The American Psychological Association: Definition, Divisions & Publications

Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

The American Psychological Association is one of the most visible professional organizations. From manuals to journal publications, the APA helps professionals stay informed about the state of the science of psychology.

More Than Just a Citation Style

If you've ever written a research or term paper, you have probably heard of APA style. It's a particular way of formatting articles or papers that is most often used in psychology, education, and other behavioral sciences like sociology. And if you know anyone who works in the field of psychology, you might also be familiar with the organization responsible for creating APA style. The APA, or American Psychological Association, is an organization founded in 1892 in response to the variety of ways in which psychology was practiced. For more information about the APA, read on.

The American Psychological Association

The APA began during a time of growth in the (then young) field of psychology. Embracing psychology as a branch of science, a group of around 30 psychologists founded the organization for two major reasons: academic and political. In the academic sense, embracing psychology as a field in science meant that standards of evidence and communication (including a style of formatting papers and journal articles) needed to be developed for the discipline. In terms of politics, the progressive nature of most of the first members of the APA meant that they looked forward to a social order that had less waste and more honesty and transparency in its practices.

Divisions and Members

When you hear the word psychology, the image that comes to mind may include a psychologist's office, complete with a comfortable couch. This is the stereotype, but there are many types of psychologists. The American Psychological Association is composed of more than 50 divisions that represent branches of study within psychology. Divisions were first used in 1944, and of the first 19 divisions, the two largest were devoted to clinical and counseling psychology. Currently, there are 54 divisions, and their purposes reflect the diverse growth prevalent throughout the field. Some of the newer divisions include women's and men's psychology, history of psychology, and international psychology.

Until 1926, all members of the APA were required to have a Ph.D. in psychology, so it was a very similar group who voted on policy and practices. In 1926, the organization's leadership wanted to expand from pure scholarship into more practical matters, so they instituted the rank of associate member. Associate members were not permitted a vote, but they could participate in discussions with other members. In particular, the APA sought out people doing hands-on work and research in the field of psychology. Currently, the APA has more than 122,000 members and associate members. Associate members may now vote after five years of membership.


Because it is a scholarly organization, the APA maintains numerous publications, including periodicals and manuals. The APA and its members are concerned with staying at the forefront of psychology research, and journals are one way for members to stay informed. These publications include such journals as Developmental Psychology and The Journal of Family Psychology. Both of these are clearly focused on one area of psychology and deliver the results of recent studies and discussions in an accessible format.

In addition to the journals, the APA maintains databases of journals and journal articles, so if someone really needs a particular piece of information, he or she can search for it. These databases include APA PsycNET, which is a database that is sourced by the APA's official Thesaurus of Psychological Terms. In practical terms, this makes the database a powerful tool for article searches, as it looks up not only the term requested, but related terms as well.

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