Counselors, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and other practitioners of psychological sciences are expected to adhere to and uphold standards outlined in their professional organization’s ethical code, like the American Psychological Association’s (APA) “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct” (2017). These standards were developed to define what optimal psychological practice looks like and establish enforceable rules for practitioner conduct (APA, 2017). These guidelines regulate the profession and help to maintain its integrity, standard of care, and prevention of harm (Urbina, 2014). Without this guidance the testing process could be completely different from one practice to the next, leading to inconsistent test results, and potential harm by misinforming diagnosis or treatment planning.
As society rapidly advances in technology, and especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, many psychologists have adapted their practice to provide remote/online services to clients. This shift has raised many concerns for the practitioner’s ability to uphold the standard of practice according to the APA Ethics Code in the virtual world. One major concern regarding standard 9.04 Release of Test
Data is the safety and storage of information gathered from virtual client assessments (APA, 2017). In ideal ethical practice, raw scores, scaled scores, client responses, psychologist notes or recordings, etc. would be kept confidential and only released with signed consent from the client, or if required by law or court order (APA, 2017). Using a virtual platform to provide services or store information risks leaving room for error in effectively securing sensitive information from hackers, data collecting viruses, and similar online threats. The utilization of cybersecurity professionals and the development of secure and specialized software or programs are great examples of adaptation motivated by striving for the highest ideal of psychologist practice outlined in the APA Ethics Code.
In the same vein, a similar security concern exists in standard 9.11 Maintaining Test Security (APA, 2017). Separate from the test data mentioned earlier, this standard emphasizes the necessity of securing test materials: instruments, protocols, instruction manuals, training materials, and test questions (APA, 2017). These materials, if kept virtually, are also at the same risk of being commandeered by hackers without the proper education, training, or permissions to administer or utilize them. This would diminish the integrity of the tests and could cause harm to people who are not qualified to administer them, and to individuals to whom they might be administered to.
To further assimilate psychological testing to the virtual setting, I believe it would be essential to adapt existing tests or construct new tests, that are designed specifically to be administered online. In standard 9.05 Test Construction, psychologists must design tests with consideration of current scientific or professional knowledge, test validity, risks to biases, standardization, etc. (APA, 2017). When developing tests intended for online utilization, special consideration must be given to the unique limitations associated with virtual administration in order to be compliant with APA’s Ethics
Code (APA, 2017). For example, in an online testing setting, are psychologist observations accurate and reliable, and should they be included in the scoring and interpretation of testing results to inform treatment? My instinct says no, there are many things missing in virtual communication that could be imperative to the validity of the test results. By missing these details, we risk harming clients by misinforming diagnoses and treatment planning. As time goes on I hope to see innovative solutions to these testing issues, making virtual psychological services much more ethically sound, effective, and accessible.
American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. https://www.apa.org/ethics/code
Urbina, S. (2014). Essentials of Psychological Testing (2nd ed.) [E-book]. Wiley.
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There are numerous Internet sites that offer psychological tests related to intelligence, personality, and general compatibility.
- Explain the value of standards and ethics in the testing process.
- Using the APA Ethics Code, identify and discuss three Guidelines that relate to any aspect of using online testing in practice. For example, how might Informed Consent or Confidentiality be relevant to using these tests? How would Multiple Relationships be relevant to the testing process?
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