Founded in 1955 by Henry Guze, Jules Barron, and Albert Ellis, the American Academy of Psychotherapists was one of the first professional organizations to bring together practitioners of different disciplines who were interested in innovative clinical practice. From its inception, the American Academy of Psychotherapists has been dedicated to the theoretical premise that the person of the therapist profoundly impacts the course of therapy. This belief has been consistently grounded in ongoing study of actual clinical experiences. AAP was one of the first organizations to require personal therapy of applicants for membership, believing this fostered “collegiality, a mutual respect, and a readiness to trust” in the words of Carl Whitaker. Henry Guze explicitly stated that he wanted to create an organization for "the care, feeding, and protection of the souls of psychotherapists", and the Academy still attempts to fulfill that role for its members today.
Carl Rogers, the first president of the Academy, along with Carl Whitaker and other founding members, forged the direction of the Academy by developing the first Summer Workshop where therapists worked with patients in front of other therapists and then processed the experience afterwards. Over time, Academy members began to demonstrate their work in process groups with each other as well, providing opportunities for intense personal and professional growth. Initially these groups met only during the course of one meeting, but eventually the same members began to reconvene over several meetings to deepen the work that could be accomplished. In time, these ongoing meeting resulted in the development of the long-term peer groups that exist in the Academy today. Academy meetings are still replete with rich experiential workshops, along with process groups and more traditional didactic workshops and plenary sessions.
As times have changed in the mental health professions, the Academy has held true to its focus on the person of the psychotherapist, continuing to challenge therapists to personal and professional growth through authentic encounters and creative risk-taking. In response to forces that would overly concretize therapy, AAP has developed the Research on the Advancement of Psychotherapy (RAP) committee which seeks to inform other therapists and the public about research evidence supporting the effectiveness of experiential, relational, and depth-oriented psychotherapy. The Academy has also recently developed the Scholars program which provides financial support and clinical training to graduate students and new therapists. By receiving training and exposure to experiential and relationally oriented interpersonal psychotherapy at Academy Institute and Conferences, a new generation of psychothearpists has the opportunity to carry on and extend the vision of the founders of contemporary psychotherapy.