Codes of ethics for psychiatrists: Past, present and prospect

Sidney Bloch, Felicity Kenn, Izaak Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background Codes of ethics in medicine have an ancient tradition, extending back to the Oath of Hippocrates. Yet it was only in the early 1970s that the speciality of psychiatry developed a specific code to address the unique ethical dilemmas and complexities arising in psychiatric practice. As the 50th anniversary of the publication of psychiatry's first code of ethics approaches, it is timely to reflect on the progress, role, and impact of such codes. Our aim is to provide a historically informed review of codes of ethics in psychiatry - their origins and evolution, the current picture, and the possibilities for future development. Methods We conducted a selective review of relevant literature (including all codes of ethics accessible on the websites of World Psychiatric Association members states), analysis of the form and content of codes and related documents in psychiatry, and interviews of psychiatrists who have played central roles in their evolution. Results Of the 143 WPA member states, only 15 codes of ethics for psychiatrists were identified, and few of these were associated with professional disciplinary processes. We found that these codes are rarely revised and sometimes supplemented with other statements and guidelines. Conclusions While there are difficulties in measuring the direct effectiveness of codes of ethics on the practice of psychiatrists, we conclude that these codes help to (1) promote professional solidarity and autonomy, (2) enhance moral sensitivity, and (3) aid in psychiatric education and training.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1201-1207
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2022


  • code of conduct
  • ethical standards
  • Ethics, code of ethics
  • professional behaviour

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