Washington, D.C. – After hours of heated debate, the governing body of the American Psychological Association (APA) voted overwhelmingly to approve a reorganization plan that will require all members to pay for lobbying and will expand that lobbying beyond practicing psychologists.
“I think we are at a critical moment,” CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., told members of the APA Council of Representatives at its March meeting. “People want us to think big. I think we’re up to that task.”
Under the plan, the APA’s current lobbying arm – the American Psychological Association Practice Organization – will be eliminated and a new lobbying arm – the APA Institute for Psychology – will be created. APA members automatically will be members of both the APA and the APAIP and will pay one membership fee to be divvied up between the organizations.
The APA will continue to be a 501(c)3 group, which cannot lobby under IRS rules, while the APAIP will be a 501(c)6 group, allowing it to lobby. Advocacy efforts can include grants, legal help and more, but lobbying is the chief distinction that requires changes under the federal tax code.
Unlike the Practice Organization, which advocated only for practicing psychologists, the APAIP would advocate for all areas of psychology in APA’s four directorates: Education, Practice, Public Interest and Science.
The reorganization stems from problems with the Practice Organization, which has been losing members since a 2010 revelation that its membership dues were voluntary rather than mandatory as most members had thought. As part of a federal lawsuit filed by Practice Organization members and settled in 2015, the APA and the Practice Organization agreed on a $9 million settlement.
An APA work group will flesh out further details of the reorganization and submit the plan to the council for a vote at its August meeting.
In an interview after the vote, Antonio E. Puente, Ph.D., APA’s immediate past president, said that the “staff, mission and spirit” of the Practice Organization will be rolled into the APAIP.
“When I took over in 2017, it became evident that the APAPO was not a sustainable model,” he said. “The review of that allowed us to reevaluate everything in the APA.”
He said he was surprised at the overwhelming support for the plan by the council, which voted 145 to 16 for the reorganization.
Evans said dues will not increase for at least three years under the reorganization, which would be implemented in 2019. More details will be rolled out in September when the 2019 dues renewal campaign begins, he said.
Council Treasurer Jean A. Carter, Ph.D., said that only APA dues can be used for its lobbying efforts. Profits from its publishing arm, real estate and other revenue streams cannot be used for lobbying, she said.
The expected Institute for Psychology budget would be $10.4 million a year, she said, compared to approximately $4 million a year the Practice Organization spent representing only practicing psychologists.
In other action, 92 percent of council representatives voted to support pursuing the APA accreditation of master’s level programs in psychology in areas where the APA already offers doctoral accreditation: clinical, counseling and school psychology. It was adopted 153 to 11 with 2 abstentions.
“We’re trying to be nimble,” said Shelia Gardner, Ph.D., of the New Hampshire Psychological Association, in explaining her support for the accreditation. “We’re trying to be proactive and we’re trying to get ahead.”
Several members argued that accrediting masters programs would help psychologists determine the training that master’s level graduates in psychology would have and help provide counseling services for under-served populations. Currently, the APA only accredits doctoral programs.
Some council members wanted to postpone the motion until the group’s August meeting.
“Do we have enough information to make good decisions on this?” asked Peter Oppenheimer, Ph.D., during a caucus meeting. “Are there unintended consequences?”
The postponement was nixed, however, when 89 percent of the group voted to proceed with a vote.
“This is a very crucial issue,” said Nicky Ozbek, Ph.D., of Tennessee, as she urged the council to proceed.
The council vote was a first step toward accrediting programs at the master’s level. An APA task force has been working on the proposal for more than a year and collecting feedback on it from council members.
States that have masters programs in psychology that allow graduates to practice as therapists have a variety of labels for those practitioners. They are licensed psychological associates in Kentucky, Alaska and North Carolina; psychological examiners in Arkansas, Maine and Tennessee; psychological technicians in Alabama and psychologist masters in Vermont.
Marty Amerikaner, Ph.D, a council representative from West Virginia, said his state calls them psychologists, the same as doctoral psychologists.
“We’re the only state where there’s no distinction in titles,” he said. The council also considered, and then postponed, a measure to increase the transparency of council actions. When introduced last year, the proposal called for publishing the names of members and whether they voted for, against or abstained on each measure acted on in a council session.
“Publishing” was modified in the most recent proposal so that council member votes instead would be listed on a website that members could access if they chose.
Some council members objected to any record of personal votes, contending the division or state a member represents could find fault if the member voted against interests of the constituency for the good of the association as a whole.
Others, including Steven J. Reisner, Ph.D., who led the years-long campaign against psychologists serving at terrorist detention facilities, favored total transparency.
“It’s our responsibility to have the integrity to explain the views we hold,” Reisner said. “We have learned that transparency is ultimately very important to this organization.”
Christopher J. Nicholls, Ph.D., ABPP, of Arizona said council has a duty to make its votes available. “I don’t have a problem having people knowing my vote,” he said.
Bryant Welch, Ph.D., pointed out that the most recent draft of the proposal would allow council to withhold names if two-thirds of the council members so chose. He said that could mean that the council could withhold names on controversial issues on which members might most wish to know how individuals voted.
Evans and APA President Jessica Henderson Daniel, Ph.D., are to work on the wording in response to council comments before bringing it back to council at the August session.
After the session adjourned, Reisner said he would look into the clause that would allow withholding information on how members vote in some cases.
Senior Editor James Bradshaw contributed to this report.
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