Saturday, February 9, 2008

American Psychology's Tortured Present: Notes From the Resistance

There has been a trickle of psychologists who've either offered public protests or submitted outright resignations from the American Psychology in recent months, due to its refusal to denounce the role of psychologists in interrogations such as the sort currently going on in places such as Gitmo. These of course go beyond all the various efforts to either petition the APA to change its policy on interrogation, and by still current members of the APA to withhold their dues. Last August it was Mary Pipher, who returned an award from the APA in protest of the APA council of representatives' rejection of the following resolution:
"Be it resolved that the roles of psychologists in settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights, should be limited as health personnel to the provision of psychological treatment."
Then, in October, Beth Shinn resigned her membership in protest. This year, so far, at least two psychologists that I know of - one of who is a fellow blogger (Invictus), the other of whom is a prominent member of the profession (Kenneth S. Pope), have left the APA.

In addition to some of these prominent and rather public resignations, there is currently a battle over legislation in California brewing over the Ridley-Thomas bill that would get California mental health providers out of the interrogation biz:
As I’ve posted before, a coalition in California has worked with CA Senator Ridley-Thomas to introduce a resolution, SJR 19, that would warn CA licensed health providers that they are are risk of future prosecution if they participate in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. More importantly, it requests that the Defense Department and CIA remove all CA licensed health providers from any role in interrogations.
Turns out both the American Psychological Association and the California Psychological Association are working to gut the legislation, leaving little more than empty words with no real effect. It's unclear at this moment how effective the APA and CPA lobbying will be. My hope is that those in California working on ending psychology's role in some of the most egregious violations of human dignity known to our species.

In the meantime, it seems like not only does the APA need to continue to feel heat by whatever means are necessary, including dues withholding and resignations, but the California Psychological Association needs to also receive the same treatment by those psychologists who reside in California.

For those who keep wondering, it is quite easy to continue one's professional existence without belonging to the APA. The Withhold APA Dues website explains the details - among other things reminding psychologists who are mental health practitioners that withholding dues or leaving the APA will have no impact on one's professional insurance, and that one can belong to many of the relevant APA divisions without belonging to the APA. I've been a member in good standing with the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues for ages without holding any membership in the APA. My understanding is the same is also possible for those in the clinical and counseling specialties regarding their relevant divisions, as well as those who, for instance, hold an interest in peace psychology. Increasingly, the APA is becoming irrelevant. As a scientific psychologist, the APA was pretty irrelevant at best all along, and there is reason to believe that the ethical sensibilities of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), to which I've belonged since my grad school days, are at least a few steps above those of the APA.

Obviously, to the extent that I possibly can as a non-APA member, I wish to support those who are doing what they can to make the APA a more ethical organization, and that they succeed in getting its policies regarding the role of psychologists in interrogation in compliance with relevant international legal standards - for the good of our field as a whole as well as for the good of those psychologists who might otherwise be placed into the role of human rights abusers, and for the good of humanity more broadly. That said, I think that it is high time for psychologists to consider the very distinct possibility that the APA is now simply beyond reform, and that a clean break is the only option really left to us.

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