Candidates for APA President
I offer this biographical statement to explain my commitment to reclaiming the APA as a voice for human rights and social justice.
I come from a family of Jewish refugees. My mother is from a small town in Poland. She is the only member of her immediate family who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp. My father is from Warsaw. When the war began, and the Soviet Union and Germany conquered and divided Poland, my father fled into Soviet Russia. He was picked up by the secret police and interrogated with the classic Soviet methods (which now have become American methods).
My mother told me a story about the first round-up of Jews in her small town when she was 14. The Nazis pushed all the Jews into a small circle and beat those on the outside of the circle with clubs. My mother observed that some of the Jews tried to protect the weak, the elderly and the very young, while others pushed the weaker ones to the outside to protect themselves. "I knew from that moment that to be human would not always come naturally," she told me. "I knew that I would have to make an effort to be human."
In an earlier career, I used theater as a method of addressing social or mass trauma. I worked on plays about exile, about political violence, about alienation. I continue to consult on projects, and have helped to produce plays with survivors of war and political violence from Tibet, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Peru, Chile, and downtown Manhattan after Sept. 11. I won an Obie Award for my collaboration on a play about exile, titled "Tourists and Refugees."
I turned to psychology, though, because I wanted to understand and support the effort to "be human" under extreme adversity. As chief psychologist of an urban psychiatric hospital, I created innovative treatment programs for people with addictions and psychiatric problems. I have taught undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral psychologists and psychiatric residents. As a consultant to the United Nations staff of stress counselors, and as supervising faculty at the International Trauma Studies Program, I've been able to train and supervise clinicians from all over the world as they address the traumas of war, political violence and natural disaster. On Sept. 11, 2001, I helped organize the Family Center at St. Vincent's Hospital in downtown Manhattan to provide information and support for desperate family members hoping for some word on the whereabouts or condition of relatives they hoped had been hospitalized somewhere. The center was located a half a block from the office where I had practiced psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for nearly 20 years.
My aim, now, is to apply the lessons of my parents' and my own experiences to the APA itself. I want to change policies that support psychologists' interrogation of prisoners in conditions akin to those in Soviet-era prisons, and that permit "following orders" even if they violate human rights.
Reisner's candidate statement
When news broke of the central role of health professionals in overseeing abusive detainee interrogations and conditions at Guantanamo and CIA black sites, the American Medical, Psychiatric and Nursing Associations prohibited their members' participation in detainee interrogations. APA, on the other hand, created policy to support its members' involvement at those sites, even though they operate in violation of the Geneva Conventions and international human rights law.
That support continues, even after APA learned that psychologists were directly implicated in abusive interrogations at those sites; that the orders to use waterboarding, sleep and sensory deprivation, and other abusive techniques came directly from inside the White House; and that secret Justice Department memos asserted that health professionals' oversight made such techniques legal.
As president, I would seek practical measures to prohibit such involvements and to restore APA's reputation as a voice for human welfare. Such measures would protect our military psychologists from moral compromise under pressure and from potential criminal liability.
Psychology has traditionally been based on the dual principles of improving human welfare and doing no harm. We must keep these principles at the forefront as we tackle the problems facing our profession and our society. Among the additional issues I will focus on are:
Universal health care, accompanied by mental health parity.
Raising awareness of the psychological dimension of environmental and ecological responsibility.
The role of psychology in our transition into a diverse and global society.
But we cannot bring the best of our field to bear on these pressing issues unless we put our ethical house in order. With your vote for my presidency and with your assistance, we can transform the APA at this turning point in our history. Please visit www.reisnerforpresident.org to learn more about each of these issues.