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Abstract

As positive psychology has developed as a field, questions have arisen around how to ensure best practice, including with respect to ethics. This issue is particularly pertinent vis-à-vis its applied dimensions, such as positive psychology interventions by students and graduates of MAPP programmes. However, the field has hitherto lacked clear ethical guidelines to assist practitioners. Aiming to address this gap, the authors have devised a set of guidelines, in collaboration with key stakeholders across the positive psychology community, published in the International Journal of Wellbeing. The current article briefly summarises the importance, development, content, and future directions of these guidelines, thus providing a concise overview of this important project. It is hoped that this article, together with the guidelines themselves, will not only highlight the importance of ethical practice, but offer practical suggestions for guiding practitioners in the field.
Running head: DEVELOPING ETHICAL GUIDELINES
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Developing ethical guidelines for positive psychology practice:
An on-going, iterative, collaborative endeavour
The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2019
Tim Lomas1, Annalise Roache2, Tayyab Rashid3, Aaron Jarden4
1 School of Psychology, University of East London, United Kingdom
2 Department of Psychology, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
3 Graduate Department of Psychological Clinical Science, University of Toronto
Scarborough, Canada
4 Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne, Australia
Please note that this is not the final version that is in the Journal of Positive Psychology.
Running head: DEVELOPING ETHICAL GUIDELINES
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Developing ethical guidelines for positive psychology practice:
An on-going, iterative, collaborative endeavour.
Abstract
As positive psychology has matured, questions have arisen around how to ensure best
practice, including with respect to ethics. This issue is particularly pertinent vis-à-vis its
applied dimensions, such as positive psychology interventions by students and graduates of
MAPP programmes. However, the field has hitherto lacked clear ethical guidelines to assist
practitioners in the field. Aiming to address this gap, the authors have devised a set of
guidelines, in collaboration with key stakeholders across the positive psychology community,
published in the International Journal of Wellbeing (Jarden, Rashid, Roache & Lomas, in
press). The current article briefly summarises the importance, development, content, and
future directions of these guidelines, thus providing a concise overview of this important
project. It is hoped this article, together with the guidelines themselves, will not only
highlight the importance of ethical practice, but offers practical suggestions for guiding
practitioners in the field.
Keywords: ethics; morals; values; strengths; guidelines; practice
Running head: DEVELOPING ETHICAL GUIDELINES
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The Need for Guidelines
It is now two decades since positive psychology (PP) was launched upon the scene by Martin
Seligman and colleagues (Fowler, Seligman, & Koocher, 1999). The field’s origin story
redressing a perceived “negative bias” in mainstream psychology – is now well-known. So
too is its burgeoning impact, being embraced by growing ranks of scholars, students, and
professionals, with an expanding rostrum of journals, courses, and conferences devoted to it
(Kim, Doiron, Warren, & Donaldson, 2018; Rusk & Waters, 2013). This impact includes a
blossoming applied dimension, including the development and application of PP including
positive psychology interventions (PPIs) across a wide range of contexts, from education to
the workplace (Rashid & Seligman, 2018; Parks & Biswas-Diener, 2014).
However, as much as these developments are to be welcomed, such impact brings
issues and responsibilities. Key among these are whether PP is being practised ethically,
particularly vis-à-vis its applied dimension. Of course, the notion of what constitutes ethical
practice is complex, but it essentially means standards and/or rules of conduct regarded as
relevant and reasonable within a given sphere of human activity (Giorgini et al., 2015).
Indeed, questions around whether practitioners are acting ethically are faced by all applied
fields on their journey of maturation, from medicine to psychotherapy (Corey, Corey, &
Callanan, 2007). With PP however, the current answer to whether practitioners are practising
ethically is “we don’t know.” Such an answer does not imply that people are acting
unethically. Most people applying PP in real-life settings may well be doing so in sensitive,
responsible, and ethical ways. However, being a relatively new field, PP has not until now
developed an ethical framework to help guide people in their practice. As such, it is possible
that, for various reasons such as inexperience or lack of ethical experience best practice
may not always be followed.
