Ethics and Academic Psychology
Despite the fact that the human being is at the centre of psychological inquiry and that the delineation of the conditions of a happy life is one of the leading concerns of psychology, the question of ethics occupies a peculiar position within contemporary academic psychology. Psychologists are guided by a code of ethics elaborated and legitimized by their profession, and most college degrees in psychology will include a course on ethical issues, the ethical issues raised by the practical aspects of conducting the business of psychotherapy, or developing the methodological procedures for experimental research. However, as Callender notes, at present, ethics in psychology is “rather like the ethics of medical practice i.e. something that informs practice in important ways, while remaining distinct from the actual procedures that are carried out” (Callender 2002: 184).
Under the aegis of ethics in psychology the following issues are typically considered: clients” rights and confidentiality, professional responsibility and liabilities, dual relationships and conflict of interest in counselling, professional competence, training and licensing of psychologists as well as issues related to “special populations” such as women, children, the elderly, multicultural groups, and gay and lesbian clients (Corey et al. 1993; Pope and Vasquez 2007). Reflecting on this situation Adam Hill (2004) argues that three aspects of the conceptualization of professional ethics in practising psychology—decision-making models, principle ethics and the standard of care—need to be complemented by new models such as moral vision, narrative ethics, and virtue ethics.
Yet, the question of what narrative ethics might entail is not clear cut either. In her comprehensive engagement with narrative ethics leading to the publication of the edited collection Ethics and Process in the Narrative Study of Lives Ruthellen Josselson focuses on the ethical issues posed by the conduct of narrative research, exploring ethical implications of the process of asking people to share their stories as well as the after-effects of such revelations. For Josselson the central ethical dilemma in narrative research arises from the fact that the researcher has dual responsibility: to the people whom he or she engages in the research and to the scientific community. The challenge that emerges is then “How can we take an ethical position in regard to both our participants and our science at the same time?” (Josselson 1996: xii). While this is an important question that cuts across a number of specific narrative methods currently in use, as Josselson demonstrates, it leaves unexamined ethical assumptions within the foundational theoretical models that underpin these narrative methods.
As Stewart-Sicking points out, psychology inevitably entails a vision of the good life in its theories, and these have strong ethical implications in their understanding of human nature, health, change and helping. However, the challenge that any critical engagement with the ethical aspects of psychology faces is that “often these values are covered by a facade of scientific neutrality” (Stewart-Sicking 2008: 163). The ethical dimension of the very concept of the subject assumed by any particular movement in psychology attracts little analysis or reflection, despite the fact that these constructions can be argued to have crucial ethical implications.
In many important ways, however, these constructions of the subject resonate with the larger debates concerning the ethical issues that have informed philosophical developments throughout the twentieth century. In light of the critique of both the subject, as discussed in Chap. 3, and the community over the last 25 years, two guiding rationalities of the modern period—that centred on individual moral deliberation, and that on community commitment—are taken by some critics (MacIntyre, Taylor, Levinas, Gergen) no longer to be able to ground the ethical system. On the other hand, the decentring of the subject enacted by these critiques has itself posed a challenging task of engaging with the question of ethical agency “after” the subject (e.g. Nancy).
It is in this context that the distinct character and generative potential of narrative psychology becomes particularly clear. The analysis of concrete articulations of ethics within the three streams of narrative psychology that are under consideration in the present study provides a way to grapple with the potential and limitations of such a narrative approach to ethics in its intersection with the real professional systems and practice.