Ethics In Industrial Organization Psychology

I/O Psychologists follow the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Yet this Code is written in general terms. It is therefore quite important for you to explore and comprehend how this code is understood specifically by I/O Psychologists and applied to their work within organizations. You will do this through your participation in this unit’s Discussion.

Read Chapter 30 in your textbook, “Issues in the Ethical Practice of Consulting Psychology.” This chapter addresses the following 10 ethical issues in terms specific to their application to the work of I/O Psychologists.

  1. Who is the Client?
  2. Informed Consent
  3. Confidentiality
  4. Dual Relationships
  5. Consultant Competence
  6. Management versus Helping Perspectives
  7. Level of Intervention
  8. Ethical Issues in Organizational Assessment
  9. Ethics of Intervention
  10. Aspiring to Moral and Ethical Influence
  11. From this list of 10 ethics concerns of special attention for I/O Psychologists, select one.
  12. Summarize the range of issues and factors that comprise this ethical concern, as outlined in the Reading.
  13. Explain your personal position on these issues and factors — how would you likely handle each issue/factor as an I/O Professional?
  14. Do you feel that the issues and factors which you have discussed will force you out of your comfort zone or present any particular professional, personal, or other challenges to you in your I/O Psychology career? If so, how and why? Will this influence the kind of work you choose to do as an I/O Psychologist?A



CHAPTER THIRTY Issues in the Ethical Practice of Consulting Psychology

Jody L. Newman

Department of Educational Psychology University of Oklahoma

Sharon E. Robinson-Kurpius

Division of Psychology in Education Arizona State University

Dale R. Fuqua

College of Education Oklahoma State University

The purpose of this chapter is to identify and examine what we believe to be the most central ethical issues in the practice of consulting psychology in organizational contexts. Although some of these issues have already been thoroughly discussed elsewhere in terms of their application to more traditional applied contexts, for example, psychotherapy, our discussion of these issues here explores the more unique features of their application in organizational consultation. Other issues included in this chapter derive uniquely from organizational consultation, and we examine their implications for consulting psychology practice.


A distinguishing feature of consulting relationships is their triadic nature (Brown, Pryzwansky, & Schulte, 1991). Typically, consulting relationships are conceptualized as involving three parties, the consultant, the consultee system, and the client group(s) served by the consultee. Depending on the size and nature of the consultee organization, the number of individuals comprising the organization itself and the client system it serves can be considerable. Furthermore, an organization’s client system, though highly likely to be affected by consultation intervention (either directly or indirectly), frequently has no voice in the consultation process (Robinson & Gross, 1985; Snow & Gersick, 1986). This condition creates an unusual circumstance for consultants, in that they bear responsibility for the impact of change on a group with whom they might never have had personal contact (Brown et al., 1991; Fannibanda, 1976; Gallesich, 1982; Newman & Robinson, 1991; Snow & Gersick, 1986; Tokunaga, 1984). In some situations, this matter can be effectively addressed by including representatives of the client system served by an organization in the consulting process, if such an option is possible. At other times, the only option might be to attempt to anticipate the impact of intervention(s) on members of the client system and make all provisions possible to protect their interests.

Competing Interests

A practical difficulty of this situation identified by Newman (1993) relates to the potential threats to the “objectivity, quality, accuracy and relevance” ( p. 148 ) of data regarding an organization’s clients obtained indirectly through the consultee system. This is particularly true in those cases where consultee and client interests are competitive. For example, it might be in the best economic interests of an airline to overbook reservations in order to compensate for people who cancel reservations at the last minute or fail to show up for flights. For customers, however, the practice of overbooking can mean extensive difficulties related to delays or disruptions of travel plans. This example illustrates the need for the consultant to anticipate the potential meaning of an intervention for the client system early enough to contract for access to the client system. Failure to do so represents a passive denial of responsibility.

Competing interests might similarly emerge among different subsystems within the organization that make delineation of the client in consultation, along with corresponding lines of consultant responsibility, difficult. For example, during times of economic distress and downsizing, the competition for limited or shrinking resources often fosters competitive relationships within organizations. Unless some shared vision of the greater good can be cultivated, thereby encouraging collaboration among subsystems within the organization, the relative cost and benefit of change efforts are more likely to be evaluated by individuals and units in terms of their own compartmentalized and immediate interests. Defining moral competition in such cases might prove to be the most significant intervention of all. Here, we are asking not just that the consultant behave in an ethical way, nor only that the consultant develop a moral character. We are defining the consultation intervention as the resolution of an internal moral conflict within the organization. Internal competition can indeed become dysfunctional. One manifestation of this dysfunction can be conflict with the purposive structure (that is, goals, values, philosophies) of the organization. The resolution of this internal structural conflict might best be addressed by initiating a moral dialogue.

Focus of the Consultation

Identifying the client in organizational consultation is also often complicated by the fact that the individual who makes the initial contact with the consultant might not be the focus of consultation, or even an active participant in the process (Snow & Gersick, 1986). This situation is illustrated by a chief executive officer (CEO) arranging for consultation on behalf of a specific unit within the organization. Is the client the individual who hires the consultant and bears financial responsibility for the services provided, or the individuals or units who are to be the focus of the intervention? Whose definition of the problem should guide the consultation process? How should differences in perspectives regarding the nature of problems and their solutions be addressed and resolved? These are very difficult issues that have important implications for the ultimate process and outcome of consultation. We recommend that consultants, through open discussions with participants, ensure that issues like these are addressed thoroughly with all relevant parties. Furthermore, consultants should ensure that they clarify the nature of their relationships with all parties involved in the consultation process, as well as their respective responsibilities to each party.

Intervention Level

Another factor that can potentially complicate definition of the client relates to the level at which intervention is focused (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 1998). The predominant conceptual frameworks used in organizational consultation are largely influenced by systems theory, which argues for defining problems in terms of systems constructs, with the emphasis on altering the structure of organizations as the primary means of achieving lasting change. A competing perspective is to focus on attempting to change the behavior of individuals or groups within the organization. There are clearly times when intervention at this level is appropriate (Fuqua & Newman, 1985), such as when the problem is related specifically to a skill deficit in an identifiable person. Each of these perspectives would have very different implications for defining who the client is. Relatedly, there might be disagreement within the organization regarding the locus of the problem and the appropriate focus of intervention. Again, clarification of these issues early in the consulting relationship is recommended in order to avoid confusion and misunderstanding by potential participants.


