OUT OF MY MIND!

AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION
Musings on Power

August 27, 1997


 What does Psych mean to you? "Psych" seems a pretty innocuous term, which, according to Webster's, means:

    1. soul, spirit. 2.a. mind, mental process and activities; b. psychological methods; c. cerebral; d. mental, psychic.

Okay, so far, so good. Seems like a pretty general term, open for the use of many additional terms, such as psychology, psychiatry, psychotropic, psychosurgery, psychogram, and psychotheism.

 To the American Psychological Association (APA) however, "psych" means money. Lots of it.

 In the past month, at least two online resources have come under fire from the APA for their use of the word "psych" in reference to their online offerings. One was my colleague's Web site, NetPsych, produced by Leonard Holmes, Ph.D. He was recently forced to change his name from NetPsych to NetPsychology because the APA lawyers wrote him a letter, threatening litigation if he didn't. Their problem? APA NetPsych may be confused with PsychNET(tm), APA's name for their Web presence. Dr. Holmes chose this name originally because it seemed simple enough to him (and most of his readers) -- the site was devoted to topics about Net psychology. NetPsych was just an abbreviated, catchier term. But apparently APA saw much more happening there (innovation, perhaps?) and quickly dispatched its top-notch legal team to APA's rescue!

Old NetPsych logo  When asked about the whole debacle, Dr. Holmes said, "I was stunned to discover that the APA believes that it owns the rights to use the word 'psych,' and that it will spend my money to prevent me from using it." He even went so far as to discuss the matter with a trademark attorney and found, "that I could have fought them on several grounds. I decided not to because of their deep pockets which are lined with my dues and the dues of other psychologists."

Old audioPsych logo  The other site was one I developed to offer continuing education courses online to mental health professionals and psychologists, called audioPsych(tm). In our case, it's not that they objected to the name, but rather the way the name looked! The old audioPsych(tm) logo is on the left, the new one is below. See the big difference? APA was afraid people might confuse the service with their line of PsycINFO(tm) products (mainly, I suspect, because of the capitalization). Oh yeah, that's likely to happen...

New audioPsych logo  Why an organization needs a name for their Web site, separate from their organization's name, is beyond me to begin with... The American Psychiatric Association's is simply the American Psychiatric Association's Web site. So is the NIMH's, the AMA's and nearly every other large organization in medical or behavioral healthcare services. Even Psych Central reflects the nonprofit corporation of the same name.

APA  The APA, on the other hand, likes to brand things. They brand everything they come across. And inevitably, that branding includes the prefix "Psyc" (sometimes with the "h", sometimes without -- they are inconsistent and apparently would like to corner the market on both). So on the APA's Web site (sorry, on PsychNET(tm)), their search engine is branded as the PsychCrawler(tm). It's probably one of the ugliest and most useless search engines on the Web, but at least it has a trademarked name!

APA  APA has been taking this branding mentality to an extreme. On their Web site, they have even trademarked the name PsycALERT(tm). Is PsycALERT(tm) some great new product to help psychologists in their clinical practice or research? Nope. It's the "What's New" section of the PsycINFO(tm) page!

 Why would a professional organization, supposedly looking out for and lobbying for its members' interests, be so interested in branding APA everything and anything with the word "Psych"? Well, one reason is to try and ensure that nobody else puts out a competing product which is recognizable as being related to psychology or psychiatry by its name alone. But a Web site isn't a product... Nobody is charged to access PsychNET(tm) for instance. Nor for their PsychCrawler(tm) service. So this explanation doesn't make a whole lot of (common) sense.

 Perhaps the answer lies with the bureaucratic, us-against-them mentality which seems to be apparent throughout many APA departments. From what others have told me, it sounds like an organization which is so large, to get it to change or move in any singular direction with any force is nearly impossible. It sees the outside world -- even its members! -- as dangerous competition, no matter how small. Rather than embracing what psychologists are doing online and helping to promote their members' online work, they have their lawyers write "cease-and-desist" letters. This is my national professional organization? This is how they are spending my membership dues and their time??!

 Just as disturbing is that APA's behavior in these matters (and others which have not been discussed here) is in direct competition with its members. This doesn't seem to be the most appropriate or productive role a national professional association should be taking. As another psychologist (who prefers to remain anonymous) has said to me, "[The APA] is using its deep pockets, lined with its members money, to assert its rights even when in the wrong."

 I'm a bit worried about this turn of events. I don't understand how one organization can take over such a neutral term like "psych" and turn it into an APA product line. Perhaps I'm just too naive. Perhaps I honestly believed the APA was more interested in forwarding issues of importance to psychologists today (such as managed care, research, promoting education and information into mental health problems, etc.) than forwarding a product line. But recent events suggest that the APA thinks of its bottom line first and its members second.


 My fiancee is moving up from Lexington, KY this week and we will be together again for the first time in a few years. I'm looking forward to it!

 Well, that's all for this week. Take care and keep in good mental health...

 - John

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Jan 2007
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Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.
-- Vincent Van Gogh