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An Interview with 2009 APA President James Bray

I feel that now that the United States is a more international and multicultural country, reaching out and understanding the rest of the world is even more critical.

By Amena Hassan

2009 APA President James H. Bray, PhD, is an associate professor of Family and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. He received his doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Houston in 1980. Dr. Bray has published and presented numerous works in the areas of divorce, remarriage, adolescent substance use, intergenerational family relationships, and collaboration between physicians and psychologists. As a clinical psychologist, he conducts research and teaches resident physicians, medical students, and psychology students. He also maintains an active clinical practice focusing on children and families and primary care psychology.

Following a post-doc in Family Therapy and Research, Dr. Bray joined the faculty at Texas Woman’s University (TWU)— Houston Center and remained there for six years. In 1987 he joined the faculty of the Department of Family Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He has done a series of funded studies at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) on adolescent alcohol use. He has published more than 125 articles, tests, book chapters, books and reviews. He has been active in APA governance since 1988, involved in practice, science, education and state issues.

PI: Some APA members are excited about the prospects of international outreach and activities; others believe that APA, as a national organization, should focus within its own borders and leave international activities to international organizations. How do you feel about these two perspectives?

Bray: I think the question is set up as an "either/or" situation when it really is a "both/and." On the one hand, as the American Psychological Association, we do need to focus on our members who are primarily in the United States, making sure we meet their needs, wants, and desires. However, APA has always been an international organization. We are associated with Canadian psychologists and our previous CEO, Ray Fowler, did a lot when he was President and CEO to reach out to the rest of the world and create partnerships that have been beneficial not only to APA but to the field of psychology as a whole. I also feel that now that the United States is a more international and multicultural country, reaching out and understanding the rest of the world is even more critical.


PI: Do you have any advice for psychologists who wish to assume a more international perspective and how APA as an organization might help to foster that?

Bray: A really good way to do that is to get involved in international conferences and joint projects that the APA and other psychology groups are involved in. For example, one of the areas I work in is with the National Institutes on Mental Health in HIV/AIDS work. Much of that is done outside of the United States as well as inside the United States, so work that is developed in the US is adapted in other countries. It is a way of having a more international focus. There are also other parts of the world that have been facing some of the challenges that we experience in the US in different ways and learning how they have approached those problems is useful for us to consider. It helps us think differently about it and perhaps come up with other creative solutions.

PI: In a recent interview with the Monitor you mentioned you are a scientist-practitioner, as well as an educator. How can this viewpoint help in expanding psychology, internationally?

Bray: The international conferences I’ve attended have often been scientist-practitioner conferences or more basic science conferences like the recent International Congress of Psychology in Berlin. Many of the problems that are studied both in the US and across the world have important implications for scientists in other parts of the world and they bring unique perspectives. Some of the functions we study cut across as human beings, and others are more focused and influenced by the culture of the country. So understanding those cross cultural connections and differences is very important.

PI: You also mentioned that you have enjoyed training an increasing number of international medical residents. How can we encourage more international psychology students to visit the US for this kind of exchange?

Bray: We have great opportunities to bring psychology to other countries by encouraging students to come over. In my experience it’s been a longer tradition in medicine to form these international collaborations and sometimes it’s easier because in medicine you can do a rotation for a month of training. In psychology or psychotherapy it often takes a lot longer so you have to have people come over for several months. Having said that, I think it’s a great way to expand psychology because in many countries across the world psychology does not have a strong presence. They often don’t have the doctoral degree as the terminal degree as we do in the US, so having folks come from those countries to experience how we do things is often very helpful. I’m hoping that as the United States becomes more international and multicultural those kinds of opportunities will lend themselves to us.

PI: You arranged for a dinner hosted by the Ambassador from Chile at the consolidated meetings. Do you have a special connection to Chile? What did you hope to accomplish with this international outreach?

Bray: I reached out to a number of foreign ambassadors and we were fortunate enough to get a wonderful invitation from the Ambassador of Chile who hosted a dinner for us. The reasons I chose Chile were three-fold. At Baylor for many years we had fellowships for healthcare professionals from Chile that were sponsored by the Chilean government and so we had physicians, nurses, psychologists, dentists, and public health professionals come and do a primary-care fellowship with us. I learned a lot about the Chilean healthcare system and in a lot of ways the public healthcare system in Chile is something we should aspire to in the US because it is much more integrated care and they have a lot of things worked out that we are still working on. So that is my sense of connection. Also, one of my hobbies is wine and Chile has wonderful wine so I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk with the Ambassador about that! The third is that the Society for Psychotherapy Research is having their annual meeting in Chile this year so it’s a great way to let the Ambassador know that there will be a lot of psychologists coming to Chile this summer and making that connection with him.

It turned out that the Ambassador had returned to Chile to assume the post of foreign minister just before our dinner – so we were hosted by the Deputy Chief of Mission, Fernando Varela Palma, and two of his top staff. The dinner was a great success at personal and professional levels. We were able to make some connections that will strengthen collaborations with the Chilean psychologists. This was the first of several dinners we will have with ambassadors from other countries while I am president.

PI: One of your presidential initiatives is on the future of psychology practice. Do you hope to include an international or even a global perspective in the work of this task force? Are there models from outside the US that we should consider for the future?

Bray: We certainly do hope to have an international perspective that includes global work. Again, healthcare is developing a more international perspective and there are models from other countries that I hope will be brought into the summit that we will discuss and consider in this work. We are not specifically inviting people from outside the US to the summit but we have a lot of psychologists who do international work and I’m sure they will bring this perspective to our work.

PI: Is there anything else that you would like our internationally minded readers to know?

Bray: I think people who have this area of focus or who want to have this focus in the future should just be aware of the opportunities APA often supports, in terms of cosponsoring international conferences. Also many psychologists do Fulbright fellowships and go abroad to teach psychology. I’ve had a number of friends who have done that and they all speak so highly of the program. It’s an area where people can get involved, reach out and learn a lot about another country, and also foster exchange with US psychology.Ψ