Freeman (2000) defined informed consent in terms of four essential elements that include: (1) the competence of participants to make rational decisions regarding whether or not to participate; (2) the voluntary nature of participation; (3) access to full information regarding the purposes, potential risks and benefits, and likely outcomes of participation; and (4) the ability to comprehend relevant information; that is, the information is presented in an easily understandable form. Like most ethical issues, informed consent, as applied in organizational consulting psychology, is often complicated by the complexity of the organizational context. For example, the hierarchical nature of organizations introduces potentially serious threats to the requirement that participation in the consultation process be truly voluntary. Typically, there is a notable power differential among individuals and groups within an organization. Since consultation is often arranged for one or more sectors of the organization by another sector, for example, the CEO, it must be questioned whether members for whom the consultation has been arranged are truly free to decline to participate. Even if they are, do they accurately perceive that such freedom exists? In reality, organizations routinely pressure members to participate, either directly or indirectly. By their very nature, “organizations necessarily are, in part, systems of compliance, coercion, and public accountability” (Mirvis & Seashore, 1979, p. 767). In our experience, blatant attempts to coerce members into participating in the consultation process are fairly rare. In many ways, because they represent such flagrant violations of the principle of informed consent, consultants might find these offenses easier to address than more subtle forms of pressure or coercion that might appear ambiguous or open to interpretation. In a similar vein, members of the organization might attribute a level of power to the consultant that might make them reluctant to decline to participate. In any of these cases, consultants must seriously consider the threat of such dynamics to the rights of members within the organization to freely choose not to participate, and to do so without fear of retribution. The absence of fear of retribution is a high standard, because power inequalities, both real and imagined, must be overcome to achieve the standard.

Issues in Compliance Elicitation

It is worth noting that efforts by organizations to elicit compliance by members with regard to participation in the consultation process do not necessarily stem from bad or malicious motives. On the contrary, such efforts can be the result of a genuine desire to foster broad representation of organizational units in the change process, and to promote inclusion of individuals and groups within the organization. In many cases, the concept of informed consent might be unfamiliar to organizational leaders and members. For this reason, ensuring that individuals’ rights to informed consent are protected requires that consultants assume a proactive role in discussing the meaning and practical implications of this very important concept with all involved. This discussion can and should be empowering to participants.

An important question that arises in this context is whether or not an individual retains his or her right to informed consent in an organizational setting. Mirvis and Seashore (1979), addressing organizational research specifically, questioned the meaning of informed consent when individuals’ contracts for employment stipulate participation in such activities. In organizational consultation, does organizational-level informed consent exist? Can a representative of the organization provide consent on behalf of organizational members that supersedes their individual rights? These are important and difficult questions. Although organizations can legally mandate participation in a consultation process as a condition of employment, we urge that consulting psychologists be extremely cautious in endorsing or participating in any practice that undermines individuals’ moral and ethical rights to self-determination. As an ethical matter, individuals do not inherently forfeit their rights to informed consent merely as a function of their employment by the organization. Given the central role of informed consent in other domains of psychological practice, its thoughtful application in organizational contexts is imperative.

As a general ethical principle, informed consent has received considerable attention in the ethical literature. Likewise, the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (American Psychological Association [APA], 1992) ascribe a fairly prominent role to informed consent, although generally address only one-on-one situations. One of the results of this kind of attention has been that psychologists, as well as institutions in which they work, have taken great care to develop policies and written contracts thoroughly delineating the conditions relevant to informed consent that anticipate and satisfy relevant legal and mandatory ethical requirements. As noted by Jordan and Meara (1999), the focus has been largely on the specific information to which a client is rightly entitled. However, these authors pointed out that “there is yet a more subtle but equally important ethical issue that concerns how the client will be told” ( p. 143 ); that is, from a moral perspective, how the truth is spoken is as relevant as what truth is spoken. By focusing exclusively on the content of informed consent, important relational and process dimensions might be overlooked. The relationship between the consultant and participants might be reduced to a legal agreement based on the consultant’s responsibilities and participants’ rights. The risk exists that participants might be perceived, or perceive themselves, as passive recipients of the services being provided, as opposed to active, responsible, and mutually involved parties to the relationship (Jordan & Meara, 1999). Part of organizational consultation is empowering participants to assume active roles in, and accept responsibility for, what happens to them in their work lives. A major mechanism for achieving this kind of empowerment is the nature of the working relationships that are negotiated between the consultant and members of the consultee system.


The fundamental role of confidentiality among the ethical principles in psychology is well captured by the following statement:

Except for the ultimate precept—above all, do no harm—there is probably no ethical value in psychology that is more inculcated than confidentiality. Whether psychologists are engaging in research; assessing children, families, employees, criminal defendants, or others; or providing any of the several forms of psychological intervention—regardless of whether they are employed in private or public settings—they know that they bear responsibility for protecting information disclosed to them in the context of a professional relationship. Yet, there is probably no ethical duty more misunderstood or honored by its breach rather than by its fulfillment [Bersoff, 1999, p. 149].

Despite the central role that confidentiality has played in our general discourse regarding professional ethics, relatively little has been written regarding its specific application in organizational contexts. Not surprisingly, protecting the confidentiality of information obtained from participants involved in the consultation process presents a variety of special challenges (Newman & Robinson, 1991). For example, the fact that numerous individuals might be involved in the consultation process and have legitimate access to the data collected creates real limitations on the extent to which confidentiality can be ensured.

Consequently, consultants must openly acknowledge the very real constraints that exist with respect to their ability to ensure confidentiality. Individuals’ rights to informed consent are contingent on their understanding of these constraints. At the same time, it is important that consultants do all they can to maximize the likelihood that confidentiality will become a norm in circumstances where sensitive data exist or where disclosure might result in harm to organizational members. Engaging participants in open dialogue regarding issues of confidentiality early in the process is an important step in cultivating a norm of confidentiality. Ongoing discussion of confidentiality issues as they emerge is also essential. Defining confidentiality as a shared responsibility between the consultant and members of the consultee system promotes a collaborative approach to handling such matters.

