Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Oh My! Psychologists As Double Agents

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 15, 2015


The Hoffman report exposed that the heads of the American Psychological Association, on the one hand condemned torture, and on the other hand, taught people at the CIA and DOD about “enhanced interrogation”. There was money to be made, for sure. Businesses were started and consulting fees were obtained. Does this explain the breach? And, or, was it the power, the inside track to government officials? Is this about the thrill of living a lie? Is this the same dynamic as the religious figure who is caught messing around? Mental health professionals, as with all professionals, have the ability to help and hinder. Using the understanding of motivation to torture someone is akin to psychiatrists in the USSR who said people were insane because they had different political views? It is horrifying to think that leaders in my profession would use their skill sets to promote cruelty, and then cover it up. How can I be surprised though? I often write about how the human condition involves good and evil. We are all capable of both. There is no immunity based on the image we project of ourselves. I the “charmingly cynical” person, as one reader has characterized me, should take this new revelation in stride; one more example of how trusted officials can go to the dark side. Yet, I am taken aback. I know some of the players accused in this scandal. I have shared meals, hosted their speaking engagements, and generally felt like we were on the same side. That makes this story personal. I am shocked and not shocked at the same time. The American Psychological Association issued an apology. That was good. They took responsibility. That gives the scandal some closure. I am still disappointed. Given my understanding of the underbelly of human behavior, I continue to wish that people behave in the way they say do. That is my fantasy, I know.

2 Responses to “Oh My! Psychologists As Double Agents”

  1. Shelly said

    I hear how disappointed you are in your colleagues that they could participate in something so base. You all took the Hippocratic Oath to use your learning for good and to heal, not inflict intentional pain. But if you think about individual pain versus collective pain, which do you think is for the greater good? And in addition to this, physicians are human, after all. They all want the same things that everyone else wants: to be recognized, to be validated, maybe a little “excitement” in their lives, maybe money, maybe fame. Why would you think some psychiatrists would be a different breed? I know that you are not like that, but not everyone is like that.

    • The head of the ethics committee, regardless of the organization, is often found to be in ethical violation. I have seen this many times. So yes, I should not be surprised. The interesting part of this story is that I know some of the players, and that just makes the story closer to home for me. You are right. This is a tale as old as time, but the twists, although not unusual, still provide an interesting story. Thanks.

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