Ethical Principal for Scandinavian Psychologists


Psychologists contribute to the betterment of people’s living conditions and quality of life by developing and making known psychological knowledge, and by the practical use of this knowledge.

Through their knowledge, psychologists have the professional capacity to help bring about important changes for individuals, groups and organizations. The persons and groups that psychologists come into professional contact with are often in a life situation which can limit their possibilities for an optimal existence, and which rend them vulnerable and dependent. Such occupational conditions require psychologists to be strongly aware of ethical questions and are the reason why psychologists have chosen to formulate professional ethical principles.

The term professional ethical principles emphasizes the necessary connection between a high professional and ethical level in psychologists’ work.

The principles are formulated with the intention that they shall:

  • serve as a support to Scandinavian psychologists with regard to taking a stand on questions of ethics
  • protect clients and research participants (individuals and groups) from inappropriate and/or harmful treatment
  • be a foundation for maintaining confidence in psychological practice and research

The professional ethical principles regulate the professional activity of psychologists, which is defined as any formalized situation in which psychologists – in their capacity of professionals – perform professional activity or research in relation to an individual, group or organization, in the following called client.

The principles are binding for all members of the Scandinavian Psychological Associations under the practice of any form for psychological professional activity. Professional activity includes, but is not limited to: Teaching, research, clinical work, consultation, amministrative work, planning, work with matters of organization and personnel.

The professional ethical principles should also be complied with in professional situations which cannot be immediately characterized as psychological professional activity, but in which psychologists participate and which build on skills attained through their education as psychologists.

The principles cover important aspects of psychologists’ working situation and professional activity. They are organized in eight sections, each of which covers a fundamental concem, and which are again divided into main principles and more detailed clarifications and examples. Neither the principles nor the clarifications and examples should be regarded as fully covering all situations that can arise in psychological professional activity.

The profession of psychology is in a constant state of development, with a continual influx of new knowledge and methods. It is therefore important that there is a continual discussion and development of professional ethical principles. The principles should however also reflect basic personal and societal matters and therefore have a stability which is not influenced too easily.

The work of psychologists can often result in the possibility of deeply influencing other people. The special demands that the professional ethical principles represent are therefore essential. Many of the professional relationships of psychologists and tasks they perform are however of such a nature that it is impossible to regulate them through formal rules. The individual psychologist’s ethical consciousness, sense of responsibility and professional competence are therefore of vital importance.

Psychologists always adhere to the professional ethical principles and do not let themselves be influenced to violate them.

Basic Principles

One basic principle is that all people have the right to respect for their personal integrity and that this is not violated. The professional activity of psychologists takes place in accordance with this principle. Psychologists are therefore cautious with respect to matters in their working situation or within themselves which might threaten the principle of respect for personal integrity.

Psychologists work on the basis of scientific knowledge and substantiated experience in order to promote people’s potential for personal insight and self-determination. Psychologists work to eliminate or decrease human suffering and for the betterment of people’s living conditions. Psychologists have a special responsibility for those who are not in a position to obtain for themselves a decent life.

Psychologists keep themselves well-oriented with regard to scientific and professional developments within their areas and work continually to increase their competence. Psychologists strive to be conscious of their own professional and personal strong and weak sides, such that they realistically can judge which tasks they can and cannot take upon themselves.

It is self-evident that professional ethical principles cannot cover every possible situation. A basic principle is that psychologists take into consideration all affected parties. If this is not possible, they inform of this and consider whether it is ethically justifiable to continue the task under the given conditions.

Psychologists inform buyers of services, when necessary, of the demands their professional ethics make. Psychologists assure themselves that there is nothing in their conditions of employment that prevents them from living up to the demands made by the professional ethical principles



  • A. Psychologists are responsible for the consequences of their work and assure themselves, as far as possible, that their services are not misused.
  • B. Psychologists refrain from any action or statement which assaults the integrity of any individual. Psychologists are careful that their knowledge is not used to offend, exploit or oppress any individual.
  • C. Psychological activity and knowledge is never used for purposes of oppression.

Clarifications and examples

  • 1. Psychologists take personal responsibility for their work, but are at the same time aware of the fact that others regard them as representatives for their profession.
  • 2. Psychologists are considerate both of the interests of individuals/research participants, and of the interests of employers/buyers of services. Consideration for clients and participants in investigations has priority over consideration for both personal and collegial interests of psychologists.
  • 3. Psychologists who teach others about psychological working methods are responsible for making clear the strengths and weaknesses of these methods, as well as possible ethical implications.



