Posts tagged: APA

Will psychologists be held accountable for participating in torture or cruel and inhumane treatment?

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By , July 10, 2010 3:44 pm

I’ve blogged about the role of psychologists in the torture of detainees a number of times. This past week, there have been some stunning developments as complaints have been filed against two psychologists , Col. Larry James (pdf) and Maj. John Leso that could result in them losing their license as psychologists. And now, the American Psychological Association has issued a statement that it supports the investigation of allegations against James Mitchell. The complaint against Mitchell was filed last month in Texas by Jim  Cox, PhD.  The complaint against Leso was filed by the  Center for Justice & Accountability, and the complaint against James was filed by Harvard University’s International Human Rights Clinic.

In the past, state boards declined to open investigations, but in light of new/additional revelations, they might open up cases.

Certainly the APA cannot investigate or take action against someone who is not a member of the APA. But I am left wondering, yet again, what horrors might have been prevented had the APA taken a firmer stand earlier.

Another psychologist criticizes some media psychologists

By , December 21, 2009 11:42 am

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Part 1 can be found here.

It appears that I am not alone in my criticism of, and concerns about, media psychologists who speculate about an individual’s mental health or issues. In August, I discussed a story out of the U.K. that quotes from the ethics code for the British Psychology Society. And just yesterday, I discovered Dr. Gary Wood’s blog. Wood is a U.K. social psychologist who has extensive media experience and who has also blogged about this problem. He, too, believes that a psychologist shouldn’t be speculating about the private lives of celebrities.

But he goes even further in another blog entry where he writes:


I tell them that I don’t talk about celebrities lives as it’s unethical. I don’t know what’s going on in the minds of celebrities and neither do the two-bit hacks who cough up pithy insights for self-aggrandisement. My refusal comes as a shock, even for the producers I routinely work with. It’s become so normal to gossip about celebrities that it’s difficult to get the point across! Psychologists should not be gossiping and speculating on the inners works of people’s minds! If they are clients then it’s confidential, and if they are not clients then they have no insight anyway.


I’ve read of so-called reputable psychologists (read ‘gossipologists’) offering mental health diagnoses of celebrities. I’ve also seem them discussing the mental states of celebrities’ young children. Nothing they say is ever meaningful and it’s certainly unethical. It’s gossip, plain and simple! The fact that someone has a degree in psychology or a PhD in ‘the social impact of jogger’s nipple’ does not mean they have any valid insight into the mental state or deepest motivations of any celebrity.

Psychologists should abide by a common set of values that shouldn’t be prostituted for a one-liner in ‘Celebrity Life’ magazine. Surely these values should be higher than picking over the bones of skeletons in celebrities’ closets.


While it’s nice to know that at least some fellow psychologists on the other side of the pond agree with me that psychologists should not engage in such commentary, and I know that a number of American psychologists agree with me, I wish even more American psychologists would speak up on this issue. If for no other reason, it is our professional image that gets harmed when the public gets the idea that psychologists gossip, form opinions based on inadequate assessment, or will tell all to the media.

Privacy and ethics: discussing celebrities’ private lives

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By , December 21, 2009 10:58 am

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series and focuses on what several ethics codes say about privacy and discussing individual’s mental health or private lives.

I’ve occasionally blogged about statements some media psychologists have made in discussing individuals in the public spotlight. Some of my concerns stem from my concerns about respecting the privacy rights of individuals. Other concerns stem from my interpretation and application of the professional ethics code for psychologists. Today’s news that actress Brittany Murphy died at the age of 32 immediately started the rumor mill, with some stories speculating about drug problems and addiction and others speculating that an eating disorder was the cause of her death. While the cause of her death may be a matter of curiosity and might serve as a cautionary tale for others, is repeating unconfirmed rumors ethical journalism or ethical for a psychologist, or is this just gossip-mongering for other purposes such as selling one’s paper or product or services?

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No Place to Hide: Torture, Psychologists, and the APA

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By , June 19, 2009 1:23 pm

Roy Eidelson, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, associate director of the Solomon Asch Center at Bryn Mawr College, president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and associate member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Program in Ethnic Conflict has created this 10-minute video “No Place to Hide: Torture, Psychologists, and the APA.”

The video will take you through a time-line showing the evolution of APA’s policies governing psychologists’ participation in detainee interrogations. It includes documentary footage and direct quotations from international treaties, APA documents including the APA ethics code, U.S. government documents, etc.

If you’ve been meaning to get caught up on this issue or wonder why I keep posting about this issue, this overview will give you a “crash course.”

“Psychologists Abandon the Nuremberg Ethic”

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By , May 30, 2009 4:54 pm

The new issue of International Journal of Law & Psychiatry (vol.32, #4, pp. 161-166) includes an article, “Psychologists Abandon the Nuremberg Ethic.”

The authors are Kenneth S. Pope, Ph.D., ABPP, & Thomas G. Gutheil, M.D.

Here’s the abstract:

In the aftermath of 9-11, the American Psychological Association, one of the largest U.S. health professions, changed its ethics code so that it now runs counter to the Nuremberg Ethic. This historic post-9-11 change allows psychologists to set aside their ethical responsibilities whenever they are in irreconcilable conflict with military orders, governmental regulations, national and local laws, and other forms of governing legal authority. This article discusses the history, wording, rationale, and implications of the ethical standard that U.S. psychologists adopted 7 years ago, particularly in light of concerns over health care professionals’ involvement in detainee interrogations and the controversy over psychologists’ prominent involvement in settings like the Guantánamo Bay Detainment Camp and the Abu Ghraib prison. It discusses possible approaches to the complex dilemmas arising when ethical responsibilities conflict with laws, regulations, or other governing legal authority.

Here’s how the Conclusion begins:

It is impossible to know how widespread the impact of the American Psychological Association’s reputation, size, and influence have been in these areas. For example, did a healthcare organization of over 148,000 members repeatedly endorsing over the years its participation in detainee interrogations, emphasizing the unique value of its competencies in this area, and offering public reassurances about those interrogations tend to encourage some in the public to believe that the methods used were necessary, ethical, unharmful, and effective, especially in light of the fact that psychologists played important roles in designing and providing training in some of these methods?

Here’s how the article ends:

Nuremberg’s message that ethical responsibilities and accountability are indispensable came at such great price, it should not be forgotten or set aside lightly.

The article is available free online at:

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