On Your Behalf

Psychology is at the table

With the world facing such enormously complex problems as overpopulation, disease, energy use and climate change, it's critical for multiple organizations, disciplines and countries to come together to find solutions, says APA President Alan E. Kazdin, PhD. And psychology must be there.

That's why APA participated in the May meeting of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, a group made up of the leaders of about 60 scientific organizations. With a combined membership of more than 1.4 million scientists, the council is a powerful national voice for science and science education.

"Psychology is not usually included in science and scientific solutions to critical global problems, so it was critical to be at the meeting to convey quite clearly what we do, why we belong and how we can help," says Kazdin, who represented psychology at the meeting, along with Psychonomic Society President Suparna Rajaram, PhD.

At the meeting, Kazdin discussed ways psychology can contribute to solving society's most pressing problems. He explained, for example, how psychology is able to help people change their attitudes and behaviors when it comes to energy consumption and health and ease people's abilities to cope with the huge, almost overwhelming advances in technology and how to frame messages to facilitate adoption of innovations.

The meeting also gave the scientists an opportunity to discuss their common challenges, says Kazdin. For example, the fields of agronomy and agriculture face obstacles in trying to disseminate the best evidence-based farming techniques to farmers, just as psychologists face challenges in disseminating evidence-based therapies to patients. The scientists also share the hurdles of communicating their priorities to Congress and the public. "Conveying our commonalities with other fields serves us very well," says Kazdin.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of participating in the meeting was the chance to showcase psychology's breadth to the nation's leading scientists, notes Kazdin. "People were routinely surprised that psychology cares about this or that, and has research that speaks to a certain topic," he says.

And that can lead to another payoff for the field: "These presidents are leaders in their respective areas and they also participate in scores of panels that set policy for critical issues worldwide," says Kazdin. "By showing psychology's relevance to them, some of these individuals will serve as emissaries for us."

In a May 6 letter to top congressional leaders, the APA Practice Organization and 142 other organizations urged Congress to put a moratorium on seven Medicaid regulations proposed by the Bush administration. "If these regulations are not blocked, the loss of federal funds will have rippling effects throughout the health-care system and economy," the letter said. "The regulations will not only harm Medicaid beneficiaries and providers, but will lead to job losses, cuts in wages and reduction of business activity." The Senate passed legislation on May 22 to prevent implementation of the regulations by a vote of 75 to 22.

On March 31, APA and 13 other behavioral science or health organizations co-sponsored the Capitol Hill briefing "Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs," a follow-up to the Institute of Medicine report on the topic. The report notes that 10.5 million Americans are living with a current or past diagnosis of cancer, and 41 percent of all Americans can expect to be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetimes. IoM makes the case that good cancer care is not possible without addressing patients' mental health needs.

APA commemorated National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day on May 8 by co-sponsoring several events in Washington, D.C., including congressional briefings on foster care and school mental health. There are an estimated 4.5 million to 6.3 million children and youth with mental health challenges in the United States--and two-thirds of them do not receive the services they need.

In a May 8 letter to the U.S. Department of Education, APA emphasized that college health and mental health records are different from educational records and should be protected in the same way as other health records. "Disclosure of a student's health or mental health record of any kind must be governed by state and federal laws and professional ethics that are applicable to those professions--as is the case in dealing with any individual's health or mental health records in other settings," said APA. The association's comments were made in response to a proposed change to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act that would allow college officials to disclose information under certain circumstances. A copy of APA's letter can be found at the Education Government Relations Web site.

On May 21, President Bush signed into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which prohibits employers and insurers from using genetic information to deny a person health insurance or a job. APA has been a strong advocate for the legislation, which is expected to prevent discrimination among the millions of people who have a genetic predisposition for mental and behavioral health problems.

APA submitted testimony for the April 23 congressional hearing "Domestic Abstinence-Only Programs: Assessing the Evidence." At the hearing, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, quoted a section of APA's testimony, which recommended that "public funding for the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education programs be given priority over public funding for the implementation of abstinence-only and abstinence-until-marriage programs until such programs are proven to be effective."

The Friends of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), chaired by Karen Studwell of APA's Government Relations Office, met with 14 members of the House and Senate appropriations staff to reiterate the importance of funding for federal biomedical and behavioral research. The coalition is seeking a 6.6 percent increase for research conducted by the National Institutes of Health and NICHD.

In response to a request from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, APA nominated four members to serve on the soon-to-be-created Disaster Mental Health Working Group of the department's National Biodefense Science Board. These members would bring their experience in working with APA's Disaster Response Network, as well as their research expertise on stress and coping and the concerns of special populations in a disaster's wake.

APA has arranged for members John Fairbank, PhD, of Duke University Medical Center, and Marsha Linehan, PhD, of the University of Washington, to assist in the preparation of the Government Accountability Office report on whether the Army and Marine Corps are in compliance with regulations that govern the administrative discharge of service members on the basis of a personality disorder diagnosis. Currently such discharges do not receive disability benefits.

APA's Help Center is offering tips to help people cope with their increasing economic worries. Among the advice: Pause, but don't panic; identify your financial stressors; recognize how you deal with stress related to money; and ask for professional help when you need it.

The APA Practice Organization and several other mental health organizations sent a letter on April 30 to House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders John D. Dingell Jr. (D-Mich.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) emphasizing that any health information technology bill that Congress considers should include strong protections for patients' health records. "Our organizations believe that health information technology development represents an important advance in our health-care system, but we also believe that protecting the privacy of patient records must be a core element of such development," the organizations wrote.