Psychiatrists and Psychologists Respond to Societal Challenges


Organized psychiatry and psychology share a common acronym-APA. Some of our clinical work overlaps, but sometimes they differ in response to world events.


It just means that professional societies have important roles to play in our national affairs.
‒Renee Binder, MD and Saul Levin, MD

It is not your responsibility to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
‒Rabbi Tarfon

Organized psychiatry and psychology share a common acronym. “APA” refers both to the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.

Some of our clinical work overlaps. Both psychologists and psychiatrists practice various types of psychotherapy, for instance, and there is no evidence one field is better at it than the other. Such overlap was one thing that caused me some anguish when deciding which profession I should enter. Ultimately, my mother’s preference for me to be a physician won out!

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"39926","attributes":{"alt":"Mental health","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_4382507590399","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"4032","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"float: right; width: 154px; height: 120px;","title":"Lightspring/Shutterstock","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]A major-but honest-mistake
Commonalities between psychology and psychiatry can be confusing to the public. For example, an editorial in the New York Times on July 10th mistakenly confused the two when it noted that “psychiatrists could resume assisting in brutal interrogation” of Guantanamo detainees a decade ago.1 More research would have identified that it was certain psychologists who collaborated with the CIA in “enhanced interrogation techniques”-not psychiatrists.

The American Psychiatric Association condemned as ethically inappropriate any participation of psychiatrists in torture.2 A letter by President of the American Psychiatric Association, Renee Binder, MD, and CEO Saul Levin, MD,3 was published in the New York Times in response to that recent mistake, and it was subsequently corrected.

Climate change
Psychiatrists and psychologists also seem to differ on climate change. In “Why Psychiatrists Should Go Green,”4 I lamented the lack of concern by psychiatrists for the mental health aspects of climate change. However, organized psychology has shown significant concern for many years.

Recently, the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) announced the Climate Health Summit: Creating Health Leaders on Climate Change, scheduled for September 20 and 21, 2015 in Washington, DC. The PSR shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for its role in reducing nuclear proliferation. Now, the PSR views climate change as a significant a risk to the well-being of humanity.

Several health and public groups will co-sponsor the summit, including the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Moms Clean Air Force, and the American Psychological Association-but not the American Psychiatric Association, despite evidence that human behavior is responsible for climate change, and that there are mental health ramifications for ignoring it. These include anxiety, solastalgia, and PTSD. However, psychiatry continues to remain neutral on the topic.

World events
The score is 1 to 1 on the issues of torture and climate change. Perhaps the tie will continue or the newest issue-the conditional nuclear agreement with Iran-will break it.

Given the enormous physical and mental health risks of a long-term concern over nuclear destruction, will either of the APAs comment on the merits of this agreement? Can we attempt to develop a consensus statement as other countries have done? Will you comment as a professional clinician? Otherwise, silence may reasonably be interpreted as disinterest or passive agreement.

As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of [evil] is for good men to do nothing.”


1. The Editorial Board. Psychologists Who Greenlighted Torture. New York Times. July 10, 2015. Accessed July 20, 2015.
2. Moffic HS. Would You Ever Participate in Torture? Psychiatric Times. July 30, 2015. Accessed July 20, 2015.
3. Binder R, Levin S. Psychologists’ Role in Torture After 9/11. New York Times. July 14, 2015. Accessed July 20, 2015.
4. Moffic HS. Why Psychiatrists Should Go Green. Psychiatric Times. January 6, 2010. Accessed July 20, 2015.

Related Videos
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.