At 37,000 members strong, graduate students represent 25 percent of APA's membership. (Graduate students are considered affiliates of APA but are members of APAGS). More important, though, psychology students represent 100 percent of APA's future membership. Why does this matter, and why should we join APA when we graduate?
It's not uncommon that I encounter these types of questions, sometimes from colleagues who belong to boutique societies, other times from professors who have left the organization, but usually from students who are simply unaware of APA's vast but indirect influence on their education, training and careers.
I tell them that APA is the largest association of psychologists in the world. While it doesn't provide the niche services of boutique societies, it serves an even bigger and extraordinarily important purpose: uniting psychologists across subfields and even colleagues in related disciplines. APA is the public face of psychology and our voice on Capitol Hill.
APA's mission is to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives. While other organizations may share similar goals, the diversity of APA's membership makes it uniquely qualified to protect, advocate for and represent psychology in the public interest. Smaller, more specialized organizations are simply unable to draw upon the breadth of resources and expertise available within APA, and they often do not have the membership volume to command attention on the national stage. APA, on the other hand, has more than 150,000 members, three government relations offices within the Science, Education, and Public Interest Directorates, and coordinated teams of advocacy staff that work closely with decision-makers on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies as they formulate legislation and regulations that directly affect us. APA's Practice Organization also has a government relations office. Collectively these resources make APA the largest and most visible national presence advocating for psychology at the federal level.
So how does this affect you? If you're a student, you should know that APA has successfully urged Congress and the White House to award more than $24 million in funding for training programs in graduate psychology education over the past eight years. Researchers, tip your hats to APA for co-chairing the Coalition to Protect Research, which is fighting to preserve the National Institutes of Health peer review process, the mechanism by which grant funding decisions are made. Clinicians, you can thank APA for introducing language to legislation that will ultimately end insurance discrimination against mental health care by providing complete parity with benefits for physical health. Finally, we should all be grateful to APA for its campaigns to apply psychological science to support equitable and just initiatives such as health-care reform, marriage equality and the elimination of mental health disparities.
Every psychologist has a vested interest in APA because, without a public effort to apply our work, our careers and our discipline are essentially irrelevant. In fact, any professional whose career involves the study, assessment, research or treatment of the brain and human behavior is a stakeholder in APA—and that includes emerging fields such as cognitive neuroscience, developmental science and human factors, to name but a few.
While I also belong to specialized organizations within my research niche, APA is the organization that inspires and reminds me why I chose a career in psychology in the first place: to improve the human condition, better people's lives and use psychological science to solve some of society's most complex social problems. What good is our science if it sits in the ivory tower? What good are our treatments if they do not reach the people who need it most? As emerging psychologists, each of us will find our own niche within the field and make important differences in individual lives. However, our combined knowledge, energy and expertise can be harnessed to urge lawmakers to ground their decisions in psychological science to improve everyone's lives. APA, our public voice, is the vehicle that can do it.
By Rachel Casas