by Rogers H. Wright, Ph.D.
The Association for the Advancement of psychology (AAP) was founded in early 1974 following a very turbulent Winter session of the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives. AAP was actually psychology’s second political action group, preceded in 1972 by the Council for the Advancement of the Psychological Professions and Sciences (CAPPS). American Psychology, which for the first 80 years of its existence had had no organized public policy arm whatsoever, now had two. These developments reflected the emergence of professional psychology as a major national force in psychology.
From its inception, American psychology was essentially an academic pursuit concerned primarily with research. When psychological service delivery existed at all, it was provided primarily through psychological “clinics” housed in university settings, typically as an adjunct of research programs.
The onset of World War II brought dramatic changes. The military’s needs for classification of individuals on factors such as intelligence and aptitude, and for treatment of the psychological casualties of World War II, and the public’s developing awareness and acceptance of the need for support psychological services, combined to create support for the emergence of psychological service delivery.
By the late 1950s, the increasing numbers of practitioners delivering psychological services generated widespread concern about issues such as licensing laws for psychologists, federal funding for health service delivery, and funding for training and research. The concurrent emergence of prepaid third party health insurance, which initially excluded reimbursement for psychological services, began to impose severe restrictions on the delivery of psychological services. Psychological practitioners quickly became sensitized to the importance of their participation in public policy and political activities.
Initial concern with public policy issues was limited to the so-called “clinical wing” of the APA and became a paramount issue in the organizations’ developing struggle between applied interests and academic-scientific interests. In the early 1970s APA’s Board of Directors, beset with intraorganizational struggles and pressed from within by practitioners, decided that public policy and political advocacy activities should be developed outside the APA. The Board endorsed a proposal by a group of nationally visible psychology practitioners to develop an independent advocacy arm for psychology.
Psychology’s first “lobbying arm,” CAPPS, was founded by Drs. Theodore Blau, Nicholas Cummings, Melvin Gravitz, Ernest Lawrence, Helen Sunikian, Jack Wiggins, and Rogers Wright, chairman. CAPPS quickly became a national force in psychology’s professional affairs and was directly responsible for the recognition of psychologists as reimbursable providers under the Federal Government Employees Health Plan, one of the world’s largest health delivery systems. Concurrently, CAPPS founders were among the highly visible and articulate leaders of the practitioner movement within APA, attempting to wrest organizational and governance control from the academic and scientific interests which had dominated APA governance throughout its existence. In such a context, it was perhaps inevitable that the competing concerns would impact advocacy as well.
Charging the CAPPS leadership with “lack of balance” and failure to advocate sufficiently for academic and scientific interests, the APA sponsored the founding of its own advocacy group, the Association for the Advancement of Psychology (AAP). AAP was established with a large governing board composed of equal numbers of representatives of APA’s major interest groups, practice, public interest, and science.
The resulting “troika,” composed of some 23 psychologists, was not only large and unwieldy from its inception; but it was additionally burdened by another founding principle, that its commitments and activities would at all times equally reflect the interests of APA’s three major political groups. This well-intended principle overlooked the reality that
(a) issues neither arise nor are driven in all three areas simultaneously and
(b) that public interest and research/academic psychologists were not as committed to public policy advocacy as were practitioners. Furthermore, psychology, after years of no active commitment to public policy and advocacy, now had two independent major groups each committed to represent psychology. Recognizing the inherent dangers to the two competing organizations, the CAPPS and AAP leadership merged the two organizations in 1975.
Concurrently, professional interests within APA forced a reorganization of APA so that the needs of various factions within APA could be more productively addressed and mediated through “directorates” devoted to professional practice, academic-science, and public interest. This functional reorganization within APA allowed public policy issues of concern to one or more of the factions within APA to be addressed by APA through the directorate structure.
Consequently, much of the support for AAP was further diminished, and over the span of several years, AAP’s activity level became essentially moribund. Its governance structure was reduced to a six-member Board, but maintained the principle of equal representation from psychology’s three major interests. There followed an unfortunate spiral of diminished economic support, leading to further limitations of advocacy and such a loss of visibility, credibility, and action options that the organization essentially existed in name only. Subsequent developments nationally and outside psychology, such as continued reductions in support for research and training, the advent of managed health care, and increasing limitations imposed on public policy actions by APA’s tax-exempt status, dramatized psychology’s urgent need for an effective policy and advocacy organization.
In this context, it became widely apparent that AAP needed to be revitalized or a successor organization established. Consequently, in 1989, at the recommendation of the APA Chief Executive Officer, the AAP Board of Trustees committed itself to revitalizing AAP by rebuilding its support base and by developing an aggressive federal public policy advocacy program. As part of the revitalization process, AAP: (a) recruited a new staff experienced with political action and fund raising, (b) required its officers to have a history of personal involvement in advocacy; and (c) modified its bylaws so that members of its Board of Trustees would represent AAP’s members rather than interest groups within APA. AAP selected Rogers Wright as Executive Officer and charged him with developing an effective advocacy program.
The new program has been extremely successful in establishing a secure economic base, and in establishing national visibility and credibility for the organization. The activities of AAP’s political action committee, AAP/PLAN elevated the political action committee to the 11th most active among all health care political action committees nationally in recent years.
More Recent Developments
In 2003, AAP entered into a formal Affiliation Agreement with the American Psychological Association Practice Organization (APAPO) which went a long way toward recognizing the importance of political action to promoting psychology’s federal legislative agenda. The Agreement permits the APAPO to promote AAP and educate its nearly 50,000 Practice Assessment payers about the critical value of supporting AAP and AAP/PLAN.
More recently AAP has begun to collaborate with the Education Advocacy Trust (EdAT), a grantor trust of the APA Practice Organization (APAPO), in order to support federal candidates who champion legislative initiatives that will advance and increase federal support (funding) for psychology education/training.