Petition on Psychologists’ Work Settings - Questions and Answers

In September 2008, voting members of the American Psychological Association received a ballot concerning the issue of psychologists’ work settings. This document answers general questions about the balloting process.

What was the genesis of this petition?

The APA Bylaws state that upon petition of 1 percent of the membership, a request for a mail vote of the full members of the association on any subject matter will be held as long as the petition issue is not an attempt to amend the Bylaws and is not inconsistent with the association’s Certificate of Incorporation or the Bylaws.

In early June 2008, APA received such a petition with the required number of signatures of full members in good standing concerning the issue of whether psychologists may work in certain settings that involve the detention of individuals.

How were the mechanics of the petition ballot determined?

The APA Bylaws direct that the “time and manner” of the vote be determined by the Board of Directors. Because this petition clause had only been used once before (in 1951), there were no standing procedures for such a vote. Therefore, the Board of Directors instructed staff to follow as closely as possible the standard operating procedures for balloting on APA Bylaw amendment votes.

When and how was the vote conducted?

The vote was conducted by mail ballot and was accompanied by pro/con statements and rebuttals. The mail ballot was sent on or about Aug. 1. The voting was open for 45 days from the date of the ballot mailing.

An outside firm coordinated the ballot mailing and received and tabulated the returned ballots.

A majority of those voting determined the outcome of the balloting.

After the voting results were tallied, the Council of Representatives was charged by the Association Bylaws with “taking such action as may be necessary to implement the result of any such vote.” Again, according to the Bylaws, Council will do so at its next annual meeting after the close of the vote.

Is this resolution APA policy?

Yes, the resolution is official APA policy.

Does the petition amend the APA Ethics Code?

The petition as written has been interpreted as an attempt to set forth new APA policy but not amend the Ethics Code. A major issue as to whether the petition would be judged “proper” under the Bylaws and allowed to go forward for a vote was whether it attempted to amend the Ethics Code. Attempting to amend the Ethics Code through the petition process would have raised the specter of a conflict with the Bylaws delegation to the Ethics Committee. Because it was judged to be an effort to set association policy only, it has been deemed “proper” under the Association Rules and Bylaws and sent forward for a vote of the membership.

Is the petition enforceable by APA?

As explained above, the petition does not become part of the APA Ethics Code nor is it enforceable as are prohibitions set forth in the Ethics Code. Such amendments to the Ethics Code require a more deliberative process and by rule must include review by the full APA governance and a public comment period. However, the resolution does become APA policy. APA communicates its policy statements broadly to media, legislators and the public. Policy statements can be considered by the Ethics Committee in adjudicating cases. They may also be considered by third parties in their engagement of, interaction with or employment of psychologists.