Manipulation of the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives

Manipulation of the American Psychological Association's Council of Representatives

The American Psychological Association (APA) is a large, complex bureaucracy that has evolved over its long history. Because it is so large and run by both a set of paid staffers (over 550!) and volunteer members, it is an organization only a DC policy wonk could love and understand.

Most of the volunteer members who work for the APA do so either in running one of the APA’s topical divisions, or by sitting on the Council of Representatives. The Council is APA’s attempt at sharing governance with its members outside of the Board and executive committee. It consists of 173 elected members representing both states and the APA’s divisions, as well as the Board of Directors of the APA.

I’m sure the Council of Representatives won’t like to read what the Hoffman Report found. But when it came to its efforts surrounding torture interrogations, the independent investigator found that the Council was manipulated to keep it in line with what the APA leadership at the time wanted.

While Ethics Office head Stephen Behnke led this manipulation effort, he was apparently both supported and authorized to act by APA leadership at the time, including Gerald Koocher, Norman Anderson, Michael Honaker, Rhea Farberman and Nathalie Gilfoyle. You’ll notice those last four are senior staffers still employed by the APA (Behnke, as of this writing, is the only APA staffer to have been fired over the report).

Finally, one of the most significant ways in which Behnke and the APA secretly collaborated with DoD officials was in Behnke’s extensive efforts to manipulate Council of Representatives actions from 2006 to 2009, in an effort to undermine attempts to keep psychologists from being involved in national security interrogations and to minimize the damage to DoD psychologists who might have been threatened from more aggressive potential Council actions. Especially in 2006 and 2007, but also to some extent in 2008 and February 2009, Behnke became APA’s chief legislative strategist, taking a very active and sophisticated role in manipulating the resolution process and the proponents of these measures in order to achieve this goal.

Behnke was the authorized APA leader in this effort, and he was obviously taking these steps on behalf of APA. There were other APA officials involved with Behnke in these efforts, including at times Koocher, Anderson, Honaker, Farberman, Gilfoyle, and (in 2008-09) Ellen Garrison. Their involvement is discussed in the detailed section of the report. But no one was as thoroughly and consistently involved as Behnke was, and he was clearly (as one of the DoD officials said to him after he revealed some of his plans) “a superb strategist” — a compliment to which he responded with an email wink emoticon. [p. 42]

So how did he manipulate the Council of Representatives?

The pattern we saw from the evidence was that Behnke would use a sophisticated mix of strategies to either delay the passage of resolutions that would create negative implications for DoD or manage them so that the negative implications would be minimized.

First, he would attempt to bring the proponents of aggressive resolutions into his fold by “working with them” on their resolutions, a gesture with the appearance of support that was almost always taken at face value and accepted by the proponents. Once he began “working with them,” Behnke would act like a partner and teammate to encourage the view that he could help them achieve a good outcome.

Second, Behnke would then use his very substantial language skills to wordsmith the draft resolutions in order to excise the parts that were negative for DoD and to substitute alternative language that appeared to achieve some of the proponents’ original goals, but often achieved less than they thought because of nuanced drafting moves.

Third, Behnke would attempt to convince the proponents that they should bring in the division of APA that represented military psychologists on the theory that the proponents should not want to be “divisive” within APA, and that it was best to form a “consensus.”

Fourth, Behnke would engage in active and sophisticated behind-the-scenes lobbying in both direct and indirect ways in order to ensure passage of the more moderate alternative he had crafted and to avoid a revolt in the direction of more aggressive measures. This even extended to his micro-managing when invitations for lunch with the APA President were issued (to nip “organizing” in the bud) and where the invitees would sit for lunch during the Council meeting (to increase “visibility”).

In essence, Behnke’s insight was that when faced with the potential for an aggressive Council action that he viewed as negative for DoD, the best strategy was not to oppose it directly but to create an alternative that could be seen as a middle ground with enough credibility to attract support from a substantial percentage of the people who would have otherwise supported the aggressive action. And through the mechanisms set out above, he was confident he could manipulate the “middle ground” alternative to make it positive or tolerable for DoD. […]

The Council did in fact pass resolutions in 2006 and (especially) 2007 that created additional restrictions on national security psychologists as a matter of “APA policy” (although these were not enforceable ethical standards), but they were much milder as a result of Behnke’s intense behind-the-scenes manipulation, done in close coordination with DoD officials such as Banks.

Manipulation of the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.


APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2015). Manipulation of the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 13 Jul 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Jul 2015
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