American Psychological Association (APA) Essay

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The American Psychological Association (APA) held its first organizational meeting in 1892, at which G. Stanley Hall was elected president. Annual dues were set at three dollars, and the first annual meeting, the first major psychological conference in the world, was held in December of the same year. The establishment of the organization was a major milestone in the history of psychology, marking its coming of age as a distinct academic discipline, separate from physiology and philosophy, the disciplines from which many of its early researchers were drawn. The APA’s annual meetings gave psychologists an opportunity to meet with other psychologists from all over the country and discuss their work, as well as finding out the latest information about what others were doing. These meetings, and others like them, continue to serve this very important function for the field of psychology.

The APA grew rapidly, and it has especially expanded its membership rolls in recent years, as the popularity of psychology as an academic discipline has continued to grow. The APA was the first major scholarly society in America to extend full membership to women. In 1892 the APA had thirty-one registered members. As of 2004 the APA claimed more than 150,000 members. It is the largest organization of psychologists in the world, and its influence on the way both research and clinical practice is conducted has been profound. Articles in professional journals, as well as most other publications by psychologists, along with college papers for psychology classes, follow the style and format guidelines of the Publication Manual of the APA, now in its fifth edition.

Psychological research at virtually all educational and research institutions in the United States is required to comply with the APA’s Ethical Standards for Psychologists.

Within the APA, there are 53 divisions: organizations devoted to a particular subfield or area of interest within psychology, numbered from 1 to 55. The odd numbering occurs because, for historical reasons, there is neither a Division 4 nor a Division 11. Division 4 was originally to be the Psychometric Society, but they chose not to become an APA division after Division 5 (Evaluation and Measurement) had been formed with a very similar purpose. Division 11 was originally devoted to Abnormal Psychology and Psychotherapy but by 1946 it had joined forces with the original Division 12 (Clinical Psychology) to become the Division of Clinical and Abnormal Psychology, which changed its name again in 1998 to the Society for Clinical Psychology. Reflecting the huge growth in the field of psychology in the last couple of decades, Divisions 39 to 55 all date from 1980 or later—Division 55, added in 2000, is the American Society for the Advancement of Pharmacotherapy.

Despite its attempts to be all things to all psychologists, however, the APA’s uncritical promotion of unscientific therapies (such as accepting advertising for subliminal perception self-help tapes and continuing-education credit for thought field therapy) and its increasing advocacy of specific political positions, along with its advocacy of prescription privileges for clinical psychologists, alienated some of its prominent members sufficiently that they started a new, independent organization, the American Psychological Society (APS) in 1988. The APS is explicitly devoted to the advancement of scientific psychology and the representation of psychology as a science on the national level. This is taken seriously enough that a proposal to change the name of the organization to the Association for Psychological Science was narrowly defeated in 2002. The APS started by signing up over 5,000 members in its first six months and had more than 13,500 members by 2003 (a number the APA took about fifty years to reach). Its membership includes most of the leading American psychological scientists and academics, as well as many prominent clinicians. Despite its origins, the APS has maintained a cordial relationship with the APA, and many people are members of both organizations, seeing them as serving different purposes. Indeed, APS members get discounted rates on several APA journals.


  1. Cattell, J. M. “The Founding of the Association.” Psychological Review, 50 (1943): 61–64.

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