In this issue

Toronto — home of the Hockey Hall of Fame

An overview of the 2015 APA convention experience in Toronto.

By Patrick H. DeLeon, PhD

The 123rd APA Annual Convention was exciting, and Toronto is a beautiful city. There were a number of interesting symposia highlighting, for example, the unique needs of military families and the increasing impact of technology on health care and education. A Sunday panel described the difficulties civilian researchers have in accessing military families, primarily because of barriers imposed by the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA). This reminded me of the Give an Hour event earlier in the year during which the highest levels of health leadership within those two agencies agreed that health care records must possess interoperability if only for “quality of care” reasons — the same policy position endorsed by the Congress and previous departmental secretaries — but which still remains unresolved. Why is it that as a nation we continue to tolerate DoD/VA providers maintaining separate silo-based systems? Give an Hour's keynote speaker — First Lady Michelle Obama — clearly put Wounded Warriors first in her talk and challenged the audience to join their Campaign to Change Direction. Yet, why do the Society for Military Psychology and the VA psychology leadership still not schedule regular meetings or collaborative programs? Their beneficiaries are essentially the same, just at different stages in their life journeys. Accordingly, on several occasions, I was particularly pleased to hear Div. 19 President Tom Williams describe the importance of focusing upon the “bigger picture” and psychology's fundamental mission.

When pioneers Commander John Sexton and Lt. Commander Morgan Sammons graduated from the DoD psychopharmacology training program on June 17, 1994, they created a vision for psychology that very few had ever foreseen. The military “established the legitimacy of a prescription-training program outside of traditional medical school, thus providing a strong answer to the traditional critique from psychiatrists....” The civilian sector has responded, and in Toronto, Beth Rom-Rymer described the Illinois Psychological Association's RxP success, as well as her visionary efforts to engage graduate (and undergraduate) students in their training. Judi Steinman's training program is within a college of pharmacy, as APA Board member Linda Campbell had originally proposed and implemented for three years at the Georgia Psychological Association. Also, Tony Puente provided an historical overview, having served on the original APA Task Force on Psychopharmacology whose 1992 report proffered “the proposed new providers had the potential to dramatically improve patient care and make important new advances in treatment.”

The Hoffman Report. APA's Past President Nadine Kaslow and President-elect Susan McDaniel were inspirational in chairing the town hall meeting addressing the Hoffman report. The number of concerned colleagues who attended was most impressive, as was their genuine enthusiasm for fundamental reform. One might (or might not) agree with the view subsequently expressed in the national media by Anne Speckhard who described the sweeping ban on any involvement by psychologists in national security interrogations as a “knee-jerk” reaction that some members felt was sorely needed to restore APA's reputation. She reported that in 2006 and 2007, she worked in Iraq with Task Force 134 on a program to challenge ideologically committed Islamic extremists. The idea was to try to engage detainees who had been exposed to, or adhered to, militant jihadi ideology in order to redirect them to other, nonviolent solutions. She took extraordinary care to write the highest level of ethical care into her program, instilling in all she trained that prisoners must be treated with respect, care, and dignity and not tricked or mistreated. For her, the ban is simply sidestepping responsibility for what APA failed to do, and still has not done, in regard to those who took part in harsh interrogations or witnessed and abetted “soft” torture or so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. In her view, those psychologists should have been, and should still be, called up on ethics charges and have their APA membership revoked. “Banning involvement in what the government is doing is simply refusing to take a stand for what is right.” At the Toronto town hall meeting, the membership was definitely engaged which, in my judgment, speaks very well for the future of the profession.

But for the timing — providing a different perspective. I was surprised when one of the participants at the town hall meeting received a standing ovation after stating he had more than 500 signatures urging APA President Barry Anton to resign. For decades, Anton has been a visionary spokesperson on behalf of our nation's children and youth. He is a veteran and personally appreciates the many contributions that military and VA psychologists have made to our nation. Returning from the convention, I again carefully reviewed what the Hoffman report actually said about his participation. I concluded that if I had been president in 2015, rather than 2000, there is little question that the same individuals would have been demanding my resignation. Having been involved in APA governance for nearly 25 years, I seriously doubt that I would have acted any differently than our then-APA recording secretary.

The report points out that Anton was involved in the selection of the 2005 PENS Task Force and as Board liaison, participated in the task force meeting — “but was involved substantially less than the others.” From my perspective, he consistently was a voice of reason urging that all who might be concerned about the underlying issues be respectfully listened to and engaged. For example, when it was proposed that the Board of Directors should adopt the PENS report as policy, he stated: “I'm not sure it can go out as policy without [Council of Representatives] approval. The [Board] can certainly accept the report.” Subsequently, when the Board declared an “emergency” — a step which, in retrospect, all agree was highly unusual — his efforts assured that the entire Board would appreciate the seriousness of their action. Similarly, in response to the 2008 member-driven Petition Resolution, he appropriately informed senior APA staff that “he had been hearing concerns from Council regarding the Board's instruction that the ballot be accompanied by pro and con statements.” These are thoughtful responses that, in my judgment, were appropriate if not judicious. I sincerely hope that the perspective and clarity of thought demonstrated by Tom Williams will ultimately be embraced by the vast majority of APA. Aloha.

For further information, please contact, Pat DeLeon, PhD, former APA president.