2008 APA Petition Resolution Ballot - Rebuttal to the Pro Statement

In early June 2008, APA received 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.

A ballot mailing dated August 1, 2008 included the full text of the petition statement and the following rebuttal to the pro statement.

Robert J. Resnick, PhD

As psychologists, we are dedicated to serving vulnerable and at risk individuals and populations. Were this petition adopted, APA members who work in hospitals, correctional facilities, and rehabilitation programs across the country would now need to assess whether they are out of compliance with APA policy. This burden will neither promote ethical practice nor protect vulnerable populations.

The petition's “Be it resolved” clause goes far beyond the sponsors' intent as expressed in their “pro” statement. While the petition's introductory “Whereas” clauses refer to specific work sites, the “Be it resolved” clause contains no limiting language whatsoever regarding context. The clause makes no reference to interrogations, torture, the military, or the CIA, and thus applies broadly to wherever “persons are held” outside of international law or the US Constitution. This exclusive focus on settings makes little sense given the “pro” statement's emphasis on specific unethical behaviors—all of which APA has already prohibited.

The ambiguous criteria for distinguishing permissible from impermissible work settings compound this problem for ethical psychologists. The “Be it resolved” clause indicates the defining criteria are either international law or the US Constitution “where appropriate”—yet fails to indicate when using the Constitution, as opposed to international law, is “appropriate.” APA members cannot reasonably be expected to determine whether their work setting complies with ill-defined, legal standards.

Moreover, much institutional reform in this country has been brought about by claims of Constitutional violations. It would be a bitter irony if psychologists who support reform now risk violating APA policy because they work in a setting, such as a hospital or a prison, alleged to violate the Constitution. Such an outcome would hardly benefit vulnerable populations or psychology.

Their humanitarian intentions notwithstanding, the sponsors' goals cannot be reconciled with the petition's language. The “pro” statement argument, that the petition will “protect” psychologists, dangerously assumes that APA policy will be understood and applied in precisely the manner intended. Rather, entities far removed from APA would now have a broad and ambiguous “Be it resolved” to apply against APA members.

This petition threatens ethical APA members who work each day in less-than-ideal settings to serve vulnerable populations. Our colleagues should be praised—not punished—for their efforts.

We strongly urge a “no” vote on this petition.