Commentary

The APA Is Dead: And Not Just Because Of APA Ethics Violations

apa ethics violations
Jason Dias
Written by Jason Dias

The American Psychological Association (APA) is dead, or should be, says psychologist Jason Dias. APA ethics violations are legion. Think about the torture it endorsed in Guantanemo. But that’s the least of its problems …

jason-dias-anewdomainaNewDomain –The American Psychological Association (APA) is the political and lobbying organization of American psychology. We call it our professional association but, for reasons I’ll elucidate, it isn’t, really. 

We haven’t got one.

Political lobbying organizations have a certain amount of power in our country. Some have disproportionate power. Take the National Rifle Association. Where I live, we’ve lost two elected officials in a recall election only because they supported minor steps towards gun safety. In a recall election over state reps the only folks who come out are issues voters. The NRA was able to get their way because of apathy on the part of the rest of us.

why the apa is dead

As I wrote in this column on the meaning of the Donald Trump candidacy, our voting behavior tends to create or solidify our positions rather than the reverse. As in: You hate Obamacare, but you loved it when it was Romneycare. A lot of mental gymnastics are necessary to continue to hold positions which are fundamentally different. You’ll do those gymnastics to not support the Blue rather than the Red team, or vice versa. 

And you’ll change your mind on all sorts of things to continue justifying support for the Red team.

For an organization like the NRA, the point is supposedly about its membership, specifically about protecting the gun rights of those members. 

Money and politics tell another story. 

NRA’s funding does not come primarily from membership fees, but from gun manufacturers. That’s why it’s more of a lobby than anything.

And the price of the money it scores from gun makers is advocacy in political circles. Donors make more money if the NRA is able to successfully push for looser and looser regulations on guns. 

The opinions of the membership just follow rather than drive the paid opinions of the leadership. That is how it’s set up. And it works for the NRA.

What does all this have to do with professional organizations like the APA?  Everything.

The APA has caught incredible flak over the past few years over their increasing support of medical interventions for emotional problems. This stems from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual version 5 (DSM5) and the way it is constructed. Right now it allows and abets increasing interference from psychopharmaceutical companies, aka Big Pharma.

The APA we have now has almost nothing to do with us in psychology. But we are stuck with their diagnostic manual if we want to bill medical insurance for our health-care services. 

Once again, money and politics have corrupted a professional organization. Like the NRA, the APA’s primary revenue stream is not memberships. The APA’s revenue derives almost exclusively from sales of the DSM5 which depend on dominating thought and opinion about diagnostics, illness, mental health and sanity.

why the APA is dead APA Ethics Violations

APA has a lot of control over the practice of psychology. Beginning with the teaching of all prospective psychologists. Most states require that you graduate from a school accredited by the APA before they will issue you a license.

And the licensing exam you must take is endorsed by the APA. 

In other words, people must conform to the APA’s worldview to receive a legitimate business license.

My school required that I pay APA dues while I was a student. I had to turn in receipts and those receipts were deducted from my tuition. I had to remain a member in good standing. 

Back then, the torture thing was only beginning to be known.

When I graduated in 2010, I stopped paying dues. Torture was nowhere near the top of my mind back then, it was money — I couldn’t justify the expense. But I did due diligence: examining the APA’s lobbying schedule for the coming fiscal year. It’s a little easier now – you can check out their activities here

There was not one thing on the APA’s lobbying schedule that would advance the practice of psychotherapy. 

Everything on their list had to do with behavioral medicine and control.

I was trained as a psychotherapist. It seemed our interests were not compatible. But the list also told me all about the structure of the organization. Psychotherapy is not fundamentally about making money. But everything on the APA’s list was about money and power.

The APA does not have the interests of its membership at heart and never has. It cannot. It is a political lobbying organization. Its interests are political power and funding. 

why the APA is dead APA ethics violations

So when the Pentagon came along sometime during the second invasion of Iraq and asked the APA for a line on interrogations, a quid-pro-quo began. The APA wanted something from the government, and power and money wanted something from the APA.

What about ethics?

Ethically, the APA lost its way a long time ago 

Like the American Psychiatric Association, the APA has so long catered to moneyed and powered interests that it has forgotten about humanistic principles, about therapy, about loving people better. 

The APA only knows about coercing behavior through threats and bribes (behavioral health). 

Due to cognitive dissonance, if you lobby hard and long enough for a set of beliefs, you must in the end come to hold those beliefs. It is no coincidence that this was the APA’s Decade of Behavior.

And then there’s the APA and Torture

The Hoffman Report suggests that the APA knew about torture, designed torture programs, allowed psychologists to participate, and covered up for the government.

We’ve known about this for a long time. All the Hoffman report does is solidify who knew what, when. 

We’ve been resigned for a long time that the people involved, particularly those actively torturing people or designing the programs, will never face ethics charges. Our code of ethics changed in 2010 to reflect that human rights violations can never be justified by professional obligations. 

This changed after the fact. Too late to do any good.

