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The American Psychological Association (APA) is the world’s largest scientific and professional association of psychologists, with 90,000 members and 65,000 student and teacher affiliates, international affiliates, and associate members. The APA was founded on July 8, 1892, by a small group of psychologists meeting in Professor G. Stanley Hall’s study at Clark University. The thirty-one charter members, not all present at the founding meeting, were primarily scientific and academic psychologists. In the first few decades, rival associations were formed by psychologists who felt that their theoretical or professional orientations were not adequately represented in the APA. During World War II these differences were set aside and a national coordinating committee channeled the skills of the entire psychological community toward America’s war effort.
In 1945 the member organizations of the coordinating committee enacted a plan to preserve the harmony of the war years by creating a reorganized APA, governed by a council of representatives of divisions and state and provincial associations and administered by a board of directors. Division status was accorded to seventeen special interest groups and formerly independent organizations, the largest being the American Association for Applied Psychology (AAAP). The basic structure of the modern APA is composed of the governance elements created in 1945. The APA constitution provides for the creation of new divisions, and by 2006 the number of divisions had grown to fifty-six.
The reorganized APA promptly hired its first professional staff and located its headquarters in Washington, D.C., where it has occupied a series of increasingly larger buildings. In 2006 the APA employed a professional staff of nearly five hundred people and administered an annual budget of about $60 million.
Since the mid-twentieth century, growing numbers of applied psychologists have joined the organization, the majority of whom are mental health service practitioners. In the 1980s a significant number of research-oriented psychologists proposed a new reorganization of the APA that would have moderated the influence of practitioneroriented divisions. When the proposal was not approved by the membership, the reform group founded the American Psychological Society (APS). The APS draws its members primarily from the academic and scientific communities.
The contemporary APA is a vigorous leader in many domains. The APA publishes forty-nine of the most influential scientific and professional journals in the field. It publishes a comprehensive list of books for psychological scientists, practitioners, and the general public. The APA Publication Manual, its handbook of writing standards for published articles, first appeared in 1929 and has become the standard for professional writing in many fields. The association publishes standards for the conduct of psychologists, including standards for educational and psychological testing, for the ethical treatment of humans and nonhuman animals in research, and for ethical professional conduct by psychological service providers.
After World War II the APA developed standards for professional training programs to meet the national need for well-prepared clinical psychologists. In the early twenty-first century the APA endorsed training models that combine both scientific and professional practice skills by reviewing and accrediting doctoral educational and internship programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology. Through its liaisons with state associations of psychology, the APA has promoted rigorous state licensure standards for psychological service providers.
Since 1894 the APA has published abstracts of the world’s scientific and professional literature in psychology. This resource, called PsycINFO, is composed of more than two million abstracts and sophisticated online searching tools. The association makes full text versions of its journal articles and book chapters electronically available.
The APA has brought the science of psychology to bear on social issues. For example, it promotes awareness of ethnic minority, gender identity, and age-related concerns in educational, counseling, and clinical treatment settings, it advocates for culture-fair aptitude and achievement testing, and it promotes studies of women’s social, professional, and health-related issues. When legal cases involve critical psychological matters, the APA has filed amicus curiae briefs and has supported litigants with a legal defense fund. Among the APA’s advocacy goals are infusing federal public policy with the findings of behavioral science, extending drug prescription privileges to specially trained psychologists, and elevating support of psychological health services and research to equal that of physical health programs.
- American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org.
- Benjamin, L. T., Jr., ed. 1992. The History of American Psychology. American Psychologist issue 47 (2).
- Evans, R. E., V. S. Sexton, and T. C. Cadwallader, eds. 1992. The American Psychological Association: A Historical Perspective. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Hilgard, E. R. 1987. Psychology in America: A Historical Survey. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
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