Interview with APA President Melba Vasquez

Dr. Vasquez answers questions regarding international outreach and collaboration, and reports on her recent participation in two regional psychology conferences
2011 APA President Melba Vasquez, PhD 2011 APA President Melba Vasquez, PhD is an independent practitioner in Austin, Texas. Her expertise is in the areas of ethics, multicultural psychotherapy, the psychology of women, supervision and training. Before receiving a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Vasquez taught English and political science to middle school students. She has since served as a member of the APA Minority Fellowship Program and as a chair of numerous APA boards, committees, and task forces. Major projects included co-founding Division 45—Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues, Division 56—Trauma Psychology, and the National Multicultural Conference and Summit. Dr. Vasquez has received many awards for her work, including both the Heiser Award and the AAP Advocacy Award for her role in advocating for psychology at the state and federal legislative levels. She has published 3 books and more than 65 articles and book chapters.

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?

Vasquez:  The question implies that the two activities could be exclusive of each other; I am a firm believer that APA can do a good job of both focusing on psychology at the national level, within our borders, as well as engage in international outreach. The APA members reflect a wide range of career paths, research areas, applications and interest, and some of those include interest in the use of psychological knowledge internationally. We live in a time where technology facilitates a global understanding in many areas, including psychology. Learning about psychology outside our borders can also enrich our understanding of our discipline within our borders.

PI: In your candidate statement, you wrote that psychology is an increasingly global discipline and pledged to focus APA’s efforts to “increase communication and collaboration with international psychologists, develop student and professional exchange programs, and continue its response during times of disaster.” In your opinion, how has APA succeeded in these objectives, and what can still be done to continue on this path?

Vasquez: The first ever strategic plan conducted by the governance of the APA was finalized in 2010. The process resulted in the development of a mission statement, a vision statement, and the identification of core values. The vision statement of the APA is that it "…aspires to excel as a valuable, effective and influential organization advancing psychology as a science…", including that APA serves as:  

  • a principal leader and global partner promoting psychological knowledge and methods to facilitate the resolution of personal, societal and global challenges in diverse, multicultural and international contexts.

This commitment positions APA to seek a place at the international table. It provides further support to the Office of International Affairs and the Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP) as well as the Division of International Psychology to continue their roles as Learning Partners internationally. Involvement by the Office of International Affairs and key members, including officers of the APA in a variety of activities, such as attendance  and presentations at international conferences, development of collaborative agreements with various international psychological associations, collaboration with national psychology associations through Memoranda of Understanding, and various other projects and activities have increased, and will likely continue to increase.

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?

Dr. Vasquez and colleagues discussing issues of international collaboration at the Interamerican Congress of Psychology in Colombia.Vasquez:  I would suggest that psychologists join the APA Division 52—International Psychology, which represents psychologists interested in fostering international connections among psychologists, engage in multicultural research or practice, apply psychological principles to the development of public policy, or otherwise address individual and group consequences of global events. Regular review of the APA website, the Office of International Affairs web pages, and the Monitor can also keep one up to date on key issues and events.

PI: Which areas have particular urgency or offer particular opportunities for APA members in the international arena?

Vasquez: A few years ago, three major international associations, the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS), the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP) and the International Association for Cross Cultural Psychology (IACCP) endorsed the Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists. This document, which was developed on the basis of broad international consensus, speaks to the common values framework that guides and inspires psychologists worldwide toward the highest ethical ideals in their professional and scientific work. This year, as part of the 12th European Congress of Psychology held in Istanbul, some of the ethics track symposia addressed the importance of finding the overlap between those ethical principles and those of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  I believe that this illustrates an international social justice development that is parallel to APA’s evolution of incorporating human rights and other aspects of social justice in our Ethics Code as well.

The Committee of International Affairs has supported a number of social justice resolutions through the APA Council of Representatives (see the APA website) over time. Those tend to surface when we become aware of the importance of taking an active role in changing the conditions of society, in both the national and global arenas.

PI: One of your stated goals for this year is to promote the development of telepsychology guidelines. Pending these guidelines, how do you think this method might contribute to the internationalization of psychology?

Vasquez: The goal of the Task Force is to develop a document that provides guidance for today’s practitioners, especially focusing on the use of technology and related issues that practitioners face each day in their practices.  The Task Force members reflect an expertise and knowledge of the issues that practitioners must address each day in the use of technology, ethical considerations, access to care, mobility, inter-jurisdictional practice, and scope of practice, to name only a few. Attention to the internationalization of psychology is an issue that the Task Force may decide to include.

PI: One of your presidential initiatives deals with the issue of immigration. Did the work of this task force include an international or global perspective? How might this report apply to the experience of immigration outside the US?

Vasquez: The primary goal of the immigration report is to describe, in broad strokes, the diverse population of immigrants in the United States, and then address the psychological experience of immigration considering factors that impede and facilitate adjustment. While mention is made about immigration as a world-wide phenomenon, the length of the report necessitates focus on the experience of immigration in the US. This is not to say that these are not important international issues for APA. Certainly, addressing the immigrant experience in the United States is enriched by understanding people’s countries of origin and their social and historical context.

PI: You recently traveled to Colombia for the 33rd Interamerican Congress of Psychology and to Turkey for the 12th European Congress of Psychology. What were you able to take away from these conferences? How might these experiences affect your views on internationalizing psychology?

Vasquez: At both the XXXIII Interamerican Congress of Psychology in Medellin, Colombia, and at the 12th European Congress of Psychology (Istanbul, Turkey), ethics and the importance of social responsibility were major, evolving themes. I was inspired by this, and see that we have a parallel evolution in our country as well.

It is humbling to attend meetings whose contributors and attendees represented so many different countries (100 in Medellin; 70 in Turkey)! It is clearer to me than ever that much innovation in methods of training, conducting research, practice and attempts to apply psychology to problems in societies occur all over the world. We are more than ever, a global human society and discipline.

Challenges are also comparable, such as that expressed by the president of the Turkish Psychological Association.  When I spoke, in one of my talks, about the evidence about the effectiveness of psychotherapy (as an indication that psychology is a thriving discipline), she expressed concern that the previous week, psychiatrists had tried to have the Turkish legislature declare psychotherapy as a medical intervention! Turf wars occur worldwide, unfortunately!

Attendance at international conferences has been one of the highlights of my presidency, and I so appreciate the opportunity! I encourage all who are able to attend and participate in international conferences in psychology at some point!