A guide to clinical ethics in psychiatry

by Dr Steve Pearce and Dr Jacinta Tan


Last reviewed: February 2021


Ethical dilemmas are common in psychiatry. These can include balancing the side-effects and benefits of long-term medication; compulsory treatment, electroconvulsive treatment and neurosurgery for mental disorder decisions; the limits of medical influence over patients' behaviour; and the extent to which doctors should be held responsible for their patients' actions. These all raise fundamental ethical questions.


Some of these matters can seem straightforward, and some are governed by law, but inevitably in every psychiatrist's career ethical uncertainty will arise. In these situations, an understanding of ethical principles is essential in reaching (and defending) a decision. Furthermore, having access to a clinical ethics committee where outside experts can provide guidance can lead to better care and provide professionals with advice and peace of mind when making difficult decisions.


This module provides a fast primer in ethical principles, and sets out how to start and use a clinical ethics committee.


Start the module


If you like this module, you may also be interested in:


Probity in professional practice: Part 1 and Part 2 by Dr Ashok G Patel and Dr Haider Malik


Boundary violations and sexual exploitation: recognition, avoidance and management by Dr Neil Margerison and Professor Susan Bewley


Advance decisions in psychiatry: England and Wales by Dr Lisa Williams and Dr John Rigby


BJPsych Advances: related articles for CPD Online


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This module is a joint commission with the following article published in BJPsych Advances:

Adshead G, Cave J (2021) An introduction to clinical ethics in psychiatry. BJPsych Advances, 27: 20–25. [summary]


© 2021 Royal College of Psychiatrists