3 Professional Code for Psychologists
- 3.0 General
- 3.1 General rules
- 3.2 Rules on entering into a professional relationship and information to clients
- 3.3 Freedom to take part
- 3.4 Interdisciplinary cooperation, cooperation between colleagues and assistance
- 3.5 Rules during the professional relationship
- 3.6 File
- 3.7 Reporting in relationships involving advice, counselling or research
- 3.8 Giving information to a third party
4 Regulations on supervision/control
- 4.1 General rules
- 4.2 Complaint in the first instance
- 4.3 Appeal
The code of professional ethics of psychologists in the Netherlands has a long history behind it. The first professional code dates from 1957. In 1960, experiences with the code led to a new text, to which a preamble was added. Since that time, society has changed in many ways and experience has been gained with the use of the professional code. Although the basic principles have not changed, practical experience now seems to call for a more modern code. As an introduction to the revised professional code, valid as from 1 January 1988, the preamble starts by setting out the ideas that form the basis of a set of professional standards for psychologists. Next, attention is paid to the function of these standards in practice and finally, some remarks are made on questions of a more ethical nature, as well as on the procedure for complaints and on disciplinary jurisdiction.
The Netherlands Institute for Psychologists (Nederlands Instituut voor Psychologen, NIP) very firmly adheres to the principle of respect for human beings. This means that the psychologist will treat whoever he enters into a professional relationship with as an independent and responsible person with the right to achieve his own potential, such within the framework of his ties with and his obligations to others. There where this arises in relation to his expertise and his professional responsibility, the psychologist will also have to pay attention to problems in society. When the psychologist enters into a professional relationship with people, this relationship will be characterized by inequality. With due consideration to the principle of human equality of those concerned, the psychologist shall shape this relationship in such a way that his knowledge will serve objectives that can be endorsed by all.
Opinions on the function of a professional code for psychologists are varied. From one point of view, such a code safeguards a body of professionals against themselves, in the interests of the profession. This view may seem to be at variance with the first principle of the professional standards, which is the recognition of the dignity of humans as autonomous and responsible persons. Yet the meaning of the statement is clear: where people are working errors will be made. That is why the professional body has taken steps so that it can act in such circumstances. For such action rules are needed that can be applied in practice. As the past shows, also official disciplinary jurisdiction may be necessary: judgments have been passed and executed.
In this manner the professional body serves the interests of colleagues who could suffer from the faults of others. Also, the code serves the interests of those nonpsychologists who enter into a relationship with a psychologist and feel a justifiable need for the possibility to obtain redress. Thus it is recommended that psychologists state at their appointment that they will adhere to the rules of the professional code. Among other things this means that the psychologist will have the right and the duty to refuse jobs in some situations. The many roles which a psychologist can play: helper, advisor, judge, researcher, employee, colleague, or representative of psychology in society entail problems for which a professional code can offer guidelines for proper conduct. Even if in general a person is capable of acting competently, this can be a great help to him. In such situations the code can supply general suggestions. However, when one reads the code with the specific situation in mind in which psychologists have to work, it is easy to see that application of the general rules in a straightforward manner is unrealistic. Each specific part of the field has its own characteristics and preconditions in which the rules of the ethical code need to be specifically applied and elaborated in guidelines.
It would be beneficial if a debate were launched within the NIP on how the code guidelines apply to specific disciplines of psychology. The psychologist as a scientific researcher is also bound to the rules in the code. However, the intention of the code is not to curtail the scientific freedom of the psychologist. So far as the application of the science of psychology is concerned, every psychologist is basically free to determine his own methods of research and treatment. The only practical restrictions here are those of competency and of respect for human beings or animals that are the subjects of the research or treatment. Finally, it must be stressed that the code, as a guideline for sound professional conduct, is based on the assumption that the psychologist practises his profession in good faith, against the background of a sound scientific education, and that he will try to apply his knowledge and skills in a responsible way so as to benefit society.
