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Welch, B. (2017). The American Psychological Association and Torture: How Could it Happen?. Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 14(2):116-124.

(2017). International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 14(2):116-124

Research Articles

The American Psychological Association and Torture: How Could it Happen?

Bryant Welch, JD, Ph.D.

A 17-year-old boy is locked in an interrogation cell in Guantanamo. He breaks down crying and says he wants his family. The interrogator senses the boy is psychologically vulnerable and consults with a psychologist. The psychologist has evaluated the boy prior to the questioning and says, “Tell him his family has forgotten him.” The psychologist also prescribes “linguistic isolation” (not letting him have contact with anyone who speaks his language). The boy attempts suicide a few weeks later. On the eve of the boy's trial, the psychologist, apparently fearing her testimony will only further implicate her, indicates she will plead the Fifth Amendment if she is called to the stand. The trial is postponed, leaving the boy in further limbo.

The military psychologist is merely a foot soldier in psychology's participation in torture. It runs much deeper. We now know that two psychologists helped design and implement significant segments of George Bush's torture program based on trainings they received from Martin Seligman's “learned helplessness.” Despite the professional ethical credo of, “Above all, do no harm,” these two psychologists have admitted that they “reversed engineered” psychological principles and used the very therapeutic interventions psychologists designed to ameliorate psychological suffering, by “reversing” them to create psychological distress and instability. If one's reality sense is threatened, a good therapist validates and supports it as appropriate.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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