Power Differentials

Special sensitivity to the potential impact of the power differential among various organizational members is necessary. Consultants should anticipate that some less-powerful members of the organization might feel uncomfortable at the prospect of sharing information that might be perceived as personally risky, such as discontent with organizational policies, concerns about the competence of a supervisor, and so forth. Threats of sanctions for sharing such information might or might not be real. Nevertheless, the consultant has an obligation to do everything possible to protect participants from negative consequences that might result from their participation in the consultation process. As noted earlier, part of ensuring informed consent is delineating the potential costs, benefits, and risks of participating with organizational members. Occasionally, a given participant might request to share information privately with the consultant. This situation creates an interesting dilemma for the consultant. On the one hand, by declining to hear the information privately, the consultant risks losing access to information that might be essential to understanding the issues that are the focus of consultation. Temporary or permanent damage to the consultant’s relationship with the individual wishing to share the information can also occur. On the other hand, by agreeing to listen to the privately shared information, the consultant might discover that he or she is in possession of critical information regarding organizational difficulties that cannot be used due to the promise of confidentiality to the sharer of the information. Agreeing to enter into a private relationship with that individual might also undermine trust in the consultant’s relationships with other organizational participants. Generally, a desirable outcome in this case would be to convince the individual of the value in openly sharing the information so that it can be available for inclusion and use in the consultation process. Obviously, there might be times when the individual decides that the potential risks of sharing the information openly are too great, in which case the consultant has another decision to make. Such situations reflect the complex nature of confidentiality in organizational contexts. Addressing this complexity, Lowman (1998) noted that there are times when psychologists are forced to balance competing ethical interests and obligations. In some circumstances, it might be possible to determine a course of action that meets the needs and interests of all parties. When such is not the case, Lowman suggested that the psychologist might need to consider satisfying (that is, good enough) rather than optimizing (that is, optimal) solutions. Of course, this is an important moral (as well as professional) judgment.


Dual or multiple role relationships have been defined as “those situations in which the psychologist functions in more than one professional relationship, as well as those in which the psychologist functions in a professional role and another definitive and intended role (as opposed to a limited and inconsequential role growing out of and limited to a chance encounter)” (Sonne, 1994, p. 336). Specific risks associated with such relationships delineated in the current ethics code include loss of objectivity, and exploitation of the client by the psychologist. Koocher and Keith-Spiegel (1998) identified additional risks as “confusion, feelings of rejection and abandonment, and misrepresentation of communications that result in a distortion of the relationship” ( p. 174 ). For the most part, risks associated with dual relationships have been discussed in the context of psychotherapeutic relationships. Although the nature and extent of their impact might be somewhat different when applied to consultation, consultants must be cognizant of the potential harm that can result from their failure to effectively manage relationships within the organization. Furthermore, consultants must recognize that harm might result not only to individuals directly involved in the dual relationship, but to other members of the organizational system as well.

It could be argued that dual relationships constitute a special issue in consulting psychology because, in many respects, they might be more the norm than the exception. For example, it is quite common for a consulting contact to emerge through a pre-existing relationship between the consultant and a member of the consultee system, such as a former colleague or student. Furthermore, the nature of consulting relationships often requires extended or repetitive periods during which the consultant is working closely with members of the consultee system. By its very nature, this kind of extensive interaction between individuals inevitably might lead, in some cases, to the development of relationships that might be more personal and more reciprocal in nature than might generally be true of what is permitted in the context of traditional psychotherapeutic relationships. In addition, consulting relationships, by definition, focus on work-related problems. The consultant and members of the consultee system are professionals in their respective domains. The doctor-patient dimension is absent from the consulting relationship in that there is no presumption of psychological or behavioral impairment of participants. The consultant and organizational participants bring to the relationship different areas of expertise, all of which are needed to effectively complete the goals and objectives of consultation. This is not to say the consultant will not encounter members within an organization who are in need of psychological assistance. On the contrary, such encounters should be expected. However, the consultant’s relationships with such individuals will not typically be therapeutic in nature. In cases where psychotherapy is indicated, appropriate referrals should be made. Because consulting relationships are distinct in fundamental ways from psychotherapeutic relationships, concerns regarding the potential impact of dual relationships on participants in consultation might be somewhat different in either or both degree and kind.

Professional Judgment

The major implication of the forgoing discussion is that issues related to dual relationships in organizational consultation are likely to require more from the consulting psychologist in the way of professional judgment. For example, consider the case in which a consultant is hired on the basis of his or her relationship with a member of the consultee system. The consultant in this case needs to be aware of several potential pitfalls. First, how might the consultant’s perspective be influenced by information received from the individual with whom a previous relationship existed? Second, what, if any, expectations might this individual have in terms of access to or influence on the consultant? Third, how might others in the organization perceive the consultant’s relationship with this individual, and how might their perceptions affect their relationships with the consultant?

More broadly, consultants must be aware that the emergence of dual or multiple relationships poses a continuous threat when consulting with organizations. Consider the example discussed earlier regarding the individual requesting to share information privately with the consultant. Suppose the information pertains to concerns that a particular manager has a drinking problem that is affecting his or her performance on the job. If the consultant agrees to receive the information confidentially, what are the potential effects of such a decision? It could be said that a dual relationship with the sharer of the secret has been created. The consultant now has one relationship with the individual that is open and known by others, and another relationship with the same individual that is private, based upon information unavailable to other participants. The dual nature of this relationship might govern not only the way the consultant relates to the sharer of the secret, but to others as well. The consultant’s perceptions of (and relationship to) the manager are probably forever changed. Furthermore, the possession of both public and private information is likely to influence how the consultant interacts with other members of the consultee system. It should also be noted that consultants’ involvements in dual relationships might not always be volitional. It is easily foreseeable that information such as that in the above example might be shared spontaneously, without prior authorization, by the consultant. The implications for the consultant’s relationships with members of the consultee system would be largely the same.


An evolving issue pertaining to dual relationships relates to the form of compensation received in exchange for consulting services. In the past few years, a small number of consultants have reported accepting stock options or other ownership interests in exchange for their services. This kind of arrangement is akin to bartering, and might introduce a variety of potential ethical problems (APA, 1992, sect. 1.18). It is possible that ownership interests in a company could affect the consultant’s judgment as it relates to pursued goals and objectives. For example, consider the situation in which a consultant holds an increasing share of stock in a company while consulting with that company regarding downsizing options for staff that will be terminated. Providing placement services for employees targeted for layoffs might be presented as a helpful but expensive program. The consultant clearly has two roles in the decision-making process. The first is an ownership role in which cash dividends might be lost as a result of providing the placement program. The second role is as a process helper obligated to act in the best interests of all of those who will be affected by the decision. Admittedly, it might be possible for a consulting psychologist to objectively weigh the competing interests associated with these two roles. However, this practice of compensation by ownership interests does seem to create a potential conflict of roles and interests that we believe can and should be avoided.

Given the complex pattern of relationships that exists in organizational consultation, the potential for harm resulting from dual relationships is substantial. Consultants must be keenly sensitive to the fact that the threat of dual relationships must be an ongoing concern. In light of the potentially grave consequences of dual relationships for individuals and organizations alike, we concur with the strong position advocated by Lowman (1998): “While some dual relationships (such as sexually exploitive ones) are obviously and egregiously wrong, others, more subtle and difficult to detect, may create conditions no less problematic. Dual relationships, while not per se unethical, create considerable opportunity for conflict and exploitation and are best avoided. At the least, they need to be identified and ethically managed. Such relationships need not actually be destructive to the parties involved to be a problem or to create a perception of difficulties” ( p. 129 ).


The issue of competence has been the focus of ongoing attention and concern in psychology for some time. Given the diverse nature of psychological practice, a single set of competency standards is recognized as impractical. A more realistic approach has been to focus efforts on delineating dimensions of competency within specialty areas of psychology. Such efforts have been complicated, however, by confusion regarding what constitutes a specialty or subspecialty, a proficiency, or an area of expertise within the discipline of psychology (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 1998). Defining competency in organizational consulting psychology, in particular, has been an interesting challenge. Unlike other, more established specialty areas, consulting psychology has not had the benefit of established training programs and well-defined academic curricula that typically reflect, directly or indirectly, essential competency areas. Until recently, there have been no formal training programs specifically designed to prepare consulting psychologists. In the absence of such programs, there have not really been effective, systematic efforts to define and articulate specific competencies for consulting psychologists. Psychologists who engage in consulting psychology have, historically, been psychologists whose primary training has been in other specialties, such as counseling, clinical, or I-O psychology (Robinson-Kurpius, Fuqua, Gibson, Kurpius, & Froehle, 1995). Thus, the competencies of psychologists engaged in the practice of organizational consulting psychology have themselves been diverse in nature and scope. There has not been a single profile or professional training path for consulting psychologists.

Personal Responsibility

A major theme of this chapter is the emphasis on the personal responsibility of the organizational consultant in ensuring ethical practice. There is perhaps no area in which this requirement is more crucial than in the area of competence. The inherent complexity of the organizational context, and the multiplex of needs and demands that exist within an organization, create the opportunity to provide a broad range of consulting services. Frankly, there are some real pressures placed upon consulting psychologists from the market place to do it all. Consultants must be cautious in judgments regarding which of those needed services they can rightly provide as a function of their training and experience, or without further supervision. It is incumbent on consultants to know their specific competencies, and to limit their work to areas appropriately matched to those competencies. Consultants must be willing to decline to provide services for which they are not qualified. A basic reality is that no one is qualified to provide every kind of service needed by even a medium-sized organization. Consulting psychologists whose primary training is in other specialties are reliant on competencies defined by those specialties, and must, therefore, extrapolate competencies from those specialties and apply them to the consulting context. This process places a heavy burden on the individual consulting psychologist for making judgments regarding his or her specific competencies in the consulting arena. It should also be noted that clients served by consulting psychologists are often relatively naïve regarding what services they can appropriately request from a consulting psychologist. In that sense, these clients are dependent consumers; that is, they are reliant upon the consultant to assist them in identifying those services that can realistically and appropriately be part of the consulting contract.

Fortunately, a significant step toward defining competencies in the area of consulting psychology has recently been made in the form of Principles for Education and Training at the Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Level in Consulting Psychology (APA, 1999), developed specifically to delineate competencies relevant to the practice of organizational consulting psychology. An important feature of the principles is their acknowledgement that required competencies can largely be acquired through channels other than completion of a formal training program specifically designated as consulting psychology. The principles  concede that considerable training relevant for consulting psychology can be acquired through programs in other specialty areas within psychology. Another important feature of the proposed principles is that they emphasize intended competencies or end states, as opposed to delineating required course-work or curricula. This approach acknowledges that there are multiple avenues to acquiring required competencies. A third quality of the principles is their endorsement of the scientist-practitioner philosophy of training, embracing the notion that the practice of consulting psychology must be guided by the science of psychology.

Recommended competencies in the proposed principles have been organized around three broad areas of expertise: individual, group, and organizational. An underlying assumption of this framework is that at least minimal knowledge and skill within each area is required to effectively respond to the complex demands of the organizational context. Furthermore, it is assumed that consultants to organizations will routinely be called upon to utilize competencies from all three areas simultaneously, and in an integrative manner.

Consulting psychologists should familiarize themselves with these principles, and apply them in evaluating their own areas of competence. Accurate self-assessment might be the single most potent safeguard against violation of the competence principle. For those consulting psychologists who determine that they lack requisite knowledge and skill in a given area, there are many potential avenues for remediating such deficits, such as formal coursework, supervised practice, apprenticeships, and so forth. The importance of self-monitoring in the area of competence cannot be overemphasized. Reliance on external governing bodies to ensure competent practice is unrealistic and impractical.


Although it has not been well addressed in the literature, there has been some historical tension between management and psychology. Management has historically emphasized production systems approaches to organizations, while psychology has emphasized human factors and human process issues. While there has been progress in integrating these perspectives, some tendency toward separation still exists. Consulting psychologists who work in business settings often acquire considerable knowledge about management systems and theories. Managers who wish to be effective will likewise acquire some human process skills. Nevertheless, psychologists typically place substantial emphasis on the quality of human life, whereas most managers are at least somewhat more narrowly focused on concerns about production.

When consultants do emphasize quality-of-life indicators, they run the risk of being referred to as soft, or by some other term intended to reflect a basic naïveté about the hard facts of business life. Frankly, we believe that a little softness in this sense in organizational life can be a good thing. Most psychologists trying to earn consulting contracts in business organizations, however, do not want to be thought of as soft by their colleagues or potential clients. There is some tension, therefore, in integrating the two positions; that is, wanting to improve the quality of life for people in the organization and for the client system, and also wanting to earn contracts awarded primarily by managers who are very concerned about profitability.

Psychologists versus Managers

At a recent conference attended primarily by consulting psychologists, someone made a statement to the effect that “Maybe every consultant should have an MBA.” This statement reflects the awareness by those who consult in organizational settings that business models for management are different from psychological models for helping and change. This statement mirrors the common perception that organizational consultation is influenced heavily by management practices and perspectives. Although there are very strong arguments against this perspective, the historical differences in psychological and management positions are the main concern here.

