Melba J.T. Vasquez, PhD

Melba Vasquez, PhDThe American Psychological Association (APA) is the world's oldest and largest organization of psychologists, and I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to serve as the 2011 APA president.

Each year, we have had opportunities to take a few more integrative steps, if we work together productively to take advantage of them. While serving as APA president, I established three presidential task forces to address some of the grand challenges in society: immigration, racism and educational disparities.

Biography

Melba J. T. Vasquez received her doctorate from the scientist-practitioner counseling psychology program at the University of Texas at Austin in 1978. She is an independent practitioner in Austin. Her areas of scholarship are ethics, multicultural psychotherapy, psychology of women, supervision and training. She has provided leadership service to the profession of psychology for three decades.

Before becoming a psychologist, Vasquez taught English and political science in middle school. While working on a master's degree in counseling, she was encouraged to apply to UT's doctoral program. As a member of the first generation in her family to attend college, Dr. Vasquez had never until then considered obtaining a doctorate. Involvement as a member of the first cohort of the APA Minority Fellowship Program provided a powerful socializing process into the profession and incentive to contribute to the discipline.

After graduation, Vasquez served as a psychologist in the university counseling center, directed the internship training program, and taught in the counseling psychology doctoral program at Colorado State University and later, the University of Texas. After 13 years, she embarked upon full-time independent practice while continuing active involvement in scholarship, mentoring, professional leadership and advocacy.

Vasquez has served on the APA Board of Directors and in various roles in APA governance, including as member or chair of a dozen APA boards, committees and task forces. Her experience initiating new, major projects include co-founding the National Multicultural Conference and Summit as well as Divs. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race) and 56 (Trauma Psychology). Dr. Vasquez is a past president of APA Divs. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) and 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women), and the Texas Psychological Association. She served as an APA council representative from Divs. 17, 42 (Psychologists in Independent Practice) and 45. She has advocated for psychology at the state and federal legislative levels, receiving both the Heiser Award and the AAP Advocacy Award.

An author and editor, Vasquez has published extensively. She is co-author of three books, including "Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counseling" (Pope & Vasquez), "How to Survive and Thrive as a Therapist" (Pope & Vasquez), and "APA Ethics Code Commentary and Case Illustrations" (2010, Campbell, Vasquez, Behnke & Kinscherff). She has written more than 65 journal articles and book chapters, and served on the editorial boards of 10 journals. She is currently writing a book on multicultural therapy for an APA Theories of Psychotherapy Monograph series.

Honors and awards include: Fellow of APA Divs. 1 (Society for General Psychology), 17, 31 (State, Provincial and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs), 35, 42, 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues), 45, 49 (Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy), 52 (International Psychology), 56 and member of Divs. 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues), 29 (Psychotherapy),  & 51 (Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity); diplomate in counseling psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology; Distinguished Practitioner of Psychology in the National Academies of Practice; and recipient of over 30 awards for distinguished service, advocacy and mentoring.

Initiatives

During her term as president, Dr. Vasquez supported three major initiatives: The APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration, the Presidential Task Force on Preventing Discrimination and Promoting Diversity, and the Presidential Task Force on Educational Disparities.

The APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration developed an evidence-based report that addressed the psychological factors related to the experience of immigration, with particular attention to the mental and behavioral health needs of immigrants across the lifespan and the effects of acculturation, prejudice/discrimination and immigration policy on individuals, families and society. Task Force members were: Carola Suarez-Orozco, PhD, chair; Dina Birman, PhD; J. Manuel Casas, PhD; Nadine Nakamura, PhD; Pratyusha Tummala-Narra, PhD; and Michael Zaraté, PhD. Staff for the task force: Mary Campbell and Efua Andoh.

The Presidential Task Force on Preventing Discrimination and Promoting Diversity sought to reduce and prevent discrimination against and enhance the benefits of including people whose social identities are marginalized in society. The group was particularly interested in the mechanisms of these exclusionary processes as well as on those who may be responsible for the bias (often called perpetrators). The task force recognized that just because prejudice (which was used broadly to include a variety of biases such as homophobia, racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, ageism and so on) exists and may lead to negative treatment of its targets, that does not mean that targets are doomed to a “wretched internal life,” as Kardiner and Ovesy conjectured in the Mark of Oppression. Therefore, the task force was also interested in evidence of resilience, stress-related growth and a variety of coping mechanisms that may be employed by targets of prejudice. One of the outcome goals was to distribute and disseminate the information to APA members, the public at large, institutions and organizations, and policymakers, through public education campaigns, briefing papers and a web-based information clearing house. Task force members were: James Jones, PhD, chair; Susan Cochran, PhD; Michele Fine, PhD; Sam Guertner, PhD; Rudy Mendoza-Denton, PhD; Margaret Shih, PhD; and Derald Wing Sue, PhD.  Staff for the task force: Sue Houston and Donella Graham.

The Presidential Task Force on Educational Disparities developed strategies from psychological science to reduce educational disparities. It addressed questions such as: What does psychology have to say and offer about addressing the impact of educational disparities, especially on poor and racial/ethnic minority students? What are the sources of the educational gaps?

Low educational attainment of any group in this country has negative consequences for the nation’s future and its prosperity. For example, Latinos/as are less likely to graduate from high school than any other demographic group, with a dropout rate that is more than double that of either blacks or whites. The reasons are complex, including economic challenges that put these students at significant disadvantages. Given the increasing representation of minorities in various sectors in the U.S., including education and the work-force, and because most work that pays enough to afford a sustainable lifestyle results from skills derived through higher education, it is critical that poor and racial/ethnic groups not only persist but achieve more in academic settings. Having a more educated, racially diverse society is beneficial for all communities. Task force members were: Steve Quintana, PhD, chair; Wade Boykin, PhD; Andrew Fuligni, PhD; Sandra Graham, PhD; Sam Ortiz, PhD; and Frank Worrell, PhD. APA staff: Rena Subotnik.