Ethics Corner

Ethics Corner

Why are ethics important?

  • Ethics provides a conceptual framework which serves to provide uniformity of values to the field of ABA and the helping professions at large. Within this framework, we find professional and relational norms that protect both the professional and the individuals served.
  • The primary concern with Ethics is to provide consumer protection to those who are receiving behavior analytic services. In so doing, Behavior Analysts are accountable to a high ethical standard, which will result in optimal treatment effects and socially meaningful clinical outcomes.
  • Ethics allows professionals in Behavior Analysis to be objective and maintain the necessary boundaries that allow us to be effective supervisors, clinicians, and teachers. Without such boundaries, the potential for biased decision-making can easily occur. Whether making clinical treatment decisions or giving corrective feedback, the relationship with the person needs to be free of extraneous factors which could cloud the clinical judgement of a clinician.

Regulatory Bodies

  • Ethics are a part of most professional careers and there are regulatory bodies in place to uphold ethical codes. These regulatory bodies help us to recognize ethical concerns in specific cases. Additionally, regulatory bodies are tasked with enforcing the ethical codes by practitioners and when necessary. Imposing disciplinary action when persistent, willful ethical violations are occurring.
  • For Behavior Analysts in Texas, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation ensures that any reports of unethical behavior are investigated. They are key to enforcement of ethics and helps us to remain ethical when we have blind spots in recognizing ethical concerns.
  • The Behavior Analyst Certification Board establishes ethical codes for all practitioner levels of Applied Behavior Analysts (BCBA-D, BCBAs, BCaBAs, and RBT)
  • It is also recommended that each individual BCBA/Agency clearly define their own Organizational Ethical Guidelines and Organizational Policies that will help ensure ethical practices.
    • With responsible and committed organizational policies and practices, many ethical concerns can be addressed at the supervisory level and action taken to address the concerns before there is need to report ethical concerns to an over-arching regulatory body.
    • With both employer and employee committed to maintaining ethical norms placed forth by the BACB, there can be assurance that providers share values and expectations as they carry out their important mission of improving the lives of individuals and families that we serve.
    • ABA clinical practices must ensure that they are upholding the ethical guidelines. Does your agency’s ethical code cohere with your ethical obligations to the BACB? See FAQ to determine next steps if you encounter conflict in this area.

Reporting Alleged Violations

  • Recommendations when considering a possible violations
    • Gather and organize documentation supporting the alleged violation.
    • Consult a trusted colleague or expert to discuss the situation and determine if a violation may have occurred.
    • Keep hard copy documentation of any guidance received should a report related to the case be filed in the future.
    • Review relevant ethics requirements to determine whether the issue should be addressed directly with the individual.
    • Document all efforts to address the issue with the individual and any outcomes.
    • Research other reporting requirements that may be relevant in the geographic region where the alleged violation occurred (e.g., licensure/regulatory board requirements), or related to legal requirements (e.g., mandated reporter).
  • Guidelines for self-reporting
    • Despite genuine best efforts, it is possible to find oneself in a situation where an ethical concern arises. When this situation arises, and the practitioner becomes aware of an ethical concern, it is recommended that the practitioner consult an objective third party/supervisor to confirm the nature of the ethical concern.
    • The practitioner should address the ethical concern with the relevant party and identify actionable steps to alleviate ethical concerns.
    • Take action and document your steps. Documentation of these steps is advised as they will serve as a record for future reference if they are ever needed.

Other Resources