Sunday, September 21, 2008

Torture the least of APA's problems

Today, the membership of the American Psychological Association (APA) passed a referendum banning participation of APA member psychologists in U.S. detention facilities, such as Guantanamo or the CIA’s secret “black sites” operating outside of or in violation of international law or the Constitution. . . . The referendum passed with 8,792 [58.8% ] YES votes to 6,157 votes against. The turnout was the highest ever in APA history.

- Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, press release*
Although this is a positive development, because the decision is so long overdue and the offense so despicable, APA members do not deserve our applause. Jotman does not congratulate professionals when they vote to obey the law.

Furthermore, torture is the least of APA's problems.

To paraphrase a former APA president: American psychology long ago sold its soul to the psychiatrists. Since the early 70s, the research paradigm of US psychology has been based on the "pharmaceutical model" of drug research. That means that for every problem, the researcher goes off in search of a silver bullet. Today the APA is but one outpost of the American pharmaceutical industry.

The fact that millions of Americans turn to pharmaceuticals to address mental health issues has an interesting analogue. That is, the country's predominantly military approach to foreign relations; I'm talking about the propensity of US leaders such as John McCain to view war as a "neat solution" to international problems.**

Just as mental health in the US is mainly the domain not of therapists, but drug-prescribing psychiatrists, similarly, the health of the international system is increasingly determined not by US diplomats, but generals reporting to the Pentagon. Both psychiatrists and generals offer silver bullets. Which makes the majority of US psychologists -- at least those not helping the CIA to torture people -- a lot like their peers in the State Department. They are left out in the cold. As goes psychology, so goes diplomacy. Got a problem? Fire away!
* hat-tip Soldz via 10%
** See The Wars of John McCain in the Sept. Atlantic Monthly.
Note: Time Magazine reported recently: "Data contained in the Army's fifth Mental Health Advisory Team report indicate that, according to an anonymous survey of U.S. troops taken last fall, about 12% of combat troops in Iraq and 17% of those in Afghanistan are taking prescription antidepressants or sleeping pills to help them cope." I suspect those percentages increase significantly once the soldiers have returned to settle down in the US.

1 comment:

  1. The field of psychology has a mixed history of harm and help, which continues to this day. While I agree with your point in some cases, not all psychologists are intent on pathologizing their clients. The field is in fact multifaceted. If you're interested in informing yourself more on the topic, check out thinkers like Carl Rogers or other counseling psychologists who inspire healing in their clients by believing in clients' strengths, not just their problems. JH


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