The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Psychology department joins in criticism of APA

In keeping with the college’s Quaker values, the Guilford psychology department recently joined a resolution framed by Earlham College’s psychology department calling for a reform in the American Psychology Association’s (APA) stance on the participation of psychologists in military detention center interrogations.

Calling the APA’s stance “ethically compromised,” the resolution brings to light the discrepancies of the organization’s stance, seemingly condemning torture yet permitting the involvement of psychologists in environments where torture tactics are suspected to be in use.

Prior to the drafting of Earlham’s resolution, the APA was subject to dissent within its own ranks. Marybeth Shinn, the former president of two APA divisions, chose to resign over the organization’s continued involvement in Guantanamo Bay and various CIA black sites. She also voiced frustration with the APA’s tendency to either ignore or suppress dissent towards its interrogation policies within the organization.

The APA justifies its position of involvement, however, by asserting that the presence of psychologists can serve to mitigate the abusive measures that interrogators resort to. But for Earlham’s and Guilford’s psychology departments, this was not any more convincing of an explanation than it was for Shinn.

“Given what we know about the kinds of behaviors that have been deemed acceptable to the Bush administration, it would be na’ve to assume that the presence of psychologists is stopping much in terms of abuse,” said Richie Zweigenhaft, Dana professor of psychology.

“The biggest concern that motivated this resolution is that we really don’t know exactly how psychologists are being used in these settings,” said Michael Jackson, the professor of psychology at Earlham responsible for drafting the document.

In his efforts to create a united front to reform the APA, Jackson wrote to colleagues at other colleges. So far only Guilford and Smith College have responded.

“Most troubling of all is that by allowing psychologists to continue to participate in the interrogations of detainees in secret military and CIA facilities, it continues to aid in legitimizing these interrogations and foreign detention centers,” Jackson said.

Jackson also added that most of these interrogations are conducted in places where detainees are deprived of due process of law, which is “a context that psychologists should not be implicated in.”

The resolution was received at Guilford by Zweigenhaft, who after reaching a speedy consensus with his colleagues, agreed to sign on.

“We wrote back (to Earlham) and said, ‘we’re in agreement, add our name to your list,'” Zweigenhaft said. “The APA came out with a very lukewarm, not very progressive, challenging, or decisive position on the role psychologists might play in some of these interrogations, so naturally there were some psychologists who were disappointed.”

While Zweigenhaft sees this resolution as significant, he is not entirely convinced that it will lead to immediate change in the system.

“I think its part of an accumulation of concerns that are being raised that will have an effect,” Zweigenhaft said. “Yes, it’s a positive step, but I don’t think it in and of itself will end these kinds of interrogations.”

Nonetheless, this unprecedented move on Earlham’s behalf is expected to catch on in the psychology departments of other small, private, liberal arts schools – especially Quaker-affiliated ones.

“I feel proud that Guilford’s psychology department is part of this resolution,” said Carly Mills, a sophomore psychology major. “It’s important that these inconsistencies in the APA’s practices are being addressed.”

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