Gordon, R.M. (2006a) “The APA Ethics Code as a Projective Test.” Psychologist-Psychoanalyst, XXVI, 1, 67-68.
The APA Ethics Code as a Projective test
Robert M. Gordon, Ph.D., ABPP
I am working on using the
APA Ethics Code as a projective test. How is that possible? Well we all know
that the Rorschach inkblots have great projective value, but so can written
statements. MMPI-2 statements have a projective aspect to them. For example,
the MMPI-2 question, “I have often met people who were supposed to be
experts who were no better than I” is a frequent response of workshop
participants. Research has found that the very same people who said “True”
to this item also get panic attacks when they present.
Similarly, I have noticed
how much I can tell about a psychologist’s personality by how the psychologist
interprets APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.
That insight has inspired me to develop a projective test of ethical reasoning.
A good test should be anchored
to a good theory. In the noble tradition of psychology, I stole key concepts
from others and relabeled them. I have rejected the concept of “Superego”.
This gives the impression that I am smarter than Sigmund Freud, which makes
me feel important. I based my ethical levels of reasoning on what I call “anal
strength”. I challenge anyone to measure “ego strength” physiologically,
but anal strength can be easily empirically validated by sphincter’s ability
to snap a pencil. This also proves that empirical validation works best in anal
I will now move beyond my
operational definition to the actual imagined constructs. These are the Gordon’s
Levels of Ethical Reasoning. The Schizoid/ Clueless sphincter level is characterized
by an inability to even recognize ethical issues and to distinguish one’s
own sphincter from a hole in the ground. A very tight sphincter characterizes
the Paranoid/Cynical sphincter level. These are the Torquemadas who rigidly
and cynically interpret the ethics code to persecute others. The Narcisstic
sphincter level is characterized by sphincter expulsion on others. They feel
above the societal demands for toilet training and ethics codes. The Masochistic
sphincter level is characterized by sphincter receptivity. They end up getting
into trouble since they secretly wish to be spanked by the Ethic Committee.
The clean but impractical sphincter characterizes the Obsessive-Compulsive sphincter
level. They may follow the letter of every standard to the point of absurdity,
while totally missing the bowl. The Normal-Befuddlement level has an appreciation
that there is more to it than meets the eye. The highest level is the Wise Sphincter
Thinker. They are characterized by understanding the spirit and intent of ethical
behavior: “shit happens- so try to keep others from stepping in it.”
Next in the development
of my projective test, I had to determine the projective value of each ethical
standard. For example, 10.05 “Sexual Intimacies with Current Therapy Clients/Patients”
is only a sentence long, with a clear “do not” in it. It is too
unambiguous to have much projective value except in determining acute psychotic
On the other hand, the standard,
3.05 “Multiple Relationships” requires a tolerance for ambiguity
and ethical reasoning. The standard provides a definition of “Multiple
Relationships” since this term is so confusing that some psychologists
fear having more than one friend. It even provides a test to determine if there
is a problem:
“A psychologist refrains
from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could
reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist’s objectivity, competence,
or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise
risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship
This test requires the opinions
of what most reasonable psychologists would expect to occur from the arrangement.
This is where my new assessment would come in handy. I propose we first screen
for reasonable psychologists before a determination is made.
The standard also includes
a statement that multiple relationships per se are not unethical.
that would not reasonably be expected to cause impairment or risk exploitation
or harm are not unethical.”
This is of great help,
since the concept of “multiplicity” can be easily be confused by
many psychologists with the concept of “harm”.
Since 3.05 has such high
projective value I used it as my first test item.
I made up the following
vignette and I presented it to several psychologists.
Dr. R’s wife was accepted
into a doctoral program in psychology. He was proud of her and placed an announcement
in their local newspaper and sent a copy to her parents. The announcement also
stated that the wife would be working in the husband’s practice under
his supervision. His role as “supervisor” would be one of responsibly
and overseeing and not one of evaluative authority. He would not be supervising
his wife as part of a requirement to fulfill hours for licensing or certification
or for the purposes of a course or fulfillment of a practicum or internship.
He would be taking legal and professional responsibility for his wife’s
work with a few patients on Saturdays when he was the most consistently available
psychologist if something went wrong.
Soon after, the wife received a call from her university. Dr. R’s former
wife had sent a letter to the department chair with a copy of the announcement.
The X-wife (also a psychologist) complained that Dr. R. and his wife were in
a “clearly unethical dual relationship”. What do you think of this
Here are examples of how
I scored some psychologists responses to this vignette. Can you tell their level
“Another reason not
to advertise,” = 0.
as long as he is still having sex with his wife. He has to choose which is more
ethical,” = 0.
“It’s OK to
have sex with his wife and be in the position of responsibility as long as they
are not occurring at the same moment,” =1.
“The key factor in
this particular situation is that Dr. R is not in an evaluative role with his
wife so there is no unethical role conflict. Only a cynical or obsessive-compulsive
psychologist would expect impairment, exploitation or harm to come from this
situation. The former wife is a Torquemada,” = 2, (because of the level
of ethical reasoning and any response of mine is a 2.)
Ongoing education and consultation
in ethical reasoning can improve the scores but only to a point. Anality is