  • A. Psychologists work according to scientific principles and substantiated experience and maintain their professional competence at all times.
  • B. Psychologists take consideration of their own personal strengths and limitations with respect to the types of tasks they undertake.

Clarifications and examples

  • 1. Psychologists view the type and extent of a task in the light of their own competence. If psychologists regard their own competence as insufficient, they refer the task to others or seek supervision. If psychologists refuse a task for reasons of competence, they take responsibility as far as possible for the task being carried out in another way.
  • 2. Psychologists exercise special caution when they use methods, devices and techniques which either are still at a trial stage and do not satisfy normal methodological standards, or which they do not yet completely master.
  • 3. Psychologists keep themselves informed as to the scientific and professional developments within their field of work.
  • 4. Psychologists do not for the sake of personal or economic gain publish work that they do not find of sufficiently high quality.
  • 5. If psychologists have personal problems of such a type and extent that they affect the performance of their occupation, they seek professional help in order to clarify their situation.



  • A. Psychologists show respect for the personal integrity of the individual and take care to protect the client’s right of self-determination.
  • B. Psychologists inform clients about planned ventures in the most easily understandable way possible, so that clients can choose whether they wish to participate or not (informed consent).
  • C. Psychologists do not take advantage of the professional relationship in order to obtain unwarranted or unreasonable advantages or gains.

Clarifications and examples

  • 1. The participation of clients in the relationship is voluntary. In work with children, patients with serious mental disturbances, the strongly mentally handicapped or in acute situations, the principe of voluntary participation may, with consideration of the relevant legislation, be deviated from, but a cooperative relationship is striven for here also.
  • 2. When psychologists come into contact with clients who are subjected to forceful measures, or who are being treated under indirect force, psychologists are aware of their own role and judge whether the measures are of benefit for the client in spite of the use of force. Attempts to get clients to disclose something against their will, or other attempts to get material produced which is not immediately necessary for the treatment situation, are avoided.
  • 3. Psychologists do not participate in activities which have as their goal, through physical or mental coercive measures (indoctrination, “brainwashing”, torture) – or with the threat of such measures, to:
    • force someone to disclose information or make confessione
    • press someone to disclose, deny or change their own philosophy of life, political, religious or ethical convictions, or those of others.
  • 4. Psychologists try actively to prevent psychological knowledge from being used in such activities as those mentioned in section III, 3, regardless of what the purpose might be declared to be.
  • 5. If psychologists have taken upon themselves the professional responsibility for treatment or consultation and begun it, they make as far as possible a satisfactory agreement with the client as to bringing the activity to an end, or refer on to another competent person before they terminate their responsibility. The responsibility of psychologists continues until the one/those referred to have taken over responsibility for further treatment.
  • 6. Psychologists strive to be conscious of their own needs, attitudes and opinions and of their role in the relationship. They do not misuse their power and position by taking advantage of the client’s dependency and confidence.
  • 7. Psychologists avoid professional relationships with a client when there exists a potentially interfering nonprofessional relationship to the person concemed.
  • 8. When clients are dependent on the services of psychologists, e.g. in order to obtain financial support or in legal matters, openness about terms and possible interventions is striven for.
  • 9. Psychologists do not accept fees for consultation, or in any other way establish a client relationship, to students that they teach or are going to examine.
  • 10. Sexual intimacies between psychologists and clients do not take place.
  • 11. In all psychological activity the financial terms are agreed upon in advance.
  • 12. Psychologists consider carefully the possible consequences of accepting gifts or other services from clients, in addition to their fee.
  • 13. When it is possible to obtain relevant psychological assistance from public sources which dients do not have to pay for, or which they may obtain less expensively, psychologists inform their clients thereof.
  • 14. Psychologists do not take advantage of their position in order to obtain their own consultation jobs or clients if they thereby reduce the rights of a client/institution, or confidence in the profession.
  • 15. Psychologists abstain from unnecessary examinations and/or treatments.



A. Psychologists are, within the limitations stipulated by law or mentioned in this section’s clarifications and examples, required to respect the confidentiality of what is confided to them in the practice of their profession, or that they thereby learn to know about people’s private lives and living conditions. This applies also to the occurrence itself of a client relationship.

