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Psychologists Continue to Debate Torture Policies

Where do psychologists go for a summer vacation?

This year, many are traveling to San Francisco to attend the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual conference starting tomorrow. But it might not be the vacation they were hoping to take.

Conference participants will be greeted by an unusually outraged coalition of psychologists, many of whom practice in the Bay Area. They will stage a rowdy rally outside the meetings at the Yerba Buena Gardens on Friday, August 17 at 4:00 p.m.

Under the banner of Psychologists for an Ethical APA, they represent a growing number of the 150,000 members of the American Psychological Association who are disturbed by their professional organization’s official policy that allows psychologists to participate in U.S. military interrogations at Guantanamo and other military and CIA facilities where suspected terrorists are detained without due process.

On Sunday, August 19, an APA council will vote on a proposed moratorium on the presence of psychologists in interrogations. A second resolution, drafted by the APA board, which lists prohibited torture techniques, will come up for a vote in the same session. But so far, the APA has held fast to allowing psychologists to participate in assisting with interrogations, even when those interrogations violate international law.

“We hope to convince the APA that using our knowledge to find ways to increase the psychological distress of detainees is beyond the bounds of professional ethics,” said Bay Area psychologist Ruth Fallenbaum. A member of Psychologists for an Ethical APA, Fallenbaum has also worked for eleven years with Survivors International, providing mental health services to refugees and victims of torture.

“Like physicians, psychologists take a pledge to do no harm,” explained Bay Area psychologist Jeanne Wolff Bernstein. “Coersive interrogation techniques can be tantamount to torture,” she said. The APA should not tolerate that.”

Wolff Bernstein is a psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapist who works with children, adolescents and adults, as well as couples.

Bay Area psychologists hope to exert enough influence to persuade the professional organization to stand with the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association that have both declared that there is no legitimate role for its members in consulting to the U.S. military in unlawful detention sites such as Guantanamo.

Speakers at the rally, most of whom are APA members, include:

  • New York psychologist Neil Altman, author of the proposed moratorium
  • Eric Anders, a psychoanalyst from the Bay Area and a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s SERE training
  • San Francisco psychologist Uwe Jacobs, clinical director of Survivors International
  • Los Angeles psychologist Nancy Hollander, who has written extensively on the parallels between the repressive regime in Argentina during the 1970s and the current administration in the United States
  • Chicago psychologist Brad Olson
  • New York psychologist Stephen Reisner
  • Boston psychologist Stephen Soldz, author of the blog Psyche, Science and Society
  • New York psychologist Ghislaine Boulanger, representing a group of psychologists who have elected to withhold their APA dues
  • Bay Area psychologist Ruth Fallenbaum, speaking on behalf of the protest organizers.

The rally will conclude with Hector Aristizabal, a torture survivor and actor, performing a scene from his one-man play about torture.

Psychologists Continue to Debate Torture Policies

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Psychologists Continue to Debate Torture Policies. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 23, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.