There's a big problem in our field, or at least the media would have us think so. Articles in Newsweek, Science and The New York Times have portrayed psychology as a disconnected profession in which researchers and clinicians operate in isolated silos and patients receive substandard treatment devoid of empirical support. There are multiple questions and concerns surrounding these claims, but perhaps what is most unsettling is the fact that this negative press has been largely generated from within our own field.
The internal tug-of-war between psychology's scientists and practitioners is not new, but to students it may seem outdated and artificial. Our generation of psychologists-in-training is well-versed in translational research, and we often work as part of interprofessional treatment teams. By their very nature, these models of research and practice require communication, participation and shared decision-making among professionals with diverse expertise. These models integrate the collective knowledge and skill sets of scientists and practitioners with specialized training in a variety of areas and provide natural opportunities for the cross-fertilization of ideas and information exchange. As students, many of us participate in research projects that are relevant, timely and meaningful to the public interest. They also tend to produce multidisciplinary, empirically informed and integrated treatment approaches.
The first few years of graduate school in APA-accredited programs usually include coursework in statistics, research design and breadth requirements that cut like this across psychology's many subfields. At the same time, science- and practice-focused students all face similar challenges, including qualifying exams, thesis requirements and prospective defense. We work side by side, building friendships with one another as we confront the challenges of graduate school. In short, science- and practice-focused psychology students share more similarities than differences at this stage of our careers, and the apparent dichotomy between researchers and clinicians may be an acquired perception, one that's reinforced by professors and supervisors with an outmoded view of psychology. Similarly, some of psychology's national leaders developed their careers at a time where the science and practice of psychology was not nearly as integrated as it is today.
Students are uniquely poised to spearhead a new movement in psychology that can fully integrate the range and diversity of expertise among psychologists. The formation of the new APAGS Science Committee is an early step toward achieving this long-term goal (see "Student scientists turn up the volume"). This committee will enable APAGS to better represent its 51,000 student members. Our vision is to bridge the perceived science-practice gap by building a leadership pipeline that includes students from many different kinds of programs, while also reaffirming our shared values. By embracing a science-practice union that incorporates the diverse perspectives of researchers and practitioners at each level of APA governance, we hope to ensure the health and growth of our field.
The media portrayals of psychology's science and practice as separate, competing interests are inaccurate and do a disservice to our profession and the public interest. Students are particularly disadvantaged by this debate when we are caught in the middle of an argument that generates more problems than meaningful solutions. The science-practice schism is narrowing every day, thanks to the work we do as graduate students. If we continue on this track, we'll soon show the world that this debate is out of date.