Legal Aspects of Professional Psychology

Legal issues about informed consent and refusal

Legal issues are important aspects of the treatment process. Treatment is a process that entails a doctor and a patient. Apart from the medication that a patient is given, the treatment process is psychological. The legal framework will therefore protect the confidentiality of the treatment process both to the patient and the psychologist. Informed consent is the prior knowledge a patient is given about the treatment process. This knowledge is encrypted with the law. Therefore, this will help the patient understand his or her basic fundamental rights regarding the treatment process. According to Pope and Vasquez (2007), informed consent helps the patient and the psychologist understand their rights during treatment. Informed consent is a tool that can be used by the patient to determine the professional conduct of the psychologist.

The law requires that informed consent is a document between two interested parties (Bass, 2006). Everybody will then sign the informed consent as an indication of knowledge about the contents of the document. The psychologist and the patient will sign the document. Generally, informed consent is an agreement between the psychologist and the patient about how the treatment will be given. The consent permits the psychologist to determine the best treatment method through performing a psychological assessment and tests. To the patient, informed consent gives the right to access full information from the psychologist regarding the treatment and its potential side effects. It is also important to the patient because alternative treatment can be identified in case the side effects of the initial treatment are too much for the patient. In informed consent, the patient has the highest authority and gives permission. Once the permission is granted, it is assumed that the patient has understood all the consequences of the treatment. An informed consent, therefore, is used to confirm that power was not abused during the process of treatment.

The refusal consent is a document that a patient uses to stop treatment. The reasons to either terminate or refuse treatment are: if the law requires him to do so, the psychologist does not understand the treatment and the patient may risk being infected with other diseases in the process of treatment (Bass, 2006). The patient’s age can also cause refusal because the treatment procedure may cause harm to the patient especially if the patient is very old. In cases where treatment is refused due to a health risk then an alternative treatment should be given to the patient. Total termination of the whole treatment process can lead to the patient’s death. The legal procedure outlines that, in such a case, an alternative treatment should be given and it should have less health risk than the initial treatment (Bersoff, 2009).

Legal issues of assessment, testing, and diagnosis in professional psychology

The procedure for assessment, testing, and diagnosis, is important to determine the success of the treatment. Legal issues about assessment, testing, and diagnosis are the procedures found within the law. It is important to have standards to govern the above procedures because they can be used for other important purposes. For example, an assessment by a psychologist can be used by a judge to determine the most appropriate judgment. The legal issues are set to determine the uniformity in undertaking the procedures (Bersoff, 2009). These procedures will govern both the psychologists in public or private institutions. Assessment is the most important area because it determines the next cause of action. It should be done by accurate and highly trained personnel. This has led to the need for special training for the personnel to undertake the assessment. The legal issues in the assessment are used to ensure that the information given after the assessment is correct. Testing is another procedure to confirm the initial assessment. Testing requires sophisticated equipment and laboratories. The legal issues control how the testing should be done. They allow the patient’s basic fundamental rights to be observed during the testing procedure. Diagnosis is administering the correct treatment. The legal issues in diagnosis control how the treatment is given without any further health risks.

Awareness of standards and guidelines for assessment, testing, and diagnosis is important (Bass, 2006). This legal issue requires that every psychologist understands the standards set for performing the procedures. This is to ensure that the quality standards are met. For example, the American Psychological Association (2011) has established its rules for the standards in a document called Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct. These rules govern the legal issues associated with assessment, testing, and diagnosis. Awareness also helps the psychologist be informed about the new standards from the research. The legal requirement here is that the standard should be communicated through a well understandable language to the psychologists. Forensic assessment is possible through awareness. In case a patient is not satisfied with the assessment; a forensic assessment can be launched. Since the standards used are the same, then a forensic assessment will confirm the same. Therefore, the legal issue in awareness is to make a uniform procedure for assessment, testing, and diagnosis.

Another legal issue is staying within the area of competence. Psychological education does not prohibit any psychologist from acts of unprofessionalism. Most of the psychologists who are highly learned have ended up performing false assessments, testing, and diagnoses. This occurs simply because of incompetence. Some psychological training does not fully cover all areas of the study. When such a person joins the profession, chances are high that acts of incompetence are likely to occur. The legal issues require that all psychologists should be highly competent before joining the profession. As a precaution, the junior psychologists should be attached to an experienced clinical psychologist to gain experience. When the treatment is based on the physical assessment of the patient, then the experience of the psychologist is more important than education. The legal issues require that all the assessment, testing, and diagnosis are done within the required competence of the psychologists. Therefore, a psychologist should handle a matter that he is completely competent with it.

