Senior Director's Column

Shaking Hands and Opening Doors

APA Office of International Affairs Director Merry Bullock discusses the increasing amount of international outreach and exchange between psychologists, as well as the next steps for developing psychology as a mobile, international discipline.

By Merry Bullock, PhD

Merry Bullock

The wall facing my desk at APA holds a giant world map, printed in 2003. It never ceases to interest me. Apart from continual geographic affirmation (where are Aden, Botswana, Chile, Djibouti, Estonia, Fiji,…Zimbabwe?), its structure is a valuable backdrop for musing about national, regional and global interchange and isolation. As a two-dimensional map, the world looks uniform, compact and knowable – but as anyone who has travelled knows, there is amazing richness in the three-dimensional places behind the map.

Psychology is increasingly exploring this richness. Attendance at psychology world-congresses has been rising, the number of regional conferences that draw across multiple countries is growing, and associations are becoming more active in pursuing international interaction. Across every Division and area, APA’s members are engaged in a rich variety of international activities – from teaching to research to service.

APA also engages in a number of activities as part of its outreach as an organization. Its leaders regularly attend international meetings as guests and as participants; its journals include many editors, associate editors, reviewers and authors from around the world; it actively encourages journals to be part of PsycInfo and organizations to provide their “gray” literature for indexing; it supports volunteers at the United Nations to engage in the global NGO community; and it forges organization-to-organization agreements with national psychology associations. Just an example – in the last few years APA has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with several national associations of psychology (see Memoranda of Understanding, and see the article this issue). Signing an MOU is not an endpoint of discussion or negotiation as many inter-country agreements are – rather it is the first step in a process of encouraging outreach, exchange and collaboration. It opens a door for next steps.

Now that doors are open, how do we move psychology from a tradition of individual exchange and international outreach to being an international discipline? Some suggestions from regional developments are to create structures for crosscountry consensus and to ask, as a discipline, what it would take to realize a world in which psychologists can easily gather information about the work, ideas, and plans of colleagues around the world; can easily know how to find colleagues with mutual interests around the world; can be sufficiently mobile to be a psychologist around the world?

These activities are already in place in specific areas. One example is the development of EuroPsy, a structure to develop regionally valid standards for quality assurance in professional psychology education, so that education in one country can be deemed equivalent to education in another. Another example is the goal of meetings such as the international conferences for licensing, credentialing and certification – the 5th such conference in 2013 will begin to address how to develop concrete mechanisms for international mobility.

Other examples concern how to promote contact. For example, the launch of a new information website “Psychology Resources Around the World”, which provides resources to find psychologists in departments of psychology or through associations in every country in the world. Or, as part of its MOU activities, APA and partners are beginning conversation about how to develop inter-university student exchange experiences for graduate students and faculty, and how to share informational resources.

What can individual psychologists do? From where I sit, the most important way to encourage internationalization is to tell each other about our work, our teaching, and our ideas. The most direct way is face-to-face at international conferences and congresses, or, if your travel budget is strained, by seeking out international attendees at domestic conferences or international colleagues in your own institution. Equally important is seeking out and reading about international work. Go to your library or search online for articles by authors from countries outside your region, or about research that takes place in areas outside your experience. In addition to this newsletter, read the online newsletters of other organizations or offices that are inherently international: the International Association for Cross Cultural Psychology Bulletin; the Bulletin of the International Association of Applied Psychology, the Newsletter of the International Association of Applied Psychology, or the International Psychology Bulletin of APA’s International Division.

Through mindful efforts to look beyond our own borders, we can give the two-dimensional map the depth of increased knowledge, awareness, and insight.