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Summary Article: American Psychological Association
From The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students.

The APA was founded at Clark University in 1892 with the goal of advancing psychology as a science. After beginning as an academically focused organization, APA reorganized in 1945 to include several smaller psychological organizations, evolving into a new organization with a mission that included both professional and scientific issues, as well as the application of psychology to the public interest. Over time, a multifaceted structure that included divisions and state, provincial and territorial psychological associations developed, reflecting the diversity of the field and the APA’s members. The APA was incorporated in 1925 in Washington, DC, where it remains headquartered. Currently, the APA has over 600 employees, publishes a number of highly respected journals, has a well regarded book publishing function, holds an annual convention attended by 12,000–17,000 people, provides a monthly magazine to members, supports numerous volunteers serving on the APA’s Boards and Committees, and houses multiple offices to address a variety of issues with the goal of advancing psychology as a science and profession in the legislative, public, academic and research arenas.

Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology, affiliations with 59 state, territorial, and Canadian provincial associations, and complex governance and central office infrastructures, the APA works to implement its mission. That is, the APA advances psychology as a science and profession and as a means of promoting health, education, and human welfare by:

  • the encouragement of psychology in all its branches in the broadest and most liberal manner;

  • the promotion of research in psychology and the improvement of research methods and conditions;

  • the improvement of the qualifications and usefulness of psychologists through high standards of ethics, conduct, education, and achievement;

  • the establishment and maintenance of the highest standards of professional ethics and conduct of the members of the Association; and

  • the increase and diffusion of psychological knowledge through meetings, professional contacts, reports, papers, discussions and publications,

thereby to advance scientific interests and inquiry, and the application of research findings to the promotion of health, education, and the public welfare.

APA members are primarily doctoral-level psychologists, about a third of whom are employed in educational settings, a third in private clinical practice, and a third in other settings such as hospitals, clinics, business, industry, and government. Affiliates comprise about one-third of the APA’s total membership and include graduate students, high school teachers of psychology, master’s level mental health professionals, psychologists in other countries, and others.


The APA’s 54 divisions also offer memberships for psychologists, students, and others who share similar interests. Divisions range in size from 300 to 7,500 members and affiliates. Each focuses on a different substantive area of psychology by offering a newsletter, sometimes a peer-reviewed journal, programming at the annual APA convention and other opportunities for their members to share information and advance their area of psychology. The APA divisions were established in 1945. Early on, Division 4 was set aside for the Psychonomic Society; however, the society decided to remain separate from APA. Similarly, Division 11 was set aside for Abnormal Psychology and Psychotherapy. These groups decided that they fit with the Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12) and did not need to be identified in a separate division. For historical purposes, Divisions 4 and 11 have remained vacant. The current APA divisions include the following:

  1. Society for General Psychology

  2. Society for the Teaching of Psychology

  3. Experimental Psychology

  4. There is no Division 4

  5. Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics

  6. Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology

  7. Developmental Psychology

  8. Society for Personality and Social Psychology

  9. Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI)

  10. Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts

  11. There is no Division 11

  12. Society of Clinical Psychology

  13. Society of Consulting Psychology

  14. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology

  15. Educational Psychology

  16. School Psychology

  17. Society of Counseling Psychology

  18. Psychologists in Public Service

  19. Society for Military Psychology

  20. Adult Development and Aging

  21. Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology

  22. Rehabilitation Psychology

  23. Society for Consumer Psychology

  24. Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology

  25. Behavior Analysis

  26. Society for the History of Psychology

  27. Society for Community Research and Action: Division of Community Psychology

  28. Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse

  29. Psychotherapy

  30. Society of Psychological Hypnosis

  31. State, Provincial, and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs

  32. Humanistic Psychology

  33. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities

  34. Population and Environmental Psychology

  35. Society for the Psychology of Women

  36. Psychology of Religion

  37. Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice

  38. Health Psychology

  39. Psychoanalysis

  40. Clinical Neuropsychology

  41. American Psychology-Law Society

  42. Psychologists in Independent Practice

  43. Family Psychology

  44. Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues

  45. Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues

  46. Media Psychology

  47. Exercise and Sport Psychology

  48. Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology Division

  49. Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy

  50. Addictions

  51. Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity

  52. International Psychology

  53. Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology

  54. Society of Pediatric Psychology

  55. American Society for the Advancement of Pharmacotherapy

  56. Trauma Psychology

Organizational Structure

The APA is a corporation chartered in the District of Columbia. As such, the certificate of incorporation determines and limits the APA’s activities to those primarily in the service of promoting psychology in the public interest as an educational entity. The charter takes precedence over all of APA’s internal documents, including the APA Bylaws.

The APA Bylaws serve as the APA’s constitution and take precedence over all other internal rules. They can only be amended by vote of the membership. They have remained fundamentally unchanged since they were ratified by the members a half-century ago. The bylaws establish the major structural units of APA: the Council of Representatives, the Board of Directors, the officers, the standing boards and committees, and the central office with a chief executive officer.

