Degree In Sight

US capitol building in DC

Graduate students from the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students and its Advocacy Coordinating Team (ACT) met with legislators and aides on Capitol Hill during APA's State Leadership Conference, March 13-16, to urge Congress' support of mental health parity.

The students joined delegations of psychologists from their states to encourage members of Congress to help bring mental health insurance coverage on par with physical health coverage.

Kristi Van Sickle, Florida's ACT state advocacy coordinator, joined with other Florida psychologists to meet with legislators and aides from their state. At the meetings, the delegation spoke about the need for mental health parity.

"I left with a sense of how imperative it is for psychologists to be politically involved, both to protect our own interests and, perhaps more importantly, the interests of those whom we treat," says Van Sickle, a third-year clinical psychology student at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, FL"I think people become disillusioned with politics and forget that their elected representatives [work for their interests]."

Van Sickle says she will no longer hesitate to send an e-mail or call her members of Congress about an issue or program she supports. "They expect and want to hear from constituents and have staff specifically dedicated to attending to communications from voters," she explains.

Hilary Kindsfater-a fourth-year doctoral student at the University of South Dakota-says the conference also helped her to realize the importance of advocacy at the state level. Kindsfater spoke to a staff member of Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) about mental health parity with other South Dakota psychologists. In a rural area with limited resources-such as parts of South Dakota-it's especially important for psychologists and students to take part in advocacy, says Kindsfater, an ACT western regional advocacy coordinator.

Students who participated in the invitation-only conference, sponsored by APA, also learned how they can get involved with psychology advocacy initiatives, how the legislative process works and how students can participate in advocacy initiatives through APA and their state, provincial and territorial psychological associations (SPTAs).

For example, Nichole Wood-Barcalow-a fourth-year counseling psychology doctoral student at Ohio State University-attended a session on SPTA colleague assistance programs, and she says the session made her realize how important it is for students to team with SPTAs to address such issues as intervention and prevention on graduate student distress and impairment issues.

Other students representing APAGS at the State Leadership Conference were Chris Loftis, Jessica Percodani, Stephen Hampe, Yaron G. Rabinowitz, Ken Maguire, Lisa Baker, Mark Bowers, Kevin Chapman, Mary Bushnell and Julie Jenks-Kettman.

-M. DITTMANN