Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter of Our Discontent

The Lame Duck Board of Directors

As we awaited the results of our “lame duck” Congress, the Division Board of Directors (BOD) had its own lame duck session of sorts, voting, once again, on the issue of the proposed bylaws changes. The BOD agreed to completely suspend voting on the new bylaws, to authorize a new Membership Task Force to prepare a revised ballot, and to ask the new BOD, which will meet on January 15, to approve, amend, or revise the bylaws changes that were approved unanimously in August. If the BOD once again approves the bylaws changes, the membership will be asked to participate in a discussion and debate on a newly devised interactive listserv before the ballots are mailed out for a final vote.

To recap the issues with which I hope everyone is now familiar, the BOD in August voted to approve several key bylaws changes. Two proposed changes apply to the criteria for membership and the rights of non-APA members of the Division. A third provision is to change the name of the Division to “The Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy: Division 39 of the American Psychological Association.” Since I will have the opportunity to write another column for the newsletter in February, I will hold off discussing the name change until then, as well as discussion of the other two changes.

What the Current Bylaws Allow (Or Not)
Before addressing the proposed changes in membership and membership rights contained in the new bylaws, I first want to emphasize what the current bylaws allow and do not allow. Our bylaws allow for two categories of Members: APA Members and non-APA Members. The first category is clear: APA members are eligible to join the Division if they agree to subscribe to the mission of the Division. If you are not an APA Member, however, you may still join the Division as a Member if you are 1) a mental health professional who is not a psychologist, or 2) a psychologist ineligible to join APA[1]. The only mental health professional ineligible to join the Division as a Member is a psychologist eligible to join APA who declines to do so.

Secondly, Members of the Division who are APA Members have full rights, that is, they are able to vote in all elections and to serve in any office in the Division. Non-APA Members of the Division have limited voting and office holding rights. They are able to vote for all Division offices except for the office of APA Council Representative. They are eligible to serve on the Division Board as Members-at-Large and Section Representatives (that is, they may not serve as President, Secretary, Treasurer, or APA Council Representative).

So the summary above describes how the Division currently operates (and has done so for about four years since the last bylaws change). To date, all officers on the BOD have been psychologists and non-APA Members make up a very small percentage of the overall membership. There has been a gradual increase in this category of member, although we have also speculated that the opportunity to subscribe to PEP-Web has been a more powerful incentive than the opportunity to serve on the Division Board!

The bylaws ballot sent in September generated opposition to the proposed changes, including criticism that the changes came as an unwelcome surprise to a number of our members, including several former presidents and officers of the Division. There will be time, if and when the bylaws ballot is approved by the BOD in January and posted to the membership, to debate the merits of the proposed changes. I hope there is now a sufficiently open and lengthy process to provide for this full debate of the merits (and demerits) of the proposed changes. I would like to take the rest of this column to reflect on the intensity of the response and its possible meaning, at least as it emerged for others and me on the Board over the last year.

Some History

I have been attending Division board meetings for over twelve years; and during that time witnessed the struggles and debates over membership questions. In retrospect, I should have thought more realistically about the impact the ballot would have, having witnessed storms of protest many years ago at the idea of allowing any non-APA Member join the Division (even, at that time, as Allied Professionals, without voting or office holding rights). It was a struggle to admit Allied Professionals into the Division (it lost the first time it went to the membership for approval); and it dragged on through successive board meetings until it finally passed. Some on the board were opposed, fearing the Division might be inundated with non-APA Members. The actual result was just the opposite and despite outreach efforts, notably by Section I (Psychologist Psychoanalyst Practitioners) and Section IV (Local Chapters), few Allied Professionals chose to join.

There was less of a struggle years later when the board agreed to revise the membership rights of non-APA members and to establish one level of membership, albeit with different rights for Members who were APA Members versus those who were not. At least one reason it was less of a struggle, I believe, was that after five years or so allowing non-psychologists to join as Allied Professionals, we were able to come to the conclusion that neither skies had darkened, nor had the Division been “overrun” with the unwashed. Instead, we had about 100 or so members (out of 3,000) who happened to be non-psychologists.

This takes the history down to the last few years when the greatest membership challenge we faced has been the resignations of many Division Members from APA due to objection to APA policy on psychologist involvement in interrogations of detainees and APA Ethics Committee’s failure to revise the Ethics Code to strength its position on psychologist ethical duty to protect basic human rights. For those of us on the Division board, it has been a real struggle, sympathizing with those who were attempting to protest APA policy through withholding their membership dues, yet concerned that by leaving APA they were diluting our ability to have an impact on APA through our Council Representative’s actions and other initiatives. I recall a particularly moving episode during a board meeting when a number of members spoke of their pain and ambivalence in coming to a moral decision whether to “stay and fight” or leave APA.  Although the 2008 Referendum (supported by many members of our Division) changed APA policy on interrogations and the Ethics Committee and APA Council (thanks partly due to efforts of Laurie Wagner and others) did get around to changing the Ethics Code in a way more satisfactory to many, many former APA Members cannot accept that APA policy and procedures have changed sufficiently to allow them to re-join, although they still wish to remain Division Members.

The 3rd Membership Task Force and the Current Bylaws Proposals
It is in this context that the board took up the issue of membership and membership rights and for two years struggled with how to find a way to keep those members, who were committed to the mission of the Division, in our ranks, even as they felt they had to leave APA. As task force after task force addressed the issue, it also became clear that we could not simply address the needs of one “class” of member, that is, those members who resigned in opposition to APA’s policies, without considering all those psychologists who wanted to belong to the Division but who refused to join APA for any reason. It is important to note that our charge was primarily to address the possibility of providing membership status for psychologists who were not APA members. Our secondary charge, however, was to clarify the rights and privileges of non-APA Members, since the old bylaws were unclear on that subject.

