What is the American Psychological Association?

Introduction

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest scientific and professional organisation of psychologists in the United States, with over 122,000 members, including scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students.

It has 54 divisions – interest groups for different subspecialties of psychology or topical areas.

The APA has an annual budget of around $115m.

Brief History

Founding

The APA was founded in July 1892 at Clark University by a small group of around 30 men; by 1916 there were over 300 members. The first president was G. Stanley Hall. During World War II, the APA merged with other psychological organisations, resulting in a new divisional structure. Nineteen divisions were approved in 1944; the divisions with the most members were the clinical and personnel (now counselling) divisions. From 1960 to 2007, the number of divisions expanded to 54. Today the APA is affiliated with 60 state, territorial, and Canadian provincial associations.

Dominance of Clinical Psychology

Due to the dominance of clinical psychology in APA, several research-focused groups have broken away from the organisation. These include the Psychonomic Society in 1959 (with a primarily cognitive orientation), and the Association for Psychological Science (which changed its name from the American Psychological Society in early 2006) in 1988 (with a broad focus on the science and research of psychology). Theodore H. Blau was the first clinician in independent practice to be elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1977.

Profile

The APA has task forces that issue policy statements on various matters of social importance, including abortion, human rights, the welfare of detainees, human trafficking, the rights of the mentally ill, IQ testing, sexual orientation change efforts, and gender equality.

Governance

APA is a corporation chartered in the District of Columbia. APA’s bylaws describe structural components that serve as a system of checks and balances to ensure democratic process. The organisational entities include:

  • APA President:
    • The APA’s president is elected by the membership.
    • The president chairs the Council of Representatives and the Board of Directors.
    • During his or her term of office, the president performs such duties as are prescribed in the bylaws.
  • Board of Directors:
    • The board is composed of six members-at-large, the president-elect, president, past-president, treasurer, recording secretary, CEO, and the chair of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS).
    • The Board oversees the association’s administrative affairs and presents an annual budget for council approval.
  • APA Council of Representatives:
    • The council has sole authority to set policy and make decisions regarding APA’s roughly $60 million annual income.
    • It is composed of elected members from state/provincial/territorial psychological associations, APA divisions and the APA Board of Directors.
  • APA Committee Structure, Boards and Committees:
    • Members of boards and committees conduct much of APA’s work on a volunteer basis.
    • They carry out a wide variety of tasks suggested by their names.
    • Some have responsibility for monitoring major programmes, such as the directorates, the journals and international affairs.

Good Governance Project

The Good Governance Project (GGP) was initiated in January 2011 as part of the strategic plan to “[assure] APA’s governance practices, processes and structures are optimized and aligned with what is needed to thrive in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex environment.” The charge included soliciting feedback and input stakeholders, learning about governance best practices, recommending whether change was required, recommending needed changes based on data, and creating implementation plans. The June 2013 GGP update on the recommended changes can be found in the document “Good Governance Project Recommended Changes to Maximize Organizational Effectiveness of APA Governance”. The suggested changes would change APA from a membership-based, representational structure to a corporate structure. These motions were discussed and voted upon by Council on 31 July 2013 and 02 August 2013.

Organisational Structure

APA comprises an executive office, a publishing operation, offices that address administrative, business, information technology, and operational needs, and five substantive directorates:

  1. The Education Directorate accredits doctoral psychology programmes and addresses issues related to psychology education in secondary through graduate education;
  2. The Practice Directorate engages on behalf of practicing psychologists and health care consumers;
  3. The Public Interest Directorate advances psychology as a means of addressing the fundamental problems of human welfare and promoting the equitable and just treatment of all segments of society;
  4. The Public and Member Communications Directorate is responsible for APA’s outreach to its members and affiliates and to the general public;
  5. The Science Directorate provides support and voice for psychological scientists.

Membership and Title of “Psychologist”

APA policy on the use of the title psychologist is contained in the Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists: psychologists have earned a doctoral degree in psychology and may not use the title “psychologist” and/or deliver psychological services to the public, unless the psychologist is licensed or specifically exempted from licensure under the law. State licensing laws specify state specific requirements for the education and training of psychologists leading to licensure. Psychologists who are exempted from licensure could include researchers, educators, or general applied psychologists who provide services outside the health and mental health field.

Full membership with the APA in United States and Canada requires doctoral training whereas associate membership requires at least two years of postgraduate studies in psychology or approved related discipline. The minimal requirement of a doctoral dissertation related to psychology for full membership can be waived in certain circumstances where there is evidence that significant contribution or performance in the field of psychology has been made.

Affiliate Organisations

American Psychological Association Services, Inc. (APASI) was formed in 2018 and is a 501(c)(6) entity, which engages in advocacy on behalf of psychologists from all areas of psychology.

