2011 ELC Participants Advocate for GPE Program on Capitol Hill

At this year’s Education Leadership Conference (ELC), which focused on Interdisciplinary and Interprofessional Teaching, Research, and Training, nearly 100 APA members participated in sessions dedicated to federal psychology programs and advocacy training. ELC participants enhanced their understanding of federal advocacy as well as the Graduate Psychology Education program (GPE) and used that knowledge to educate members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, as well as their staff, about this “one of a kind” psychology-specific federal program. Participants learned that the focus of the GPE advocacy efforts has been on strengthening funding for the GPE program in an effort to: reinstate the geropsychology grants; address the needs of veterans and their families, as well as unemployed persons, in underserved communities; and place psychology trainees in federally qualified health centers (FQHCs).

The advocacy program sessions began on Sunday afternoon with Nina Levitt, EdD, Associate Executive Director of the Education Government Relations Office (EdGRO), providing a brief overview of the GPE program, issues related to its funding and APA’s year-long efforts to protect and support funding at the highest level possible for the program.  Dr. Levitt emphasized that programs of importance to psychology, such as GPE, need psychologists championing their cause on Capitol Hill. Otherwise, in these difficult economic times, these programs are in imminent danger of being cut by a cash-strapped Congress.

Advocacy training continued on Monday morning with EdGRO staff presenting a session entitled Advocacy for Novices, which was offered to new advocates as well as returning participants looking to brush up on their advocacy skills. More than 35 ELC participants attended this event. Employing a combination of informative PowerPoint presentations and interactive exercises, Nina Levitt and Sheila Forsyth, APA EdGRO Grassroots Consultant, explained the basics of the federal legislative and appropriations processes, the basis for all Americans’ right to advocate, and why it is so important for psychologists to be actively involved in advocacy activities. This popular mini-workshop further allowed participants to engage in a spirited discussion of advocacy’s “how-to’s”, learn how to be an effective advocate, and sharpen their communication skills in preparation for their Capitol Hill visits.

Monday’s sessions also included the annual Education Advocacy Awards Luncheon, which provided an opportunity to recognize psychologists and other individuals who are advancing psychology education and training through their advocacy activities and support. This year four individuals were honored for their outstanding efforts and were presented awards by the Board of Educational Affairs Chair, Margaret Madden, PhD and APA President Melba Vasquez, PhD, ABPP.  For the first time, two individuals received the Education Advocacy APA Member-At-Large Distinguished Service Award.  Linda Campbell, PhD received the 2011 Education Advocacy Distinguished Service Award for her longstanding commitment and tireless efforts to promote collaboration within the psychology education and training community. The Education Advocacy Distinguished Service Award was also presented to Steve Pfeiffer, PhD.  Dr. Pfeiffer has been instrumental in advancing the Education Advocacy agenda ever since the APA Education GRO was first established and has consistently encouraged the psychology education and training community to actively support  Education Advocacy initiatives and activities. Next, the Federal Education Advocacy Grassroots Network award was presented to Wendy Paszkiewicz, PhD for her skill, tenacity, and great enthusiasm in recruiting new members to the Education Advocacy Grassroots network.  Lastly, Kate Mevis, Legislative Aide to Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), received the 2011 Friend of Psychology Distinguished Service Award for her extraordinary support of increasing psychological services to our nation’s youth.

Following lunch, ELC participants attended a plenary session entitled The Integration of Behavioral Health in Community Health Centers. Facilitated by Education Executive Director Cynthia Belar, PhD, ABPP, three panelists spoke about the critical role that psychologists can and should play in an integrated healthcare system. As acceptance and appreciation of behavioral factors in chronic disease management becomes more widespread, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) are becoming critical players in the nation’s community healthcare system. Yet, it was noted that only 46 of the 8,000 health centers nationwide train psychologists and only 319 psychologists are employed at FQHCs. However, due to programs such as GPE and recent efforts in collaboration with the Bureau of Primary Health Centers, the value of psychologists in FQHCs is gaining recognition.  Dennis Freeman, PhD, Chief Executive Officer at Cherokee Health Systems and a GPE grantee, Gilbert Newman, PhD, Director of Clinical Training at the Wright Institute and a GPE grantee, and Seiji Hayashi, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer at the Bureau of Primary Health Care, each captivated APA members with their data-driven and anecdote rich overviews on the value of integrating behavioral health care in health centers.

Monday afternoon wrapped up with a substantive review of the GPE Program and a detailed discussion of its current status, including an update on the FY 2012 Appropriations cycle. ELC participants also learned about what to expect on a visit to Capitol Hill and were educated about the request or “ask” to their Senators and Representatives. The afternoon ended on a high note as Christopher Kush, President of Soapbox Consulting, lead participants in a lively “Round-Robin” role play exercise that enabled everyone to practice their advocacy skills and primed them for their Tuesday meetings on Capitol Hill.

Finally, with great excitement and a bit of apprehension, on Tuesday morning nearly 100 energized APA members went in groups to Capitol Hill to make their case for protecting and funding the GPE program at the highest level possible. These psychology advocates held an impressive 178 meetings total, 68 in the Senate and 110 in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing 34 states.

Upon her return, ELC participant, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD,  described her Capitol Hill visits  as  very exciting”  and  noted that “we were well received by the staffers we met.. Dr. Whitbourne further noted “every staffer we spoke with was on point and very interested in what our delegation had to say. I felt we were well prepared to answer staffers’ questions, we had plenty of information, and good ideas for following up on our meetings.” This year’s ELC participants not only made a compelling case for the GPE program at a critical time, many of them became lifelong advocates for the profession in the process.

Make a difference for psychology. Please join the Federal Education Advocacy Grassroots Network today!