75th anniversary of Div. 18
The 2021 APA convention will mark the 75th anniversary of our division! We have plans in the works to celebrate this milestone and need your help. Currently, we are hosting a series of podcast episodes featuring interviews with former Div. 18 presidents. Rod Baker will be presenting a webinar on our division’s history on August 4 at 3 p.m. ET (save-the-date). We are floating other ideas and want to see what members think. If you’re interested in helping with planning, please email Tiffanie Fennell.
Student interview history project
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the division, student members will be interviewing prominent Div. 18 members about their roles, challenges, and achievements in the history of the division. One of the many lessons that former division historian and Past President Rod Baker has taught me is that storytelling is a vital way of learning about our history. His series of books in which prominent VA psychologists tell the stories of their careers is a testament to this historian strategy.
The planned interviews will be recorded and available for Div.18 members to review. We are currently recruiting student members and training them to conduct these history-focused interviews. If you are a student member of the division and interested in participating in conducting these interviews, please contact our student board member Ashlee Fisher who is organizing this project.
Fifty years ago
It is hard to believe that fifty years ago Div. 18 was celebrating its 25th anniversary. The historical context involved turbulent cultural, social, and political change in America during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Vietnam War was tearing apart the ideological fabric of the country and the civil rights movement was boiling over with contentious demonstrations, rioting, and political strife. These national and international events presented major challenges for public service psychologists who were called to action to address important ethical and moral issues of the time.
In reflecting on the history of our division at that time, several questions come to mind. What were the concerns of Div. 18 leaders 50 years ago? What goals did they establish for public service psychology? What challenges did they face? One way to find out the answers to these questions is to examine the Div. 18 newsletters published at that time.
The APA Archive recently provided me with several issues of the Div. 18 newsletter published during the late 1960s and early 1970s. These include the summer 1966, spring-summer 1969, summer 1970, and summer 1972 issues of the newsletter.
Reading these Div. 18 newsletters, it is clear that division leaders were focused on advocating for psychologists working in various government agencies. They closely monitored the broader events of the nation, particularly events related to the military campaign in Vietnam and civil rights movement. They were interested not only in the advancement of public service psychology but also in public service more generally. They were interested not only in the welfare of underserved and marginalized individuals, but also in the needs of military service members and veterans. They were clearly interested in advancing the social awareness and humanitarian values of public service.
One of the concerns of Div. 18 leaders involved the application of ethical principles to psychologists working in public sector settings. They were also concerned about the priorities of the federal government regarding funding decisions for military operations versus mental health programs and the overall welfare of American citizens. At the same time, they highlighted the core mission of the division by paying tribute to one of its prominent members, Harold M. Hildreth, for his contributions to public service by creating an award in his name.
In the summer 1966 Division 18 Newsletter, the division president at the time, Henry David, applauded the appointment of Margaret Ives as the chair of the newly-approved Committee on Civil Service Standards for Psychologists. In his presidential message, he wrote: “Perhaps the single most important and promising activity of the Division is the appointment, with Executive Committee approval, of a Committee on Civil Service Standards for Psychologists, to study the relation of the qualifications of psychologists to grade level and salary in the State and Federal governments.” David indicated that the Federal Civil Service had already been considering revisions of standards for clinical psychologists with the objective of recognizing unusual or outstanding qualifications of a prospective or an actual incumbent, such as ABPP.
In his message, David also described the creation of the Harold M. Hildreth Award, following the untimely death of Harold Hildreth. Jim Kelly had suggested that Div. 18 create a Harold M. Hildreth Memorial Award for Contributions to Public Service. It was also suggested that the recipient of this award be invited to deliver the Harold M. Hildreth Memorial Award Address the following year.
The summer 1966 Division 18 Newsletter also included a lengthy summary of a Div. 18 symposium that had been presented at the APA Convention in Chicago in September 1965. The title of the symposium was “Current Studies in Mental Health Program Evaluation.” The symposium included presentations on mental health program evaluation efforts, basic concepts underlying program evaluation, and issues regarding basic research design and methodology utilized in program evaluation studies.
From 1969 to 1972, Div. 18 leaders shared their concerns about the military, governmental, social, political, and global events taking place at that time. Their focus was on the importance of humanitarian values in public service and the impact of these national and global events on the most disadvantaged citizens and those with severe mental illness.
In the spring/summer 1969 Division 18 Newsletter, Lee Gurel wrote an interesting article (editorial) entitled: Barbarism Beyond Belief: A Signed Editorial, in which he shared his personal views and concerns about the military court martials and abusive treatment of prisoners that were taking place at the time. He emphasized the importance of social awareness and humanitarian values in public service. He described the “presidio mutiny” as the actions of disturbed service members who had been denied needed mental health services, and who instead had been subjected to abusive treatment. He described the overcrowding in the stockade and the brutality of the prison guards. He quoted a weekly magazine in which it was reported that inmates who unsuccessfully attempted suicide were punished by being place in small dark black-walled segregation cells with cold floors and no mattresses, cots, or blankets. Gurel raised the important question of how public service and military psychologists should respond to these inhumane policies and tragic events. He urged all psychologists to ask themselves what should be their ethical and moral obligation.
