Commentary on “Towards Ethical Leadership in Psychology”

Editor’s note: These remarks represent the authors’ views alone and not those of the Society for Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, or any other groups with which the authors are affiliated.

 

Implications for Early Career Professionals
Julie Radico, PsyD, MS

In the piece “Towards Ethical Leadership in Psychology,” Dr. Skillings continues the call for collaboration within the field of psychology to increase accountability, transparency, and unity within APA. As an ECP, I had many reactions while reading this ranging from “that’s fantastic” (a conflict of interest task force was formed), to “huh…why not an office” (there may be a Human Rights Committee created), to “why aren’t we doing this” (no guidelines for organizational transparency are being formed), and finally “how are we going to make meaningful changes without a chance for new perspectives” (no plan for action on creating term limits in APA Council). Many ECPs were in undergrad or graduate school in the early 2000s when the events detailed in the Independent Review (Hoffman Report) occurred. ECPs often describe feeling that they are being asked to own the mistakes of our predecessors without opportunities to meaningfully impact reform. Nevertheless, ECPs are not backing down and are making efforts to push APA and psychology forward. Our hope is that APA will let us.

ECPs bring new perspectives, fresh ideas, determination, and openness that are critical in moving APA forward.

As ECPs continue to forge into new psychology career territory, we need APA to be a pillar of exemplary standards, transparency, and progressivism so that we have a solid and sound home base in which to ground ourselves. Psychologists in the health field work on medical teams alongside physicians and psychiatrists, we need to know that APA holds itself to the highest standards of practice and is not an affiliation which may give colleagues a reason to doubt our standards or integrity. No person or organization is perfect, but as Ray Bradbury wrote, “…I found you can’t wait to become perfect, you got to go out and fall down and get up with everybody else.” My hope is that ECPs will be allowed to help APA get back up. We are ready and willing. 

 

A Minority Psychologist’s Perspective
Ranak Trivedi, PhD

Immigrants such as me frequently struggle with the concept of home. The simple question, “Where are you from?” implies that we are not American and can trigger an unresolvable internal dialogue. Is home Vadodara in India, where I grew up but have not lived in nearly 20 years? Is home the US, where I moved as an adult? If so, which of the 17 residences within 6 American states is home? By contrast, it was never difficult for me to identify my professional home as the American Psychological Association (APA) where I have “lived” for 16 years, and whose values (codified in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct) I strive to uphold.

Consequently, the Hoffman report was like an earthquake that rattled my professional foundations. After all, prejudice from strangers could be dismissed as being the product of ignorance and that could be presumably dispelled through the bright light of knowledge. This excuse could not be extended to APA leaders who systematically used their expert knowledge of human behavior to act on these prejudices and defied the values that I worked hard to uphold. My initial reaction, like many, was to consider leaving APA. I was persuaded to stay knowing that Dr. Jared Skillings and 11 other ECPs were leading the charge to restore the moral compass within APA. Operating under the banner of the ECP Coalition for the Advancement of Psychology they swiftly gauged APA members’ reaction to the Hoffman Report and elicited suggestions for rebuilding trust between members and the APA leadership. (A similar approach emanating from the APA leadership would have been welcome.)

Dr. Skillings’ piece in this issue summarizes the Coalition’s excellent recommendations to the APA Board of Directors to enhance accountability, inclusiveness, and transparency. Unfortunately, the APA leadership has responded in a politic manner that might support the letter of the recommendations but not the spirit. For example, the BOD promised to disclose meeting minutes as a way to enhance transparency. Yet, meeting minutes have to be approved by Council members, so can be engineered to be self-serving.

APA leadership must recognize that they have to regain the trust of its members. This is especially true for members of any underprivileged community where trust may be even more fragile. While I cannot speak on behalf of all of these groups, it is imperative that the APA as an organization does. APA must strive to improve its diversity outreach to give everyone a voice. Furthermore, to draw on our own jargon, APA must drop its ego defense mechanisms to achieve quantum changes. APA is composed of experts in human behavior, which makes it uniquely situated to draw on members’ expertise in improving governance. This point is also well made by Dr. Skillings as he calls for an investment of our own scientific product to support advocacy efforts.

Large organizations such as the APA have the tendency to become slow and stultified resulting in incremental change, if any. As members we must demand radical change through disruptions in the existing processes. It is our duty and privilege to change APA’s culture from the inside. We can inject enthusiasm, passion, and nimbleness by becoming leaders ourselves or by becoming more educated of existing leadership and outdated governance practices. As with any democracy, we must demand participation at the highest level. These actions are critical if APA leadership wants to restore its standing as the standard bearer of our highest professional values.

 

Is Moving Forward Possible? Toward Trust, Hope, & Engagement
Lauren DeCaporale-Ryan, PhD

When a bomb explodes, we watch in horror and grapple with challenging questions. Leaders emerge, advocating for victims and offering guidance and support. But what are we to do when we learn that a few corrupt representatives of our professional guild colluded and caused harm to those we aim to serve and to our profession itself?

In response to Hoffman’s independent review, APA’s leaders needed time to implement ethical change and many offered recommendations to the board of directors. As Dr. Skillings notes, not all items proposed received response. Though there may be a rationale for the BOD’s responses, it is important that as a membership, we understand why, at times, no action is taken. Transparency may increase the collective trust of our members, raise our tolerance for slower than expected progress, and help us improve knowledge and understanding of administrative processes, thereby allowing healing to occur.

Change has been slow and frustrating to some, but we should still have hope. The review showed that in addition to problems, APA has an abundance of emerging leaders who represent the positive qualities that guided many of us to this profession. These leaders encouraged critical thinking by APA and its membership on the importance of what we have to offer to our patients, colleagues, guild, and other systems. We must celebrate the responses and ongoing attention offered by the ECP Coalition for the Advancement of Psychology, the Divisional Task Forces created, Past President Dr. Nadine Kaslow, and President Dr. Susan McDaniel. These parties have demanded the betterment of the organization, and received thousands of emails, attending to each thoughtfully during a period of great pressure. Notably though, as a member, it remains unclear to me if these Task Forces are working together toward a common cause. As experts in communication, we should come together, exchanging information to create meaningful change.

Evolution will only occur when membership engages with leadership and remains curious about the organization’s state of affairs. For those who expressed feeling tired of the conversation on listserves: stay engaged. We cannot become complacent, or rely on others to make sweeping change. We are the face of APA. APA’s implementation of organizational transparency depends on us all listening to the discourse, exploring disagreements, reflecting on individual experiences, learning from this deplorable incident, and recognizing opportunity for betterment.

At a time when the APA can play a pivotal role in furthering integrated care, opportunities to support patients of diverse backgrounds and define who we are to interprofessional teams exist like never before. The collusion of a few cannot be what defines us. Colleagues: be invested in the process of change, and in the improvement of our professional identity. APA: be our leader, listen and integrate the ideas of your membership, and the individuals, families and organizations we all serve. Silence conveys secrecy, avoidance, and fear. We need to hear from you more frequently, thoroughly, and openly. Practice the ethical values that your membership works so hard to implement everyday. Together, let’s demonstrate the strength and healing our profession has to offer.

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. Andrea Bradford and Dr. Travis Lovejoy for envisioning and organizing the articles for this important topic.  Thank you both for your strong leadership.