Character virtues in psychiatric practice

Jennifer Radden, John Z. Sadler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The character-focused approach known as virtue ethics is especially well suited to understanding and promoting ethical psychiatric practice. Virtues are stable dispositions and responses attributed to character, and a virtue-based ethics is one in which people's selves or characters are at the center of moral assessment. In this discussion by a clinician and a philosopher, clinical scenarios using exchanges and inner monologue illustrate key aspects of virtues. Virtues are acquired through habituation; they are habits of mind as much as behavior; they are as a group heterogeneous, and individually composite; they involve affective responses; they are not impartial; they are compatible with the "role morality" required of professionals; they are responses to particular temptations and weaknesses; and they include, in the capacity for practical judgment known as phronesis, a way of resolving many of the conflicts and dilemmas that arise in practice. The virtue approach to ethics will likely be most useful in the educational setting where practitioners are learning clinical skills and socialized into the broad ethos of professional practice. Aspects of this educational effort are briefly reviewed, including whether it ought to be undertaken at all, whether the effort to teach virtues is possible, and, if so, how it can be achieved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-380
Number of pages8
JournalHarvard Review of Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2008


  • Character
  • Clinical practice
  • Ethics
  • Medical education
  • Psychiatry
  • Virtues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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