One difference in the perspectives of management and psychology is the outcome orientation. Overgeneralizing for the purpose of illustration, managers generally have a strong tendency to focus on production, believing they must convince others that by improving production, the organization will be able to increase the quality of life for members. Psychologists, on the other hand, tend to focus more on process and human factors. Consulting psychologists have, historically, spent much time trying to help managers focused on production to shift their perspectives to include the role and function of human factors and processes as they relate to production. In a sense, the perceived challenge has often been to convince managers that the improvements in the quality of life for members of the organization will lead to enhanced productivity. Thus, OD and other kinds of developmental models have often been marketed to managers as a means of enhancing production. Fortunately, improved theories of organizational behavior have helped both psychology and management to develop more mature understandings of the relationship between the quality of life in an organization and the production potential of that organization. There is now acknowledgment of a reciprocal relationship between quality of life and productivity.

Exclusively emphasizing either profit motives or social interests is naïve. These dimensions are intricately related. Consulting psychology practiced in the marketplace can lead to increasingly humanized work settings that will be optimally profitable. In this context, the fact that most consulting contracts are awarded by those in management positions might lead to conflicts of interest within the organization. The consultant can find him- or herself in the position of helping to develop management strategies that might increase profitability at the cost of employee welfare. Is this an activity in which psychologists should participate? Should behavioral science be used to help manipulate employees into positions not in their best interests?

Proactively, consulting psychologists use empirically based behavioral theory to help organizations maximize their potential. They educate managers about sound organizational principles from a behavioral perspective. They take responsibility for the impact of their interventions on all those affected by the change. They encourage the valuing of inclusion in planning change, because it leads to better outcomes, in addition to protecting the dignity of those with less power in the system. They refrain from profiting from the avoidable misery of others.

The ethical and moral implications of working in a free market economy can be serious. Managers will sometimes make short-term, profit-oriented decisions that can be harmful to employees or clients. Sometimes, profit motives can drive decision-making at the top levels of an organization. There are often motives for excluding people from the planning process. Restrictions of access to information are sometimes necessary. Competitive norms might lead individuals to socially destructive behaviors. Economic self-interests might compete with motives to build strong, healthy communities. Consultants have to be aware of these realities prior to entering the system.

There is a very natural partnership between business interests and consulting psychology. People spend substantial portions of their time living and working in organizations. The knowledge base of consulting psychology is extremely relevant to building and maintaining healthy social systems. Principles of planned human change can be easily transported across settings, and the clinical skills possessed by psychologists can be invaluable in managing organizations. However, there is a constant potential for values conflicts between psychology and free enterprise. The ethical practice of consulting psychology in such settings requires an intimate knowledge of the moral and ethical foundations of our practice.


One of the key factors that determines the nature of relationships in organizational consultation is the level of the change effort (Newman, 1993; Newman & Robinson, 1991; Snow & Gersick, 1986). Consultants might intervene with individuals, small groups, organizational units, whole organizations, or any combination of these. This potential variability in intervention levels has dramatic implications for the ethical practice of consulting psychology.

Because of the complexity of organizations and the interrelatedness of organizational subsystems, interventions focused at the individual level can have profound implications for others in the organization. As a simple example, suppose a CEO invites a consultant into an industrial setting to help with some management problems. In an initial meeting, the consultant learns that a newly promoted vice president for operations has experienced problems with subordinates and been the target of numerous complaints. The CEO asks for executive coaching as an intervention for helping the vice president cope with the social demands of the job. Now, this might be a reasonable request for services, but who is the client here? Does the VP have the right to refuse participation? If the intervention is unsuccessful, who will be harmed? What, if any, responsibility does the consultant have to the subordinates who are directly involved? Generally, what questions must be answered before the service contract is confirmed?

In the preceding example, if the consultant agrees to the request for service as presented, she or he enters into a contract in which the CEO and the vice president are cast as clients. Of course, the accessibility of each participant to data generated in the intervention must be carefully defined. A major problem, however, relates to the subordinates with whom the original complaints resided. What impact is the intervention likely to have on them? In fact, the vice president already has an inordinate access to power relative to the subordinates. What, if any, rights do the subordinates have in this situation? How could any social intervention with the vice president be delivered without seriously affecting subordinates in the process? It seems imperative to again point out that the consultant retains a broad moral responsibility for his or her impact on the system. This can conflict, though, with the relationship configuration of the contract. The consultant might agree with the premise that some discomfort might be experienced by the subordinates, but that eventually they stand to benefit from the increased skill development of the vice president. This seems reasonable, but who has the right to commit the subordinates to the risk and discomfort of an incompetent superior in the learning stages? What are the moral implications of such a commitment? In very specific terms, how should the consultant share in this inherent moral responsibility?

According to Kralj (2001), “Coaching at the executive level of organizations most often includes a blend of individual, team, and organizational interventions” ( p. 108 ). Furthermore, the interdependent, systemic nature of organizations means that wherever the consultant enters or contracts with an organization, the effects of intervening and the intervention itself will likely have broader organizational effects. How does the consultant share responsibility for these widespread organizational effects? Is it possible, from a moral perspective, to extricate oneself from residual effects of an organizational intervention? We believe the answer is no. Few consulting psychologists would deny our unequivocal response to this question. The next question is much more difficult. Given the premise that consultants are responsible for the broadest implications of their interventions and their inevitable impact on the quality of life for others, how do consulting psychologists exercise their moral responsibility to the client system?

Consultants often find themselves in the paradoxical situation of having moral responsibility for intervention effects they cannot foresee or control. This is an impossible situation, but it gets worse. By the nature of the contract, the consultant might be limited to a single person or group of people in terms of confidentiality parameters. Consequently, it is possible that the consultant might identify some systemic outcome that has strongly negative implications for some other sector(s) of the organization, but is restricted from directly intervening due to parameters of confidentiality. In such a case, the consultant endeavors to influence the consultee individual or group to intervene as an indirect route of influence, but ultimately forfeits the right to intervene directly due to the preeminence of confidentiality in almost all cases. This situation seems incredible, but it carries with it the full force of professional ethical codes, and, even more importantly, civil law.

Many dimensions of organizational life are affected by the hierarchical nature of organizations. The uneven distribution of power across levels creates a great potential for abuse of those with less power. In many organizations, substantial inequalities of power are observed horizontally as well as vertically. Communication is not evenly distributed across levels of an organization, so it is easy for those with less information to be at risk for mistreatment of some kind. As noted earlier, informed consent requires full disclosure of information regarding what is being consented to prior to the consent. In contexts in which information about a change process is unevenly distributed, personal consent to participate is questionable. It is a very important observation that mistreatment of the less powerful members of an organization is not only immoral—it is also extremely poor organizational strategy. We contend that any lack of inclusion of the least powerful members of an organization will lead to reduced functioning. Though special consideration of those with restricted access to power is a moral mandate for psychologists, it is also an essential component in building effective organizations.