Awards

Each year, the APA recognises top psychologists with the “Distinguished Contributions” Awards; these awards are the highest honours given by the APA.

  • APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Psychology.
  • APA Distinguished Scientific Award for the Applications of Psychology.
  • Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest.
  • Award for Distinguished Contributions to Education and Training in Psychology.
  • APA Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Applied Research.
  • Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Independent Practice.
  • Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Practice in the Public Sector.
  • APA Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology.
  • APA Award for Lifetime Contributions to Psychology (APA’s highest award).
  • APA International Humanitarian Award.

Publications

The American Psychologist is the Association’s official journal. APA also publishes over 70 other journals encompassing most specialty areas in the field; APA’s Educational Publishing Foundation (EPF) is an imprint for publishing on behalf of other organisations. Its journals include:

  • Archives of Scientific Psychology.
  • Behavioral Neuroscience.
  • Developmental Psychology.
  • Emotion.
  • Health Psychology.
  • Journal of Applied Psychology.
  • Journal of Comparative Psychology.
  • Journal of Experimental Psychology.
  • Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
  • Journal of Family Psychology.
  • Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.
  • Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • Psychological Bulletin.
  • Psychological Review.
  • Psychology and Aging.
  • Psychology of Addictive Behaviours.
  • Psychology of Violence.
  • School Psychology Quarterly.

The APA has published hundreds of books. Among these books are: the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (and a concise version titled Concise Rules of APA Style), which is the official guide to APA style; the APA Dictionary of Psychology; an eight-volume Encyclopaedia of Psychology; and many scholarly books on specific subjects such as Varieties of Anomalous Experience. The APA has also published children’s books under the Magination Press imprint, software for data analysis, videos demonstrating therapeutic techniques, reports, and brochures.

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Programme

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Programme (PHWP) is a collaborative effort between the American Psychological Association and the APA Practice Organisation designed to help employers optimise employee well-being and organisational performance. The PHWP includes APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, a variety of APA Practice Organisation resources, including PHWP Web content, e-newsletter, podcast and blog, and support of local programmes currently implemented by 52 state, provincial and territorial psychological associations as a mechanism for driving grassroots change in local business communities. The awards are designed to recognise organisations for their efforts to foster employee health and well-being while enhancing organisational performance. The award programme highlights a variety of workplaces, large and small, profit and non-profit, in diverse geographical settings. Applicants are evaluated on their efforts in the following five areas: employee involvement, work-life balance, employee growth and development, health and safety, and employee recognition. Awards are given at the local and national level.

APA Style

American Psychological Association (APA) style is a set of rules developed to assist reading comprehension in the social and behavioural sciences. Used to ensure clarity of communication, the layout is designed to “move the idea forward with a minimum of distraction and a maximum of precision.” The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association contains the rules for every aspect of writing, especially in the social sciences from determining authorship to constructing a table to avoiding plagiarism and constructing accurate reference citations. “The General Format of APA is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. General guidelines for a paper in APA style includes: typed, double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) with 1″ margins on all sides. The font should be clear and highly readable. APA recommends using 12 pt. Times New Roman font.” The seventh edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association was published in October 2019.

Databases

APA maintains a number of databases, including PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, PsycBOOKS, PsycEXTRA, PsycCRITIQUES, PsycTESTS, and PsycTHERAPY. APA also operates a comprehensive search platform, PsycNET, covering multiple databases.

PsycINFO is a bibliographic database that contains citations and summaries dating from the 19th century, including journal articles, book chapters, books, technical reports, and dissertations within the field of psychology. As of January 2010, PsycINFO has collected information from 2,457 journals.

Divisions

The APA has 56 numbered divisions, 54 of which are currently active:

  1. Society for General Psychology – the first division formed by the APA, in 1945, concerned with issues across the subdisciplines of psychology.
  2. Society for the Teaching of Psychology – provides free teaching material for students and teachers of psychology and bestows many awards.
  3. Society for Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Science.
  4. Currently vacant – initially the Psychometric Society, which decided against becoming an APA division.
  5. Quantitative and Qualitative Methods – previously named Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics.
  6. Behavioural Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology.
  7. Developmental Psychology.
  8. Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
  9. Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI).
  10. Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts.
  11. Currently vacant – initially Abnormal Psychology and Psychotherapy, which joined division 12 in 1946.
  12. Society of Clinical Psychology – established in 1948 with 482 members, in 1962 it created clinical child psychology as its first section.
  13. Society of Consulting Psychology.
  14. Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology.
  15. Educational Psychology.
  16. School Psychology – originally formed as the Division of School Psychologists in 1945, renamed in 1969.
  17. Society of Counselling Psychology.
  18. Psychologists in Public Service.
  19. Society for Military Psychology.
  20. Adult Development and Aging.
  21. Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology.
  22. Rehabilitation Psychology.
  23. Society for Consumer Psychology.
  24. Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology.
  25. Behaviour Analysis.
  26. Society for the History of Psychology.
  27. Society for Community Research and Action: Division of Community Psychology.
  28. Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse.
  29. Psychotherapy.
  30. Society of Psychological Hypnosis.
  31. State, Provincial and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs.
  32. Society for Humanistic Psychology.
  33. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities / Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  34. Society for Environmental, Population and Conservation Psychology.
  35. Society for the Psychology of Women.
  36. Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.
  37. Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice.
  38. Health Psychology.
  39. Psychoanalysis.
  40. Clinical Neuropsychology.
  41. American Psychology-Law Society.
  42. Psychologists in Independent Practice.
  43. Society for Family Psychology.
  44. Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues.
  45. Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues.
  46. Media Psychology.
  47. Exercise and Sport Psychology.
  48. Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology Division.
  49. Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy.
  50. Society of Addiction Psychology.
  51. Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinities.
  52. International Psychology.
  53. Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.
  54. Society of Paediatric Psychology.
  55. American Society for the Advancement of Pharmacotherapy.
  56. Trauma Psychology – addresses issues of trauma with projects, working groups and via collaborations.

