Blindness to institutional betrayal by the APABMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h4172 (Published 05 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4172
- Shin Shin Tang, licensed clinical psychologist1
The actions of the American Psychology Association (APA) described in the Hoffman report constitute institutional betrayal, or “wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution.”1 2
Members of the APA leadership betrayed the human rights of those who are tortured, the profession’s ethics, and the society that trusted them.3
But institutional betrayal is only half the story. How did the collusion between the APA and the Department of Defense persist for nearly a decade, despite many knowing of its existence.
After the Hoffman report was released, Jean Maria Arrigo, a psychologist the APA tried to discredit for speaking against its interrogation policy, received many emails from colleagues apologising for not believing her.4
Such behaviour can be explained by betrayal blindness—an unawareness, not knowing, and forgetting exhibited by people when confronted with betrayal.5 In the case of the APA, members have a vested interest in believing in the “goodness” of the institution that they depend on for their professional credibility and for furthering their collective interests.
True reparation and lasting change require betrayal blindness to be dealt with at organisational and individual levels. Institutionally, this includes increasing transparency and protecting members when they report abuses of power.6 For individuals, it means rigorous self examination and awareness of our tendencies towards betrayal blindness so that we are more likely to “see” abuse in the future.
Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4172
Competing interests: None declared.
Full response at: www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h3805/rr.