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American Psychological Association’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

American Psychological Association Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week This has been a rough week for the staff and leadership at the American Psychological Association (APA). After sitting on the Hoffman Report for nearly a week, they faced a major New York Times story because someone (ethically) leaked it to the newspaper. Rather than getting in front of the story and discussing the report before the media got a hold of it, they again demonstrated the lack of leadership the organization has suffered from for years.

And that was just the beginning of the week for the once stalwart professional organization representing many psychologists in the United States. Although the independent inquiry into the governance and ethical practices of the APA named dozens of high-level APA staffers and elected leaders, the APA reacted with a resounding thud — “letting go” just one person named in the report in the first week the organization had the report.

To date, the APA still hasn’t responded to important questions regarding the findings of the inquiry. The fire is only going to get hotter as the APA’s silence speaks volumes.

On Wednesday, we sent in a list of followup questions we had after reading and analyzing the report. These questions included:

  1. What was the total cost of the Hoffman independent investigation (an estimate is fine)?
  2. How will that be paid for?
  3. What events, specifically, will the APA hold at its upcoming annual meeting to address the Hoffman Report?
  4. Will any of the events include a Q&A where members can ask direct questions of the APA leadership?
  5. There were at least 6 named APA staffers (and 2 others that seem less involved) that the Hoffman Report indicated were extensively involved in the collusion and deception. One was immediately fired (although APA has still not acknowledged Behnke’s firing officially). Three were allowed to resign last week (with barely a mention of the reason for their forced resignations). However, two — General Counsel Nathalie Gilfoyle and senior policy advisor Ellen Garrison — are still APA staffers with no announced resignation.

    (a) When will the APA actually acknowledge having fired Behnke? Why has it failed to clearly and transparently indicate he was fired?

    (b) If Behnke was not fired, was he instead allowed to resign? If so, why?

    (c) Why has Gilfoyle’s and Garrison’s resignations not been announced yet, given their extensive involvement in the events described in the Hoffman Report?

  6. Will the APA act on the recommendations to ban certain members named in the report from any future APA governance?

The only question I’ve had a circumspect answer to is #3, discovering that the APA will hold a single 90-minute “Town Hall” meeting about the report at its upcoming annual meeting.

There are literally hundreds of hours of programming at the annual meeting, and the American Psychological Association was well aware of the report’s likely release date preceding the meeting. How is it that the current APA leadership thought a single 90 minute session would in any way be adequate to address members’ upset and anger at the report’s findings?

The APA has not responded further to this inquiry.

APA: “Ho Hum, Nothing to See Here”

Bowing to pressure to let its members be heard, the APA did finally start allowing comments on its website about the Hoffman Report. It has not been pretty.

One of the concerns members express is the complete disconnect the APA continues to demonstrate in reaction to the report. Rather than anyone standing up and taking responsibility for the actions described in the independent investigation, it seems that everyone named in the report has played a game of “duck and cover.”

In — finally — announcing another set of firings— sorry, I mean “resignations,” the APA gave a glad retirement send-off to its beloved CEO and deputy, Norm Anderson and Michael Honaker. No mention of the scandal is in the announcement. And Farberman — the person who apparently spent enormous time and energy trying to orchestrate the media on the issue of torture and psychologists — was allowed to resign (but not until the end of the month — perhaps explaining why my inquiries were not returned).

So one person was “let go” before the report was made public by The New York Times. Three others were allowed to resign on their own terms and at their own time.

Clearly, this is an organization poised for decisive change.

Let’s Mock Our Members & Council Members

Just to show you how little the leadership at the APA cared about member concerns, here’s one of the apparent strategies leadership employed at the time, trying to deflect the problem of psychologists being a part of torture interrogations:

In an email exchange on January 4 and 5 between Koocher, Levant, and Behnke about [the Jan 1., 2005 New York Times] article [showing psychologists participated in interrogation where torture was used], Koocher pointedly suggested that APA would never be able to obtain any “hard data” about whether psychologists were committing abuses at Guantanamo Bay, and therefore as a matter of strategy, APA should simply continue to issue public statements saying it was “concerned” and would look into the matter as soon as such hard data became available (knowing that it never would).931

And when members complained about APA’s stonewalling stance? In one of the dozens of interesting footnotes found in the report (p. 216), we get the answer:

Critical commentary continued on the Council of Representatives listserv regarding APA’s statement after the [NYT] Neil Lewis article, with one Council delegate forwarding as support an email from a psychologist who said that APA’s statement was “seriously inadequate . . . . One can hardly imagine more egregious violations of ethical standards of psychological practice. The statement does not seem to recognize that these alleged acts are, if confirmed, not only highly unusual, but far more grave than the sort of ethical violations that are generally encountered. Furthermore, the APA statement fails to recognize that the allegations are not made by individuals whose reliability is completely unknown, but by the International Red Cross, whose reliability if very well known.”

Koocher responded to the Council delegate in a one-line post, asking if she “will give suggestions for how APA might obtain the data needed to investigate?”

(The statement is ironic in light of the fact that APA generally took no efforts to “obtain data” one might use to investigate these matters, as set out later in this report.)

This exchange on the Council listserv then prompted a short email exchange between Behnke, Farberman, and Gilfoyle. Gilfoyle said, “well, there you have it.” Farberman responded, “These people just love to make my job harder . . .!” APA_0058786.

In this email exchange and other emails we have found, APA staff often did not address the substantive points made in the original post regarding the unusual and egregious nature of the allegations and the reliability of the ICRC in making the allegations.

Gilfoyle is still gainfully employed by the APA as its top lawyer.

Instead of leading with decisive, bold action, the APA seems to be dribbling out minor tweaks to their organization. Incomprehensibly, they seem not to understand the gravity of the Hoffman’s Report’s findings — and the betrayal felt by both its members and public.

How can anyone trust the American Psychological Association, when it appears to be just business as usual at the organization?



American Psychological Association’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). American Psychological Association’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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