In the summer 1970 Division 18 Newsletter, George Albee urged division members to contribute to APA to develop programs recommended by the Commission on Accelerating Black Participation in Psychology (The Blau Commission, CABPP). Albee reported that “this Commission developed a plan to establish a Black Secretariat in Washington, independent of APA but coordinated with it, in order to provide a central source of information to Black students aspiring to graduate study, to universities seeking Black students and faculty, and to coordinate related affairs.” According to Albee, “the Secretariat will also seek foundation and federal funds to initiate programs that have been approved in principle by Council.”
According to Albee, several psychologists questioned why APA was seeking support for one particular disadvantaged minority group when there were others equally deserving of support. In response, APA indicated that it had an active and permanent Committee on Equality of Opportunity in Psychology (CEOP) which was concerned with a broad range of related problems. Because the Black groups were well-organized and prepared to take responsibility for developing their own constructive action programs, the Board and Council approved this special appeal. At the same time, the CEOP’s budget was increased and its charge and activities broadened.
The needs of children with mental health conditions were also addressed by APA during the 1970s. The Board of Directors of APA commended the Joint Commission on Mental Health of Children and endorsed its final report, Crises in Child Mental Health: Challenge for the 1970s. The Board stated: “The purpose of this endorsement is not to comment on the many recommendations—they require much further study—but to applaud the forthright recognition of the right of children to develop to their maximum capacity and the responsibility of society to see that they get their right.”
As reported in the summer 1970 newsletter, “the Board noted that the Commission’s report focused on a serious problem that was touched only briefly by the first Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health, and hopefully will open the door to the development of a comprehensive program to meet the needs of our Nation’s children and youth. The Board urged that Congress move swiftly to enact legislation needed to provide the framework for such a program. The APA has appointed a task force to study in detail the entire report as it affects psychology and psychologists.”
In the same summer 1970 issue, the editor published excerpts from George Albee’s address to the Milwaukee chapter of the Wisconsin Psychiatric Association on June 17, 1970. In his address, Albee lashed out at “the failure of the present Administration to place national health priorities above those of war, thus fostering domestic dissent, and a drive for non-productive prestige.” He argued that the mental health needs of American citizens, especially the poor and other underserved and marginalized individuals, should be given a higher priority by the current administration. In addition, he condemned the violent repression of peaceful protests against the Vietnam War.
Here are excerpts from Albee’s address:
“Neither our President nor Vice President gives any clear public signs of compassion or concern for the poor, the weak, the sick, the unemployed, the helpless—nor willingness to tackle seriously the urgent problems in our increasingly polluted, over-crowded, ghettoized society. Instead, they give all sorts of signals to the prejudiced, the affluent, the hard hats and the vigilantes…
“Everyone who had hopes that we were at last on the road to modernization of our health care programs in this country, and everyone who felt that we were well on our way toward meaningful breakthroughs in the delivery of mental health services, has simply had to face the stark reality that all of these promising developments have come to a screaming halt.
“It seems to many experienced observers that the administration is deliberately neglecting to formulate a health policy, and further that mental health is in for the most serious trouble….as a consequence of reduction in funds at NIMH and other programs to prepare professionals to work with emotionally disturbed children and adults, as well as in the whole mental health area including the prevention of delinquency, drug addiction, alcoholism, and retardation there will be a greatly reduced flow of manpower, so that five to ten years from now the shortage of professionals, mental health workers, and research scientists concerned with these increasingly serious human problems will be far worse that they are today…
“Our priorities are completely askew. As our nation deteriorates, as our bright young people protest the horrible and meaningless war, our President accepts a hard hat from the construction workers union which battered students protesting war. If this is not condoning the violent repression of peaceful protest then the world is upside down indeed.
“What should be our national priorities?----I place the mental health needs of the nation somewhere above the need to spend billions of dollars collecting moon dust from a dead and lifeless orb… I feel our several million mentally-retarded children and adults… deserve a priority level somewhere above the development of a supersonic transport plane… which our government is proceeding with… at an ultimate cost of more than a billion dollars… I would place a high priority on research into the causes of schizophrenia…
“I would place especially high priority on the development of manpower to intervene with emotionally-disturbed children… The rise in drug usage among children, the increase in teenage delinquency, the alarming increase in alcoholism… all call for research and for professional manpower… The field of special education is in particularly short supply… and the gap between need and supply constantly grows wider…
“The eighty million dollars a day we are spending in Viet Nam would go far toward training more professionals in mental health, toward training more teachers in special education, toward furthering the research attack on the unsolved problems of mental disturbance, and toward healing the wounds of a divided, confused, and staggering society… our government is in the clutches of the military industrial complex, of an authoritarian, moralistic, anti-research, and anti-nurturant group of Patriots…
“There is no simple solution. Perhaps a majority of us in the helping professions are more equalitarian than authoritarian. Most of the student activists are too. Unfortunately, not only do we prefer making love to making war, but we also prefer making love to getting into the political fray as well. This, at least, we must resolve to change. We must mount and continue an all-out effort to reach our representatives in the Congress, to block the anti-people programs, to close down the war, and to make a massive assault on our domestic human problems.”
