Feature Article

The Future of Div. 19

Take a glimpse into the future of Div. 19.

By Mark A. Staal, PhD, ABPP

Incoming APA President Jessica Henderson Daniel has made diversity one of her main initiatives, truly a worthy topic. I will be doing the same, but with a twist. One of the greatest strengths of military psychology is its diversity…of practice. We are a home to clinicians, academicians, researchers, applied behavioral scientists, organizational consultants and many others. In fact, I believe Div. 19 (Society for Military Psychology) is the most diverse, in terms of practice domains, among all APA divisions.

Diversity, as the hallmark for our brand, is based on our heritage. It was former APA President Robert Yerkes who, in 1917 after witnessing the application of various hard sciences to the military in World War I, commissioned several committees to examine the potential role of psychology in the nation's defense (Capshew, 1999). The content of these committees included subjects such as personnel assessment and selection, human performance and aviation, the development of propaganda to use against the enemy, the study of truthfulness and detecting deception, and others. The irony should not be lost on any of our members that such an effort took place at the direction of the APA president himself 100 years ago. An effort that if directed by that office today . . . well . . . I think you know where I am going here.

The role of psychologists supporting the military expanded dramatically during World War II. Psychologists became an integral part of addressing issues concerning ergonomics and human factors, work productivity, personnel screening, testing and evaluation, instruction and military training, operational support, and of course clinical health care. With the explosion of veterans' mental health needs following WWII and a need for continued support through the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, clinicians remained in great demand. This need included a call for field and/or combat theater support that could be filled by only uniformed psychologists. Given the expeditionary nature of our military forces and the clinical and operational value in providing care to members in the theater (as opposed to pulling them away from their units), the requirement for uniformed military psychologists was quickly validated. The events of 9/11 resulted in an expansion in the special operations and intelligence communities. At the same time, there was an increased need for psychologists to help address various national security challenges. Operational psychology emerged to assist in these challenges and provided psychological support to many different military operations (similar to those considered a century ago by Yerkes).

Our history reveals that the face of military psychology is diverse and has been increasingly so since its inception. It is that diversity that I would like us to celebrate in the coming year. The following sections discuss areas that will be prominently featured by Div. 19 and military psychology in 2018.

Innovative Practice and Application

Military psychology is a microcosm of psychology in its many forms—none more apparent, however, than in its applied domains. When I first became a military psychologist, talk of telepsychology was new (Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet). Today, even the use of apps for heart rate variability in managing stress and performance are passé. Some of the opportunities facing military psychology include:

  • Human-factor challenges to unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators as they train for distributed decision-making and simultaneously fly multiple UAVs across a battlefield
  • The treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder using high-definition virtual reality simulators to recreate battlefield events
  • The use of highly advanced predictive modeling software to identify biomarkers in individual recruits in an attempt to predict potential success years in advance.

I encourage our members to push the boundaries of their practice and expand service delivery to novel domains and innovative practices.

Branding Across Platforms

Military psychology needs to push its brand across more platforms and venues. Our value proposition is strong but not always adequately articulated and often poorly marketed. Recently, we added a standing committee to the society (the communications committee). Social media, the blogosphere and other electronic mechanisms have become the coin of the realm in terms of communication and outreach between divisions and their members. We have taken additional steps to better advertise our brand, recently employing militarypsych.org in addition to our traditional APA-Div. 19 nomenclature. As the flagship organization for military psychology in this county, our society should be synonymous with our specialty. We should be easy to find, easy to recognize and compelling to those interested in our practice domain. I ask that our members seek out contemporary avenues and emerging technologies to push our brand and capabilities.

Diversity of Practice Domains

Military psychology embraces psychological services related to both health-care and non-health-care issues. Our practitioners employ applications of social, experimental, industrial, organizational, operational, systems engineering, and clinical-counseling psychology, just to name a few. Military psychologists consist of uniformed members of all branches of service as well as civilians employed by the Department of Defense (DoD) and others working in the private sector who support military programs. Finally, some military psychologists are traditional academics and researchers who, by virtue of their research and instructional focus, define themselves as military psychologists. We welcome applications of psychology that support all aspects of veterans, military, government, national security, law enforcement and public safety arenas.

