Feature

APA past presidents sounded off about what they think the field, and APA, ought to value in psychology's second century at APA's 2001 Annual Convention.

They advocated wildly divergent--sometimes controversial--goals for psychology, from dismantling organized religion to lifting the stricture on conversion therapy.

Here's a sample of what they said:

George Albee, PhD (APA president, 1970), of the Florida Mental Health Institute, said psychology needs to push harder for social justice. He called on psychologists to help:

  • Get rid of organized religion. "It doesn't matter which religion, they are all patriarchal. And that is one of the major sources of social injustice in our society and in our world....Every major religion puts women down, grants women second-class status."

  • Eradicate corporate capitalism. "A corporation, particularly a big international corporation, has no conscience. In that sense, they are like psychopaths. They aren't guilt-ridden for dumping toxic substances on Indian reservations, for polluting our lakes and streams and oceans, for destroying the ozone layer."

  • Double the minimum wage. "We're unlikely to get the rich to give back their recent huge tax reduction or the CEOs of major corporations to reduce their wages. But we can raise the minimum wage."

Robert Perloff, PhD (APA's 1985 president), of the University of Pittsburgh, unabashedly charged that APA is "too politically correct, too bureaucratic, too obeisant to special interests." He called on APA to ease strictures against:

  • Touch in therapy. "If you touch a patient or client, that's like being Gary Condit. Yet there's a field of research that shows that touching is therapeutic....We're so afraid of losing the support of third-party payments and of litigation that we're throwing the baby out with the bath water."

  • Conversion therapy. "It is considered unethical....That's all wrong. First, the data are not fully in yet. Second, if the client wants a change, listen to the client. Third, you're barring research."

  • Full APA membership at the master's level. "We ought not to look down our imperial noses at master's people because they, in fact, are doing therapy. Also, if they're under our wing, we can have more control over their standards."

Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD (APA's 1998 president), of the University of Pennsylvania, explained his belief that psychology was once "half-baked" in its preoccupation with mental illness and repairing damage. The positive-psychology half needed baking, said Seligman--"the part about what makes life worth living: the positive emotions, the strengths and virtues, the positive institutions." Among his other points:

  • Forget quick routes to happiness. "I'm not puritan enough to say get rid of chocolate, loveless sex, television and the like, but positive psychology is not interested in shortcuts. Rather, it is interested in the long cuts."

  • Positive psychology is not just "happyology." "Positive psychology is interested in happyology, but it is very far from what it is about."

  • Positive psychology is not a paradigm shift. "It is not meant to replace psychology as usual."

  • In baking its other half, psychology is reclaiming its birthright. "Psychology is vastly bigger than the health-care system. It's about labor; it's about education; it's about peace; it's about government; it's about the good life."

Richard M. Suinn, PhD (APA's 1999 president), of Colorado State University, called for APA to increase its accessibility for ethnic minorities and new professionals, and for the association to focus more on world peace. He also highlighted APA's struggle to meet its diverse members' needs in terms of:

  • Conflicting expectations of convention. "We usually organize a convention with all these multiple wonderful symposia, addresses, panels, posters, exhibits and workshops, but members now want a less crowded, more intimate convention, where sessions don't compete and where they can get to know people better....So, Chicago next year should be great--everything will be in one building and there will be a smaller number of presentations."

  • Discrepant values among science, practice and public interest. "There is concrete evidence that APA is, in fact, meeting all its constituents' values. However, it only takes one single event, such as the Dr. Laura incident, for a constituent to decide that APA does not meet your values."