Mental and physical health, disability, discrimination, aging, violence, abuse and stress comprise a multifaceted set of issues and challenges. So much of our psychological science is relevant and could help many groups and in many contexts. We need a matchmaker to bring together our knowledge base with public need. Actually, we have that in APA's Public Interest Directorate, our organizational arm that reaches out to others with the hands of our scientific knowledge. "Public interest" as a term registers zero on my Richter scale in sharp contrast to the seismic accomplishments the directorate achieves. On the other hand, leading quietly often can accomplish a lot. As examples:
Child abuse is an enormous problem often with lifelong physical and mental health consequences, among the children whose abuse is not fatal. APA has developed an intervention program for parents and caregivers that is being implemented in over 30 communities. Pilot data indicate that training reduces harsh parenting practices; a randomized controlled trial is under way. View the Study.
Ethnic minorities comprise approximately one-third of the U.S. population, yet fewer than 10 percent of doctoral-level psychologists trained to provide services are ethnic minorities. APA has created an ethnic-minority pipeline that includes 14 institutions throughout the United States, including four-year and two-year colleges serving predominantly ethnic minorities. More than 550 students have participated in the project's intensive research training, and more than 80 of these have entered doctoral programs. For more information, visit the APA Ethnic Minority Affairs Office Web site.
As more effective antiretroviral medications are developed and the HIV/AIDS population ages, the incidence of mental health problems grows. APA has trained 450 psychologists to provide competent and compassionate care, and these individuals in turn have trained more than 27,000 others to provide mental health services. For more information, visit the APA Office on Aids HOPE Web site.
Stereotypes and discriminatory practices abound in relation to sexual identity and orientation. APA informs and educates groups and individuals outside psychology about sexual orientation. For example, the recently revised Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel provides critical and basic information and has been endorsed by 12 counseling, educational, school, social work and medical organizations.
An estimated 9 percent to 16 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression. APA has issued a consumer brochure identifying the symptoms and risk factors and providing resources for these women and their families. The postpartum depression brochure has been widely distributed to hospitals, family practices, women's wellness centers, support group centers and government health agencies.
Aging can be associated with disability and diminished decision-making capacities. In conjunction with the American Bar Association, APA has developed a handbook to assist lawyers and judges in identifying key issues and legal implications and to provide practical advice in helping elderly clients. Read the handbook.
I have plucked a minute fraction from larger programmatic areas of aging; HIV/AIDS; children, youth and families; end-of-life issues; disability issues; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, ethnic-minorities issues and minority fellowships; socioeconomic status, violence prevention; women issues; and work, stress and health. Each of these areas has multiple activities, products and achievements to flaunt.
To have an impact on each of these areas, we work with scores of professional organizations and agencies (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, National Institute of Justice, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging). The strength and size of our organization helps us unite with other major organizations and agencies and secure outside funding to execute the programs we develop.
Perhaps my adolescent idealism does not become my age, but I am delighted with the concrete efforts of our profession to make lives better, to reduce pain and discomfort, to attack stereotypes and discrimination, and to provide opportunities to individuals who would not otherwise have them. Each day, APA lights one candle after another where there is darkness. All of this results from our membership--the diversity and scope of the organization provides many APA members and staff who work on committees, sift through the findings, prepare the products, decide how to frame and deliver messages, and design interventions. I mention this to you because I have been fortunate to have a front-row seat for several months now to see our work in action. I believe it is a duty of our profession to ask whether we could do more and make more of a difference for our members and the public. Yet, the questioning should never lose sight of or unwittingly dismiss the remarkable work we are doing and the impact we are having on several quarters of society.
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