Measurement, validation, and research should be within the law. The psychologists should be assessed to determine the extent to which they understand the measurements and validation. This is important to reduce the publication of wrong research work. The new research can have detrimental effects if it was not done properly. Therefore, all psychologists should prove their competence before they carry out any research.

It is a legal requirement that all patients fully understand the testing procedures. Informed consent is signed to show understanding about testing. The testing procedure involves the use of different instruments and techniques. Therefore, the patient needs to understand the accuracy levels of the instruments before s/he allows to start the treatment process. The explanation before testing should be given in a language that is understandable to the patient. The technical terms should be clearly explained to avoid a situation where the patients pretend to have understood.

The legal issues control access to the test information. Various pieces of legislation have been established to control and limit access to test information. The California truth-in-testing statute is an example of legislation to control test information release. All the information used during the test should be included in the documentation. Test data defines the behavior and response of the patient during the examination. The legal issue requires that the psychologist gives all the information gathered during the test.

Other legal issues include standards for administering tests and the inclusion of a third party (Cante, 2004). The procedures for testing should be uniform to validate the forensic assessment if it is required. The procedure should be standard to take into consideration all the associated risks. The third party can be used by an observer to confirm that all the legal requirements were followed during the process of assessment, treatment, and diagnosis.

Confidentiality in the therapeutic relationship

Confidentiality is an important legal requirement in the treatment process. Both the psychologist and the patient are required to keep any information concerning the treatment a secret. The treatment information can be used for various reasons. For example, a judge can use the assessment to determine a judgment. Psychological information from assessments and tests can be used to advance discrimination. When a patient is discovered to have a serious incurable disease, society may isolate the patient. Therefore, it is important to maintain the information as a secret. The disclosure of information may also lead to panic. When a patient has a highly infectious disease, it is good to not disclose it. This will reduce the panic that the disease may spread to other people. Confidentiality will also allow the patient to disclose all his medical history. This is because he is assured of secrecy. The psychologist can then use the information to determine the best diagnosis.

Confidentiality can lead to a health risk. When the treatment process is maintained as a secret, it can cause a severe health hazard, especially where the disease is infectious. It is good to disclose the report so that other people can take prevention care where necessary. The challenge to this is that the law requires that the report be made a secret. It can also lead to the patient failing to give his full response to the test examination. Here, the assessment may lead to a wrong diagnosis. The psychologist may also fail to exhaust all the side effects related to the treatment of the patient. The patient may end up signing the informed consent without full knowledge about treatment.

Professional competence in professional psychology

Professional competence is an important aspect of treatment. Psychological training is not enough to give the psychologist competence. The treatment procedure requires that an assessment, test, and diagnosis be administered (Cante, 2004). Therefore, these three areas require that the psychologist should be highly competent. A psychologist can be competent in determining a child’s intellectual ability but fail to determine the same to the adults. Professional competence is important to ensure that the process of treatment is done within the stipulated standards. Competence will also result in the ability to set the correct diagnosis. It should be admitted that it is also important because the side effects of research will be well known. This will reduce the risk of adopting a research novelty that is not competent.

Impacts of legislative acts and case law decisions on professional psychology

The legislative acts and case law has limited the disclosure of any information that is not permitted by law. The law has defined the extent to which information can be released. Psychologists cannot disclose any information even in a court of law because they can be sued. For example, in California, a psychologist performed tests on a girl after it was reported by her mother that she had been sexually abused by her stepfather. The test result was used to file a suit. The psychologists also performed tests on the stepfather. During the hearing, the psychologist was asked to provide further information by the deputy sheriff, but he declined contrary to the Child Abuse Reporting Law. This decision was upheld by The Supreme Court of California (Bass, 2006). Regarding publishing case studies, the acts have prohibited changing patients’ names. A therapist in New York was sued for describing his treatment to a patient after the patient complained that the psychologist had not obtained his consent to write about the treatment. The legislative acts have changed the publication of cases. The psychologist must get permission from the patient.


American Psychological Association. (2011). contracting on a capitates basis: managing risk for practice. Washington, D.C: American Psychological Association press.

Bass, L.J. (2006). Professional conduct and discipline in psychology. Montgomery, A.L: Association of state and provincial Psychology Boards press.

Bersoff, D.N. (2009). Ethical conflicts in psychological. Washington D.C: American Psychological Association press.

Canter, M.B. (2004). Ethics for psychologists. Washington, D.C: American Psychological Association press.

Pope, K., and Vasquez, M. (2011). Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counseling. Washington, D.C: American psychological Association press.

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PsychologyWriting. "Legal Aspects of Professional Psychology." September 18, 2023.