Following the report, a number of APA employees and officials have resigned or retired. You know who didn’t believe in coincidences?  Sigmund Freud. In my professional opinion I have to concur with my colleague Freud.

The APA is over

I never formally resigned my membership, just quit paying dues to the APA. But I discussed the dilemma with mentors. They universally suggested I continue to pay dues, if only to maintain apportionment. Their reasoning was that if the Humanistic Division has enough votes, we get representation at the general assembly. That we could skew the aims and objectives of the APA away from behavioral medicine and back towards humanistic principles. 

It sounds good.

Except we can’t. 

the apa is dead APA Ethics Violations

The membership does not influence the policy decisions of the leadership. The leadership take their marching orders from the largest donors and trade favors with the government. 

Why is it that the APA have control over whether a school can produce license-ready graduates? Because they traded sufficient favors with the government. 

Then the membership votes in line with what the leadership says is important.

We’ve seen it with the NRA. And now we’re seeing it with the APA. A rash of resignations over the DSM-5 have only left the core of medical-model adherents stronger. 

The humanistic people are reacting now with revulsion and disgust. But too little and years too late. Soon you will start to hear from the apologists. Opinion will move towards rather than away from torture.

That’s because psychologists are people. These are the statistically likely behaviors of a group of people who’ve just been caught out. 

Make a soldier torture a Jewish citizen or shoot an enemy soldier and they must come to hate that citizen or that soldier. 

Reveal that we’ve been endorsing, supporting, covering for and developing torture programs? We’ll come to endorse torture, not condemn it.

I won’t be a part of it 

The APA is over. It’s time to dismantle the organization. 

A friend notes that the purging of the bad influences has already made progress.

But this is the same argument we make after we find a white cop shooting a black citizen in the back eight times.

 We say Great, now we know who the racist is. Let’s get him off the force!

But the whole force is racist. Why? Because the whole power structure is a racist one. 

And The APA Serves An Evil Purpose, Too

The APA is not a good population with a few bad apples. Fundamentally, the APA serves an evil purpose: to acquire and sell. To gather money and power and to trade the power for money and the money for more power. 

To the extent that the organization pretends to advocate for the interests of psychologists, it is still evil – because our purpose as psychologists is not to serve our own interests but to serve public ones. Human ones. The APA is bad and bad for us because it must be. It has to be. 

That’s why is exists: to make money and trade favors.

And I won’t be a part of it.

There’s this scene in “Braveheart” that tells the whole story. The clans are leaving. They’ve seen heavy cavalry and they know they’re beaten. They’ve got sticks and sickles and the English brought armored horses, lances, steel suits and broadswords.

But the Scottish aristocracy shout, “Do not flee! We can still negotiate!”

In other words, the leadership can use the membership to attain more lands and titles, bribes to take no action.

They’ll still lose in a straight-out fight. But it would cost the English something, so the English were willing to grant a title here, or an income there, to see the armies removed from the field.

The APA gains power and makes money by ordering us off the field. 

It’s time to do away with this antiquated power structure. 

It’s time to take the field.

For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.

p.s. Regarding the NRA, check out NRA executive Wayne LaPierre on background checks 20 years ago vs. two years ago:

First, in 1999:

And here, in 2013:

Image credits: image one: By Jason Dias for aNewDomain, All Rights Reserved; image two: Slate.com, All Rights Reserved; image three: DiagnosticLabs.com, All Rights Reserved; image four: News.USNI.org, All Rights Reserved; image five: Wonkette.com, All Rights Reserved.

About the author

Jason Dias

Jason Dias

Jason Dias, PsyD is an existential psychotherapist who breathes words. He's a senior columnist at aNewDomain.

  • Patrick Cheatham

    Interesting. You’ve made me think of the top-down approach the APA advances when it comes to the future of the profession. I saw the notices today of the resignations, and if they were supposed to make me feel better about the APA, they completely failed. There’s little question in my mind that the people resigning are the ones who soon will be found complicit in some way. So why should I care about their many years of wonderful service to the APA? Why was that emphasized? It’s just stage one of whitewashing the organization, so business can continue as usual.

    I’m currently on internship (done on July 31st!), and I also stopped paying my dues this year. The torture issue was the straw that broke it for me. The more I heard about the issue, the more I realized I was giving money to an organization that did not reflect my values. The other issue has to do with the internship imbalance. It is fully within the power of the APA to accredit more sites and work hard to fix the imbalance. Instead, they maintain the high cost of accreditation and continue advocating for accreditation’s dubious importance at state licensure. I matched at a non-APA site. It has been an outstanding place, full of wonderful experiences and amazing psychologists. To hear it from the APA, though, my training is somehow flawed. Through no fault of my own, I now have some future employment options curtailed for me. The APA doesn’t advocate for me, and if most psychologists and graduate students think about it, I bet they do not advocate for your interests and values either.

  • Michm

    Sales of the DSM are the greatest source of revenue for the American Psychological Association? It’s a publication of the American Psychiatric Association. How does the American Psychological Association get a piece of the revenue? I’ve never purchased the DSM from American Psychological Association.