The importance of having clear and mutually understood contracts for the consulting relationship cannot be overestimated. Experienced consultants anticipate the potential ethical issues imposed by contracts developed within multi-leveled organizations, and try to help the consultee accommodate them at the contractual stage of the relationship. The parameters of confidentiality and the difficult issues associated with this concept in organizational contexts are addressed at length elsewhere in this chapter. Having a clear sense of personal and professional values prior to contracting with clients is essential in avoiding compromising moral situations. Once the situation develops, one’s objectivity is already threatened, and the advice of outside professionals might be required to design a reasonable course of action.


It has been argued for many years that effective organizational interventions are necessarily based on valid and reliable information (Argyris, 1970). The complex and varied structures of organizations can create complicated assessment targets and objectives. Systems-level change efforts can require extensive databases in problem definition, intervention, and operational phases. Many ethical principles (most notably, confidentiality, informed consent, and competency) are necessary to adequately comprehend the range of ethical dilemmas posed by assessment activities in the organizational setting. The fact that system-, group-, and individual-level assessment data are often required in consultation activities can multiply the ethical challenges presented.

Concerning individual-level assessment, legal requirements and issues can have a strong bearing on assessment practices. Carroll, Schneider, and Wesley (1985), addressing I-O psychologists in particular, made a compelling observation regarding the relationship of the law and ethics:

Even though I-O psychologists have legitimate concerns about the legal aspects of their work, they also should be aware that morality, at times, supersedes legality. Ethically speaking, they should be more concerned with trying to ensure fair treatment of those whom they may affect than with what is merely legal. Morality may require going beyond what is merely legally acceptable. And because of the strong emphasis on legality in the I-O area, it may be even more important that psychologists who work in that field be aware of ethical issues. For when legality is overemphasized, ethics tend to be ignored [p. 155].

Employees, as members of organizations, have certain protections under the law, but the ethical standard for their treatment must include consideration that goes well beyond their legal rights. Employing organizations can legally require participation of employees in planned change efforts against their best interests. We believe psychologists must be extraordinarily careful about participating in, or even tolerating, the use of coercion to force submission to assessment procedures. It is easily seen that the use of coercion for these purposes can violate the most basic principle of doing no harm. Protecting the welfare of others requires even more assertive positions in such circumstances.

Power and Authority Issues

One of the persistent problems in applying the principle of informed consent to assessment in the organizational context is the unequal distribution of power and authority that is typical of most organizations. Power does not necessarily follow lines of authority, either. Individuals in organizations are very creative in building bridges of influence that give them access to power on an informal basis. Informal access to power is not always easily seen or understood by those external to the organization, which can be devastating to a consultant at times. The problem of power distribution is that once one is perceived as being powerful, this perception is not easily changed. A manager might formally indicate that employees are free to decline participation in an assessment without prejudice, but can employees distinguish the formal permission from the informal wishes of a person perceived and validated as someone who has power over their employment and career? More pointedly, can an external consultant control the private perceptions of power and influence that existed prior to his or her entry into the system, and that will persist after the consultation process is completed? If not, can the element of coercion truly be removed so that informed consent can truly be given prior to submitting to assessment procedures? Incidentally, this dilemma is not limited to assessment procedures.

Confidentiality of assessment data is another difficult issue in organizational consultation. In individual relationships, the psychologist can ensure that confidentiality is maintained. In organizational work, a consultant’s ability to ensure confidentiality is quite limited. First, assessment data in organizational contexts must usually be shared to have their optimal effects. Once the data are shared, the psychologist loses the ability to personally ensure confidentiality, and must share the responsibility with others in the setting.

There are other problems related to ensuring confidentiality of assessment data in organizational settings. Suppose that a manager is evaluated using survey data as part of a leadership development program, and two units express dissatisfaction with the manager. The manager might not have access to data identifying individuals, but only to aggregate data at the unit level. After the consultation has been completed and the consultant has exited the system, the manager might still have access to the unit identities of his or her critics. The potential for retaliative harm here is obvious. As part of an intervention, identifying specific units might seem essential, but it creates an exposure to potential harm that might not be realized until well after the consultant has lost all influence in the system.

Furthermore, suppose that a consultant agrees to share some assessment data with a management team for planning purposes, but first asks the team to agree to maintain strict confidentiality of the shared information. After the completion of the consultation intervention, though, the consultant cannot remove access to the information. Multiple uses of the information might be made after the consultant leaves, even though the group maintains the rules of confidentiality. In this case, the consultant cannot ensure informed consent due to the uses of the data unknown to the consultant. Furthermore, expecting others who have vested interests to respect the psychological principle of confidentiality is not very realistic in organizations where conflicts of interest across levels are routine. Even when the initial intentions are good, there is a tendency for deterioration of the commitment over time and contexts.


The range of services that psychologists might provide in the consulting role vary widely. It is difficult to accurately characterize consulting psychology as a homogeneous set of integrated activities. In reality, consulting psychologists engage in a wide variety of interventions in organizational settings. The interventions that consulting psychologists market to an often naïve public are central to understanding the most essential parameters of ethical practice.  Section 1.06  of the APA ethics code states that “Psychologists rely on scientifically and professionally derived knowledge when making scientific or professional judgments or when engaging in scholarly or professional endeavors” (APA, 1992, p. 1600). An essential question relates to the knowledge base underlying the practice of consulting psychology. A more pointed question might ask, is there a research base for consulting psychology? Gibson and Froehle (1991) reviewed the research literature and reported a substantial empirical database for organizational interventions. They reiterated the ethical principle above: “It is imperative for consulting practitioners to remain flexible and to incorporate research findings into the decision rules they use when selecting organizational interventions” ( p. 18 ). Gibson and Froehle admirably pushed the standard even higher by stating that “consultants will increasingly be expected to accurately anticipate negative residual effects as well as direct positive effects that are likely to accompany a particular intervention design when conducted under a particular set of conditions and circumstances” ( p. 18 ). This is not to say that professional judgment is unimportant. Newman (1993) pointed out that although empirical data cannot provide hard and fast recipes for selecting consulting interventions, the empirical literature can be useful in delineating both technical and ethical parameters of interventions.

