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MPA Response to the Hoffman Report

Thursday, October 15, 2015   (0 Comments)
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September 28, 2015


Nadine Kaslow, PhD, ABPP
Susan McDaniel, PhD
American Psychological Association
750 First St. NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242


Massachusetts Psychological Association Response to the Hoffman Report


Dear Drs. Kaslow and McDaniel,

I am writing on behalf of the Massachusetts Psychological Association (MPA) in response to the independent review by David Hoffman in July 2015.  MPA has been paying close attention to various discussions and comments in reaction to the report, from the first responses in July to those around the APA meetings in Toronto in August, to the more recent reflections.  We will first express our profound disappointment in APA’s policies and process detailed in the Hoffman Report regarding the failure to set ethical limits on the potential participation by psychologists in torture and the failure to openly explain that position and its rationale to its members and the public.  MPA opposes torture in all its forms and condemns any level of participation by psychologists in acts deemed to be torture by the UN Convention Against Torture.

We, in Massachusetts, have gathered responses from MPA and APA members across Massachusetts, after hearing and reading reactions from other SPTAs and APA Council.  The seriousness of the situation warranted input from all concerned psychologists. MPA has facilitated communication within our membership via email through our listserv and by hosting open-membership meetings.  The meetings allowed colleagues to connect on a personal level and have conversations with MPA leadership and the APA Council Representative for Massachusetts, Dr. Eugene D’Angelo.  Massachusetts’ psychologists have wide-ranging views and ideas - we have heard from the harshest critics and staunchest defenders of APA’s policies.  It is our sincere hope that MPA’s thoughtful and deliberative formulation of this response over the course of many weeks may assist APA leadership by providing a unique perspective that includes input from before and after the Council’s actions in response to the Report.  We now offer our practical input to APA as it considers a new path forward. 

After the release of the Hoffman Report on July 10, many of us read with amazement and dismay the processes which led to decisions which may have profoundly hurt some individuals and certainly cast a negative light on APA.  We have learned of actions on the part of psychologists in cooperation and in collusion with others that we wish had not happened.  It is inexcusable that some in positions with great influence at APA used the power of language and position in such a deliberate and manipulative manner in order to allow psychologists’ involvement in misguided operations.  Among the many layers of wrongdoing exposed in the Hoffman report, there appears to have been a carefully crafted process to increase, and at the same time to hide, powerful relationships.  We have all seen this dynamic in other professions and disciplines, and it may continue to be a feature of many institutions; however, we all have the responsibility to ensure that it does not continue in psychology.

We have listened to personal accounts of anger, betrayal, discouragement, sadness, indignation, confusion – reflecting the significant stress that these events have placed on ourselves, individually and as a profession.  Our profession has been deeply wounded.  Some felt the wounds earlier than others when they realized, early on, in 2006-08 what was happening as a result of the relationships between APA and government agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.  We do not observe, however, an air of smugness in those members; rather, there is profound disappointment in the magnitude of breakdown in a benevolent, scholarly, and ethical organization.  There is disappointment in the apparent absence of effective organizational leadership to prevent the transgressions described in the report. 

For many psychologists, it is essential in our deliberations about these events that we not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about the lives of real people who were directly harmed by these events.  That people have been hurt -- psychologists, detainees, family members, US military members (those with and without power) -- as a result of agreements made in the name of APA for political gains is difficult to grasp.  That pain has real and palpable ramifications for psychologists who work with victims and those adversely affected by policies from the early 2000’s.  At the same time, MPA members recognize our responsibility to support colleagues and clients who work in military, government, and related settings.

