Filing an Ethics Complaint
Filing a Complaint With the APA Ethics Office
In order to file a complaint, you must first verify that the psychologist you wish to file a complaint against is a member of the APA. The American Psychological Association is a voluntary membership organization. APA does not have jurisdiction over individuals who are not members of our organization and therefore we cannot process complaints against nonmembers. Please contact our membership office to determine if the psychologist is a member. Please be prepared to provide the psychologist’s name, city and state of practice, the street address and telephone number of their practice when possible.
Call Membership at (800) 374-2721 or (202) 336-5580
Once you have determined that the psychologist is a member, you may print, complete and mail the complaint form (PDF, 16KB), with the relevant supporting documentation, to the APA Ethics Office:
American Psychological Association
Attn: Office of Ethics
750 First St., NE
Washington, D.C. 20002-4242
Please be sure to sign each of the required releases at the end of the form. Your form cannot be processed without your signature. If the releases are not signed or you have omitted other required information, we will not be able to process the complaint form and will need to return it to you. Filing a complaint on behalf of another person is not recommended. Please note that APA also may not accept anonymous complaints.
Our investigation process is a paper process. We do not conduct interviews in person or via the phone. It is important that any information submitted be relevant to your specific complaint. Please send us copies, not originals, of any documents. Please do not include pictures. Please review this information sheet regarding filing a complaint prior to submitting your complaint (PDF, 26KB). These recommendations are designed to facilitate the efficient review of your complaint. Please follow these instructions for preparing your materials to avoid a resulting delay in the processing of your complaint.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Filing a Complaint
- Have I attempted to resolve the problem by discussing it with the psychologist?
- Is there a local or state organization to which I could submit my concern?
Filing a complaint with us may or may not be the best option for you to pursue your objectives. The American Psychological Association is a membership organization. Psychologists are not required to be licensed to be a member of APA. The highest sanction the APA can impose on a member is to expel that member from the association with notifications to other entities. APA cannot obtain a monetary award for you from the member or require that member to do something you request. APA does not provide a license to practice and cannot restrict a psychologist from practicing. Many psychologists are licensed by a state, provincial, or territorial licensing board. These licensing boards control the ability to practice as a psychologist. Please note that these state regulatory organizations are separate entities from APA.
- Does the behavior clearly fit within one or more Ethical Standards of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (the “Ethics Code”) and do you have documentation that you are legally able to share to prove the allegation?
Please note that the General Principles are aspirational only and do not provide the basis for an ethics complaint.
Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Our Process
How Much Time Do I Have to File My Complaint?
Members of APA have three years from when the behavior occurred or was discovered to file a complaint against another member. Non-members (including non-member psychologists) have five years. The behavior generally may not have occurred more than ten years prior to the filing of the complaint.
We do not recommend that one individual file a complaint on behalf of another. It is very difficult under our procedures to conduct an investigation without the involvement of the individual who has direct knowledge of the conduct in question and who is able to consent to allow the psychologist to respond to the allegations and to the release of relevant records. While third parties may be able to provide a written summary as a supporting witness to corroborate a complainant's allegations, third parties acting in the role of complainant may not be able to provide the necessary data for a matter to move forward in the complaint process.
Can I File a Complaint Against an Organization?
The Ethics Office accepts complaints against members acting in their individual capacities. In other words, the Ethics Committee can only address each member's unethical behavior as an individual, and not their involvement in a group decision or action. We cannot accept complaints against organizations, psychology departments, doctoral programs, or internship or post-doc sites. You may wish to review information concerning the separate complaint process related to doctoral programs, internships and postdoctoral programs accredited by APA.
How Long Does the Complaint Review Process Take?
Our ethics review process will begin after you have completed and returned the complaint form and supporting documentation. The complaint process can take a minimum of six months to one year to complete. In some instances, the process may take several years or more if there are other reviews and/or legal processes that are occurring. It is important that our office receive your cooperation throughout the course of the investigation. Requested information, such as decisions from licensing boards, should be sent in as soon as they become available.
Can I Call the Ethics Office About My Complaint After I Have Filed It?
General procedural questions may be answered over the phone but questions regarding a specific complaint must be submitted in writing via postal mail or fax. For example, a question regarding the status of a specific complaint must be submitted in writing.
Why Are Some Complaints Closed?
We understand that having a complaint closed without action may be disappointing to you. However, please note that all complaints are reviewed thoroughly and each complaint is taken very seriously. A behavior may be upsetting to you but may not be a clear violation of a specific standard of the APA Ethics Code. Complaints may also be closed without further action because there is not sufficient evidence to prove the behaviors, or the violations have already been adequately addressed in another forum or are likely to be corrected. It is also possible that at the time the complaint is reviewed, the psychologist is no longer a member.
Where Can I Get More Information About the Complaint Review Process?
Please refer to the Ethics Committee’s Rules and procedures for additional information concerning the complaint review process. The most relevant sections are: