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  • Term Mode
  • Semester 1Campus Attendance
  • Term Mode
  • Semester 1Campus Attendance



Unit rationale, description and aim

In order to ensure that psychologists practice in ways that protect public safety, a thorough knowledge of ethical, professional and legal requirements is required. Failure to understand and apply relevant regulatory frameworks can have significant implications on both the welfare of clients and their practitioners, and significantly damage the reputation of psychology as a profession.

This unit explores the various professional standards and codes relevant to the provision of psychological services, including The Australian Psychological Society Code of Ethics, APS Ethical Guidelines, the Australian National Practice Standards for the Mental Health Workforce, and relevant state and federal legislative requirements. Developing and applying an ethical decision-making approach in psychological practice is emphasized, with specific exploration of topics such as the client's rights, who is the client in third party referrals, the impact of multiple role relationships, the need for professional boundaries, and the purposes and limits of confidentiality. The unit will also introduce knowledge of local and international perspectives in relation to professional practice in psychology and draw from cross-cultural research, with a particular reference to Indigenous Knowings.

In exploring the above, this unit aims to provide students with an in-depth and critical understanding of the ethical, professional and legal requirements to ensure they have the ability to practice competently and safely in their work as psychologists.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Describe relevant legislative, ethical and policy frameworks including the Code of Ethics and Ethical Guidelines of professional and governing bodies such as the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and the Psychology Board of Australia (PBA)GC1, GC2, GC3, GC5, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC11
LO2Explain the interrelationship of the relevant practice and policy frameworks and their significance to ensuring safe and competent practiceGC1, GC2, GC3, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC11, GC12
LO3Respond appropriately to ethical and practice issues in a culturally responsive manner across a range of workplace settings and with recognition of different organisational cultures and practices, particularly in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoplesGC1, GC2, GC3, GC5, GC6, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC11, GC12


Topics covered include: 

  • The purpose, structure and content of the Australian Psychological Society Code of Ethics 
  • The Mental Health Act 
  • Ethical principles and decision making 
  • Informed consent, confidentiality, competence and professional boundaries 
  • Privacy, freedom of information and maintenance of health records 
  • Working in schools 
  • Cultural considerations in the practice of psychology 
  • Working with Aboriginal/Torres Straight Islanders 
  • Working with children and special needs groups 
  • Working with groups, couples and families 
  • Gender and sexuality 
  • Professional competence 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Postgraduate students in psychology are provisional psychologists are expected to be independent learners who take responsibility for their learning and participate actively in group activities. This unit therefore uses an active learning approach which puts students at the centre of their learning through discussion. As such, the unit is delivered in face-to-face mode or live online lectures with 2 contact hours per week or equivalent in intensive mode and utilises case-based learning, individual and group activities, and reflective/critical thinking activities. This mode of delivery is designed to enhance discussion and engagement in the content covered in the unit. Students benefit from active participation in class and the opportunity to discuss the various issues that arise in the course of this unit. This aids students with the acquisition and evaluation of knowledge through the content presented, while also providing an opportunity for development reflectively thinking capacities through participation in class discussions. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

In order to best enable students to demonstrate unit learning outcomes and to develop graduate attributes, standards-based assessment is utilised, consistent with University assessment requirements. A range of assessment strategies are used. Acquisition of knowledge of relevant legal, ethical and policy frameworks is assessed via multiple-choice questions in the ethics exam. Short answer questions in this exam provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate their grasp of key concepts and their ability to synthesise information learnt throughout the course in meaningful ways. A written assignment allows students demonstrate their understanding of ethical principles and regulations and the ability to apply these to real-life situations. A practical examination in the form of an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) is used to examine students’ ability to respond appropriately in a simulated clinical environment. In this assessment, students are expected to demonstrate sound ethical decision-making related to a clinical practice issue. Students must pass all assessment tasks in order to pass the unit as it is critical that students demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge and skills across these key areas related to client safety prior to working with clients. However, students will be given the option to re-sit the OSCE on one additional occasion should they fail the OSCE on their first attempt. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Ethics Exam   

Enables students to demonstrate their knowledge of ethical guidelines and ability to apply knowledge to practical situations in a culturally responsive way, including in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


LO1, LO3

Written Assignment 

This assignment allows students to demonstrate their capacity to critically evaluate and reflect on a real-life ethical issue related to professional practice 


LO1, LO2, LO3

Practical Examination in OSCE format

This practical examination allows students to demonstrate critical thinking and ethical decision-making skills 


LO1, LO2, LO3

Representative texts and references

American Psychological Association. (2019). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. 

Australian Psychological Society. (2007). Code of ethics. Melbourne, VIC: Author. 

Australian Psychological Society. (2017). Ethical guidelines (14th ed.). Melbourne, VIC: Author 

Bor, R., & Watts, M. (2016). The trainee handbook: A guide for counselling and psychotherapy trainees (4th ed.). London: Sage.  

Boyle, C., & Gamble, N. (2014). Ethical Practice in Applied Psychology. Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press Australia.

Hays, P. A. (2016). Addressing cultural complexities in practice: Assessment, diagnosis, and therapy (3rd ed.). Washington, DC:  American Psychological Association. 

Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Act (2009). Retrieved 22 Sept 2020 from

Jacob, S., Decker, D.M., Lugg, E.T., & Diamond, E.L. (2022). Ethics and law for school psychologists (8th ed.). Wiley. 

Koocher, G. P., & Keith-Spiegel, P. C. (2016). Ethics in psychology and the mental health professions: Professional standards and cases (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. 

Morrissey, S., & Reddy, P. (2015). Ethics and professional practice for psychologists (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, Australia: Thompson Learning. 

Page, A.C., & Stritzke, W. G. K. (2015). Clinical psychology for trainees: Foundations of science-informed practice (2nd ed.). Port Melbourne, VIC: Cambridge University Press. 

Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents. (2014). Mental Health Act 2014. Retrieved 9 Feb 2020 from  

Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents. (2005). Health Professions Registration Act 2005. Retrieved Sept 9, 2007 from 

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