We know the governance process is complicated.  We know that experts give opinions and can hold enough credibility to sway opinion.  We know that personality, credentials, and style can be assertive to the point that others hold their questions or feel thwarted, intentionally so or not.  We know that complacency can set in whereby leaders’ judgment goes unquestioned.  We also know that leaders often have agendas which take precedence over the greater good.  One of the challenges we hope APA will strive to address is that governance processes involving checks and balances and transparency must be in place to prevent these institutional tendencies.  We commend APA leadership and the Council of Representatives for taking action at the August meetings to clarify policy that psychologists not be involved in national security interrogations.  We are pleased that the APA Board of Directors is addressing conflict of interest concerns and a review of the ethics code.  We respectfully ask that you consider the following recommendations:

1.  We recommend that APA’s organizational function be examined to prevent future mishaps and to create a more effective association.  Please consider engaging an outside consultant to review previous recommendations for operational change and to study recent and current operations which allowed problematic process. 

Examine the relationship of staff and elected/appointed volunteer leadership.  This applies to all, from the very top of the organization with executive leadership and the board of directors through the wide range of staff and committee members. 

We ask that APA remember that although it is a very large, multifaceted organization with diverse business operations, it exists for professionals in psychology who practice, study and teach.  APA is ultimately about people, not merely business. Proper checks and balances in Association policy development, as well as increased transparency, would be crucial features of an improved system of APA governance.

We ask that, as APA continues to review the report in detail, representatives consider whether or not there are any current APA staff who are named in the report as participating in deceitful or manipulative acts or other adverse behavior; and, if so, to consider whether continued employment undermines confidence in the Association and whether or not is in the best interest of the Association.

2.  APA must focus on conflict of interest and have concrete direction about what constitutes a conflict.  Beyond strictly legal conflict of interest is the practical matter of multiple roles and broad decision-making responsibility in the organization.  Checks and balances prevent concentration of power and foster a healthier organization.  A system for routine direct review of projects and positions with those involved, staff and volunteers, would help avoid potential difficulties.  It is important for APA and members to have guidelines for volunteers and staff in roles of influence beyond reliance on voluntary recusal from votes.  Legal and perceived boundaries have indistinguishable limits.  Defining the limits is important to assuring honest and principled decision-making in the context of trustworthy process. 

3. The Blue Ribbon panel charged with studying the ethics code and incorporating the Council’s resolution should have the opportunity to examine all of the language in the APA Ethics Code.  The Ethics Code is the recognized standard by which most in the field of psychology operate.  Psychology ought to be proud of the positive points of guidance in addition to prohibitions on deleterious behaviors.  We urge that this panel exercise careful consideration of any changes to the code to insure that they will not have unintended consequences which inhibit or prohibit legitimate activities of practicing psychologists in a rapidly changing environment.

4. Create easier routes for member participation in APA activity.  There is an element of “APA insiders” who are on course for leadership roles in the organization.  This promotes the assumption of predetermined policy influenced by those “in the know” and prevents inclusion of fresh faces and their ideas.  Casting a wider net for APA participation – recruiting new committee members and others outside the “insider” crowd was something we heard frequently as a necessary area of improvement.  APA will be stronger with diversity of opinion, perspective and experience – professional and personal.  Revamped committee selection and leadership development processes that emphasize diversity and do not rely too heavily on experience within APA may better connect APA with its membership and lead to wider participation and member satisfaction.

While the dismaying revelations of the Hoffman Report have caused much frustration and outrage, the thoughtful responses by psychologists have also led to a stimulating dialogue between APA and MPA leadership and members, as well as a renewed openness to change and improvement at all levels of our psychological associations.  We are committed to looking at procedures, policies, and processes at MPA to ensure health for the Association, and we hope APA will continue to make substantive changes to improve its governance and policy-making in light of all that we have learned since the Hoffman Report.  MPA is deeply committed to holding the profession of psychology and its affiliated organizations to the highest standards expected by our members.

We thank each of you for your leadership of the organization through the very difficult process we have faced since release of the Hoffman report in July.  Your close attention to process and to psychologists has been reassuring as an illustration of strength in APA.



Abigail A. Seibert, PhD
Massachusetts Psychological Association

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