Early Career Professionals Corner

Vaneeta Sandhu, PsyD

Graduate school and formal professional training come with built-in supports (e.g., faculty, coursework, seminars, supervisors) for any ethical dilemmas that may arise. However, these supports dissolve during the transition from trainee to independent professional. There are few formal structures for support and guidance during the early career phase aside from the ethics-related continuing education requirements that apply to all psychologists. As a result, early career professionals might encounter several challenges to approaching ethical issues, including fear of approaching a colleague for assistance, fear of holding incorrect perceptions, defensiveness or retaliation from colleagues, or strained professional relationships.

One of the challenges of the early career position is how to approach a colleague about an ethical concern, particularly those who may be more experienced or even outside the psychology field (e.g., in interdisciplinary teams). In health psychology, we are often faced with figuring out the political climate, hierarchy, silos, and other established systems and structures. It is difficult to acculturate to this setting and to navigate interpersonal relations between colleagues – particularly when discussing professional ethics. Early career professionals must therefore be proactive in anticipating ethical challenges so that they are prepared to manage these issues when they arise.

A first step to managing ethical issues is to find a trusted colleague(s) to consult with. These are colleagues who share your fears or risks and who can support you in your decision-making process. They may be former classmates, people connected to your training programs, coworkers, or contacts from professional activities.

Take the time to research a decision-making model that works for you (see below for a list of helpful links). It is more fun to find a model when you are not in the middle of an ethical dilemma, so research different options in advance! Consult with your colleagues around what models they use as well. I recently joined an ethics consultation group that meets monthly, and it is a joy to discuss personal decision-making processes instead of focusing solely on stressful ethical dilemmas.

When ethical challenges do arise, role playing the discussion you want to have with your consultant colleague can be invaluable. Through this process, you can find the language that you want to use and perhaps reduce initial anxiety. Check in with colleagues before, during, and after the consultation process to ensure consistent support.

For health psychologists, it is optimal that you consult with those who are familiar with the unique nature of integrated care work. Become aware of the resources you have available to you. This may include literature on ethics, your consultant colleagues, a confidential conversation with a program director, or a state or province licensing board consultation service.

Finally, remember to take care of your overall wellbeing. Navigating ethical situations is not an easy task and can take its toll both physical and mentally. Be aware of your sleeping patterns and how much time you spend thinking of the situation. Personally, when I know I am going to have a conversation or meeting regarding ethics, I make sure to schedule something relaxing in the evening. Ultimately, know that your intent is to protect the public and the profession.

Suggestions on how to approach a more senior colleague about an ethical concern? Interested in a future article about approaching non-psychologists in integrated care about ethical concerns? Please contact Dr. Vaneeta Sandhu at vaneeta.sandhu@gmail.com

List of helpful links for decision-making models:

Feminist Ethics

Steps in Ethical Decision Making (Ken S. Pope, Ph.D., ABPP & Melba J. T. Vasquez, Ph.D., ABPP)http://kspope.com/memory/ethics.php

Social Constructivism Model (Cottone, 2004)

Transcultural Integrative Model for Ethical Decision Making (Garcia et al., 2003)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1556-6678.2003.tb00253.x/abstract

Ethical Decision Making from a Multicultural Perspective (Frame & Williams, 2005)