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by Anthony S. Ragusea, PsyD, ABPP

Psychology's role in the recent Senate "Torture Report"

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Psychology's role in the recent Senate "Torture Report": This past week, a committee of the US Senate released a comprehensive report on the use of torture against alleged terrorists after 9/11. In the report, two psychologists are identified as being instrumental in designing interrogation protocols that relied on torture. In fact, their company allegedly was paid $81 million to develop this program, so their role was not likely minimal. Understandably, some are looking at psychologists with a suspicious eye, wondering to what extent psychology as a profession was complicit in the use of torture. The American Psychological Association has quickly distanced itself from the two psychologists, in this link to a letter written by the APA president, it is noted that neither psychologist was a member of APA. Members of APA, including myself, are required to adhere to a strict code of ethics that clearly prohibits participation in torture, and on top of this APA has released statements in the past specifically condemning any connection between the profession of psychology and torture. Nevertheless, some within and outside psychology have questioned for years whether APA had any involvement in torture programs. The report apparently does not implicate APA, but before the report was released APA announced the formation of an investigative task force to look into the question. Their work is not complete, and hopefully when it is the full role of psychology (or the absence of a role) in torture will be finally understood and accepted. While a certain degree of PR damage may be inevitable, I think it is still important for the public to hear that whatever these men were doing, collaboration in the torture of anybody, including terrorists, does not reflect the standards of our profession, and these men were not closely affiliated with our national organization. Nobody can guarantee the same level of quality and ethical behavior of all the members of any given profession, but there are ways members of the public may be able to distinguish between a “good” and a “bad” psychologist. For example, membership in APA and/or their state psychological association is an important indicator that the psychologist wants to be affiliated with ethical and competent members of the profession, has agreed to abide by our code of ethics, and is more likely to stay up to date on current and best practices. Being board certified is another indicator that the psychologist tries to adhere to the highest standards of conduct, as endorsed by a committee of other board certified psychologists. "Good" psychologists are unlikely to have many, if any, ethical complaints filed against them, and have few if any violations of state laws and regulations on their record from their state psychology board. They are licensed and “in good standing” with their state board. Not being a member of APA or board certified is not proof of incompetency, and being a member or board certified is not proof of perfection. But these and other markers help increase the chances that the professional you are working with is not a “quack.”

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by Anthony S. Ragusea, PsyD, ABPP