on the
Discipline (III.36-

7. Protection for
Vulnerable Persons

7. Care of
Animals (II.45-
7. Extended

8. Privacy (I.37-I.42)

8. Extended

9. Confidentiality

10. Extended

Responsibility (I.46-

Principle / Value


Value: Informed Consent

1.16 Seek as full and active participation as
possible from others in decisions that affect
them, respecting and integrating as much as
possible their opinions and wishes.

I.21 Establish and use signed consent forms
that specify the dimensions of informed
consent or that acknowledge that such
dimensions have been explained and are
understood, if such forms are required by law
or if such forms are desired by the
psychologist, the person(s) giving consent, or
the organization for whom the psychologist

Value: Privacy

I.37 Seek and collect only information that is
germane to the purpose(s) for which consent
has been obtained.

I.40 Respect the right of research participants,
employees, supervisees, students, and trainees
to reasonable personal privacy.

My Thoughts

I am aware that before a decision is reached
that will affect the two women involved, there
participation in the decision making process
will be needed.

I have established consent forms that assured
the women that what they disclosed would
remain confidential. Those were the grounds to
which they understood the experiment. It
would be unethical of me to disregard what has
already been discussed and assured.

I know that the two women were specifically
asked not to disclose the names of the
therapists involved; however, I did not think to
delve into or divulge the consequences of
doing so. Therefore, when consent was signed
in an agreement to participate in this research,
it was for the purpose of obtaining the thoughts
and experiences of women who have been in a
sexual relationship with their therapist and not
for the purpose of gathering names and
potentially identifying those who have
committed an act of professional misconduct.

Again, the two women were assured that
confidentiality would be protected and that
their affairs with the therapists would remain
private. Given the very private nature of this
information and the fact that these women are

Value: Confidentiality

I.43 Be careful not to relay information about
colleagues, colleagues clients, research
participants, employees, supervisees, students,
trainees, and members of organizations, gained
in the process of their activities as
psychologists, that the psychologist has reason
to believe is considered confidential by those
persons, except as required or justified by law.
(Also see Standards IV.17 and IV.18.)

I.45 Share confidential information with others
only with the informed consent of those
involved or in a manner that the persons
involved cannot be identified, except as
required or justified by law, or in
circumstances of actual or possible serious
physical harm or death.
(Also see Standards II.39, IV.17, and IV.18.)


Value: General Caring

II.1 Protect and promote the welfare of clients,
research participants, employees, supervisees,
students, trainees, colleagues, and others.

receiving therapy currently (were referred by
current therapists) I feel that I should be
respecting their rights to keep this to
themselves. I feel that I can bring to their
attention the process of filing a complaint
perhaps by referring them to the Concerns
about a Psychologist section of the Alberta
College of Psychologists site; however, I feel
that I should go no further than this. Although
specific names were disclosed, should I still be
respecting the right of my participants to retain
their personal privacy?

If I were to go ahead and report to the College
of Psychologists, I would in fact be relaying
information about research participants that I
have gained during my research as a graduate
student in psychology. I know that the
information is confidential, that informed
consent was signed and participants were
assured of information remaining confidential,
however, this may be a situation where
relaying information is justified by the
Canadian Code of Ethics (CPA, 2000) or the
law of registered psychologists (reporting

I am aware that before I share this information
with others, if that is what will be decided, I
must obtain informed consent from the two
women involved. However, should I even be
sharing this confidential information? There is
no threat of physical harm or death. The
women are currently in therapy and have been
referred by their therapists to discuss these
matters. This value statement, while it doesnt
fully apply to my dilemma, makes me feel like
disclosing this confidential information is

I have a responsibility to protect my research
participants, and I feel that encouraging them
to make a complaint against the psychologists
would be in their own best interest. Because
therapists inherently hold a position of power
over their clients, it could be that exploitation

II.2 Avoid doing harm to clients, research
participants, employees, supervisees, students,
trainees, colleagues, and others.