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Such issues are particularly pertinent now that PP, as a relatively new development, is
becoming a professional specialty. In its early years, PP tended to be portrayed not as a new
speciality per se, but rather in the words of Linley and Joseph (2004) a “collective
identity” unifying people interested in “the brighter sides of human nature” (p.4). From this
initial perspective, PP was more like an ethos, a way of leaning towards positive topics that is
open to scholars and practitioners in various established fields, from educational psychology
(Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, & Linkins, 2009) to clinical psychology (Wood &
Johnson, 2016). Alignment to this mind-set and identity-narrative served to unify disparate
scholars already working on topics now regarded as falling within the purview of PP, such as
positive emotions or psychological development. Crucially, from an ethical perspective,
many people engaging in applied activities are likely to have been trained and guided by
ethical frameworks operating within their own professional context, such as those governing
the conduct of educational, community, or clinical psychologists (Walsh, 2015). As such, for
these practitioners, the need to establish ethical guidelines in PP is less compelling, and
perhaps even obviated given their affiliation to, and accreditation within, professions that
have their own guidelines.
Where the issue of guidelines becomes more compelling however, even urgent, is that
PP is now also becoming a speciality. That is, recent years have seen movements towards
recognizing PP as a specific discipline, endowed with a distinct professional identity along
the lines of specialities such as health or clinical psychology (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016). Part of
the impetus for this move comes from the community of postgraduate MAPP courses, whose
numbers have greatly expanded recently, organically leading to graduates and scholars self-
identifying as “positive psychology practitioners” (PPPs), and even as “positive
psychologists” (even though this label is contentious, not least since “psychologist” is a
protected title in many jurisdictions). One should add that this emergent phenomenon does
Running head: DEVELOPING ETHICAL GUIDELINES
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not supplant the ethos” perspective above, where PP was initially just a shared interest
among scholars from diverse fields. These perspectives can easily co-exist: it is perfectly
feasible for one scholar from a distinct branch of psychology (such as clinical psychology) to
take a keen interest in PP, and so affiliate to it from an ethos perspective, and for another
scholar or practitioner to self-identify as being primarily a PP practitioner.
Nevertheless, the emergence of PP as a specialty marks an interesting evolution of the
field. Relatedly though, it also raises potential issues, including in relation to ethics. For
example, students and graduates of MAPP courses are likely to be delivering PPIs in various
contexts. Unless these people happen to also be affiliated to another practising profession,
they may well be operating outside the advice and provisions of any set of ethical guidelines.
To reiterate, this is not to suggest malpractice; such people are likely to be aware of, and
sensitive to, ethical considerations. But it remains the case that many of them will be acting
relatively unguided, reliant on their own judgement and intuitions.
To that end, it was the view of many leaders in the PP field that it is important that
such people are offered assistance in this respect. As such, it is time for PP to the extent that
such a coherent entity exists to create and adopt a set of ethical guidelines which can be of
use to all those who may need it, such as MAPP graduates and beyond. Indeed, as alluded to
above, most established fields of practice from medicine and psychotherapy to law and
architecture have been on similar journeys in the past, developing “rules and standards of
conduct recognised as binding in a professional body or an association” (Mathenge, 2013,
p.9). While these codes vary in the extent to which their pro/prescriptions are formally and
even legally mandated, all generally have the aim of indicating how work in the field is “best
undertaken to achieve the greatest good and minimise any potential wrongs” (Mitchels &
Bond, 2010, p.5).
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Clearly, PP is at a relatively early juncture in its maturation as a field, relative to these
more established professions. In those other contexts, ethical codes may be formal
requirements of accreditation, and can even have legal force (in that medical practitioners, for
instance, can be barred from practising if they contravene their code). By contrast, no such
procedures are currently in place in PP, even if mirroring our own efforts preliminary
work is underway in the field to develop systems of accreditation, and other such markers of
professionalisation. As such, there would be no way at present to mandate or compel
adherence to any form of ethical code. Nevertheless, it is helpful to develop a set of usable
ethical guidelines for practitioners in the PP arena. As such, the authors of this article have
devised a set of guidelines, in collaboration with key stakeholders across the PP field, and
have published these in open-access format in the International Journal of Wellbeing (Jarden
et al., in press). Having discussed their value in this section, we now briefly summarise the
development, content, and future directions of these guidelines.
