Looking Past Psychology & Torture

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program on 12/09/14 in which psychologists were noted to have played a key role in their torture program. The long, 525-page document has many references. See:


To be clear, the document memorializes what many already have been aware of, namely a dark side to psychology and the role psychology played in a sanctioned torture program.

What’s at stake?

The image of psychology, the profession of psychology, and the conduct of a very few that has commanded so much attention center stage and may impugn and discredit the profession.

Amidst some of the outrage, the CIA Torture Report has been described as a sad day for psychologists.

How we treat one another has very long historical roots. Relevant to us and the helping professions, we need not look too far:

Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists


Ethics is at the core of every discipline. The Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists speaks to the common moral framework that guides and inspires psychologists worldwide toward the highest ethical ideals in their professional and scientific work. Psychologists recognize that they carry out their activities within a larger social context. They recognize that the lives and identities of human beings both individually and collectively are connected across generations, and that there is a reciprocal relationship between human beings and their natural and social environments. Psychologists are committed to placing the welfare of society and its members above the self-interest of the discipline and its members. They recognize that adherence to ethical principles in the context of their work contributes to a stable society that enhances the quality of life for all human beings.

The objectives of The Universal Declaration are to provide a moral framework and generic set of ethical principles for psychology organizations worldwide:

  1. to evaluate the ethical and moral relevance of their codes of ethics;
  2. to use as a template to guide the development or evolution of their codes of ethics;
  3. to encourage global thinking about ethics, while also encouraging action that is sensitive and responsive to local needs and values; and
  4. to speak with a collective voice on matters of ethical concern.

The Universal Declaration describes those ethical principles that are based on shared human values. It reaffirms the commitment of the psychology community to help build a better world where peace, freedom, responsibility, justice, humanity, and morality prevail. The description of each principle is followed by the presentation of a list of values that are related to the principle. These lists of values highlight ethical concepts that are valuable for promoting each ethical principle.


See the ethical standards of several mental health professions:

Ethics Codes of the Major Mental Health Professions


Our own American Psychological Association:

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct

This Ethics Code has as its goals the welfare and protection of the individuals and groups with whom psychologists work.

The Preamble and General Principles, however, are aspirational and intended to guide psychologists toward the highest ideals of psychology.

Perhaps it is time to elevate General Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence to a higher plane than something aspirational in nature:

Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm. In their professional actions, psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons.


Other sources acknowledge the dignity and value of human beings and call upon a universal code of human ethics and conduct:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights


United Nations Convention against Torture


As of September 2014, the Convention has 156 state parties.

U.S. ratified the Convention on October 21, 1994. See:


A blight or blemish within the profession of psychology as it were does not negate and cannot undo the many wonderful things we do. Hopefully, we can disseminate these things to the public, to sing the praises, our “Collective Songs” as it were. Psychology has helped humankind in so many ways and in so many settings. For me, I can “sing” about some of the work I’ve done that was most meaningful to me: asylum cases involving different kinds of torture.

We all have our tales to tell, and we should, in the many media sources available to promote the profession as a whole and what we do in particular to benefit others.

We need to champion the rights of others and champion our ethical standards.


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