Blanton (2000) reported that a sample of members of the Society of Consulting Psychology ranked empirical studies relatively low in terms of value to their practice. This survey was based on only an 11 percent response rate, so it must be viewed cautiously, but it does reinforce the idea that existing empirical research is not totally prescriptive in terms of consulting practices. It would also be interesting to actually observe what consultants are doing (in addition to self-reports) to see if their selected interventions can be related to empirical bases in the literature.

Blanton (2000) also identified four factors that she believed contributed to the limited use of empirical research as a basis for practice: (1) the quantity of research available is inadequate; (2) research is not relevant to the practice of most consultants; (3) theory and concepts in consulting psychology are poorly defined; and (4) consultation is a dialectic practice, not an applied technology. To the extent these propositions are accurate, a great deal of responsibility must reside with the practitioner. As reflected in  Section 1.06  of the APA ethics code, the consulting psychologist is ethically obligated to access the most current empirical evidence (APA, 1992). Beyond that, though, it is clear that well-supported theory, personal experience, shared experience, and sound reasoning are all meaningful sources of professional judgment in developing, selecting, and applying interventions that optimize outcomes for organizational clients. The value, then, of providing extensive dialogues among more and less experienced consultants seems enormous. We see little value in arguing the relative importance of empirical research, theory, and experience, as we believe that each is necessary in ensuring competent and ethical practice. The key to the ethical practice of consulting psychology seems to be to integrate the best of the existing knowledge base in a particular context. This ability to demonstrate the validity of interventions has important legal and ethical implications for consulting psychologists.

Empirical Findings and Professional Judgment

Despite the growing empirical database related to organizational intervention, however, considerable professional judgment is still involved in the recommendations consultants must make regarding intervention. What information should be disclosed to the consultee organization or its representative(s)? Is the consultee entitled to an understanding of the distinction between empirical evidence and professional judgment based on experience as the basis for selecting a particular intervention? What are the implications of promoting an untried intervention over some other interventions that have been demonstrated to be at least partially successful in empirical studies? How flexible should the consultant be in helping a consultee with a preferred or chosen intervention when she or he has reason to believe that the consultee-preferred option is less likely to be effective? It is unethical to withhold relevant information about the efficacy of interventions from a consultee when it is available in the literature. This is especially true when access to the information might reasonably be expected to affect consultee decision-making. It also is critical to present that kind of technical information in a form understandable to the consultee.

The nature of the consultee system in the consideration of interventions necessitates considerable ethical deliberation. For example, what if a consultant is working with a management team when it becomes clear that a staff development program for advancing current staff into management positions will be much more expensive than simply hiring experienced staff from outside the company. By its nature, this decision is value laden. If the consultant’s contract limits the consultant’s responsibility to the team, what responsibility does the consultant have ethically to others in the organization who will experience lost opportunities if outside managers are hired as a cost-reduction strategy? Will these staff people be harmed? What are the consequences financially to the company? Should the consultant be responsible for the broader economic health of the company as this decision gets made? If the managerial team has personal profit investments (for example, profit sharing motives) that differ from those of other organizational members, should the consultant promote a more inclusive decision-making model? What if the organization is unionized and there is a competitive culture? Is the consultant then relieved of moral and ethical responsibility to union members? We contend that he or she is not. These kinds of conflicts of interests within the consultee system are almost routine. Consultants have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the interests of all those who will be affected by interventions they help design and promote. Consulting psychologists should refuse to engage in interventions that have the potential to harm organizational members in any way. From a process point of view, pointing out the philosophical and values implications of interventions, and including such implications in deliberations, are imperative. Assisting the consultee group in taking responsibility for the moral implications of their choices is central to effective psychological consultation in organizations.

Some have made the distinction between technical adequacy and ethical adequacy as the concepts apply to interventions (Newman, 1993; Snow & Gersick, 1986). Broadly speaking, the technical adequacy of an intervention is based on the extent to which the objectives for its use are met. The ethical adequacy of an intervention would involve a general consideration of its impact in protecting the welfare, generally defined, of all those affected by the intervention. In practice, these two concepts are highly interdependent and complementary. Organizational outcomes will likely be enhanced by a careful and thorough consideration of both dimensions. This perspective, consistently addressed in the consultation process, has the potential to move beyond adherence to a marginally relevant set of behavioral guidelines for ethical conduct, toward creating a helping process that is fundamentally moral in its character. This is what ethics in the organizational context should be about.


It might seem a little peculiar to hear organizational consultation described as a moral enterprise, but this premise is fundamental to the discussion presented in this chapter. Carroll et al. (1985) asserted that “issues that are moral arise when a person’s welfare can be affected by another” ( p. 2 ). Clearly, others’ welfare is constantly being affected in organizational consultation, and in the case of large, complex organizations that serve substantive client systems, the potential impact of organizational interventions can be phenomenal. An important question to be considered by consulting psychologists, both individually and collectively as a profession, is: What role should moral and ethical considerations play in consulting psychology practice? Likewise, Newman, Gray, and Fuqua (1996) posed several related, yet more specific, questions including the following: Should consultation be used as a vehicle for helping an organization define what it considers to be right and good? What, if any, responsibility does a consultant have for facilitating consideration of such matters by members of an organization? What should the nature of moral discourse be in organizations engaged in the consulting process?

Moral Decisions and Moral Obligations

There are two assumptions implicit in these questions. The first assumption is that the person of the consultant is inherently and intricately linked to his or her professional judgments, decisions, and conduct. The importance of this notion is, perhaps, best exemplified by the concept of virtue ethics. Virtue ethics andprinciple ethics have been conceptualized as distinct but complementary perspectives (Jordan & Meara, 1999). Principle ethics refer to the prioritization and application of universal principles in the analysis and resolution of specific ethical dilemmas. The Ethical Standards section of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (APA, 1992) largely represents an attempt to operationalize principle ethics. The focus in the case of principle ethics is on a specific action designed to respond to the guiding question, What shall I do? By contrast, virtue ethics emphasize the character of the actor (that is, internal traits, habits, personal values) in response to the question, Who shall I be? As with Jordan and Meara, we believe that principle ethics play an essential role in guiding professional practice. However, given the diverse nature of the professional activities of psychologists, and the complex nature of most ethical dilemmas, it is neither feasible nor even desirable that a professional ethics code specifically addresses the full range of possible dilemmas that professional psychologists might encounter in the course of their practice. Consequently, the effectiveness of any ethics code in fostering high standards of ethical practice will inevitably be highly influenced by the character and motives of those applying it. In making this very point, Newman et al. (1996) suggested that “it is the steward of the principles who determines their impact more so than the content of the principles themselves” ( p. 231 ).