Hence the basic principle of the code an underlying assumption not specifically stated in it that everyone is expected to exercise the expected prudence, not only in their relations with clients, but also with principals, employees and colleagues.
Based upon the code, an appeal may be lodged against a psychologist’s conduct and dealings by those with whom a psychologist has entered into a professional relationship, including test subjects in scientific research, if their interests can in fairness be considered to be prejudiced in any material or immaterial sense. In the case of complaints, it is their right that the conduct and dealings of the psychologist are tested objectively and that, if the complaint is founded, corrective measures are taken. This is the function of disciplinary jurisdiction, which is based upon the professional code of ethics. Disciplinary jurisdiction is not meant as a possibility for redress for people who have suffered an inevitable disappointment in their contact with the psychologist. This will have to be kept in mind when dealing with complaints about advice that has proved to have a negative effect. Apart from clients, principals and test subjects, other people involved may lodge complaints about the dealings of a psychologist. They could be colleagues who feel that these actions harm them personally or who feel that the prestige of the profession is put at risk. A complaint may even be lodged by a group of persons, within the NIP or outside it. The person making the complaint will not necessarily have to have a personal interest in the issue; however, the degree of his involvement can play a role in the final assessment of the facts. Particularly in such cases it will be important to establish to what extent the image of psychology and of psychologists have been harmed by the action.
The NIP also has an Advisory Council on Matters of Professional Ethics (Raad van Advies in Beroepsethische Zaken). NIP members are free to address questions or problems of an ethical nature to this council. The Supervisory Committee (College van Toezicht) investigates and pronounces judgment on complaints of those who feel they have been treated wrongly in some way. Such advice and judgments contribute to the further elaboration of the professional code and keep it abreast of the latest developments.
Irrespective of the legal form which the service of the psychologist has taken, the following definitions will be used:
a) a professional relationship: a relationship involving treatment, research, advice or counselling;
b) the client: the person who is treated or who is the subject of the research, advice or counselling;
the institution that is involved in the research, advice or counselling;
c) horizontal relationship: the professional relationship with the client has been initiated by the client;
d) vertical relationship: the professional relationship with the client has been commissioned by another than the client;
e) those directly involved:
-a person who is married to the client or who permanently shares a household with the client;
-foster parents, stepparents or guardians of minors, or curators;
-further relatives in a direct or indirect line up to or in the second degree;
f) third parties: those who are not principals, nor clients of the psychologist, nor directly involved with the client.
Where reference is made in this Professional Code to the psychologist, or he or him respectively, it will apply to all NIP members notwithstanding their sex.
This code has binding force for all members of the Netherlands Institute for Psychologists (Nederlands Instituut voor Psychologen, NIP) as from 1 January 1988.
The psychologist shall exercise care in practising his profession by acting according to both the letter and the spirit of the professional code.
When practising his profession the psychologist shall not abuse a preponderance ensuing from his expertise, the expertpatient relationship, and/or his position.
The psychologist shall recognize the limits of his expertise.
The psychologist shall keep up and develop his professional knowledge, taking into account recent developments in psychology.
The psychologist shall take care that persons that he has as clients will have the same opportunities in similar cases. Discrimination as to creed, beliefs, political persuasion, race, sex or on any ground whatsoever is forbidden.
On entering into a professional relationship the psychologist starts a relationship of confidence with the person(s), group or institution involved. Thus the psychologist is under the obligation to observe secrecy regarding anything which comes to his notice as a consequence of his profession, in so far as this obligation follows from the nature of the case.
The psychologist is not bound to observe secrecy when breach of secrecy is the only way to avoid immediate danger to persons.
The psychologist is under the obligation to appeal to the judge for exemption if the giving of evidence or the answering of certain questions brings him in conflict with his obligation of secrecy.
The psychologist shall keep a record of his professional activities in such a way that he is able to account for his professional actions. He shall keep these records at least one year after the professional relationship has ended, or so much longer as may reasonably be expected of him, given the nature of the professional relationship.