Value: Offset/Correct Harm

II.40 Act to stop or offset the consequences of
seriously harmful activities being carried out
by another psychologist or member of
another discipline, when there is objective
information about the activities and the harm,
and when these activities have come to their
attention outside of a confidential client
relationship between themselves and the
psychologist or member of another discipline.
This may include reporting to the appropriate
regulatory body, authority, or committee for
action, depending on the psychologists
judgment about the person(s) or body(ies) best
suited to stop or[Third Edition] [20]
offset the harm, and depending upon regulatory
requirements and definitions of misconduct.


Value: Straightforwardness/ Openness

III.17 Honour all promises and commitments
included in any written or verbal agreement,
unless serious and unexpected circumstances
(e.g., illness) intervene. If such circumstances
occur, then the psychologist would make a full
and honest explanation to other parties
has occurred in these situations and steps must
be taken to correct the situation in some way.

It could be that by reporting these incidents to
the college could result in some form of
emotional distress to the women involved. It
could be that they truly care for the therapist
mentioned and do not want anything to come
from this disclosure. It may be best to leave it
at directing them to the Alberta College of
Psychologist site, and possibly presenting a
brochure to file a complaint. This would leave
it entirely up to the women, as they would be
armed with the knowledge of how to proceed if
they so desired.

I am aware that I have a responsibility to offset
harm done by another psychologist, however,
the women do not report being harmed by the
activities and our relationship is one of
confidentiality. I also must be aware of the
time frame of the sexual relationship. Was it
within 2 years of termination of service or was
it not? Likely, it was not and the dilemma
persists. If I report to a regulatory body will
this offset whatever harm may have been done
to the women? Will it prevent/protect other
women from facing the same issue? I must
further examine, what exactly constitutes
reporting misconduct. There is a possibility
that armed with some knowledge, the women
will decide to report independently and this
would stop any future harm from occurring, if
harm in fact has occurred.

The women were assured (verbally or written
Im not sure) that confidentiality would be kept
during the process of sharing their experiences.
I know I should honour what was said in
regards to confidentiality, however, if I can
conclude that harm has been done to these
women, the circumstances may be serious

Value: Reliance on the Discipline

III.37 Familiarize themselves with and
demonstrate a commitment to maintaining the
standards of their discipline.

III.38 Seek consultation from colleagues and/or
appropriate groups and committees, and give
due regard to their advice in arriving at a
responsible decision, if faced with difficult


Value: Beneficial Activities

IV.13 Uphold the disciplines responsibility to
society by bringing incompetent or unethical
behaviour, including misuses of
psychological knowledge and techniques, to
the attention of appropriate authorities,
committees, or regulatory bodies, in a manner
consistent with the ethical principles of this
Code, if informal resolution or correction of
the situation is not appropriate or possible.

enough to be intervened upon. If this is the
route I take, the decision must be explained in
detail to the women as to why it had to be so,
and why my assurance of confidentiality was
not kept.

Responsibility of the individual psychologists
in the Canadian Code of Ethics for
psychologists, states the following To bring
concerns about possible unethical actions of a
more serious nature to the person(s) or
body(ies) best suited to investigating
the situation and to stopping or offsetting the
harm (CPA,2000, p. 4). Again, should this be
more heavily considered than confidentiality
and upholding promises? I do not think so as
Respect for the Dignity of Persons (I) and
values around privacy and confidentiality
outweigh Integrity in Relationships (III).

I will talk to my professor about this situation
and show her the values and principles I have
identified thus far in the process. I will
seriously consider the advice I am given.

This value seems quite relevant in resolving
this dilemma. I know that informal correction
of the situation is neither appropriate nor
possible. However, after reviewing the relevant
ethical principles and values statement, I am
not convinced that bringing this information
forward at this time would be consistent with
the ethical principles of the code. There is
always the chance that the information may be
requested by court and an investigator at a later
date, however, whatever decision is made, I
will need to ensure that this document, and my
steps taken are included in relevant client

IV.18 Consult with colleagues, if faced with an
apparent conflict between abiding by a law or
regulation and following an ethical principle,
unless in an emergency, and seek consensus as
to the most ethical course of action and the
most responsible, knowledgeable, effective,
and respectful way to carry it out.

