August 21st, 2015

Review finds APA ethics compromised

Massachusetts Psychological Association President Abigail Seibert, Ph.D, said that the organization has experienced a wide range of reactions in the wake of the Hoffman report’s revelations.

In July, Attorney David H. Hoffman of Sidley Austin LLP released an independent investigative review of the American Psychological Association’s ethics guidelines, national security interrogations and torture. The findings are sending shockwaves throughout the psychology community.

Rosanna Lak, executive director of the Vermont Psychological Association, reported that its full board of directors issued a letter stating in part, “… its shock in response to the findings of the Hoffman report and the corruption it details. As your state organization, we intend to do our best to both support and hold APA accountable as it strives to implement institutional reforms in the wake of persistent and willful transgressions of many of its key personnel.

That national leaders used their positions and immense skills to support the violation of human rights is both horrifying and indefensible. VPA remains committed to the highest ethical standards and will do our best to assist the community of psychology in the work ahead to examine and overcome the individual and collective failures that led to this moment in our profession’s history.”

The VPA Ethics Committee plans to address the matter “from both educational and process perspectives” and invites membership to discuss “the impact of self-interest, moral relativism and institutional ethical failures on the practice and profession of psychology.”

Executive committee members of the New Hampshire Psychological Association Board of Directors are “quite concerned about the contents of the Hoffman report, especially regarding any involvement psychologists have had in torture and any role APA employees or members may have played in conjunction with the department of defense or the CIA in such actions,” according to Leisl M. Bryant, Ph.D., ABPP (Forensic), NHPA president.

“We are also concerned about the potential negative fallout for APA and its members, our own membership at NHPA and psychology as a field generally.”

Bryant noted that it’s too soon to tell how the Hoffman report will affect members’ relationship with NHPA and with the APA as an organization. She hopes and expects members will remain with the organization, but understands that some may “resign from APA or decline to renew their membership at the end of the year.”

She said, “As for NHPA as a whole, we would hope that as APA makes the personnel and organizational changes it has promised and promulgated, we would be able to continue a mutually beneficial relationship with APA with regard to budgetary assistance, continuing education support and other important services that APA has provided to our association over the years.”

Calling this “a time of deep crisis and concern for the profession of psychology,” Bryant is hopeful that “psychology as a profession and APA as an organization will be able to regain solid footing and continue its important missions including educating the public on psychological matters, supporting psychological research and publications and supporting psychotherapeutic and other psychological services to the profession and to the public.”

According to Mikaru Shichi Lasher, Ph.D., president of the Connecticut Psychological Association, the board is “deeply saddened and disappointed in the actions described in the report, of what APA has done or neglected to do.” She added, “We understand the importance of supporting our members to deal with the issue and try to help in the healing process, as well as work to prevent any such occurrences in the future.”

Lasher noted that the CPA has been communicating with members through its e-newsletter, emails and Web site to provide information about reports and updates on APA responses. CPA’s APA Council Representative, John Mehm, Ph.D., continues to keep members apprised, she added.

Mehm said, “In my role as representative to APA Council for the Connecticut Psychological Association, I worked with board members to brief them on the issues once they were released to the public. I have since kept them informed of how APA governance has been planning to respond to all the issues at the convention and beyond. It has been reassuring to our own membership to know that CPA’s leaders were monitoring the APA crisis closely.”

Like most other associations, the Massachusetts Psychological Association has experienced a “wide range of reactions from thoughtful anger to great surprise, shock and profound disappointment,” said Abigail Seibert, Ph.D., MPA president, noting that “no quick reaction” will be forthcoming.

“We want to take a deliberate and thoughtful approach to the information that is coming out. We want to digest the facts from the report and are committed to understanding the report.”

Seibert added that an open member meeting will solicit reactions to the report and consider next steps. “We are putting off writing a letter to APA until after the convention. We want our message to be meaningful and we want to use all the information we can.”

Most importantly, Seibert emphasized that MPA continues to be an organization for its members.

“We are an independent organization and want to represent our members and be the organization we’ve always been – being an advocate for members, providing educational opportunities and discussing issues,” she said.

“Being positive is our main message. We want to figure out what positive effect we can have collectively and as Massachusetts’ psychologists primarily. Like other organizations we want to renew the prestige of the profession.”

Members of the Maine Psychological Association have also voiced “outrage and anger at the way the national psychological association has handled the situation,” said Diane Tennies, Ph.D., LADC, MePA president, who said the findings have “generated an earthquake in our profession.” She added, “We are disappointed with the APA’s initial reaction, but more recently there have been more sophisticated and in-depth attempts to address the issues.”

Some MePA members have sent individual letters to the APA and Tennies communicates regularly with the national organization through a MePA member who is on the APA board of directors.

Of concern as well is the perceived insularity of the situation. “Beyond the New York Times exposé, there has not been much in the way of coverage. It’s dismaying, but we know this type of situation is not unique to psychologists,” Tennies said.

On a more positive note, the Hoffman report has had a “mobilizing impact on state associations,” according to Tennies. “As an association, we are using this as an opportunity. We are doing a fall seminar on understanding organizational versus professional ethics and the implications for private practice. We will talk about the Hoffman report and explore personal and professional reactions and how to move forward and hold the APA accountable.”

Several attempts to solicit input from the Rhode Island Psychological Association were unsuccessful.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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