It was in this spirit that a third task force appointed to address membership issues met over the spring and summer last year and came, surprisingly, to a quick consensus to open up the membership in the Division to as many as possible consistent with APA bylaws, and to open up membership rights to as many as possible, again consistent with APA bylaws. We consulted with APA about this, curiously just as APA was about to launch its own campaign to support Division membership. We learned that APA had taken the position that whatever strengthens a Division ultimately strengthens APA. The more APA members join Divisions, the more likely they are to remain in APA. The more non-APA member psychologists join Divisions, the more likely they will ultimately join APA. That, at least, is the position of APA Division Services.

As our Task Force quickly jelled around the issue of membership and membership rights, we found the same spirit characterized the reactions of those present at the August Board meeting. The board accepted the bylaws proposals unanimously and there was a palpable sense that we had finally put behind us a years-long troublesome and controversial struggle. Well, were we wrong!

At this point we know why some members are opposed, strongly opposed, to extending membership to non-APA member psychologists and/or extending membership rights beyond what are currently held by non-APA Members of the Division. In fact, some of the criticisms have seemed to be based on the belief that non-APA Members should not have voting or office holding rights. Again, to be clear, regardless of the outcome of the balloting, non-APA Members of the Division will retain the limited voting and office holding rights they currently have.

Membership from a Local Chapter Perspective

It has been easy for me to advocate for more open membership in the Division over the years, I suppose, since my “origin” in the Division is as a member of a local chapter, the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society. Like all local chapters, we have had an open membership policy since inception, admitting any mental health professional that subscribes to our mission statement. Like most chapters, our organization has mainly elected officers who are psychologists and Division 39 Members, although many other professionals have served on our board. It has simply been a moot issue throughout our twenty years as an organization. I offer this by way of partial explanation for why I was blindsided by the criticism of the bylaws, especially from colleagues whom I thought shared my perspective.

Membership and Identity

It has become commonplace for us in the Division to reflect upon and sometimes bemoan our “divided” identity as psychologists and psychoanalysts, although the divisions we experience are not the same for everyone. From time to time, the conflicts over training and adherence to particular psychoanalytic theories have also posed problems within the Division. Many of our members are not psychoanalysts and are uncomfortable when that term is used to define what we do, while others are alarmed that psychoanalysis is diluted if we use any other term to describe our work.

As for the “psychologist” side of our identity, many of our members are disidentified with APA for a whole variety of reasons. Although the reason uppermost in many minds has been APA leadership’s support for psychologist involvement in interrogation of detainees, others have opposed APA’s position on prescriptive authority for psychologists, its timid stance in confronting managed care’s assault on psychotherapy and its refusal to challenge the government’s gutting of privacy protections in its implementation of HIPAA regulations.

As for where I stand, I “side” with neither the psychoanalyst nor the psychologist identity and think of myself, most of the time and in most circumstances, as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. I value that I was trained as a psychologist and I believe that the kind of education I had was in many respects ideal in helping to forge this identity, in a clinical program that heavily emphasized clinical practice with highly troubled individuals. I actually missed out on a lot of what makes a person a “psychologist” and my program, however psychoanalytic, did not stress the need to attend an institute in order to do the work we did. We learned our craft through long (ongoing) years of consultation and supervision groups. And did I mention the educational effort of our local chapter? Over the years I have added to my sense of identity and increasingly value psychological research, the institutional structure offered by APA, the importance of formal psychoanalytic education and so on. I make no claims that my “identity” is the best one possible, only that it is mine. I believe regardless of the bylaws ballot outcome, we will remain a Division with many, many different definitions of what it means to be a “divided” member.

Going Forward

If the bylaws are passed as currently written, psychologists will be able to join the Division whether they choose to join APA or not. If the bylaws pass as currently written, non-APA Members of the Division will be able to serve in any office of the Division Board except APA Council Representative. Based upon the “track record” of four years eligibility, it does not appear likely that non-psychologists will join in great numbers or seek board office. In particular, it seems highly unlikely that expanded office holding rights will be an incentive for more non-psychologists to join.

There is no “track record,” of course, for psychologists who are not APA Members. It appears likely that many psychologists who recently resigned from APA may choose to join the Division; and some of those members who resign include members who have served as officers on the board or on Section boards in the past, so some may chose to stand for office in the future. As for the rest? It is truly unknown whether many non-APA member psychologists will join, or alternatively, whether current APA members will drop their membership and stay in the Division.

I know that some of the opposition to allowing non-APA member psychologists to join the Division is based on the concern that many will choose to do so (or that many current APA members will drop out of APA while retaining Division membership). The concern is that by doing so, we will become less connected to APA, eventually losing our connection to our parent organization and part of our identity as psychologists. My guess is that will not happen. I certainly would not want that to happen.

I respect the position of members who oppose allowing psychologists to belong to the Division without also being APA Members, or who would not want our organization to be led by a non-psychologist (keeping in mind, of course, that a non-psychologist who is also an APA Member is entitled stand for any Division office). I believe either possibility is very slight, while admitting I could be wrong, just as those who warned the Division would be “swamped” with Allied Professionals many years ago were wrong.

Our 2011 BOD will soon have the opportunity to vote on the bylaws and our members will be able to debate, discuss, and eventually vote the changes up or down. Write to you again next month.

[1] There is a small group of psychologists who were trained in graduate schools that did not seek APA accreditation and, as a result, they are ineligible to belong to APA, although they are licensed as psychologists.