Clients in distress: How does the APA decide who needs advocacy and who does not?
Dr. Warren ThrockmortonWarren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College (PA). He co-founded the Golden Rule Pledge which advocates bullying prevention in evangelical churches. His academic articles have been published by journals of the American Psychological Association and he is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He is the author with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, of the book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. Over 200 newspapers have published his columns. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 2008 Jul 31
I have observed over the past several years that women who associate their abortion with mental health distress have approached the American Psychological Association with their concerns and stories. I blogged about an effort like this in 2007. Briefly, the letter sent by advocacy group, Silent No More, offered to put APA researchers in touch with women who had adverse reactions and asked for a meeting with the APA to discuss means of helping women with post-abortion problems. Georgette informed me that 600 women signed the letter. However, Georgette’s group received no response from the APA.
Another group, Lumina: Hope and Healing After Abortion, led by Theresa Bonopartis, sent a letter to each member of the Mental Health and Abortion Task Force, and the APA Board of Directors requesting the opportunity to provide information about post-abortion reactions. She also received no response.
Contrast the reaction of the APA to women who believe abortion has triggered harm with the APA reaction to clients who report harm as a result of participation in reparative therapy and/or ex-gay ministries. The APAs (both the psychiatric and psychological groups) have been quite responsive to them, crafting advisories and almost banning reparative therapy in advance of publications systematically demonstrating harm. The major study of adverse reactions by Ariel Shidlo and Michael Shroeder took 5 years to solicit nearly 200 reports of various types of harm. In addition to this study, groups representing glbt people have met with and requested assistance from the APA to oppose reparative therapies.
Before I go on, I need to say that I am in favor of the APA taking seriously client concerns regarding reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries. I have been a persistent critic of reparative approaches as a general response to same-sex attraction. Further, I have consistently acknowledged that harm has been done by various methods to attempt sexual reorientation. The APA should vigorously pursue concerns about client welfare which are presented by clients and their advocates. Due respect should be shown to those who seek such services and ministries, but nonetheless, reports of adverse reactions should be addressed and investigated.
Having noted the appropriateness of the professional groups to attend to reports of adverse psychological reactions, I wonder why the APA has not responded to the reports of adverse psychological reactions to abortion? These reports are common and compelling. Many more studies have found adverse reactions associated with abortion than have found such negative reactions to reparative therapy. I recognize that abortion is a much more common procedure than is reparative therapy but this fact should prompt an energetic response. In this context and speaking about APA conclusions about abortion and adverse reactions, I want to quote again a provocative question (see letter #2) from Bill Samuel, President of Consistent Life to APA president Alan Kazdin:
Is there any other phenomenon where the conclusion is based on those who do not have problems rather than on the therapeutic needs of those who do?
I might be misinformed, and in fact have an email in to the APA to check this, but I can find no indication that the APA has met with or responded directly to groups representing women who experienced adverse psychological reactions they attribute to abortion. I believe the professional mental health associations should meet with these women's groups and do what psychologists do - listen.