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Articles:  Ethics for Psychologists: Child porn poses ethical dilemma &
Early Career Psychologists: Associations offer ECPs many advantages


Ethics for Psychologists: Child porn poses ethical dilemma

By Karen A. Lawson, Ph.D.,

Teresa C. Tempelmeyer, Ph.D.,

and J. Ray Hays, Ph.D.
April 18, 2020

A new client tells you that he is concerned about the amount of time he is watching pornography on his computer. He says that he sometimes spends whole weekends surfing the web for sites that might contain images or videos of interest to him, ignoring his spouse and children.

His spouse is concerned and asked him to see you. You have some expertise in treating clients who chronically view pornography and agree to see him for therapy.

One of your concerns is that some of the images he describes may be of minor children. Some of the sites he has visited are known by you to have programs that will download images even without the knowledge of the user. In addition to your other therapeutic concerns, you consider what to do about future web surfing by this man, and what images might be stored on his computer hard drive or any cloud servers that he uses.

You have informed the client of the limits of confidentiality as part of your initial session and again later as you gather more information.

You know that possession of pornographic images of minor children is a state and federal crime which, if adjudicated, can result in a lengthy prison sentence and registration as a sex offender.

What steps should you take to assist the client in what you consider is addictive behavior?

If he were an alcoholic, you would encourage him to rid his house of any alcohol and enlist the aid of the family in that goal. Your experience and research inform you that eliminating part of the problem is at least one positive step toward sobriety. You consider if the same might be true in the case of addiction to viewing pornography.

However, there is a difference between possessing alcohol and possessing pornography. Possessing alcohol for those of age is legal; not so for child pornography. Does eliminating the images from the computer constitute destruction of evidence? Is informing the client of what legal steps might occur if child pornography is found on his computer or a suggestion by you to eliminate the images, supporting the destruction of evidence or simply good therapy practice?

Also, hitting the delete button on a computer does not make the file disappear. Deleting a file may simply send it to another part of a hard drive where it is stored until it is over-written. There are also internet histories, logs and cookies to consider since these leave a trail of activity by the user.

There is a legal term called “spoliation of evidence,” defined among other acts, as the intentional altering or destroying of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding. You ask your client if he believes he is under investigation for his activities.

He confirms that he has not interacted with anyone on any websites, such as

chatrooms, since you know that investigative agencies use bait sites to target

child pornography providers, viewers and child predators.

He also confirms that at no time have police officers or investigators of any type come to his home to confiscate computers or question him about pornography use.

As far as clinicians are concerned, broadly speaking, the ethical duties in conflict here are the duty to the client and the duty to society. More specifically, as psychologists, we have a legal and ethical duty to protect our clients’ confidentiality and to prevent them from harming themselves and others to the extent we can do so.

The competing duties to society are to follow the law, including reporting child abuse. Failure of the therapist to report abuse may result in both criminal and civil liability, depending on local law. Our purpose in writing this piece is to clarify the conflict that a therapist faces when a patient reveals this type of information and not to provide an answer to the dilemma.

The answer a therapist reaches may differ from one therapist to another based on the relative value given to fidelity to the patient's confidentiality versus allegiance to societal good.

If instead of the spouse referring the client to you, suppose an attorney has referred the client and wants an evaluation as part of defense preparation. You find that the client may have computer files with illegal images, which were not revealed to the attorney and not thus far discovered by any investigative authority.

Is there a difference between telling or suggesting that a client deletes files versus simply describing what consequences may occur if one possesses such files on a computer?

Should a therapist be charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice by colluding in eliminating illicit images on a computer? A defense to the tampering with evidence charge might be “abandonment,” in that you could argue that evidence was not “destroyed,” but rather discarded because it was no longer wanted by the accused, which was part of a therapeutic plan designed to change the addictive behavior of the client – much like helping an alcoholic rid the home of alcohol.

As with any true ethical dilemma, different clinicians may reach different decisions about what to do. As long as you are informed and thoughtful about the suggestions you make, any problems resulting from your actions are at least defensible. Decisions that are thoughtful and not simply reactive are much better for the clinician and the client.

