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Professor Donald Bersoff Elected President of the American Psychological Association

November 03, 2011

Donald Bersoff, director of the Drexel University Law & Psychology Program, professor of law at the law school and professor of psychology in the Drexel University Department of Psychology, was elected president of the American Psychological Association.

The American Psychological Association, with more than 154,000 members and a $100 million annual budget, represents the largest group of psychologists in the world.

The first lawyer practitioner to be elected president of the association, Bersoff is an internationally known authority on legal and ethical issues in mental health, developmental disabilities and education.

Bersoff edited the landmark "Ethical Conflicts in Psychology," now in its fourth edition, and has written more than 100 publications and papers on the interaction of law, psychology and public policy. His articles have appeared in publications including American Psychologist, University of
Chicago Law School Roundtable, Law and Human Behavior
, Ethics & Behavior and the Journal of School Psychology.

He served as general counsel to the American Psychological Association from 1979 to 1989 and is a former partner in the Washington-based firms of Jenner & Block and Ennis Friedman & Bersoff. Elected to three terms on the APA Council of Representatives, he served as president of the American Psychology-Law Society and chairman of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Mental Disability Law. His experience as a clinical psychologist includes work with the U.S. Air Force in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

He received his JD from Yale Law School, and his PhD, his MA and his BS from New York University.

As association president, Bersoff said he will pursue three initiatives:

  • Addressing the mental health needs of military veterans and their families, including female soldiers who face sexual harassment.
  • Promoting training of Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Asian psychologists, who are under-represented among the ranks of practitioners and can bridge cultural and language differences.
  • Retaining and attracting more academics and researchers to the organization so that it reflects their viewpoints as well as those of practitioners.

Bersoff’s colleagues said his leadership will benefit the organization.

“Don Bersoff is a towering figure in psychology and law, psychological ethics, and a host of other areas,” said Stephen J. Morse, the Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “He is a great scholar, teacher and administrator. APA is immensely fortunate to have such a talented leader.”

Alan E. Kazdin, the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University, agreed.

“This is absolutely wonderful for the organization, because Don brings such a breadth of training and experience in policy, law and education as well as issues of diversity and social justice. He has accomplished all of that without sacrificing his scholarship,” Kazdin said. “Since he knows the organization so well, he has a tremendous opportunity to help the association address some of society’s deepest needs.”

Eric A. Zilmer, the Carl R. Pacifico Professor of Neuropsychology at Drexel, said his colleagues here are hardly surprised.

"Dr. Bersoff has broken ground in the intersection of law and clinical psychology for many decades," Zilmer said. "To be nominated to lead the largest psychology association in the world is a great honor. To be elected President of the American Psychological Association is a major accomplishment. We are so proud at Drexel to be associated with someone who is truly a leader in psychology."