Governors State University
College of Education
Division of Psychology and Counseling
Course Title: Ethical and Legal Issues in Psychology
Course Number: PSYC 760
Instructor: Al Tuskenis, Ph.D. (708) 534-4385
Office Location: G-389
Credit hours: Three (3) graduate credit hours
Focuses on ethical and legal issues faced by professional psychologists functioning in clinical,
research, and teaching roles. Emphasizes the application of the ethical code of the psychology
profession, published by the American Psychological Association, and related Illinois legal
Psychologists must be aware of the ethical and legal issues related to their professional activities.
They need to know the content of the ethical code of the American Psychological Association
and relevant legal statutes. Psychologists are expected to anticipate the clinical and professional
situations in which certain ethical and legal issues are likely to arise and the ethical codes and
situations that would apply. Psychologists are required to respond to clinical and professional
situations involving ethical and legal issues with good judgment and appropriate action. Finally
psychologists need skill in written and oral communication on psychology-related ethical and
legal issues as applied to specific clinical and professional contexts.
Prerequisites: PSYC 410 and 430 (or equivalent)
Intended Audience: This course is intended for graduate students in the M.A. Psychology
Program at Governors State University.
Instructional Modalities: Lecture/Discussion
Required Texts and Materials:
Bernstein, B. E., & Hartsell, T. L. (2000). The portable ethicist for mental health professionals:
An A-Z guide to responsible practice. New York: Wiley.
Fisher, C. B. (2003). Decoding the ethics code: A practical guide for psychologists. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage.
State of Illinois professional regulations and legal statutes pertaining to mental health and
psychology practice, accessible and printable through Internet sources (printing instructions
provided in class).
Upon successful completion of this course, the student should be able to:
A. Demonstrate awareness and understanding of ethical issues, particularly ones that have
personal and professional relevance.
B. Identify and describe the Code of Ethics which governs the State of Illinois and other
ethical codes which are appropriate your occupational placement (AAMFT, ASCA, etc.).
C. Demonstrate the ability to formulate a strategy for making ethical decisions.
D. Describe and explain relevant laws which affect families and individuals.
E. Distinguish and discuss the legal issues associated with the practice of therapy
(malpractice, breach of contract, client rights, confidentiality, duty to warn and the expert
F. Analyze a situation for relevant ethical issues and formulate a recommendation plan for
the individuals involved.
G. Demonstrate awareness of and sensitivity towards legal and ethical issues related to
working with clients who are culturally different from the counselor or who have special
issues (sexual orientation differences, physical handicaps, gender issues);.
H. Demonstrate knowledge of referral sources in the clinical field.
Course Activities, Assignments and Requirements
In-class activities center on discussion of hypothetical cases and ethical dilemmas faced by
psychologists, with attention to applying professional ethical codes and Illinois law. Students will
write essays on their understanding and application of ethical issues, codes, and laws.
Through case reviews, students will develop advanced awareness and understanding of ethical
and legal issues relevant to the science and practice of psychology, including confidentiality,
exceptions to confidentiality (e.g., duty to report child abuse; duty to warn/protect potential
victims), cultural issues and values, informed consent, practicing within competency limits,
nature of the relationship between professional and client (especially "dual relationships"), and
ethics in research, especially treatment of research participants.
Develop working knowledge of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct,
published by the American Psychological Association, sufficient for ethical functioning as a
beginning psychological researcher or clinician. Become familiar with State of Illinois
professional regulations and legal statutes pertaining to mental health and psychology practice;
know where to access such legal documents and get additional information or help (e.g., from
supervisors or attorneys) when needed. This will be done through group discussions and role
Strengthen the ability to express, in writing and speech, the knowledge, ethical judgment, and
Essay/Case Review Format: typed, double-spaced, and stapled in the upper left corner (not
placed in folders or plastic binders -- these often come apart and some pages of your paper may
be lost). Each page should include your name (at the top right) and page number (again, in case
your paper comes apart). Points may be deducted from papers deviating from this format.
Due dates for essays/reviews will be announced in class. Points (see essay grading scale below)
will be deducted from late papers as follows (not counting weekends): up to one day late, -.25
point; two days late, -.5 point; three, four or five days late, -.75 point, six days late, -1.0 point; for
papers more than six days late, further deductions may be made, at the discretion of the
Attendance and participation in class are essential to achieving the course objectives. Class
discussion of ethical issues and case examples is central to developing skills in reasoning and
communicating about ethical issues.
Assigned essays will be evaluated for both content and writing quality. Regarding content, essay
evaluation will target how the essay shows understanding of the ethical issues, codes, and laws
and their application to the case example. Regarding writing quality, evaluation will focus on
clarity, though grammar, word usage, spelling, organization, conciseness, and professional
appropriateness (APA Style) will also be considered. Based on such evaluation, essays will
receive an overall score, according to the following scale:
9.0 and higher = A
8.0 – 8.9 = B
7.0 – 7.9 = C
6.0 – 6.9 = D
below 6.0 = F
Final Course Grades
Each student's essay scores from the trimester will be averaged. Course averages will be
converted to final letter grades using the following scale:
A = 9.0 and above
B = 8.0 to 8.9
C = 7.0 to 7.9
D = 6.0 to 6.9
F = less than 6.0
Final grades will also take into account class attendance/participation: attendance and, in
particular, quality of participation in class discussions of ethical issues will count as the
equivalent of one assigned essay, included as one of the grades averaged to yield the final course
Students with Disabilities
GSU is committed to providing all students equal access to all university programs and facilities.
Students who have a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability and need academic
accommodations, must register with Access Services for Students with Disabilities (ASSD). Please
contact the Coordinator of ASSD in Room B1201 in person; by e-mail, email@example.com; or by calling
708.235.3968. If you are already registered, please contact your instructor privately regarding your
WEEK TOPIC READINGS ESSAYS
2 Professional Writing in Psychology F 1-3
3 Introduction to the Ethical Principles of BH 12-14
Psychologists and Code of Conduct
4 Research Ethics F 11 1
5 Ethical Issues in Clinical Psychology BH 16-20
6 Practicing within Competency Limits BH 1-2 2
7 Nature and Boundaries of Professional- BH & F TBA
8 Informed Consent BH 6 3
9 Confidentiality BH 3-5, 27
Exceptions to Confidentiality
10 Duty to Warn/Protect Tba 4
11 Cases involving Abuse Tba
12 Clinical Record-Keeping Tba 5
13 Confidentiality with Minors F7
14 Cultural Aspects of Ethical Issues F10 6
15 Psychiatric Hospitalization and Patients’ F9
Student Academic Honesty:
Students are expected to fulfill academic requirements in an ethical manner. This expectation pertains to
the following: use and acknowledgement of the ideas and work of others, submission of work to fulfill
course requirements, sharing of work with other students, and appropriate behavior during examinations.
These ethical considerations are not intended to discourage people from studying together or from
engaging in group projects. The university policy on academic honesty appears in the catalog appendix,
which can be found on the website at http://www.govst.edu/catalog/catalog_appendix.htm