The psychologist shall refuse to enter into or continue a professional relationship, or shall refrain from entering into one, when he knows or when he can or could have reasonably been expected to foresee that the execution would bring him in conflict with the professional code.
The psychologist shall refrain from conduct of which he can or could have reasonably been expected to foresee that it would be detrimental to the prestige of colleagues in general and/or to the discipline of psychology.
The psychologist shall refrain from arousing excessive or unjustifiable expectations with regard to the nature, the effects and the results of his service.
Relationship with colleagues
By virtue of his knowledge and experience, the psychologist shall give his colleagues any and all help and support he can, in order to enable them to practise their profession and to conduct themselves in accordance with this code.
Before taking the decision to enter into a professional relationship with a client, the psychologist shall, if necessary, consult other experts, or refer the client or the commissioning principal to other experts.
The psychologist who has a horizontal working relationship with a client shall not accept any vertical relationship with regard to this client if this is contrary to the interests of the client.
Before entering into a professional relationship, the psychologist shall state the amount of the fee owed to him and the other conditions on which he accepts the commission, in the case of a horizontal relationship to the client or otherwise to the commissioning principal, preferably in writing, unless the fee of the psychologist is stipulated by law.
The psychologist shall give information (see note 1) with regard to the nature and the objectives of the professional relationship to the client with whom he intends to enter into a professional relationship. The psychologist shall do anything within his power to ensure that the client is entirely free to decide in a responsible manner whether to enter into the professional relationship.
a. due to deficient development or limited mental capacities, the client is not capable of making up his mind,
b. the client is a minor and has not yet reached the age of discretion (see note 2),
the persons directly involved act for the client with regard to the obligation to provide information (see part 1). In compliance with the stipulations of the Dutch Civil Code and section 0.1. under e., the psychologist decides who is directly involved.
If part 2 is applicable, or in the case of a vertical professional relationship whereby the principal, on the grounds of his statutory task, acts for the client in entering into a professional relationship, the psychologist shall in so far as possible comply with his duty of providing information to the client (see part 1), without prejudice to his own professional responsibility.
It is not permitted to enter into a professional relationship with a client without the client’s consent.
If the client, due to deficient development or limited mental capacities, is not capable of making up his mind, the psychologist shall consult with the persons directly involved. The psychologist shall only enter into a professional relationship if this can in all fairness be judged to be in the client’s interests, and if the client’s physical and mental integrity will not be harmed. In compliance with the stipulations of the Dutch Civil Code and section 0.1. under e. the psychologist will decide who is directly involved.
If the client is a minor and has not yet reached the age of discretion, the psychologist will need the consent of the client’s parents or the guardian to enter into a professional relationship.
Sections 3.1., 3.2. and 3.3. are not applicable when the professional relationship comes about as part of a vertical relationship with a principal, in which case the principal, on the grounds of his statutory task, acts for the client regarding the right of consent.
In a vertical relationship with a principal in which the principal does not act for the client regarding consent, it suffices for the psychologist to have the client’s implicit consent, i.e. the client’s actual cooperation.
The psychologist shall recognize the right of the client to break off the professional relationship at any moment or to refuse his cooperation in certain methods the psychologist employs as part of the treatment. In the latter case the psychologist, exercising due prudence (see section 1.1 part 1), has the right to break off the professional relationship when he considers continuation no longer advisable. (See also section 2.4.)
If the client is a minor and has not yet reached the age of discretion, the parents or the guardian have the right referred to in section 3.6.
If the professional relationship has come about after a commission by a principal, who, on the grounds of his statutory task, acts for the client with regard to the right of consent, the psychologist shall recognize the right of the client to refuse his cooperation in certain methods that the psychologist employs as part of the treatment. In this case section 3.7. is not applicable.
A commission for research, counselling or advice by an organisation or organisations means that the psychologist can assume that the third party or parties has/have consented to cooperate in the research, etc., unless they express themselves to the contrary. (See also chapter 7.)
