Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Monday, August 5, 2019

Ethical considerations in assessment and behavioral treatment of obesity: Issues and practice implications for clinical health psychologists

Williamson, T. M., Rash, J. A., Campbell, T. S., & Mothersill, K. (2019).
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication.


The obesity epidemic in the United States and Canada has been accompanied by an increased demand on behavioral health specialists to provide comprehensive behavior therapy for weight loss (BTWL) to individuals with obesity. Clinical health psychologists are optimally positioned to deliver BTWL because of their advanced competencies in multimodal assessment, training in evidence-based methods of behavior change, and proficiencies in interdisciplinary collaboration. Although published guidelines provide recommendations for optimal design and delivery of BTWL (e.g., behavior modification, cognitive restructuring, and mindfulness practice; group-based vs. individual therapy), guidelines on ethical issues that may arise during assessment and treatment remain conspicuously absent. This article reviews clinical practice guidelines, ethical codes (i.e., the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists and the American Psychological Association Ethical Principles of Psychologists), and the extant literature to highlight obesity-specific ethical considerations for psychologists who provide assessment and BTWL in health care settings. Five key themes emerge from the literature: (a) informed consent (instilling realistic treatment expectations; reasonable alternatives to BTWL; privacy and confidentiality); (b) assessment (using a biopsychosocial approach; selecting psychological tests); (c) competence and scope of practice (self-assessment; collaborative care); (d) recognition of personal bias and discrimination (self-examination, diversity); and (e) maximizing treatment benefit while minimizing harm. Practical recommendations grounded in the American Psychological Association’s competency training model for clinical health psychologists are discussed to assist practitioners in addressing and mitigating ethical issues in practice.