The Developmental Process
The development of our guidelines stretches back to early 2016. The main impetus for the
project originated in Lomas and Ivtzan’s (2016) article Professionalising positive
psychology: Developing guidelines for training and regulation, which called for a set of
ethical guidelines to be established. The rationale was that PP was in the process of becoming
a profession, as argued above, and so needed to ensure best practice was being followed,
including with respect to ethics. Given that, it was recognized that various developmental
milestones such as ethical guidelines would be needed to increase the fields
professionalization (including allowing it to more towards accreditation). Indeed, prior
literature had already pointed to the importance of ethical practice for PP (e.g., Vella-
Brodrick, 2011, 2014), which Lomas and Ivtzan drew upon. Nonetheless, the Lomas and
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Ivtzan article sparked debate and commentary regarding what ethical guidelines might
specifically look like in practice.
This dialogue then provided the impetus for a Conversation Hour (Professionalising
Positive Psychology: Is there a need to develop guidelines for training and regulation?) at the
5th World Congress on Positive Psychology in Montreal, Canada, July 2017. The discussion
that took place then lead to a working group being established, led by Aaron Jarden (qualified
applied ethicist, lecturer, and researcher), Tim Lomas (lecturer and researcher), and Tayyab
Rashid (licenced clinical psychologist with an active clinical practice), with Annalise Roache
(MAPP graduate, doctoral candidate, and credentialed coach) joining shortly thereafter. With the
establishment of this working group, a virtual meeting was organized in late 2017 with key
stakeholders and interested attendees from the Conversation Hour to discuss the scope,
process, outcomes and expected timelines for the development of such ethical guidelines.
Participants including representatives of the International Positive Psychology Association,
the European Network of Positive Psychology, directors of MAPP programs, as well
practitioners and perspectives on non-western practice. With our initial scope and focus
clarified, the objective documented was:
[To] explore the similarity and differences between main international (USA,
UK, Australia, Canada, NZ, and non-western countries) ethical practice
guidelines, from various practice fields (e.g., counselling, clinical psychology,
organisational psychology, nursing, etc), in order to both learn from them, not
reinvent, and move towards replicating the most appropriate and flexible
approach / framework for an international context.” (email communication to
working group).
The aim of the project was specified as:
Running head: DEVELOPING ETHICAL GUIDELINES
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“The best outcome is a set of easily readable, relatively short, memorable and
understandable ethical practice guidelines that will assist positive psychology
practitioners to practice in an ethical way (i.e., we want guidelines that people
can remember and are practically useful)” (email communication to working
group).
Following this initial virtual meeting, Aaron Jarden and Annalise Roache conducted
background research on guidelines in other fields of practice, including the following:
Psychological:
Australia Psychology Australian Psychological Society (APS), Code of Ethics
(2017).
Australia Counselling and Psychotherapy - Psychotherapy & Counselling
Federation of Australia (PACFA), Interim Code of Ethics (2015).
Canada Psychology Canadian Psychology Association (CPA), Canadian Code for
Ethics for Psychologists (2017).
New Zealand Psychology New Zealand Psychological Society (NZPS), Code of
Ethics for Psychologists (4th Ed).
United Kingdom - Counselling and Psychotherapy - British Association for
Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), Ethical Framework for Good Practice in
Counselling and Psychotherapy (2010).
United States of America Psychology American Psychological Association
(APA), Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2017).
United States of America - Counselling American Counselling Association (ACA),
Code of Ethics (2014).
Nursing:
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Australia Nursing - Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia: Code of Ethics for
Nurses (2008).
New Zealand Nursing Nursing Council of New Zealand (NCNZ), Code of
Conduct for Nursing (2012).
United Kingdom - Nursing Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), The Code for
Nurses and Midwives (2015).
Coaching:
International Coaching The International Coach Federation (ICF): Core
Competencies and Code of Ethics (2015)
Of these, the BACP and PACFA guidelines were particularly useful, and this review enabled
the first draft to be assembled and discussed, with initial feedback obtained in March 2018.