This code has unaltered validity with reference to the contribution of the psychologist to any activities in cooperation with nonpsychologists. The psychologist shall not cooperate with or benefit from activities that are at variance with the code.
In the case of cooperation with colleagues, the psychologist is responsible for observance of this code in his contribution and participation.
The psychologist bears the responsibility for observance of the code for all who report to him.
During the professional relationship the psychologist shall not employ methods that are in any way detrimental to the client’s dignity or that penetrate into the client’s private life deeper than necessary for the objectives set.
The psychologist shall not, even if the client wishes this or gives occasion for this, respond to any sexual and/or aggressive manner of approach; neither is he allowed to make such approaches himself or give occasion to them.
The intentional exposure of clients to negative experiences is only allowed if the following conditions have been fulfilled:
a. Section 2.4. is complied with.
b. The client will not suffer permanently from negative effects.
c. The client is aware that he can exercise his right as mentioned in section 3.6. at any time.
d. The psychologist has taken measures to eliminate or counteract any negative consequences that may ensue in the short term.
e. The negative experiences are a fitting means of achieving the objective set for the professional relationship, and this objective cannot be met in another way.
If the professional relationship is broken off, the psychologist shall:
a. immediately correct to the client and/or the persons directly involved any misconceptions that have arisen as a consequence of the procedures that the client has undergone;
b. take measures for the client and the client system in order to neutralize harmful side effects.
The psychologist is authorized to point out their derived obligation to secrecy to those persons whose cooperation is necessary in the conduct of the professional relationship but who have no obligation to secrecy themselves.
A file is taken to mean: a collection of data, obtained by the psychologist, which he keeps because of their relevance to the quality and/or continuity of the professional relationship. Personal working notes of the psychologist are not part of the file.
The psychologist is responsible for the recording and storage of the file. A psychologist who acts as an employee or a civil servant may expect that this obligation is delegated to his employer; but the stipulations of section 6.3. are unaffected.
Before he records and stores data of whatever nature and in whatever form (for instance, audiovisual tapes) about clients in a database (whether automated or manual), the psychologist shall ensure that the database is protected against unauthorized access in both a factual and a legal sense, in such a way that he is able to act in accordance with the rules of the code.
After the conclusion of the professional relationship, the psychologist shall not keep the file linked to the identity of the client longer than is necessary in connection with the aim for which the file was created, i.e. the quality and/or continuity of the professional relationship.
In principle, the client has a right to demand inspection of the file, except when this could be highly detrimental to those directly involved or to any third parties.
If inspection of the file is likely to be seriously detrimental to the client, the psychologist may refuse access. In that case the client can name a mediator (a psychologist, doctor, or legal advisor) to exercise the right of inspection of the file for him.
a. the client, due to deficient development or a limited mental capacity, is not capable of making up his mind,
b. the client is a minor and has not yet reached the age of discretion,
those directly involved have a right to inspect the file, except if this would be contrary to the interests of the client. In compliance with the stipulations of the Dutch Civil Code and section 0.1. under e., the psychologist decides who is directly involved.
On the request for inspection of the file, the psychologist shall offer to explain the contents.
The client or his representative as mentioned in section 6.5 part 2 has a right to correct, add or remove data which form part of the file, if he can show that the data are incorrect or incomplete, or that they are irrelevant in view of the aim of the file. A request for correction, addition and removal of data must be submitted in writing.
a. the client, due to deficient development or a limited mental capacity, cannot make up his mind,
b. the client is a minor and has not yet reached the age of discretion,
those directly involved who have exercised the right of inspection as mentioned in section 6.6. also have the right of correction as referred to in section 6.8.
In a horizontal working relationship, the client has a right to inspect the report, unless the client is a person (see section 0.1. under b.) and inspection is likely to be seriously detrimental to him.