APA members hold the ultimate power within the Association and exercise their power through direct vote and through the election of members to serve on the Council of Representatives and as APA President-elect. The primary constituencies from which the representatives are elected are the divisions and the state, provincial and territorial psychological associations. The number of seats on the Council of Representatives allocated to a division or state/provincial/territorial association is based on an annual apportionment ballot, whereby each member of the Association may allocate a total of ten votes to the division(s) and/or state/provincial/territorial association(s) through which they wish to be represented the following year. Council representatives from divisions and state/provincial/territorial associations are required to be members of the division or state/provincial/territorial associations they represent, as well as members of the Association. The Council of Representatives elects six of its members to serve along with the elected APA officers (president, past-president, president-elect, treasurer, recording secretary and chief executive officer), as a 12-person Board of Directors to manage the affairs of the Association, subject to the periodic approval of the Council. All voting members of the Board of Directors are elected for a three-year term. Board members-at-large, the Recording Secretary and the Treasurer are nominated and elected by the previous year’s Council. The APA President-elect is nominated and elected by APA Fellows, Members, and Voting Associates. The presidency cycle is 3 years, with one year each of service as President-elect, President and Past President. The President chairs both the Council of Representatives and the Board of Directors. The Chair of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) serves as a voting member of Council and a non-voting member of the Board of Directors.

The Council of Representatives has broad authority to develop the policies of the Association, within the framework of the charter and the bylaws. It has full authority over the affairs and funds of the Association.

Governance, Boards, and Committees

Much of the work of the Association is completed by member volunteers who serve on the APA’s various Boards and Committees. These groups report to the Council of Representatives, the APA’s most powerful governance group which is charged with the responsibility of setting policy and establishing priorities for the Association. Boards and Committees carry out a wide range of tasks and represent many interests of the APA’s members and the field. Positions on the APA’s Council, Boards, and Committees are filled through a process of electing eligible APA members and in some cases, affiliates. The APA Boards and committees include the following:

  • Board of Directors

  • Policy and Planning Board

  • Committee on Structure and Function of Council

  • Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest

  • Board of Convention Affairs

  • Board of Educational Affairs

  • Board of Professional Affairs

  • Board of Scientific Affairs

  • Election Committee

  • Ethics Committee

  • Finance Committee

  • Membership Committee

  • Publications and Communications Board

  • Agenda Planning Group

  • Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology

  • Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice

  • Committee for the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students

  • Committee on Accreditation

  • Committee on Aging

  • Committee on Animal Research and Ethics

  • Committee on Children, Youth, and Families

  • Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology

  • Committee on Division/APA Relations

  • Committee on Early Career Psychologists

  • Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs

  • Committee on International Relations in Psychology

  • Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns

  • Committee on Professional Practice and Standards

  • Committee on Psychology Teachers at Community Colleges

  • Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessment

  • Committee on Rural Health

  • Committee on Scientific Awards

  • Committee on Women in Psychology

  • Continuing Professional Education Committee

  • Council of Editors

  • Education and Training Awards Committee

  • Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools

The APA Ad Hoc Committees and Task Forces are formed to address time-limited or newly identified issues that are important to APA members and to psychology in general. Some examples of these include:
  • Ad Hoc Committee on Films and Other Media

  • Ad Hoc Committee on Legal Issues

  • Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance

  • Task force on Research Regulations

  • History Oversight Committee

  • Joint Committee on Testing Practices

  • Task Force on Serious Mental Illness/Severe Emotional Disturbance

  • Task Force on Urban Psychology

  • Task Force on Workplace Violence

Central Office

While the APA’s governance members establish the policies and priorities for the Association, the chief executive officer is responsible for implementing these policies and procedures and running the business aspects of the APA by managing and staffing the APA’s Central Office. The APA’s Central Office staff support and inform the work of all the boards and committees, run one of the largest scientific publishing houses in the world, invest in stocks, manage real estate, and interact with private, state, and federal agencies and organizations. In addition to collecting roughly $16.5 million in member dues and fees each year and $41 million from the Communications Programs, the Central Office generates additional income of almost $15 million to expand the activities and services of the APA. Actual dues represent only 16 percent of the revenues needed to run the APA.

To serve the particular interests of the APA’s diverse membership and the needs of the discipline as a whole, APA’s Central Office is overseen by an Executive Office and organized into several semi-independent directorates that include Practice, Science, Public Interest, Education, and Central Programs. The Central Programs directorate is comprised of offices whose work applies to all areas of the Association, and includes the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students, Research, Ethics, International Affairs, Convention and Meeting Services, Public Policy, and the APA’s Library and Archives. Similarly, the APA also has directorates that aide in the business, governance, and public outreach aspects of the Association. These include: Publications, Member and Public Communications, Finance, and Internet/Management Information Systems.

SEE ALSO: ▸ Allport, Gordon W. ▸ Bandura, Albert ▸ James, William ▸ Maslow, Abraham ▸ Rogers, Carl ▸ Seligman, Martin ▸ Watson, John B.

Carol Williams-Nickelson
David W. Nickelson
American Psychological Association
© 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

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