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Karen A. Lawson, MPH, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Public Health at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Teresa C. Tempelmeyer, Ph.D., is a clinical/forensic psychologist and an assistant professor of psychology at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. J. Ray Hays, Ph.D., JD, is licensed in Texas as a psychologist and attorney. Lawson and Hays operate a firm providing forensic and psychological consultation for attorneys on civil and criminal matters. Comments on this article may be addressed to Tempelmeyer at:


Early Career Psychologists: Associations offer ECPs many advantages

By J. Allison He, Ph.D., and

Khashayar Farhadi Langroudi, Psy.D.
April 18, 2020 

Data from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) surveys on the demographics of our workforce show that there are approximately n= 94,048 actively licensed psychologists, unevenly distributed across the United States.

California leads the pack at n= 15,321, followed by New York at n= 10,462, Illinois at n= 5,155, and Florida at n= 4,370.

Some states in the South, like Texas, at 4,155, also have a healthy population of psychologists, while other states point to a striking dearth of licensed psychologists. For example, Mississippi and South Carolina only have 12 to 13 psychologists per population of 100,000 residents.

Given the relative paucity of psychologists, it would seem to follow that it would make sense to form either formal or informal associations or workgroups with fellow colleagues. However, the large majority of psychologists are not connected with their peers at either the local, state or national levels.

As just one example of the state with the most psychologists, the California Psychological Association (CPA) consists of less than 4,000 members, or about 25 percent of the total number of psychologists registered in California.

Several reasons may account for this lack of participation, but likely, the biggest culprit is a lack of awareness and insight into the benefits of joining local, state and national associations.

So why should you join your local association? The benefits are myriad, across the lifespan of your career. As an early career professional, local psychological associations can function as a key referral source as you start to build up your practice.

Often, local associations host listservs in which referrals are both solicited and offered for patients as well as more mundane issues like finding office space or navigating legal and ethical issues.

Offline, local associations can provide opportunities for networking and socializing with other psychologists in your area as well as opportunities for earning Continuing Education (CE) credits, often at a discounted price for members.

In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Psychological Association has sponsored several

social and networking events, including social gatherings at a local playhouse,

discussions at an art museum, a think tank on pressing issues in the local

community and many CE opportunities throughout the year on a wide variety of topics.

At the state level, there are also perks that tend to pay for the cost of membership itself, including free consultation on ethical and practice issues that come up, free CE credits, as well as a free listing in the CPA psychologist locator service.

Arguably, even more important than the perks that come with membership is the important role that state psychological associations often play in advocacy in governmental affairs. Each year, each state legislature introduces hundreds, sometimes thousands of bills, some of which could significantly impact the practice of psychology.

State associations play the role of reviewing bills to determine the impact that a particular bill might have on either the practice of psychology or on the consumers who would use psychological services. Through lobbying efforts and political action committees, state associations also get involved with influencing the legislative process and supporting candidates and legislators who understand and support the work of clinical psychologists and who can further bills that protect our interests.

Finally, at the national level, joining the American Psychological Association connects psychologists to the biggest network of psychologists in North America. It provides five free CEs per year and a variety of discounts.

APA also encourages and supports early career psychologists by providing leadership, advocacy, peer consultation and training opportunities.

Since 2005, APA has spearheaded the Committee on Early Career Psychologists to support and accommodate the unique needs of early career psychologists.

There are many benefits to joining psychological associations from the local level to the national level and very few downsides. We wrote this short article to enumerate some of these benefits and hope that you will consider joining one of these networks of your professional colleagues.

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J. Allison He, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in the Bay Area, specializing in psychotherapy and assessment for ADHD and related disorders. She also serves on the board of the San Francisco Psychological Association. She may be reached by email at: Khashayar Farhadi Langroudi, Psy.D., is a clinical health psychologist in San Francisco and president of the San Francisco Psychological Association. He is also a member of the Diversity Committee at the Association for Contextual Behavioral Sciences. His email address is:

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