Study of rural Canadian psychologists' ethics - implications for Australia

1 JANUARY 2003

Research about the professional ethical issues faced by psychologists working in rural Canada has implications for psychologists in rural and remote Australia, according to a CSU PhD graduate.

Dr Judi MaloneResearch about the professional ethical issues faced by psychologists working in rural Canada has implications for psychologists in rural and remote Australia, according to a Charles Sturt University (CSU) PhD graduate.
Dr Judi Malone, a psychologist from Alberta, Canada, who studied in the School of Psychology at CSU in Bathurst, undertook an in-depth interpretive study consisting of a series of three interviews with each of 20 practising psychologists from across rural Canada to explore their experience of professional ethical issues.
“The main research question I wanted to answer was, ‘what ethical issues arise for you as a practising rural psychologist and how do you deal with these?’,” Dr Malone said.
“The context and ethical challenges of rural psychological practice are not often explored, and the existing literature that I reviewed suggests that ethical dilemmas typically arise in relation to overlapping relationships, community pressure, generalist practice, interdisciplinary collaboration, and professional development. These are likely to be as relevant to psychologists working in rural Australia as they are to their Canadian counterparts.
“The literature review highlighted the often unacknowledged difference between urban and rural practice in psychology, the lack of a common definition of ‘rural’, and some of the complex and nuanced aspects of rural practice. The professional and social environments of rural communities mean that psychologists work in a context that may differ vastly from urban settings.
“The primary application from the results of this study is a possible framework for understanding the key factors that underlie ethical challenges in rural practice. That is, the ethical dilemmas that arise are due to the characteristics of the community interacting with the generalist nature of psychologists’ practice and their adaptations to the size and remoteness of the community,” Dr Malone said.
Generally, the research supported the need for a greater understanding of rural practice and professional ethics in that context. There is a need for rural-specific practice models, training, supports, and ethics guidelines. Some of the adaptations of professional practice norms identified in this study, such as telephone services, travel-related issues, and atypical service settings, were not in the available literature. Finally, this study had implications for studying professional ethics.
The results of this study also foster several general recommendations for the profession. These include the development of ‘general practice psychology’ to strengthen the profession in light of its rural-urban divides, and in response to competition from allied professionals. Rural practitioners need to consider the implications of being able to have prescription privileges. Finally, training for rural practice should include a focus on required adaptations of professional practice norms, community connection, generalist practice, interdisciplinary collaboration, the limits to consent, boundary crossings, and ethical dilemmas common to rural practice.

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