From this draft onward, an 11-step consultation process of refinement involved the
production of three further drafts. This process included consultation with applied ethicists,
with wider and wider networks across the field of PP, and practitioners in particular. This
process culminated in the presentation of an initial draft at the 9th European Conference on
Positive Psychology in Budapest, Hungry in June 2018. Following this presentation, further
refinement and consultation resulted in a final draft in May 2019 that was ready for
publication and endorsement.
Along this journey, the development of the draft guidelines was not without its
challenges. Throughout the stages of development, the working group encountered and dealt
with various issues, including: identifying and providing a solid rationale as to how and why
the specific attributes were selected; how principles trickle down to standards and are
operationalized; and consideration of the need for field-specific guidelines (e.g., applying PP
in therapy settings, or with children), to name just a few. However, through the consultation
process we are confident that we have addressed these issues and questions as best we could
Running head: DEVELOPING ETHICAL GUIDELINES
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with a spirit of honesty, openness, and accountability. Nevertheless, as emphasised below
in the section on Future Directions, these guidelines are an iterative and evolving work-in-
progress, and it is intended that the guidelines are revised every two years to consider
emergent critiques, suggestions, and advances in knowledge that will inevitably follow their
publication. With that in mind, the following section provides a brief overview of the
guidelines themselves.
The Current Guidelines
The ‘Ethical guidelines for positive psychology practice(Jarden et al., in press) are based on
the premise that ethical practice in PP should be guided by three interrelated moral
components: values, principles, and personal strengths. Values can broadly be understood as
beliefs held by individuals, and shared by groups about desirable ends (Peterson and
Seligman, 2004). They usually transcend specific situations, and constitute general ethical
commitments that become more precisely defined and action-orientated when expressed as a
principle. Principles then direct attention to important ethical responsibilities, with actions
following from certain principles. Finally, ethical guidelines generally espouse desired
personal characteristics, for which in our case we have used the Character Strengths and
Virtues model (CSV, Peterson & Seligman, 2004); a prominent approach of empirically
validated and cross-culturally endorsed character strengths (McGrath, 2014).
In broad terms, the guidelines are designed to ensure beneficence (do good to others)
and non-maleficence (avoid potential harm). Our hope is that by using these guidelines, PPPs
will not only strive to uphold the recommended values and principles, but moreover to ensure
they remain up-to-date with emerging research findings and evolving practice, and engage in
suitable professional development. In addition, the guidelines emphasise the importance of
practitioners being aware of, and accurately communicating, the potential benefits and
Running head: DEVELOPING ETHICAL GUIDELINES
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limitations of wellbeing science and PPIs and their own knowledge base and professional
scope, while also monitoring the wellbeing of their clients during service provision.
The guidelines are intended to be suitable both for practitioners who are members of
an existing professional or credentialing body (e.g. American Psychology Association, 2019;
International Coaching Federation, 2019; College of Psychologists, 2019) and those who are
not members of such associations. As such, there is a balance between making the guidelines
useful and applicable to the wide array of practitioners using PP in practice. We emphasise
that the guidelines can be viewed as both (a) augmenting existing jurisdictional and
professional guidelines, codes of practice and standards, and (b) providing a much needed
baseline for practitioners not associated to a professional association.
The guidelines comprise four core sections; a preamble, the foundations, a practical
application guide, and case examples. The preamble provides insight into the vision of the
guidelines, elucidating its aspirations, intended users and key terms. As noted above, the
guidelines are founded upon three components, namely the values and strengths which
support the enactment of the ethical principles, as outlined in table 1 below.
[please insert table 1 here]
Regarding the inclusion of the strengths dimension specifically, we believe it is not only
appropriate but necessary for the guidelines to embrace a PP approach, and as such we have
adopted the vernacular of strengths as a well-researched cornerstone of the PP field, and
specifically the CSV (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), as noted above. A thematic analysis was
conducted to determine the most prominent strengths emphasized across 10 similar codes of
ethics (e.g., British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s ‘Ethical Framework for
Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy’). This process aided in the identification of
Running head: DEVELOPING ETHICAL GUIDELINES
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seven practice relevant strengths and a further four strengths which this articles authors have
deemed important in upholding the six principles
1
.