I will ask a select few, trusted fellow graduate
students, and maybe ask for their input and
then review the relevant principles and values
statements I have come up with, to see if we
can reach a consensus. I would like to resolve
this is a way that is most responsible as a
psychologist, and most respectful to the
women involved.

Step 3. Considerations of How Personal Biases, Stresses, or Self-Interests Might Influence
the Development of or Choice Between Courses of Action
I am finding this dilemma very challenging to navigate because I have essentially created
my own ethical dilemma, perhaps by not clearly stating previously potential consequences of
naming the therapists involved. I perhaps should have structured it in a written format to ensure
that no names would slip out during a discussion. I have also assured these women
confidentiality (which is a main and recurring theme in my relevant principles and values
statements) and I do not want them to lose trust in psychologists by disclosing their personal
information. I also find this dilemma challenging because it is not necessarily obvious that any
harm has come to these two women in particular. I am aware of my personal biases in this
situation which takes the form of two adults being equally involved in this dilemma; however,
only one of them is made to suffer extreme consequences. I need to shift my thinking so that is
more in line with the Professional Standards and Code of Ethics (CPA, 2000) as being law for
psychologists. These therapists have essentially broken the law. However, in knowing that this
research was of a particularly sensitive and private subject, I did assure confidentiality (I). Not
abiding by what I assured, may also be breaking the law. Since confidentiality (I) outweighs
misconduct (III), is it the lesser law to break? I am also aware of feeling resentful towards these
therapists for not controlling their actions in a more mature way. I have no doubt that they were
aware of what is involved in professional conduct as well as the implications of misconduct.
With full knowledge of such dire consequences for becoming sexually involved with clients, I
feel that these men may be lacking in self-control, which I pride myself so strongly in. My
preference would truly be to ignore the fact that I now know the names of two therapists guilty of
professional misconduct, as that information is not germane to the research itself (I.37). I need
to keep my personal biases in consideration as I approach a decision in this dilemma.
Step 4. Development of Alternative Courses of Action
Further inspection and dissection of the Code of Ethics (CPA, 2000) points towards these
three outcomes: 1) Report the two therapists to their appropriate regulatory bodies, 2) suggest the
two women make formal complaints of professional misconduct, and 3) behave as though this
information was never disclosed and keep on with the research as intended. I believe that the
outcome ruled out in my careful review of the Code of Ethics (CPA, 2000) is to simply go ahead
and report the therapists to their respective regulatory bodies. The two women entered into this
experiment, with the perception that what they disclosed would not be revealed. To reveal their
private information anyways would be synonymous with changing the terms of their consent
after the fact. These actions would be unethical on my behalf. However, two options remain
which would be appropriate in following my ethical review of this dilemma.
Alternative 1.
I would meet with the two women individually and disclose the issue that has arisen,
specifically with the unintentional disclosure of the therapists names. I would explain that my
role will be simply to provide them with relevant information and knowledge as to the
complaints process and provide a direction for future decisions. As we are in Alberta, I would
direct them towards the College of Alberta Psychologists site, and mention that there are steps
outlined for filing an official complaint if they so deicide. I would also hand them a brochure of
how to do so, ensuring appropriate information has been covered and all options are understood.
I will present this information in a factual way and ensure that my own biases do not come into
consideration while doing so. I should tell them to take their time in digesting the information
and then allow for open communication should they have any more information or questions
regarding the process of filing a complaint. Otherwise, I will not reschedule a time to review
their decision.
Alternative 2.
I will do nothing and try to remain secure in the thought that if these documents are even
ordered by court to be disclosed, I will know that I have consulted with both colleagues and my
professor and the decision to remain silent, will have been founded on the most heavily weighted
ethical principle Respect for the Dignity of Persons (I) and grounded in values of confidentiality.
According to Truscott and Crook (2004) upholding the right to privacy is essential in
maintaining individuality and selfhood. In many ways the loss of the power to make such
decisions is the loss of ones true self (p.67). I must be very cautious in relaying information
about research participants (I.40) as I do not want the women to feel betrayed, knowing they are
currently seeking therapy with another professional. I must not cause either participant to lose
faith in the discipline of psychology (Truscott & Crook, 2004). I feel that my decision is also
supported by Principle I, where the Code of Ethics (CPA,2000) states that confidential
information is only disclosed to others with consent of those involved if there may be
circumstances of actual or possible serious physical harm or death (I.45). A second value
statement, found in Principle II, revolves around offsetting the consequences of actions by others
which may cause serious physical harm or death (II.39). However, because my dilemma has
not appeared to cause serious harm to the women involved, nor does it appear to have the
potential of causing physical harm (or death) I do not believe that it would be ethical for me to
disclose any information at this time.
Step 5. Analysis of Likely Short-term, Ongoing and Long-term Risks and Benefits of Each
Course of Action on the Individual(s) / groups(s) Involved or Likely to Be Affected (e.g.,
Participants, Colleagues, the Discipline, Society, Self
Possible Positive Consequences Possible Negative Consequences