APA Internship Crisis for Graduate Students

The APA is the main accrediting body for US clinical and counselling psychology doctoral training programmes and internship sites. APA-accredited Clinical Psychology PhD and PsyD programmes typically require students to complete a one-year clinical internship in order to graduate (or a two-year part-time internship). However, there is currently an “internship crisis” as defined by the APA, in that approximately 25% of clinical psychology doctoral students do not match for internship each year. This crisis has led many students (approximately 1,000 each year) to re-apply for internship, thus delaying graduation, or to complete an unaccredited internship, and often has many emotional and financial consequences. Students who do not complete an APA accredited internships in the US are barred from certain employment settings, including VA Hospitals, the military, and cannot get licensed in some states, such as Utah and Mississippi. Additionally, some post-doctoral fellowships and other employment settings require or prefer an APA Accredited internship. The APA has been criticised for not addressing this crisis adequately and many psychologists and graduate students have petitioned for the APA to take action by regulating graduate training programmes.

Warfare and the Use of Torture

A year after the establishment of the Human Resources Research Organisation by the US military in 1951, the CIA began funding numerous psychologists (and other scientists) in the development of psychological warfare methods under the supervision of APA treasurer Meredith Crawford. Donald O. Hebb, the APA president in 1960 who was awarded the APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in 1961, defended the torture of research subjects, arguing that what was being studied was other nations’ methods of brainwashing. Former APA president Martin Seligman spoke upon the invitation of the CIA on his animal experimentation where he shocked a dog unpredictably and repeatedly into total, helpless passivity. Former APA president Ronald F. Levant, upon visiting Guantanamo Bay, affirmed that psychologists were present during the torture of prisoners, arguing that their presence was to “add value and safeguards” to interrogations. Former APA president Gerald Koocher argued, referring to allegations of continuing systemic abuse by psychologists, that such allegations were originating from “opportunistic commentators masquerading as scholars”.

When it emerged that psychologists, as part of the Behavioural Science Consultation Team, were advising interrogators in Guantánamo and other US facilities on improving the effectiveness of the “enhanced interrogation techniques”, the APA called on the US government to prohibit the use of unethical interrogation techniques and labelled specific techniques as torture. Critics pointed out that the APA declined to advise its members not to participate in such interrogations. In September 2008, the APA’s members passed a resolution stating that psychologists may not work in settings where “persons are held outside, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the U.S. Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.” The resolution became official APA policy in February 2009. However, the APA has refused to sanction those members known to have participated in and, in some cases, designed abusive interrogation techniques used in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan interrogation centres.

The APA directive was in contrast to the American Psychiatric Association ban in May 2006 of all direct participation in interrogations by psychiatrists, and the American Medical Association ban in June 2006 of the direct participation in interrogations by physicians. An independent panel of medical, military, ethics, education, public health, and legal professionals issued a comprehensive report in November 2013 that “charged that U.S. military and intelligence agencies directed doctors and psychologists working in U.S. military detention centers to violate standard ethical principles and medical standards to avoid infliction of harm”. One group of psychologists in particular, the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, has been very harsh in its criticism of the APA stance on its refusal to categorically prohibit members from participating in any phase of military interrogations. They recently stated their continuing disagreement with APA leadership in an open letter posted on their website on 31 October 2012, in which they reiterated their condemnation of torture and enhanced interrogation techniques, and called for the APA to require its members to refuse participation in military conducted interrogations of any kind.

