Senior director's column

SENIOR DIRECTOR'S COLUMN: What is on Your Mind?

Some of the concerns that APA's Council of Representatives reflected on at a few meetings were measures to increase inclusiveness in governance, awareness training in diversity; programs and policy statements to help psychology address pressing global issues and activities to support defining priorities and strategic goals.

By Merry Bullock, PhD

by Merry Bullock, PhD, Senior Director
APA Office of International Affairs

The discussion at the recent meeting of APA’s Council of Representatives reflected many of the concerns of the association. Among the highlights were measures to increase inclusiveness in governance,  awareness training in diversity; programs and policy statements to help psychology address pressing global issues (see, for example, the Resolution Against Genocide), and activities to support defining priorities and strategic goals - council engaged in a fascinating session asking them to think what phrase would best capture the ultimate purpose of the association, and what headline they would most like to see about psychology 20 years from now.

As APA defines its strategic goals and develops its strategic plan, international issues and collaboration will probably play a larger role than ever before. For this column, to begin a discussion, we asked APA’s international readers (members and affiliates) to help identify pressing issues from their perspective.  We chose a random sample of emails for colleagues around the world and asked a simple question – what are the issues for psychology in your country and generally? We received replies from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, and Africa..

What were some common themes?

Stigma – Several of you reported that mental disability is still so stigmatized that effective and rapid treatment for mental health issues is difficult to provide; in addition some of you noted that this stigmatization leads to inadequate attention to support for regulated, scientifically grounded, behaviorally based treatment.

Relevance – Many called for an investment in research, curricula and training to facilitate psychologists to address important social issues –such as stress in the schools; terrorism, intolerance, racism. You also called on psychology to stretch itself to develop new, cutting edge instruments, measurements and analyses, and to find ways to apply what we know about multiculturalism and positive psychology to develop ways to improve mental health systems and mental health treatment

Sharing and Exchange – Another theme was increasing opportunities for research, education, training, teaching and professional development. Some of you pointed out that because psychology has developed at different rates around the world, it would be good to develop ways to provide access and opportunities for advanced training especially in specialty areas, more globally; others suggested developing ways to share teaching methods and teaching expertise across countries.

Many of you raised deep cultural differences among the many psychologies around the world, and especially with the US.  You expressed a desire for us all to remember that measures, models and explanations based on data from US investigations are no more universal than those based on data from other countries; and you called for widespread discussion of examples of how our political and social contexts help create or change theories in psychology. 

These are only a sampling of the issues raised. They provide a context to begin a discussion, and a great platform for future issues of Psychology International, as we call on our colleagues to help provide examples and write thought pieces on how an international psychology can address what is on our minds.

Another thing….

Last month APA joined many organizations that made comments on the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty Center’s draft strategic plan. The plan presents a broad vision to generate international exchange in health research and to develop centers of excellence in collaboration with colleagues around the world (translation – funding for exchange and for infrastructure capacity building in countries where the medical research infrastructure is not well developed). APA’s comments congratulated Fogarty for this vision, but they were less positive about what was omitted – although the strategic plan called for a truly global research, it made no mention of what was needed to achieve this – there was no discussion of cultural sensitivity, or the importance of context and culture in the research enterprise. More disturbing for us, however, there was no mention of the contribution of mental health and chronic mental disease to the global burden of disease. Yet we are well aware that depression is one of the top chronic conditions that has a major impact on economic and social life.

As we think of a global psychology it is clear that we must do far more than work together to find common ground within our discipline. We must collectively work to advocate for the importance of psychology in defining and implementing programs to address world health and welfare.