Degree In Sight

As future leaders, students must advocate for psychology now to set a precedent for the future, said presenters at an APAGS-sponsored session at APA's 2007 Annual Convention.

Grassroots campaigning, one leg in the "three-legged advocacy stool," is one way for students to get involved, and can make a significant difference at the federal, state and local levels, said Peter Newbould, director of congressional and political affairs in the APA Practice Organization.

"A key component to our success at every step along the way is grassroots outcry that says to members of Congress that this is important to me and to my patients," said Newbould. "That makes it very real and puts a human face on a problem."

Often, students can express to elected officials their take on an issue simply by clicking a link in an e-mail, said APAGS regional advocacy coordinator Lovingly Quitania, who said that Congress is often very receptive to students' voices. She encouraged students to sign up to receive "action alerts" on important legislation affecting psychology. The alerts, sent out by APA, allow recipients to quickly send pre-written e-mails to elected officials and sign petitions in response to this legislation. With more than 75,000 psychology graduate students enrolled nationwide today, these actions can affect issues on a national level, she said.

"For each person that responds to those action alerts on your campus, that's another voice that they hear up on the Hill," said Quitania, a fifth-year clinical psychology student at Alliant International University.

Letters, combined with other advocacy efforts such as direct lobbying and contributions to campaigns, really do work, says Newbould. In 2006, an action alert spurred more than 19,000 psychologists to send letters and e-mails to Congress, and it defeated an insurance deregulation bill that could have led to cuts in consumer mental health care protections, said Newbould.

Students can also consider joining APA and their state and local psychological associations, which identify legislative proposals that influence the profession, said Gilbert Newman, PhD, director of clinical training at the Wright Institute and past president of the California Psychological Association.

And while he recognized that many students might prefer to join specialty associations--family therapy or neuropsychology, for example--he noted that these organizations may not protect their rights or the rights of their clients down the line.

"None of the other specialty associations do the legislative, regulatory and judicial work that these organizations are doing," said Newman.

-A. Cynkar