October 1st, 2015

Conference addresses Hoffman report findings

This year’s annual American Psychological Association conference addressed a wide variety of topics. But topping the list was reaction to and resolution of some of the findings in the recently released Hoffman report.

Susan H. McDaniel, Ph.D., Dr. Laurie Sands Distinguished Professor of Families & Health and 2015 APA president-elect, explained that the APA Council of Representatives discussed the main results of the Hoffman report and voted on a number of motions.

“They voted to create a Blue Ribbon panel to evaluate and make recommendations for changes to the ethics policy, benchmarking against other organizations to find the best processes and practices. APA experts and non-psychologist experts will be on the ethics panel,” she said.

Another important motion pertains to psychologists’ participation in national security interrogations, which Council voted to prohibit.

“The roll call vote was 157 to one with six abstentions,” McDaniel said. She added that conflict of interest policies will be closely examined to see if they need strengthening.

“We want to stay in front of things. We have to reset our moral compass to make sure ethical research is at the center of all our approaches to psychological practice and research of human rights.”

McDaniel assumes the APA presidency in January 2016 and has been part of the special committee overseeing the Hoffman report.

“I feel proud that we commissioned the report and released it quickly to the public. This speaks to the transparency and willingness to name our mistakes and strengths. I hope we can continue to do this as an organization and a discipline,” she said.

“APA is developing a new strategic plan to examine these learnings as we strengthen our checks and balances within the organization. All psychologists work from a compassionate and value-centered perspective. We want to make sure we continue to do so.”

Eugene D’Angelo, Ph.D., council representative for the Massachusetts Psychological Association, was impressed with McDaniel and the way she managed the process at the conference, especially in light of the premature leak of the Hoffman report findings, which complicated response from APA and its members.

“The plan was for the board of directors to get the report. Then council would read and discuss it,” he said. “A lot of things need to be carefully considered. You don’t want to be impulsive.”

In an unexpected move, David H. Hoffman, the attorney who the APA commissioned to write the report, held an executive session at the conference, noted D’Angelo.

“It is highly unusual for an independent investigator to come in and meet with the members. [Hoffman] said that he felt the APA had been transparent throughout the process. He went through 1,100 documents and interviewed a large number of people,” D’Angelo said. “People were surprised by the amount of information gathered.”

The final report comprised 572 pages with a 73-page summary and 1,100 supporting materials, he added.

D’Angelo said that more discussion is necessary. “My guess is that we’ll see more information in October. The next marker will be when the APA releases the final dollar amount for the Hoffman report process.

That information is due at the end of September and will ignite a host of things.” The APA reported “professional fees and expenses in connection with the independent review are $4.3 million through July 15, 2015.”

“My sense is that this is going to be quite a process. We are far from looking at whatever changes need to be made to reclaim our moral voice,” D’Angelo said. “The board of directors has to be involved in the CEO search, particularly the ethics and legal positions. We have to underscore the need to look more carefully at conflict of interest.”

By Phyllis Hanlon

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