APA Ethical Code of Conduct

by Audra Bianca ; Updated September 26, 2017
Woman at therapy

The American Psychological Association is the professional organization of psychologists in the United States. Psychologists who are members of APA are ethically and professionally bound by its Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, which the association publishes as a comprehensive document. This document includes an introduction, preamble, general principles and standards for the profession.

Ethical Principles of Psychologists

The APA recognizes five ethical principles: (A) "Beneficence and Nonmaleficence" refers to the psychologist's responsibility to benefit their patients and to do them no harm. (B) "Fidelity and responsibility" describes duties to society, the profession and patients--to be responsible and trustworthy. (C) "Integrity" concerns honesty and accuracy in clinical practice, teaching and science. (D) "Justice" involves giving equal access to psychology to all and giving all patients the same quality of care. (E) "Respect for people's rights and Dignity" involves treating all people as worthy individuals while protecting their right to privacy, confidentiality and self-determination.


The APA Code of Conduct includes 10 enforceable standards for the profession. Psychologists must: 1. Focus on resolution of ethical issues 2. Work only within the boundaries of their professional competence. 3. Observe human relations guidelines. 4. Respect others' privacy and guarantee confidentiality of patient information within legal limits. 5. Avoid false or deceptive statements in their advertising or other promotion. 6. Keep accurate records of their activities, maintain their confidentiality, and reach agreement with clients regarding fees. 7. Subscribe to professional standards when providing education or training. 8. Be governed by professional standards regarding research and the publication of findings. 9. Base their assessments on professionally recognized information and techniques. 10. Thoroughly explain to prospective clients the goals and objectives of individual and group therapy, as well as the guarantees or limits of confidentiality.

Psychologists accused of violating these standards in the course of their professional duties are investigated by the Ethics Committee.

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The APA first created a Committee on Ethical Standards for Psychologists in 1947. The first version of the Ethics Code was adopted in 1952 and published in 1953. The most recent version of the Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct was in place from 1992 to 2003. The current code was adopted in 2003 and amended in 2010.


Psychologists and other interested persons can download the entire document in portable digital format (PDF) at the APA ethics website. This document can also be printed in parts from the website or bookmarked for offline availability on a personal computer. APA offers additional resources in support of these documents, including differences between the 1992 and 2002 Ethics Codes, rules and procedures for the Ethics Committee and Ethics Code Updates to the APA Publication Manual.


APA notes in the Introduction that the Preamble and General Principles are not enforceable, but the 10 ethical standards are enforced by the Ethics Committee according to standard rules and procedures. Also, psychologists and student affiliates are governed professionally by the ethical standards. These principles apply to scientific educational and professional roles of psychologists but not to their private lives.

About the Author

Audra Bianca has been writing professionally since 2007, with her work covering a variety of subjects and appearing on various websites. Her favorite audiences to write for are small-business owners and job searchers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Master of Public Administration from a Florida public university.

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