Section two of the guidelines covers the contextual application of ethical decision
making and practice, including important considerations in supporting best practice across a
range of contexts and scenarios. The section then closes with two useful tools: a step-by-step
guide for resolving ethical dilemmas, and a self-evaluation guide for reflective practice. The
final section of the guidelines provides six ethical dilemma case examples (cultural, coaching,
clinical, mentoring, educational, and organisational), together with suggestions of
corresponding ethical principles in the guidelines. To complete the guide is a list of
signatories: organisations, associations and institutions that have reviewed and committed to
supporting the ethical guidelines, followed by primary authors and contributors who have
made the guidelines possible.
Future directions
It is important to note that we see these guidelines as an iterative and evolving work-in-
progress. The current set of published guidelines should be regarded as version 1.0. We
anticipate revising and re-publishing these every two years to take into account the invaluable
critiques and suggestions that will undoubtably emerge in response to each publication, as
well as to incorporate new advances in scientific knowledge, technologies, and ethical
sensibilities. In that respect, we recognise that these guidelines and the principles, values,
and strengths within are in no way exhaustive, but rather constitute an initial attempt to
capture what is currently perceived most pertinent to practice. They will no doubt evolve and
1
Strengths 1-7 are ranked by how often they were mentioned and emphasized across 10 similar codes of ethics
(e.g., British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s ‘Ethical Framework for Good Practice in
Counselling and Psychotherapy’). Strengths 8-11 the authors have deemed important in upholding the six
principles.
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be refined as debate continues within the PP community and beyond. Relatedly, although we
consulted and collaborated widely in drawing up the guidelines, we recognise that they have
been informed by a limited range of voices and perspectives. For instance, most contributors
live and work within a Western cultural context, with the majority being from Europe, North
America or Australasia. While these are of course heterogenous regions, they nevertheless
constitute only a portion of the PP community. In future we hope to reach out to scholars and
practitioners from regions that are currently underrepresented within the report, thereby
making these guidelines more relevant and accessible across a wider range of cultural
contexts. However, while not minimising such limitations, we believe that these guidelines
constitute an important step along the road of PP maturing, professionalising, and evolving as
a field, and as meeting a pertinent current practice need. We hope that they will be of
widespread use and value, and look forward to engaging with the community over the months
and years ahead in improving them further.
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For over a century the focus of psychotherapy has been on what ails us, with the therapeutic process resting upon the assumption that unearthing past traumas, correcting faulty thinking, and restoring dysfunctional relationships is curative. And indeed, they are - but in the rush to identify and reduce symptoms of mental disorder, something important has been overlooked: the positives. Should enhancing well-being, and building upon character strengths and virtues, be explicit goals of therapy? Positive Psychotherapy provides therapists with a session-by-session therapeutic approach based on the principles of positive psychology, a burgeoning area of study examining the conditions and processes that enable individuals, communities, and institutions to flourish. This clinician's manual begins with an overview of the theoretical framework for positive psychotherapy, exploring character strengths and positive psychology practices, processes, and mechanisms of change. The second half of the book contains 15 positive psychotherapy sessions, each complete with core concepts, guidelines, skills, and worksheets for practicing skills learned in session. Each session also includes at least one vignette as well as discussion of cross-cultural implications. Mental health professionals of all orientations will find in Positive Psychotherapy a refreshing alternative to symptom-based approaches that will endow clients with a sense of purpose and meaning that many have found lacking in more traditional therapies.
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Edited by the founder of the field, this is the first handbook on positive clinical psychology-a revolutionary approach that places equal importance on both the positive and negative aspects of mental health and well-being. The first handbook on positive clinical psychology, a revolutionary approach that places equal importance on the positive and negative aspects of mental health and well-being Brings together new work from authorities in positive psychology and clinical psychology to offer an integrated examination of well-being as it relates to personality, psychopathology, psychological treatments, and more Discusses theory, research, and practice across a broad range of topics such as optimism, positive affect, well-being therapy, childhood well-being, evolutionary perspectives, and clinical implementation Contains essential information for researchers, instructors and practitioners in clinical psychology, positive psychology, mental health, and well-being in general.
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The Lineage of Positive PsychologyProviding a Common LanguageApplied Positive Psychology–a Working DefinitionThe Need for Applied Positive PsychologyThe Plan for this VolumeThe Content of this Volume
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