Clarifications and examples

  • l. Psychologists do not maintain confidentiality if they thereby risk harming the client. Exceptions from the requirements of confidentiality shall be made if there is obvious danger for the client or others, but information must only be passed on to those who can initiate adequate actions in the situation at hand.
  • 2. Exceptions from the requirements of confidentiality may be made if clients themselves request that information be conveyed to specific persons or institutions.
  • 3. Psychologists who are members of a team can with the client’s consent convey information about the client to others in the team if this is for the best of the client.
  • 4. Psychologists do not make inquiries about clients without their consent. Only information necessary for the fulfillment of the task at hand is requested.
  • 5. When psychologists receive supervision or consultation concerning a client, confidentiality is observed, such that mention of names and identifying information is avoided, unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • 6. Psychologists who use information about clients in teaching, publications or other public connections have in advance made sure that they have the consent of the one/those the information is about and that the material has been rendered sufficiently anonymous.
  • 7. When psychologists document their work, the documentation contains only necessary information and statements.
  • 8. Case records, written documents, tape recordings or other material connected with a task is kept in such a way that present or future unauthorized insight into or access to the material is impossible.
  • 9. In order to ensure confidentiality in connection with psychological examination and treatment, psychologists make arrangements for a special agreement with the buyer of services, or that it be stipulated in the directive for the psychologist, who within an institution is to have responsibility for the material, in what way this responsibility shall be carried out, for whom the material is accessible, and how long the material shall be kept. It should also be specified how this responsibility shall be carried on to others when there are changes of staff. This also applies to computerized material.
  • 10. The consent of clients/research participants is always mandatory in connection with tape-recording, video recording, photography or filming. For showing/playing or other use written permission is required in addition, from which it is evident where, when, for whom and in what form the relevant material may be used. Information about how long the material may be kept should also be included. If clients/research participants retract their consent, the material is demagnetized or destroyed immediately. The one responsible for recorded material must see to it that these rules are followed. lf the one responsible is no longer in a position to attend to this function, it should be considered whether the material should be destroyed or if the responsibility can be transferred to someone else. If clients/research participants are minors or considered to be unable to take care of themselves, psychologists obtain, with due regard for all reasonable independence of the client, the abovementioned permission from parents or guardians.
  • 11. Psychologists inform, when necessary, employers and clients about the rules which are applicable for psychologists with regard to the requirements of confidentiality.



  • A. A psychological investigation is planned on the basis of a well- formulated problem and after consideration of appropriate methods and alternative procedures.
  • B. Psychologists aspire to formulate their statements in such a way that they may not be misunderstood or misused. Statements should be formulated appropriately for the recipient.
  • C. Psychologists take care that psychological devices and techniques are not described in public connections in such a way that their usefulness is impaired.
  • D. Psychologists choose their methods themselves.

Clarifications and examples

  • 1. The only information that should be provided in statements is such information that is relevant for the matter at hand and for the practical decisions that a statement or other written document are meant to be the basis for.
  • 2. In statements, psychologists make judgments and draw conclusions themselves and do not leave this up to others. Statements make evident psychologists’ assessments of the certainty in the judgments which are the basis for such statements. It should also be made evident whether any of the desired evaluations are not possible to make. Psychologists show great care in using concepts related to normality and pathology.
  • 3. After an investigation is finished, psychologists inform clients in a comprehensible way about their opinions and the content of any statements. Exceptions are made if the client’s age, state, etc. make such information impossible. Exceptions may also be made in cases where someone other than the client is the buyer of services and with the understanding that the client is aware of this and has consented to it. lf the information is to be presented by others, psychologists ensure themselves that the information given is correct.
  • 4. Psychologists do not give individual advice and/or make judgments if they have not obtained firsthand knowledge about the client or are familiar with the situation of the person concemed. This restriction does not apply to formalized supervision or consultation.
  • 5. lf psychologists use computerized assessment methodology and test interpretation, they assure themselves of the reliability of the software and of the validity of the interpretive procedure.



A. When psychologists make statements in their capacity as psychologists, they strive for objectivity and accuracy.

Clarifications and examples

  • 1 . Psychologists inform about psychological professional activity in such a way that misunderstandings or injury to the field or profession are avoided.
  • 2. Psychologists do not comment in public on criticism that a client has brought forth in the media if this is against the rules of confidentiality in section IV.
  • 3. Psychologists avoid letting public statements seem like personal advertisements.
  • 4. In announcing the availability of services, psychologists supply information only about name, address, telephone number, education, professional title, office hours and specialty. The announcement must not have the character of an advertisement or contain promises of specific results. In announcements about courses and the like, the announcement may include information that makes clear the content and objeetive of the course.
  • 5. Psychologists who participate in advice columns and the like give advice in general form only.
  • 6. Psychologists publish in their own name only work which is fully their own, or to which they have rnade substantial contributions.
  • 7. Psychologists do not suppress or prevent the publication of criticism of their work.