Operational Psychology Practice Guidelines

Operational psychology is a specialty area that applies behavioral science principles through the use of consultation to enable key decision makers to more effectively understand, develop, and influence an individual, group, or organization to accomplish tactical, operational or strategic objectives within the domain of national security or national defense. This is a relatively new subdiscipline that has largely employed psychologists and behavioral scientists in military, intelligence and law enforcement arenas (although other areas of public safety employ psychologists in this capacity as well). Although psychology has been used in non-health-related fields for many decades, recent years have seen an increased focus on its national security applications. As many of you are aware, operational psychology has been under increased scrutiny due to allegations of unethical conduct by some practitioners supporting military and law enforcement interrogations (just one of the many operational support activities provided by this specialty). As a result, a small group of human rights activists have raised concerns about the ethics of such practice and have gone so far as to draft ethics-related practice guidelines for operational psychology (known as the Brookline Principles; Ethics of Operational Psychology Workshop, 2015). Considering such extraordinary events, many practitioners of operational psychology agree that it is time to draft our own practice guidelines. This is an important step in professionalizing and maturing the discipline. I welcome those interested in participating in this process and would encourage others to support this effort.

Infringement of Free Trade Practices

The APA's “independent review” (better known as the Hoffman Report; Hoffman et al., 2015) resulted in an unfair infringement of many of our members' practice domain. APA leadership took the unprecedented step of prohibiting psychologists from practicing their specialty based on its location (“national security interrogations”) and not based on an identified unethical behavior (e.g., supporting torture or illegal detention). Although public sector law enforcement psychologists may continue to provide consultation to personnel operating in civilian detention facilities, military psychologists may not provide a similar service in all military facilities. They are furthermore prohibited from providing even mental health care to detainees, a basic human right guaranteed by Article III of the Geneva Conventions (United Nations, 1949). The reasons for this prohibition have been cloaked in words like “Miranda” and “constitutional rights”; however, for those who have examined military judicial procedures concerning U.S. detention policies, the similarities between such facilities and their treatment of detainees greatly outweigh their differences.

APA policy prohibiting psychologists from being present or supporting any national security or defense-related interrogation or detention operation is inappropriate and demonstrates a troubling overreach of authorities by the association. Federal antitrust laws (the Sherman and Clayton Acts; Federal Trade Commission, 1914) and the trade regulation statutes (the Federal Trade Commission Act; 1914) promote open and fair competition among all professions and trades (to include psychology). The APA's legal counsel has determined that the Council of Representatives (COR) should not prohibit or restrict psychological practice by physical setting or location. Therefore, any infringement on the free trade or service delivery of psychological services (by setting and not behavior) is in violation of APA legal guidance and may also be in violation of federal antitrust laws. We welcome those who would support the return of these services, and we seek to enable voices that encourage free and open trade for our practitioners in all areas of ethical practice.

I know there are many other topics that are important to our members, and I assure you that these are not the only issues that will receive attention in the coming year. Military psychology is growing and pushing into new and emerging areas. After examining and listening to the many posters and papers delivered by our students at the APA, it's clear that we are also attracting some of the brightest minds among the nation's graduate schools. We have an exciting year ahead of us. Let's make the most of it!


For further information, please contact: Mark A. Staal, President-Elect, Div. 19


Capshew, J. H. (1999). Psychologists on the march: Science, practice, and professional identity in America,1929-1969. New York, NY: Cambridge.

Ethics of Operational Psychology Workshop. (2015). The Brookline principles on the ethical practice of operational psychology. Retrieved from http://psychin-tegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Brookline-Principles-of-Ethics-of-Op-Psych.pdf

Federal Trade Commission (1914). Federal trade commission act. Retrieved from https://www.ftc.gov/tips-adVice/competition-guidance/guide-antitrust-laws/antitrust-laws

Hoffman, D. H., Carter, D. J., Viglucci Lopez, C. R., Benzmiller, H. L. Gua, A. X., Lati?, S. Y., & Craig, D. C. (2015). Independent review relating to APA ethics guidelines, national security interrogations, and torture. Available online at http://www.apa.org/independent-review/index.aspx

United Nations (1949). Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/atrocity-crimes/Doc.32_GC-III-EN.pdf