Amending the Ethics Code

In February 2010, the APA’s Council of Representatives voted to amend the association’s Ethics Code to make clear that its standards can never be interpreted to justify or defend violating human rights. Following are the two relevant ethical standards from the Ethics Code, with the newly adopted language shown in bold:
1.02, Conflicts Between Ethics and Law, Regulations, or Other Governing Legal Authority

If psychologists’ ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists clarify the nature of the conflict, make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take reasonable steps to resolve the conflict consistent with the General Principles and Ethical Standards of the Ethics Code. Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights.

1.03, Conflicts Between Ethics and Organisational Demands

If the demands of an organisation with which psychologists are affiliated or for whom they are working are in conflict with this Ethics Code, psychologists clarify the nature of the conflict, make known their commitment to the Ethics Code, and take reasonable steps to resolve the conflict consistent with the General Principles and Ethical Standards of the Ethics Code. Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights.

In its 2013 “Policy Related to Psychologists’ Work in National Security Settings and Reaffirmation of the APA Position Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment the APA condemns the use of any of the following practices by military interrogators trying to elicit anti-terrorism information from detainees, on the ground that “there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether induced by a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, that may be invoked as a justification.”

Hoffman Report

In November 2014, the APA ordered an independent review into whether it cooperated with the government’s use of torture of prisoners during the George W. Bush administration, naming Chicago attorney David H. Hoffman to conduct the review. On 02 July 2015, a 542-page report was issued to the special committee of the board of directors of the APA relating to ethics guidelines, national security interrogations, and torture. The report concluded that the APA secretly collaborated with the Bush administration to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners. Furthermore, the report stated that the association’s ethics director Stephen Behnke and others had “colluded with important Department of Defense officials to have the APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain” the interrogation of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay. The association’s “principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DOD.” An APA official said that ethics director Stephen Behnke had been “removed from his position as a result of the report” and indicated that other firings or sanctions might follow.

On 14 July 2015, the APA announced the retirement of its CEO, Norman B. Anderson, effective the end of 2015, and of Deputy Chief Executive Officer Michael Honaker, effective 15 August 2015, and the resignation of Rhea K. Farberman, APA’s executive director for public and member communication. Anderson had been CEO since 2003.

Ban on Involvement

For at least a decade, dissident psychologists within and outside the APA, including the group WithholdAPAdues, had protested the involvement of psychologists “in interrogations at CIA black sites and Guantánamo”. Prior to the release of the Hoffman report, which undermined the APA’s repeated denials and showed that some APA leaders were complicit in torture, the dissidents were ignored or ridiculed.

On 07 August 2015, just weeks following the release of the Hoffman report, the APA council of representatives met at the association’s 123rd annual convention in Toronto, Ontario. At that meeting, the APA council passed Resolution 23B, which implemented the 2008 membership vote to remove psychologists from settings that operate outside international law, and banning the participation of psychologists in unlawful interrogations. With 156 votes in favour and only one vote against, the resolution passed with the near unanimous approval of council members. The adoption of Resolution 23B aligned the APA’s policy with that of the American Psychiatric Association and that of the American Medical Association by prohibiting psychologists from participating in interrogations deemed illegal by the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention against Torture.

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE 2008 MEMBERSHIP VOTE TO REMOVE PSYCHOLOGISTS FROM ALL SETTINGS THAT OPERATE OUTSIDE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW (NBI #23B)

Council is asked to approve the substitute main motion below that includes a revised resolution with a new title, Resolution to Amend the 2006 and 2013 Council Resolutions to Clarify the Roles of Psychologists Related to Interrogation and Detainee Welfare in National Security Settings, to Further Implement the 2008 Petition Resolution, and to Safeguard Against Acts of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in All Settings. This resolution further aligns the APA policy definition for “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (in the 2006 and 2013 Council resolutions) with the United Nations (UN) Convention Against Torture and ensures that the definition applies broadly to all individuals and settings; offers APA as a supportive resource for ethical practice for psychologists, including those in military and national security roles; prohibits psychologists from participating in national security interrogations; clarifies the intended application of the 2008 petition resolution… and calls for APA letters to be sent to federal officials to inform them of these policy changes and clarifications of existing APA policy.

The ban will not “prohibit psychologists from working with the police or prisons in criminal law enforcement interrogations”.

Class Action Lawsuit by Members Claiming Deceptive Dues Assessments

In 2013 a class action lawsuit was brought against APA on behalf of approximately 60,000 of its 122,000 members who were licensed clinicians. Those members paid an additional $140 practice assessment fee as part of their membership dues every year beginning in 2001 to fund the lobbying arm of APA, the APA Practice Organisation (APAPO). The lawsuit accused APA of using deceptive means by representing that the assessment was mandatory for APA membership even though payment of the assessment was only required for membership in the APAPO. In 2015 APA settled the case by establishing a $9.02 million settlement fund to be used to pay claims made by members of APA who paid the practice assessment, as well as attorneys’ fees and certain other costs. APA agreed to change its policies to make clear that the APAPO membership dues are not required for membership in APA.

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