The client has a right to correct, add or remove data in the report if he can show that the data are incorrect or incomplete, or that they are irrelevant with a view to the aim of the report. A request for correction, addition or removal of data in the report must be submitted in writing.
If the psychologist and the client cannot come to an agreement when the client exercises the right mentioned in part 2, the psychologist is allowed to break off the horizontal working relationship in accordance with section 1.1.
The psychologist is not under any obligation to supply a copy of the report, unless the client is an institution.
In a vertical relationship, the client has a right to inspect the report, if desired before it is passed on to the principal, unless:
a. inspection of the report would be contrary to the nature of the vertical relationship,
b. inspection of the report is likely to be highly detrimental to the client.
In the case of a vertical relationship in which the client is a minor and has not yet reached the age of discretion while the parents (or the guardian) are not the principal, the parents or the guardian have the right of inspection of the report for the principal, unless this is contrary to the interests of the client (see note 3) or contrary to the nature of the vertical relationship (see note 4).
The third party mentioned in section 3.9. has a right to inspect the report in so far as it regards his person.
The third party mentioned in section 3.9. has no right to correction, addition or removal of data in the report.
The psychologist who submits a report to the principal in a vertical relationship is under no obligation to supply a copy of the report to the client in the vertical relationship, or those directly involved, if they are not the principals.
The client in a vertical relationship has the right to bar the reporting to the principal, unless the exercise of this right is at variance with the nature of the vertical relationship (see note 5).
The psychologist is under an obligation to point out to the client in writing his right to bar the reporting.
It is the duty of the psychologist to submit a clear report in writing to the principal in a vertical relationship, confining himself to those data that are relevant for the questions and the objectives given. The report shall clearly show what the limitations of the statements are and on what grounds the statements are based. The psychologist will exercise extra care with regard to the third party mentioned in section 3.9.
The client in a vertical relationship has a right to correct, add or remove data in the report if he can show that the data are incorrect, or irrelevant in view of the aim of the report.
If the psychologist and the client cannot reach agreement, the psychologist shall point out to the client that he can independently inform the principal of his objections.
The parents or the guardian who, in pursuance of section 7.3., are permitted access to the report, have the right of correction as referred to in section 7.8. Part 2 of section 7.8. is also applicable here.
After the conclusion of a relationship involving advice, counselling or research, the psychologist shall not keep the report data linked to the identity of the client longer than necessary.
The psychologist may only supply data linked to the identity of a client to a third party if this is stipulated by a legal regulation (see note 6) or if the client has granted permission; but this does not prejudice the psychologist’s own professional responsibility.
a. the client, due to deficient development or a limited mental capacity, is not capable of making up his mind,
b. the client is a minor and has not yet reached the age of discretion,
the psychologist may only supply data linked to the identity of the client to a third party if this is in accordance with legal regulations.
The psychologist may supply data to a third party on request for purposes of scientific research, statistics and scientific publications or publications for educational purposes, provided the privacy of the client is not overly invaded; this will not affect the psychologist’s professional responsibility pursuant to section 1.4.
For the purpose of intervision, the psychologist may supply anonymous client data to third parties and discuss these with them.
1 The information may include, among other things:
the activities with which the client will be directly or indirectly confronted;
the type of data that will be collected about him or her;
the institution or institutions with an interest in the professional relationship;
the objectives of the professional relationship and the context which it takes place;
the place of the client and the psychologist in this process;
potential main or side effects of the professional relationship;
methods of research or treatment that may be used;
the obligation of the psychologist to act in compliance with the professional code and with disciplinary jurisdiction.
5 Some examples: reportage to the Industrial Insurance Medical Service (Gemeenschappelijke Medische Dienst) in relation to a disablement benefit, reportage as part of the selection of prisoners for placement in a penitentiary institution.
6 For instance: The Inspector of Public Mental Health (Inspecteur van de Geestelijke Volksgezondheid) has a right to inspection of the client’s data in so far as clients are accepted on a legal authorization.