Senior director's column


During this economic downturn, psychologists are beginning to think about how psychology, as a discipline, needs to work proactively to be of service during this crisis.

By Merry Bullock, PhD

Looking Back

2008 has been an active international year for APA. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • APA began the year with news of its election to the Executive Board of CONGO, the Council of NGOs at the United Nations. This achievement placed APA in a position to bring a psychology perspective to the body that helps chart the agenda for civil society events at the United Nations; Other notable UN activities during the year included the second annual Psychology Day at the UN, and APA input on psychosocial issues for a number of statements, briefs and UN documents.

  • APA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the British Psychological Society, pledging to join together to promote psychology in service to society.

  • APA’s Office on AIDS joined the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) to mobilize psychologists in an international effort to address the multiple interactions between mental health and AIDS

  • Over 100 Fulbrighters attended APA’s convention to report on their work, collectively in about 40 countries, and to encourage colleagues to seek international exchanges and collaborations.

  • A number of publications – including APAGS’s resource book Studying Psychology in the United States: Expert Guidance for International Students (, and International Collaborations in the Behavioral and Social Sciences, a volume published by the National Academies Press, supported the development and maintenance of international collaborations.

  • March 2008 International Counseling Psychology Conference.

  • APA sponsored outreach efforts by supporting a workshop on the use of large scale data bases for scientists at the International Congress of Psychology in Germany, by supporting the organization of a psychology conference and the foundation of a new psychology organization in Sri Lanka, and by funding travel awards to international congresses.

  • APA developed a statement on appropriate responses by psychologists to international emergencies that has been promulgated internationally and used as a model for statements developed in other countries.

The Present

As 2008 draws to a close, few can escape discussions of the current economic crisis – from downsizing in major corporations, to immediate and longer term effects on small businesses, services, health care, individuals and families. In this context, it is no surprise that psychologists are beginning to think about how psychology, as a discipline, needs to work proactively to be of service during this crisis. This service is to its members, to provide strategies for weathering the current crisis, and to society, to use existing research for guidance on coping with changes in material circumstances and expectations, and with the individual, family and societal challenges they bring; and to carry out new research that will ultimately build positive behaviors and support resilience.

Psychology, of course, is no stranger to the issues raised by the current economic concerns – there is a long tradition of research on the social and individual consequences of societal stress, such as family violence, substance abuse, child and family well-being, and more. But the newspaper also tells us that the extent of this crisis and the likely speed of recovery are unprecedented since the great Depression of the 1930’s. Applying our expertise to the current crisis may require new translational work, and may require applying interventions at a broader community level than is typical. Do we have that expertise? And if not, where might we look to gain it?

Although a society-wide economic crisis might be unprecedented from a North American perspective, it is not unprecedented in many other parts of the world. We might look for guidance and expertise on psychological issues involved in coping with economic challenges from colleagues and psychology literatures from those places that have already experienced serious economic downturns (for example in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis several years ago) or countries where coping under economic stress has been a constant context in which research and application have occurred.

What Next?

Forecasts for the coming year caution against expecting a rapid economic recovery. In this climate, the mandate to rein in expenses will challenge maintaining recent increases in attendance at international meetings and increases in international collaboration and exchange. Yet, this challenge itself may provide inspiration for just those activities that will support increased outreach and exchange in the long run. For example, we may begin to explore virtual contacts, video and voice meetings at a distance, and exploration of joint projects to explore common issues across national boundaries. It may also be an incentive to explore those journals from countries around the world that are indexed by PsychInfo (a significant proportion of journals in PsychInfo are from outside the US and Canada!). We invite you to contribute to these strategies – tell us how you have collaborated internationally without straining economic resources, and tell us how you have managed to develop international collaborations and professional friendships to keep a world-wide perspective strong. Ψ