Alternative 1

Both women may gain a sense of power in
their situation, as they now feel that they have
the knowledge and direction needed to file a
complaint. The matter can be taken into their
own hands. Control and faith in the discipline
of psychology may be somewhat restored.

One or both women decide to report the
therapists named to the College of Alberta

One or both women report to the College of
Alberta Psychologists and harm that may be
yet to come is removed possibly through
further ethical education, for any current or
future female clients of the named therapists.

Alternative 2

I maintain my initial assurance that

The act of taking time to review information
may seem that I am interested in seeing that
they do file a complaint. A complaint may be
filed due to the fact that I have physically put
something in their hands (complaint brochure).
They may wish to carry out the complaint,
thinking that my stance is that is the correct
thing to do. I do not wish to impact the
decision and must tread carefully.

Women may have to deal with issues of guilt
and remorse, if a severe order is issued at the
end of the proceedings.

The investigation may be considered severe
and the license of the therapists could be
suspended during the investigation process.
The therapists are found to be guilty of
professional misconduct. The therapists will be
faced with whatever order the Hearing
Tribunal believes to be appropriate to protect
the public including suspension. If this were to
happen, clients of the named therapists will be
negatively impacted.

Because I did not provide the information to
confidentiality would be protected, and focus
on the knowledge that these women agreed
upon participating in this research in order to
share their experiences. Just because I did not
appropriately structure the research in a way
meant to guard confidentiality of the therapists,
does not mean that the terms of informed
consent to which these women agreed should
so drastically change.

The women feel empowered simply by sharing
their past experiences and are driven to seek
information regarding professional conduct of
therapists (psychologists) and what that entails.

My research continues as planned, however, I
have learned how critical it is to fully
understand the ethical code of psychologists
for my own future.

Discuss my decision to keep the information
confidential with my professor and fellow
graduate students.

the two women, one of the two named
therapists repeats the misconduct with another
client. This time, harm does come to the client
in some form which could possibly have been
prevented if I had decided upon Alternative 1.

The women feel let down by the process of
participating (and in therapists in general as
they were referred by one who has also kept
the information confidential) as they were
hoping it would lead to actions being taken that
they would not have to initiate themselves.

If the therapists are exploiting patients and this
record is subpoenaed given the nature of my
research, will I be held accountable for not
doing more to protect the public?