The second assumption implicit in these questions is that the consultant bears some degree of personal responsibility to ensure that moral and ethical considerations are part of the dialogue that occurs during consultation. This is perhaps a more controversial issue. Not all consulting psychologists would necessarily agree that actively promoting the exploration and examination of moral and ethical issues in the course of organizational consultation is necessary, or even appropriate. While we acknowledge and respect perspectives different from our own, we believe that organizational consultation is an inherently moral enterprise, with potentially life-changing implications for those who are directly or indirectly affected by it. For example, even seemingly minor changes in an organization’s leave policy can have a significant impact on the personal and family lives of employees. Similarly, reductions in services to reduce costs by a mental health agency can create serious hardships for clients who might lack access to alternative sources of help. These kinds of organizational decisions have clear and potentially profound moral implications for individuals who might have no involvement in the decision-making process. Equally important, what might the potential implications of such decisions be for those who do participate in the decision-making process? Have they participated in the decisionmaking process only after a full and informed consideration of the potential moral and ethical implications of the decision(s) being made?

Although there are reasonable grounds for debating a consultant’s personal responsibility for moral issues arising during, or deriving from, a consulting relationship, abdicating responsibility for the moral outcomes for others is unethical. Some consulting psychologists might be reluctant to actively promote the consideration of moral and ethical issues by participants in routine consulting contacts, and probably for a variety of different reasons. Furthermore, in most cases, there is nothing in the APA ethics code that specifically requires a consulting psychologist to actively facilitate consideration of the moral and ethical implications of decisions made by an organization. Thus, a consulting psychologist who chooses not to embrace the kind of advocacy role being advanced here would likely be in compliance with mandatory ethics, that is, the “minimum requirements for professional performance via prescriptive guidelines and behavioral rules” (Newman et al., 1996, p. 230).

Striving to achieve a minimum standard of performance in the ethical arena is inadequate. We would suggest that the profession of organizational consulting psychology, as well as those who are served or affected by it, would benefit substantially from pursuit of a much higher standard. Aspirational ethics provide a more useful guiding framework in this regard, with their emphasis on pursuing maximal moral and ethical outcomes. Aspirational ethics serve as the basis for the Preamble and the General Principles sections of the APA ethics code. They differ from mandatory ethics, which tend to consist of enforceable rules, in that they are intended to reflect higher, more general ideals to which psychologists are encouraged to aspire. Aspirational ethics should challenge psychologists, both individually and collectively, to seek the highest possible moral and ethical outcomes in every situation.

Some consulting psychologists might be concerned that organizational members might resist efforts to introduce a moral discourse into the consulting process. Granted, some degree of reluctance by organizational participants might, at times, be inevitable. However, it is possible that initial reluctance might be more related to unfamiliarity with the process than resistance to the process itself. It has often been our observation that, once participants understand the purpose of the dialogue, they actively and meaningfully engage in the discussion. More often than not, people care about the moral implications of what they are doing, and value the opportunity to explore them in a thoughtful way. However, what about those less common cases in which there is real resistance to addressing moral and ethical issues? This situation can create difficult decisional demands for the consulting psychologist. Should the consulting psychologist honor the resistance and proceed with the consultation contract as requested? Should attempts be made to overcome the resistance? Should the contract be declined or discontinued? These are difficult questions. In coming to one’s own personal answers, the consulting psychologist must carefully consider the implications of various decisional alternatives for all of those involved, including him or herself. We believe that just as one’s practice is shaped by one’s character, one’s character is likewise shaped and reshaped by one’s practice. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to compartmentalize decisions or actions; that is, it is difficult to maintain high ethical standards in some contexts and simultaneously compromise standards in others. Decisions and actions become part of identity and character.

Generally, the structure of an organization is greatly shaped by its own moral standards and values (Levinson, 1997). Organizational members’ behavior and welfare are substantially affected by the structure of the organization. Operating within a healthy culture of clearly expressed and common values is essential to optimizing human outcomes. Thus, resistance to addressing moral issues should be seen as diagnostic, in that moral and functional considerations are typically similar.

We believe that the ambition to have a single set of prescriptive ethical guidelines for the profession of psychology has been irreversibly frustrated by the escalating breadth of psychological practice. Focusing specifically on organizational contexts, consider the range of potential settings in which a consulting psychologist might work, and the potential range of moral and ethical challenges he or she might encounter: for example, pharmaceutical companies, prisons, law firms, police departments, human service agencies, schools, hospitals, and so forth. While the APA has taken the responsibility for developing and maintaining a code of ethics very seriously, the increasingly complex and varied nature of psychological practice complicates such efforts. As we write this chapter, a special task force is actively engaged in the process of revising the current APA ethics code. Representatives of the Society of Consulting Psychology have submitted a written response to an initial draft of the new code, and have attended a meeting of the task force, in efforts to ensure that the interests of consulting psychologists are reflected in the upcoming code. Specific issues that have been presented for consideration by the task force include: (1) conflicts between ethics and organizational demands; (2) boundaries of competence; (3) informed consent; (4) describing the nature and results of psychological services; (5) third-party requests for services; (6) multiple relationships; (7) group and individual interventions; (8) conflicts of interest; (9) interruption of services; and (10) termination of professional relationships. Despite such efforts, however, framers of the revised code must ultimately produce a document with broad applicability across the many and highly varied domains of psychological practice. Consulting psychologists seeking ethical guidance beyond that provided in the APA ethics code should look to ethics codes in related areas, such as those associated with organizational development and the National Training Laboratory (Lowman, 1991).


An attempt has been made here to portray the ethical foundations of consulting psychology as much more than a set of prescriptive or prohibitive behavioral guidelines. Every interaction the consultant has with a consultee has ethical implications. An infinite number of intentional or unintentional omissions by the consultant will have ethical implications for the consulting relationship(s). We have tried to frame consulting psychology as an inherently moral enterprise that has the potential to increase the quality of life for many people. Clearly, this is an emphasis on aspirational ethics in the context of organizational helping. This emphasis transcends the focus of mandatory ethics on compliance with minimum required standards. By focusing on virtue ethics in addition to principle ethics, we have attempted to underscore the importance of personal accountability for the impact of both the consulting process and outcome on those who participate in, or are affected by, consultation. Given the inherent limitations of external regulation in achieving ethical practice, we believe that self-monitoring and self-governance are the most potent and promising mechanisms for pursuing the aspirational goals discussed in this chapter.


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