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  • hmika6

"Queer People Locked Out of American Psychological Association" the title of an article by Dr. Christopher Beasley that he shared on Linked In yesterday.

Dr. Beasley notes that this is part of a broader issue of "APA's systematic exclusion of marginalized peoples."

Dr. Beasley describes his past experience of applying to the American Psychological Association and being asked on the application form if he had ever been convicted of a felony. When he reported that he had, the APA Ethics Committee prepared to undergo intensive review and evaluation to determine whether he would be permitted to join the ranks of the APA. To me, this sounds like a devaluing assessment and policing of membership based upon incarceration history, replete with all the intersecting systemic forces that disproportionately affect, and even target LGBTQ communities, low-income communities, immigrant populations, and people of color, to name a few.

There appears to be a glaringly ironic (read: unethical) and astounding lack of awareness in the APA's Ethics Committee's review process for previously incarcerated potential members. This process is antithetical to the well known, well documented psychological research on harm caused by the stigmatization of marginalized populations (including specifically incarcerated populations) and in-group/out-group dynamics. This policy also neglects to consider or recognize the oppressive systemic issues regarding the criminalization of certain behaviors which are then differentially legally enacted to generally provide a pass for certain groups while targeting and restricting certain other groups. These kinds of investigations by the APA and its Ethics Committee also reflect a departure from psychology's emphasis on (and research supporting) rehabilitative versus punitive models generally speaking, and regarding incarcerated populations.

This topic has become particularly salient now, as there will be an APA Council Meeting in two weeks, during which members and groups within APA are working very hard to bring this issue to the table (eliminating the felony question on APA membership forms).

Dr. Beasley noted in one of his communications that the APA's Board of Directors are key players. After seeing a psychologist comment on Dr. Beasley's article indicating that she sent an email to the Board of Directors, I decided to do the same. I also reached out to one of my local psychology networks with the hopes of garnering further momentum, support, and action in Dr. Beasley's cause, and with the hopes of furthering the betterment of APA (which could use some help). Below is the e-mail if you would like to check it out and see what's going on inside our ranks!


Dear APA Board of Directors,

I am writing to strongly urge that you remove the felony question from APA's membership application form. As you are probably aware, this issue has been raised and discussed by Dr. Beasley in his recent Linked In publication: "Queer People Locked Out of the American Psychological Association."

As a field, our expressed values, research, forensic practices, and deep understanding of humanity support the rehabilitative rather than punitive model regarding incarceration. As a field we are playing catch up with the fields of social work and counseling psychology, whose practices and conceptualizations have inherently and historically incorporated systems-level understandings, context, and interventions.

With APA's more recent public statements acknowledging systems levels issues and expressing repeated public commitment to promote systemic changes within the U.S., its own organization, and the field of psychology, removal of the felony question on the APA membership form appears to be one quick and easy action to bring APA's professed goals and values in line with its practices. Failure to make this change means that the APA would be continuing to police its membership base via stigmatization and in-group/out-group psychology and dynamics. APA's failure to remove this question would reflect a lack of awareness and responsibility of its power and privileges, resulting in the continued reinforcement and promotion of a policy that harms individuals, communities, and populations around intersecting issues and/or identities that we profess to care about: incarcerated populations, LGBTQ communities, people of color, and low income populations, to name a few.

APA needs to demonstrate a willingness to put words to action, as it has promised to the public and to its members that it will do. There is an important opportunity for us to begin to take ownership of our roles in participating in and perpetuating oppressive systemic forces that do harm to others and to members of our own community. Your decision will either further the harm we are causing or to begin to do right.

Thank you for your consideration.

Dr. Mika Handelman

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