A Brief History of the American Psychological Association

A Brief History of the American Psychological Association

Psychology as a distinct scientific discipline is relatively young. Although the existence of the mind and personality, and the treatment of disorders associated with them, has been recognized and practiced since ancient Greek and Egyptian times, it was considered a branch of philosophy and theology, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that psychology developed into a separate discipline.

The first laboratory dedicated to psychological research was founded in Germany in 1879, and G. Stanley Hall brought the movement to America a few years later. He was eventually awarded the first Ph. D. in Psychology in the U.S. In 1892, a group of 31 like-minded men, interested in what they termed the ‘new psychology’, met to form the American Psychological Association (APA), with Hall elected as the first president.At the time there was a general move toward specialization in the sciences, and a desire to reform society using new scientific knowledge and technology, making it more efficient, pragmatic, and fair.

Post-War Growth

post-war growthThe group grew slowly until World War II, having only 664 members in 1940. During the war, the APA reorganized itself and broadened its scope, merging with other organizations that represented the increasingly specialized field of psychology, especially in the fields of clinical and applied psychology.The post-war years were what some have called the Golden Age of Psychology. The federal government became more involved, creating the National Institute of Mental Health. The G.I. Bill trained thousands of new psychologists. Money for training and research was plentiful. The membership of the APA grew to over 30,000 from 1945 to 1970.

As part of the wartime reorganization, the APA adopted a divisional structure, reflecting the various new psychological disciplines, divisions such as Experimental Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Educational Psychology, The Society for Consumer Psychology, etc. In the 1960’s the number of divisions began to grow rapidly, with 34 added from 1960 through 2007. Today, there are a total of 54 separate divisions of the APA.

The Society of Addiction Psychology

In 1975, a small group of psychologists met to form the Society of Psychologists in Substance Abuse. Their goal, as stated in their charter, was “to promote human welfare, through encouragement of scientific and professional activities and communication among psychologists and others working in any capacity in the areas of substance abuse or dependence, and/or other addictive behaviors.”In the early 1980’s the group’s name was changed to The Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors (SPAB), to recognize and include professionals specializing in types of substance abuse not involving drugs, such as eating disorders, sexual addiction, gambling addiction, and any type of behavior characterized by excessive consumption.

Although the SPAB was closely associated with the APA almost from its creation, it wasn’t accepted as a division right away, mostly because there was already a Psychopharmacology & Substance Abuse (PSA) division. However, the SPAB was accepted as a group focused on practice, as opposed to the research and scientific focus of the PSA, and in 1993 was named candidate division 50 of the APA, and renamed the Society of Addiction Psychology.

An Enormous Impact

Woman lying on therapists couch looking happy as therapist is writingBoth the APA and its division SoAP have had a huge impact on the understanding and treatment of addictive behavior. Sufferers who were formerly treated with scorn and abuse and were alienated from society, have come to be regarded with empathy and compassion as a result of the efforts of these organizations. Untold thousands have achieved recovery and a normal life because of the hard work and dedication of these professionals.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse of any kind, it’s important to seek help. Modern recovery centers use the latest medical and scientific knowledge gained from decades of research and experience to fight addiction. Take the time to find the rehabilitation center that’s right for you.

    1. APA History, American Psychological Association, no pub date, http://www.apa.org/about/apa/archives/apa-history.aspx
    2. Society of Addiction Psychology, 2015 American Psychological Association, http://www.apa.org/about/division/div50.aspx
History of Psychology, Annenberg Learner, No pub date, http://www.learner.org/series/discoveringpsychology/history/history_nonflash.html

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