Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

Stanley Fish: applied psychology can never be clean

In his most recent “Think Again” column for the New York Times, Stanley Fish takes up the news that the American Psychological Association, after a year of intense internal conflict, has adopted a resolution that forbids members to participate in interrogation techniques (torture) at US detention centers.

This follows prohibitions long established by the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

Fish sets out to demonstrate that the application of psychology, like the use of rhetoric, is “never clean,” in that, no matter the circumstances, it is always trying to persuade. (He also points out that not all psychologists are clinical psychologists, making the Hippocratic Oath fuzzier than is the case with physicians.)

Thus, he effectively argues, the ethical boundary outlawing participation of any sort in these interrogations is arbitrary, even worrisome since it fails to acknowledge that persuasion is part of every application of psychology.

The post has produced over 200 comments, many of them highly insightful. The most predictable objection is to Fish’s failure to recognize that many physicians are also involved in research instead of client care, so it’s unreasonable to write off the AMA’s earlier decision on the basis that patient care always takes priority.

I think the value of Fish’s post, though, is to observe that the notion of moral neutrality among psychologists is a myth, that in fact psychology has been allied with law enforcement and the military for decades — ideologically and financially. It has also cooperated, if tacitly, in reinforcement of religious values by pathologizing some “sinful” behaviors such as homosexuality.

So, his observations about this particular decision by the APA (which occurred only after the membership demanded a vote) are a great starting place for a discussion about the occupation itself. Check it out.

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