Since 2010, the Board has adopted the 2007 Australian Psychological Society (APS) Code of Ethics for the profession as the code of ethics, conduct, and practice for registered psychologists. Until the Board has developed a code of conduct, compliance with the APS Code of Ethics is a requirement of registration as a psychologist in Australia.
The Board is developing a code of conduct which will apply to all registered psychologists. Once we have implemented a code of conduct, we will no longer use the APS Code of Ethics (2007), but this will take some time.
Codes are used by Ahpra and the 15 National Boards in the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (National Scheme) to protect the public. As regulatory instruments, it is important that the codes are authored by the regulator. All other professions in the National Scheme have Board-authored codes of conduct with close alignment of content. Our aim is to align the psychology code of conduct as closely as possible with the other National Scheme codes. Consistency in regulatory approaches can facilitate patient and practitioner understanding, support inter-professional practice, and contribute to safety and quality of healthcare.
The APS Code of Ethics has served the purpose of a regulatory code over the past 12 years and we will continue adopting this code while we develop our code of conduct. Psychologists currently have a mandatory obligation to practice in accordance with the Code of Ethics (2007) – this is a requirement of their registration. Once the Board has introduced a code of conduct, this obligation will transfer to the code of conduct. So, psychologists will need to familarise themselves with the new code and practice in accordance with the code at all times.
The Board’s code of conduct will be developed via a rigorous process involving expert-input and widespread stakeholder consultation. Psychologists and members of the community were invited to have their say during the code’s development (further information below). This means the final code of conduct will reflect the standards expected of a psychologist’s peers and the broader community, which is a fundamental requirement of a regulatory code in the National Scheme.
The Board code of conduct will have the same intent as the Code of Ethics: to guide psychologists in providing professional, safe, and effective psychological services. The code of conduct will reflect the long-established, universally-accepted principles of good psychological practice, as set out International Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists. Codes of conduct and codes of ethics tend to use different language to convey similar concepts. The key difference will be that the code of conduct will sit under the regulatory body rather than a professional association, which means it will be developed and regularly reviewed by the Board in accordance with our obligations under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.
In partnership with Ahpra, the Board regulates psychologists to protect the health and safety of the public. As part of this role, we ensure that only psychologists meeting minimum standards are registered. Codes are key documents which establish those standards. When a psychologist departs from the standards in the code, we might take regulatory action to protect the public from harm. Codes are admissible in legal proceedings as evidence of what constitutes appropriate professional conduct or practice for the profession.
To be an effective regulatory instrument, a code of conduct must explicitly set out the standards reasonably expected of the practitioner by both their professional peers and the community. An effective regulatory code allows psychologists and the public to easily recognise when conduct or behaviour departs from these standards; and assists the Board in its regulatory role by setting the expectations against which we can evaluate a psychologist’s conduct. We will draw on our 12 years’ experience as the national regulatory body to develop a code of conduct that protects the public.
While the APS Code of Ethics will no longer be used by the Board, it will continue to be a valuable resource in guiding psychologists in their practice and ensuring high-quality psychological services are provided to the community. Other regulated health professions have Board-authored codes of conduct which work together with professional association ethical codes (e.g. Medicine and Pharmacy). Professional associations play a key role in educating their members and providing resources to help them maintain high standards of ethical conduct and practice. The Board’s role is to protect the public, which we do by enforcing minimum standards set out in our registration standards, codes, and guidelines.
At the start of the National Scheme, we decided to adopt the APS Code of Ethics (2007) rather than introducing our own code of conduct. We did this because the Code of Ethics was already familiar to psychologists and had been embedded in psychological practice in Australia for decades. We considered that introducing a new code in 2010 would make the transition from state-based to national regulation more disruptive for psychologists, who were already experiencing a lot of change in regulatory requirements. We said at the time that we would develop a code of conduct later.
Twelve years into the National Scheme, the original rationale for adopting the Code of Ethics no longer holds. The Board has delayed developing a code of conduct to focus on other key regulatory reform priorities (e.g. retirement of the 4+2 pathway) and because the APS Code of Ethics has been working effectively as a regulatory instrument. The APS are reviewing their Code of Ethics for the first time since 2007, which has prompted us to consider if it is now time to start developing a code of conduct. The Board has legislative obligations to conduct robust governance processes when it develops and reviews standards, codes, and guidelines, and must ensure widespread consultation with a range of stakeholders. Therefore, it is important that the Board has the responsibility for developing and reviewing the code that it uses. Preparing our code of conduct at the same time the APS reviews its code is a timely opportunity to consider how the two codes will work together in the future.
Psychology is the only regulated health profession that does not have a Board-authored code of conduct. Health Ministers have asked Ahpra and the National Boards to work together to ensure that registration requirements align across the professions as closely as possible. Most professions in the National Scheme have a ‘shared’ code of conduct, which underwent a comprehensive review recently. The revised shared code came into effect in 2022. This presents a good opportunity for the Board to establish a code that builds on the extensive research and evidence considered in reviewing the shared code, as well as the learnings from stakeholder consultation and user testing occurring as part of that review. We will seek to align the psychology code of conduct with the shared code as much as possible, acknowledging some elements will need to differ to address the nuances of psychological practice. Consistency in regulatory approaches across the health professions supports inter-professional practice and facilitates community and practitioner understanding.
The code development project will take some time and will involve seeking expert advice, conducting user testing, and seeking preliminary feedback from National Scheme stakeholders. We released a draft code for public consultation in 2023. We hope to have an advanced copy of the code published by mid-2024.
We will keep psychologists and other stakeholders informed about code development progress by keeping this web page updated and through our regular newsletters, which are emailed to psychologists and published on our website.