American Academy of Clinical Psychology

Recognizing and Promoting Advanced Competence within the Speciality of Clinical Psychology

Who Controls Where We Practice?

21 Mar 2016 9:29 PM | AACP (Administrator)

The practice of psychology has undergone many evolutions as a social science, and more recently the practice of psychology has come under scrutiny as it relates to psychologists operating in national security settings.  Professional practice is generally considered the professional behavior that one engages in relative to their occupational specialty.  Recent debates take this a step further to say that professional practice encompasses where you engage in said behaviors – not because of limits of competence, but because of geography and/or potential perception of the environment in which you practice.   

The Hoffman Report, published in July 2015, found that the American Psychological Association (APA) colluded with the Department of Defense (DOD) to “ensure no APA policy would constrain psychologists’ participation in DOD’s 'enhanced interrogation' program."  Since this report, the APA council adopted the following Resolutions 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 augment the 2008 Petition Resolution, and to safeguard against acts of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in all settings.   

See below:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, in keeping with Principle A (Beneficence and Nonmaleficence) of the Ethics Code to “take care to do no harm,”4 psychologists shall not conduct, supervise, be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any national security interrogations5 for any military or intelligence entities, including private contractors working on their behalf, nor advise on conditions of confinement insofar as these might facilitate such an interrogation6. This prohibition does not apply to domestic law enforcement interrogations or domestic detention settings where detainees are afforded all of the protections of the United States Constitution, including the 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination (“Miranda” rights) and 6th Amendment rights to “effective assistance” of legal counsel.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in keeping with the "Actions to be Undertaken by APA" as stipulated in the 2013 Council Resolution, APA shall send official correspondence to the appropriate officers of the U.S. government, including the President, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, CIA Director, and Congress, to inform them that APA has adopted policy changes to expand its human rights protections to safeguard detainees in national security settings against torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.7

Since this action by APA, a heated debate has ensued, and I would strongly encourage Academy members to read up on this issue.  While various members may agree or disagree with the actions of psychologists who choose to practice their skillset in national security settings, the actions of APA in taking steps to dictate where an individual psychologist should practice is troubling.  Practically, these actions by APA restrain where psychologists are allowed, per the APA Ethics code, to practice their profession, but asserting that psychologists should never be in the presence of events that could be potentially perceived as relating to national security.     

In no other profession has an accredited non-governmental organization (NGO) tackled the slippery slope of dictating where professionals should and should not practice with hopes of alleviating the professional misconduct of professionals. NGOs frequently develop ethical standards that are adopted by state/federal licensing boards that outline general behaviors that are and are not acceptable. Further, ethical codes will frequently outline methods for establishing and maintaining competence for the behaviors that a professional will conduct.  NGOs also frequently outline steps for professionals to take if they are faced with an ethical conflict that requires resolution.  However, NGOs do not establish the location or setting in which professionals are declared fit to work, outside the establishment of their competency.   

No one on either side of the debate is suggesting that psychologists that collude or participate in abuse should be absolved of responsibility; rather, there exists proper legal and professional channels for these assertions.  However, suggesting that a NGO should have the ability to limit where a person engages in their professional practice is encroaching on the very principle of Beneficence and Nonmaleficence that APA claims to uphold with their actions. For how can APA know where psychologists will be called upon to practice in order to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally? 

Jill Breitbach, PsyD, ABPP

(Click here to read the APA references cited in this post.  The topics and opinions expressed in the blog are those of the author and are not official positions of the Academy.  They are presented as information and food for thought.)

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