Psychoanalysis at Work for Social Justice
Faculty Member Dr. Stephen Soldz took on the American Psychological Association, confronting social denial and co-leading the movement to remove psychologists from abusive interrogations. Now he is working towards ethical standards on the use of psychological skills and principles to support military and intelligence operations.
For over nine years, BGSP faculty member Dr. Stephen Soldz searched for the truth about psychologist involvement in national security interrogations. With the release of the Hoffman Report, to which Soldz and his colleagues contributed extensive research, Soldz says that the American Psychological Association was forced to lift its veil of secrecy and denial.
On August 7, 2015, the APA voted overwhelmingly to ban psychologist participation in national security interrogations.
As a psychoanalyst-activist, Soldz advocated for years against APA ethics policies that protected government psychologists involved in abusive interrogations from scrutiny. Psychoanalysts, he comments, tend to have a “deep skepticism about the use of violence (such as torture) to solve social problems.”
An equally great struggle, Soldz says, was to counter the APA’s elaborate public relations strategy denying its collusion with the Department of Defense and other government agencies, and the resulting blindness of uninvolved leadership and membership.
“It is a real challenge to get through the social denial of the organization, to the truth,” he asserts. As in psychoanalysis, he adds, it takes a lot of mettle to “face up to your deficits and come to terms with who you are.”
In the aftermath of the controversy, says Soldz, psychologists are focusing their attention on broader questions regarding ethical practices in operational psychology -- the use by psychologists of psychological skills and principles to support military and intelligence operations. Soldz and his colleagues, Jean Maria Arrigo and Brad Olson, convened a workshop to discuss ethical practices in this area. Participants included psychologists, physicians, and social science professionals; military and intelligence professionals; and attorneys, ethicists, and human rights advocates. The group agreed upon a statement of basic principles, entitled, “Brookline Principles on the Ethical Practice of Operational Psychology.”
A psychoanalyst, researcher, and activist for human rights, Stephen Soldz was a leader in the movement to remove psychologists from national security interrogations. He is a past-president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, serves as an Adviser to Physicians for Human Rights, and consulted on several Guantanamo trials. He has published extensively on the intersection of psychology and social issues and has been interviewed by media around the world.