The policies and actions of the military and the entire federal government continued to be clearly on the minds of Div. 18 leaders during the early 1970s. There was much concern regarding the rights and welfare of individuals with little or no power or voice due to their poverty, criminal and/or mental health history. Lee Gurel continued to be quite vocal in his advocacy for public service psychology, urging psychologists to not shy away from addressing important ethical, moral, and human rights issues.
In his presidential message that was published in the summer 1972 Division 18 Newsletter, Lee Gurel wrote the following:
“In the more distant past, 18 served to provide a common bond and a rallying point for psychologists who were necessarily preoccupied with selling psychology’s many-faceted contributions. Many of the early members had played important parts in channeling psychological expertise into the all-out efforts of World War II. Joined later by others, this nucleus of founding fathers took on the job of legitimizing psychology in civilian roles and in settings where psychologists had been unheard of. To talk of legitimizing psychology’s contributions to public service is actually a pretty bloodless way of describing the fierce battles and endless skirmishes. Not infrequently, our forebears emerged from the fray bloody and bruised. But, after licking their wounds, they were back at it, ready to take on whatever blocked the advance of psychology with a capital P, be it a federal bureaucracy or the recalcitrant superintendent of a state hospital. They won a few; they lost a few. But, eventually, more fights were won than were lost.
“Having established the legitimacy of psychology in public service, Division 18 members soon became involved in achieving greater recognition and stature and gaining access to increased financial rewards. There is no denying an element of self-serving motivation in these later efforts—as, for example, in the efforts of the Division‘s Committee on Standards and its work with the Civil Service Commission to evolve improved job standards. But neither is there any denying the benefits to psychology as a whole. Many a nongovernment psychologist today derives sizeable benefits from that Committee’s accomplishments, as the waves created by higher federal salaries rippled out to affect psychologists in universities and state/local governments.
“But we very definitely need a vigorous and visible Division 18 if we—and the profession as a whole, of course—are to resolve successfully the newer issues and problems with which we are being confronted. These may lack the excitement and immediacy of the old bread-and-butter issues with which we once grappled, but I suspect they will also be less likely to yield to rough-n-ready solutions.
“Among them, I view the ethical issues which now loom on the horizon as among the most perplexing ones facing psychology, and I am not at all sanguine that they can be resolved in ways which will satisfy any sizeable constituencies of psychologists. To that extent, they harbor an awesome potential for divisiveness that could leave us fighting among ourselves with the same ferocity we once saved for outsiders.
“I will treat these issues more fully on another occasion when I want particularly to develop what I think may be some of the implications for psychologists of the Ellsberg-Pentagon Papers affair. For now, let me just identify what I think are some of the major problems which will tap considerations of professional ethics.
“One of these has to do with the rights of agency clients and employees who are in involuntary or quasi-voluntary positions vis-à-vis the agency or employer. How many of us have a carefully thought out and consistent position on the rights of disenfranchised clients—prisoners, children, mental patients—to decide whether or not they will cooperate with our procedures? How many of us are really clear as to where our loyalties lie? Far fewer, I suspect, than the number of us—myself included—who could remain pretty much unaware of the thorny ethical issues involved.
“There is still another set of problems for us to consider. I see an urgent need for evolving a set of policies and mechanisms for preventing (and for combatting them when they occur) arbitrary and unjust actions of employers against individual psychologists. Although related to conditions of employment, there is considerable overlap here with areas of personal and professional ethics. My concerns in this area do not derive solely from the rhubarb between the VA (my employer) and Bob Ellsworth (my good friend) which was reported in a recent APA Monitor. The rights and wrongs of this particular case aside, there have been all too many instances of unpardonable harassment and attempted intimidation for behavior and political views totally unrelated to the person’s work. (Some of these were discussed in a symposium at the last APA on The Right to Dissent and Job Security, poorly attended, unfortunately.)
“You may ask, why lay all these knotty problems on 18’s doorstep? Obviously, I don’t expect that 18 or any other division can singlehandedly make much progress on these issues. But do think that some of them have a special relevance for psychologists in public service settings. And it is out of my respect and admiration for the accomplishments of the past that I derive some conviction of what 18’s membership can contribute to solving the problems of today and tomorrow.”
In response to Gurel’s call to action, Div. 18 did emerge as a vigorous and visible division for APA and for public service psychology, focusing on the needs of underserved populations.