What to Expect When Consulting with the Ethics Committee

What to Expect When Consulting with the Ethics Committee

Hello OPA community! The OPA Ethics Committee (EC) would like to take this opportunity to explain our process for providing ethics consultations.

The primary function of the EC is to advise, educate, and consult regarding concerns about professional ethics. The services of the EC are offered as an OPA membership benefit and consultation is available to all OPA members. The EC receives approximately four to six consultation calls per month, which is a surprisingly low number given that more than 3000 psychologists are licensed in Oregon! In addition, we also accept calls from other mental health professionals.

All ethics consults are confidential and take multiple steps to address this. First, we document consultation calls with ID numbers rather than identifying information. Second, when discussing the calls in EC meetings, we do not share or include any identifying information. Third, upon learning of any potential conflict of interest, impacted EC members will recuse themselves from all activity related to the call. Fourth, we do not share any information outside of the EC. This includes not reporting any information to the Oregon Board of Psychologists. There has been some confusion in the past, based on Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 676.150, which mandates that psychologists report prohibited or unprofessional conduct of their peers. As a Peer Review Body under ORS 41.675, EC volunteers are exempt from reporting unprofessional conduct to the board.

Before Your Call

The EC has a triage system in place to streamline the referral process. The first step starts when you send an email to [email protected] that includes a description of your specific concerns, contact information, and convenient contact times. The EC Consultation Coordinator routes your request to the EC member who can best address your specific concerns. That member will then contact you within one week to set up a consultation call.

To prepare for your ethics consultation call, it is important that you review the APA Ethics Code and identify any sections that you believe are relevant to your ethical dilemma; the EC member assigned to your call will do the same. While not required, it is sometimes helpful to do a brief literature review about your specific dilemma.

During Your Call

Your EC consultation call can take place by phone or video call and may last up to 1 hour or more. You can expect the EC member to begin the call by reviewing important details about the EC and how we operate. Once we begin reviewing your case, rather than provide an answer to specific questions, we walk callers through an ethical decision-making model and work together to develop a plan that will best address your unique situation.  An ethical decision-making model lends structure to the process and aids in developing sound decisions. While other models exist, we often use The Five-Step Model proposed by Knapp et al. (2017). Often clinical or legal issues are also present in cases discussed; in these situations, we assist callers in delineating the ethical/clinical/legal factors and provide additional resources as needed. See below for more information.

Five-Step Model (Knapp et al., 2017)

  1. Identify or Scrutinize the Problem
    Identify that you are facing a dilemma and review the APA Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct (APA, 2017). Identify which principle(s) and/or code(s) are relevant and the dilemma or conflict you’re facing. 
  1. Develop Alternatives and Hypothesize Solutions
    Brainstorm individually, consult with colleagues, and collaborate with clients or others who would be impacted by your decision in order to consider multiple approaches to solving this dilemma.
  1. Analyze or Evaluate Options
    Select the solution that incorporates the most advantages and has the fewest disadvantages. Prioritize solutions that honor our guiding principles to do the most good and least harm, particularly with regard to client/patient care.
  1. Act or Perform
    Implement your decision.
  1. Look Back or Evaluate
    Reflect on your decision to identify if the ethical dilemma has been resolved or if another approach is warranted. If the dilemma is unresolved, consider if returning through the steps can help to resolve the dilemma. If the dilemma is resolved, consider any changes you may have made to your approach in order to improve future ethical decision-making.

After Your Call

Following the consultation call, the EC member will provide a summary of the call at the next EC meeting and receive feedback from the committee. Following the meeting, the EC member may contact you via a follow-up email or phone call if there are any additional comments or feedback.

Because ethical and legal issues often overlap, we frequently refer callers to OPA’s general counsel, Paul Cooney, to consult about legal questions that arise during our consultations. We also coordinate with OPA’s Confidential Peer Support Committee in an effort to support OPA members who are experiencing conflict with colleagues, clinical concerns, family conflicts, or any other distressing situations which might affect their capacity for work. If you are experiencing a problem and you are not sure who to contact first, please call us, and we will help you find the appropriate resource(s).

As licensed psychologists, we are privileged to work with people who need our help, which includes all of us at some point! Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any ethics questions or concerns you have; we are here to help.  As we always say, never worry alone.


American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct (2002, amended effective June 1, 2010, and January 1, 2017). https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/

Knapp, S. J., VandeCreek, L. D., & Fingerhut, R. (2017). Ethical decision making. In S. J. Knapp, L. D. VandeCreek, & R. Fingerhut, Practical ethics for psychologists: A positive approach (pp. 39–50). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/0000036-003