Are we the good guys? APA and Guild Ethics

A recent NY Review of Books titled “The Psychologists Take Power”  offered the following conclusion: No psychologist has yet developed a method that can be substituted for moral reflection and reasoning, for employing our own intuitions and principles, weighing them against one another and judging as best we can. This is necessary labor for all of us. We cannot delegate it to higher authorities or replace it with handbooks. Humanly created suffering will continue to demand of us not simply new “technologies of behavior” but genuine moral understanding. We will certainly not find it in the recent books claiming the superior wisdom of psychology. The publications reviewed were:

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

by Jonathan Haidt
Vintage, 500 pp., $16.95 (paper)

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

by Steven Pinker
Penguin, 802 pp., $20.00 (paper)

Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil

by Paul Bloom
Broadway, 273 pp., $15.00 (paper)

The Power of Ideals: The Real Story of Moral Choice

by William Damon and Anne Colby
Oxford University Press, 217 pp., $29.95

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them

by Joshua Greene
Penguin, 422 pp., $18.00 (paper)

Report to the Special Committee of the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association: Independent Review Relating to APA Ethics Guidelines, National Security Interrogations, and Torture
by David H. Hoffman and others
542 pp., July 2015

The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture: Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program
by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Melville House, 549 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science
by Brian Nosek and others
Science, August 28, 2015

Head Strong: How Psychology is Revolutionizing War

by Michael D. Matthews
Oxford University Press, 262 pp., $29.95

I think this NY book review is interesting in the context of Dr. Ken Pope, a psychologist who resigned from APA due to APA’s position on torture, recently releasing his award address. Dr. Pope is also the co-author of an ethics textbook:Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counseling: A Practical Guide

You can read Ken Pope’s award address at

Here are some quotes I’ll pass on to try to convince you to read it as well as to offer education and commentary:


“The interrogation and torture controversy holds hard lessons for the profession, for psychology organizations, and for each of us…” “Do we outsource ethical responsibility and decision-making to laws, regulations, and people in authority (e.g., our employer, administrator, or supervisor) so that we can do something we know is wrong but justify it? Do our ethics come with our own personal versions of, in Bersoff’s term, “weasel words” that seem to place self-interest over ethical responsibility and accountability?” [snip]

“The history of psychology overflows with an almost endless catalog of our shared human tendencies—confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, premature cognitive commitment, the WYSIATI [What You See Is All There Is] fallacy, false consensus, groupthink, and on and on—to overlook, avoid, or ignore whatever fails to fit our beliefs and loyalties…” [snip]

“Another author of APA’s ethics policy in this area described an active approach to countering criticism: “At a meeting of the American Psychological Association in 2006, I confronted one of my critics and threatened to shut his mouth for him if he didn’t do it himself. I’m told it was the most excitement at an APA meeting in about 20 years” (James, 2008, p. 251). Have any of us not been tempted to counter criticism in this way? Really?” [snip]

“The torture controversy and the choices that led up to it provide a grim inventory of guild ethics, willful ignorance, denial, and discrediting critics. If we call up the courage to take an honest look, do we see those tactics in our own lives? Have we stopped listening to colleagues of certain disciplines, theoretical orientations, or political views because what, after all, do they know? Do we jump to discount, discredit, silence, or avoid certain kinds of criticism and words—both spoken and written—that call our beliefs, approaches, and actions into question? Do we have a safe stock of go-to consultants we count on to give us the answers we want to hear? Do we live our professional lives in the safety of “gated communities” of like-minded colleagues who read the same journals, see things as we do, and aim criticism at outsiders, never at those within the community?” [snip]

“APA also faces a more basic choice: of whether to set aside key aspects of its ethics code, its leaving the protection of the public to licensing boards, its approach to ethics enforcement and accountability, and the rest of its guild ethics. Resetting a moral compass will do little good if the organization uses the compass of self-interest, characteristic of guild ethics, to guide its actions.”

Dr. Pope’s mention of “guild ethics” was certainly interesting to me; particularly when considering my advocacy for #ALLpsychologists. APA has routinely failed to support the employment prospects of licensed psychologists who didn’t have APA-accredited internships. APA leaders state that this is because we need to “uphold” standards, however there is no demonstrated danger to the public from currently licensed psychologists who didn’t have APA-accredited internships. Not hiring #ALLpsychologists, however, has hurt the public by leading to shortages in locations like the Department of Veterans Affairs. Not licensing psychologists who didn’t have APA-accredited internships have hurt the public in places like Mississippi, the state which has the lowest number of psychologists per capita of any state. I hope we move away from knee-jerk insinuations about protecting the public and students when discussing currently licensed psychologists who didn’t have APA-accredited internships and APA leaders move away from a blind focus on promoting APA’s guild interests.

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