  • A. Psychologists respect the special competence, duties and responsibility of colleagues and other professions.
  • B. In their treatment of clients, psychologists are aware of whether they can use the competence, technical and administrative resources of other professional groups for the cliente’ benefit.
  • C. Psychologists always give adequate information to buyers of services and/or personnel involved about the ethical norms and other rules regulating the work of psychologists.

Clarifications and examples

  • 1. Psychologists make substantiated psychological methods, techniques and discoveries accessible for colleagues, the only exception being in matters regulated by the copyright laws.
  • 2. Psychologists only use such professional titles as they have a right to use through their education, authorization and position.
  • 3. Psychologists abstain from unobjective judgments of colleagues and their work, but should put forth unbiased criticism.
  • 4. Psychologists who come to know that a colleague has broken the ethical principles of psychologists try in the first place to correct the situation in cooperation with the colleague. If this is not successful, they let their colleague know that they intend to present their criticism for the Ethics Committee. If this waming does not bring about an acceptable change either, they bring their criticism before the Committee.
  • 5. If psychologists are consulted by clients or buyers of services who already have a professional relationship with another psychologist or with a colleague in another profession, they make an agreement with the client that the person involved should be contacted and informed of the fact that a client relationship can only be established when this has happened and a professional evaluation has been made.
  • 6. The consent of the client is ensured before psychologists contact others who have or previously have had a treatment relationship with the client.
  • 7. If psychologists within an organization/company are critical to the organization’s way of working from an ethical viewpoint, they try to influence the organization to make changes.
  • 8. If the conditions of employment of psychologists result in the impossibility of attending to the best interests of the client, the problem is elucidated for all affected parties.
  • 9. Psychologists who intend to participate as coaches, teachers or the like in courses together with non- psychologists judge carefully whether their participation can give the unwarranted impression that the entire course fulfills the requirements which must be made on the work of psychologists.



  • A. Psychologists attempt to shed light on the questions and problem areas which are the subject of their research in such a way that they make available knowledge which can further the development of people’s living conditions and quality of life.
  • B. Psychologists have obligations toward those who are the subject of/participate in their research.
  • C. Psychologists are responsible for their research being carried out in accordance with scientific practice.
  • D. Psychologists make clear the meaning of their results.
  • E. In research with animals, psychologists make sure that the animals are not subjected to unnecessary suffering.

Clarifications and examples

  • 1. When planning research, psychologists take into consideration whether the project satisfies professional ethical demands.
  • 2. Before a research project is started, consideration is taken of the possible risk of either the collection of data or the results themselves having an unintentional and negative effect on the persons or groups who form the data basis for the project. These aspects must be considered in relation to the research project’s potential for providing knowledge which can further people’s living conditions and quality of life. The risk of unintentional negative effects of participating in a project must be reduced to an absolute minimum.
  • 3. When the research can be expected to bring about reactions in the research participants which require follow-up, the investigator shall specify in the research plan how this follow-up is to take place.
  • 4. lf there is doubt as to whether an investigation satisfies the ethical demands on psychological activity, a project deseription should be formulated which can be submitted to an ethics committee. The project description should contain an evaluation of which professional ethical problems might occur, and how the professional ethical demands may be rnet.
  • 5. All information about individuals is registered and kept under the observance of strict confidentiality. Research reports should be written in such a way that identification of individual research participants is impossible.
  • 6. Research participants should as far as possible be informed of the purpose, method and expeeted effects of the investigation and of any other aspects of the investigation which might influence their willingness to participate (cf. sectionII, B).
  • 7. If clients enter into a research project and are subjected to anything that is not a necessary part of the professional services to the client, it must be specifically emphasized that they freely can refrain from participating. Clients are informed in such a way that their participation is genuinely voluntary.
  • 8. In obtaining informed consent for participation in research projects, investigators are especially cautious if the research participants are in a state of dependency to them.
  • 9. If a research participant is a minor or subject to a guardian, informed consent is obtained with proper consideration of the independence of the affected persons.
  • 10. Research participants are informed in advance that they may discontinue their participation. When possible, an agreement is reached as to what terms apply with regard to discontinuation.
  • 11. It is the responsibility of the psychologist, if possible, to inform research participants and other persons/institutions affected directly by the investigation of the results.