Monitor on Psychology - September 2011 - (Page 56)

ethIcally speakIng Cornered by a would-be patient How to handle an airplane seatmate or fellow party-goer who wants your psychological advice. B Y R EB ECCA A. C LAY F or APA Board Member Barry Anton, PhD, the long flights between his home base in Tacoma, Wash., and APA headquarters represent precious time to get work done. That’s why he sometimes flies undercover: If his seatmates ask what he does, he tells them he’s a funeral home director. “They’re usually not too eager to talk about coffins and urns,” says Anton, who took more than 100 flights last year. “Most people don’t want to talk about death on an airplane.” More often, Anton simply avoids eye contact, puts on his noise-canceling headphones and pulls out a stack of work. Doing so not only allows him to use his time productively. It also means he can avoid getting sucked in to fellow passengers’ requests for advice on their mental health problems. And that means he can also avoid getting caught up in the sticky ethical dilemmas that can result. Enforced intimacy There’s something about being in close quarters with strangers for hours that does something to people, says APA President Melba J.T. Vasquez, PhD. When seatmates hear you’re a psychologist, she says, they typically have one of two reactions. “Some people get a little paranoid, and say, ‘I’m going to quit talking now that I know you’re a psychologist because you must be analyzing me,’” she says. “Others don’t shut down; instead, they want to share more.” It’s the ones who want to tell you all about their problems that you have to watch out for, warns Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD, of APA’s Ethics Office. That’s true whether the person is a seatmate, a fellow party-goer or anyone else a psychologist might encounter in a social setting. There’s not much in APA’s Ethics Code that applies specifically to such situations, says Childress-Beatty. The code does require psychologists to have an adequate basis for diagnosing or offering recommendations, and it requires psychologists to stay within the boundaries of their own professional competence. “People hear you’re a psychologist and assume you know everything about everything having to do with psychology,” says Childress-Beatty. But these and other standards apply to psychologists’ professional relationships, not their private lives. When the person in the aisle seat starts asking for advice, ChildressBeatty emphasizes, a psychologist’s No. 1 goal should be to avoid giving even the appearance that he or she is establishing a professional relationship with that person. That means sticking to generalities and not letting the other person pull you into the details. Of course, says Childress-Beatty, “that is exactly what they’re often going to want to do.” Letting them do so could potentially open up liability issues, says psychologist Jeffrey N. Younggren, PhD, a risk management consultant for APA’s Insurance Trust. “Giving specific advice to someone you haven’t evaluated is not only clinically unwise, it’s also legally unwise,” says Younggren. Monitor on psychology • septeMber 2011 56

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Monitor on Psychology - September 2011

Monitor on Psychology - September 2011
President’s Column
From the CEO
Supreme Court hears psychologists on prison and video game cases
Antipsychotics are overprescribed in nursing homes
New MCAT likely to recognize the mind-body connection
A $2 million boost for military and families
In Brief
On Your Behalf
Judicial Notebook
Random Sample
Speaking of Education
An uncertain future for American workers
Advocating for psychotherapy
Seared in our memories
Helping kids cope in an uncertain world
APA and Nickelodeon team up
Muslims in America, post 9/11
Bin Laden’s death
‘They expect us to be there’
Answering the call of public policy
Candidates answer final questions
APA News
Division Spotlight
New leaders
Disaster relief training
Honoring teaching excellence

Monitor on Psychology - September 2011