They disagree and our thoughts and opinions
remain on different pages. I review the process
again, this time, highlighting the principles and
values they believe were neglected and should
have been attended to.
Step 6. Choice of Course of Action after Conscientious Application of Existing Principles,
Values, and Standards
I believe that my second alternative is the better approach for resolving this dilemma. It
takes into account the respect of privacy and confidentiality that I had assured the women
involved in my research. It leaves the participants feeling that psychologist can be trusted to
uphold their word and all is as it seems in terms of voluntary participation and informed consent.
I believe it could potentially be difficult for these women to trust in psychologists to protect their
best interests after feeling that they participated in research for one purpose; but it actually
seemed to be for another. I will proceed with presenting this alternative to my professor to
determine if we have come to the same conclusion or if I need to go back and rethink my first
alternative of educating the two women on the complaints process. After thoroughly reviewing
the Canadian Code of Ethics (CPA, 2000) I feel that this option is in keeping with the code and
specific values statements. I feel confident that this decision is the most ethical and will cause the
least amount of harm for those involved.
Step 7. Action with a Commitment to Assume Responsibility for the Consequences of the
I have discussed this with my professor and will proceed with my research as planned.
Since the women in the vignette, have been assured of confidentiality, I will assume that
informed consent (I.20) must have been gathered before the research began revolving around the
protection of privacy and gathering information germane to the purpose for which consent has
been obtained (CPA, 2000, I.38). I will take responsibilities for my own actions (or inactions)
and present exactly how I came to this conclusion if these documents are ever requested. I do
believe that this is the correct course of action to take as it most strongly abides by the highest
principle of Respect for the Dignity of Persons (I) and I believe the main value to be at play here
is the value of confidentiality. I must be extremely careful not to divulge information gathered in
the process of conducting psychological research with the exception being documentation and
information required by law (I.43). Secondly, confidential information is only to be shared under
informed consent, so this would have to be another value (I.45) to be considered before making a
decision to disclose the names of the therapists implicated and the values involving informed
consent (I.12-I.26), privacy (I.31-I.36) and confidentiality (I.42-I.45).
Step 8. Evaluation of the results of the Course of Action
Although, my research will continue on as planned and the participants will have no idea
of the ethical dilemma I have had to resolve, I must remain aware of any unforeseen negative
consequences my inaction may have caused.
Step 9. Assumption of Responsibility for the Consequences of Action, Including Correction
of Negative Consequences, If Any, or Re-engaging in the Decision-making Process If
Ethical Issue is not Resolved
If for some unforeseen reason, my chosen course of action has become inappropriate,
possibly due to new information that may be disclosed (relating to harm coming in some way to
my participants) I must then revaluate my course of action based on the new information.
Step 10. Appropriate Action, as Warranted and Feasible, to Prevent Future Occurrences of
the Dilemma (e.g., Communication and Problem Solving with Colleagues, Changes in
Procedures and Practices)
Being presented with this dilemma has really increased my awareness of how heavily
psychologists must rely on the Canadian Code of Ethics (CPA, 2000). I feel that whatever the
result of my decision, I can be sure that I have carefully weighed my options and appropriately
applied ethical principles along with my own reasoning and the reasoning of trusted others. I
suspect if I had impressed upon my participants the importance of keeping names to themselves,
this issue would never have arisen. This may have taken the form of written responses, with a
reminder at the end to double check that real names have not been used. As the nature of my
research was so highly sensitive to begin with, I should have predicted this outcome. I believe
that in the future, I must be more aware of situations that may arise and plan accordingly.

Works Cited
Asscoiation, C. P. (2001). Companion Manual to the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists
(3rd ed.). (C. Sinclair, & J. Pettifor, Eds.) Ottawa, Ontario: Second Printing.
Association, C. P. (2000). Canadian code of ethics for psychologists (3 ed.). Ottawa: Author.
Truscott, D. C. (2004). Ethics for the practice of psychology in Canada. Edmonton, AB: The
University of Alberta Press.
College of Alberta Psychologists. (2005). Standards of practice. Edmonton: Author.