Baylor College of Medicine psychologist James H. Bray, PhD, ran twice for APA president before winning the office, so he's already logged in a lot of hours flying around the country meeting his peers.
"I'm not a household word in psychology like [APA past-president] Alan Kazdin, so I had to work harder at it," the native Texan chuckles.
Those years of campaigning opened his eyes to areas of psychology he didn't know much about—he loved hearing about the work of psychologists involved in cockpit design and election polling, for example—but also to the difficulties confronting the field. "So many people are struggling financially, not only in their practices, but also in getting their research funded," he says.
As APA's 2009 president, Bray wants to help psychologists chart new territory so that they and the profession will thrive, even in tough economic times. That mission squares well with the strategic plan of APA Chief Executive Officer Norman B. Anderson, PhD, to transform APA to meet the changing needs of members and the public, as well as with Barack Obama's message of positive change, says Bray.
"It's a great and challenging time to be working on behalf of psychology," he says.
Bray's colleagues say his energy, enthusiasm and determination make him an ideal leader at a critical time.
"James is the kind of person who welcomes challenges and relishes putting his heart and mind into complex problems," says longtime mentor and friend Scott Maxwell, PhD, a University of Notre Dame psychology professor. "One of his real strengths is being able to think broadly and to think of a variety of different ways to solve problems, whether they are scholarly, academic, scientific or policy-related."
Indeed, as a clinician, educator, scientist and community health specialist, Bray, 54, brings a first-hand understanding of all of psychology's facets to the post.
"I really am a scientist-practitioner, as well as an educator," says Bray. "So when I think about things, I try to filter them through all of those lenses."
Bray directs the Family Counseling Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and also serves as an associate professor of family and community medicine at the college. In that latter capacity, he is funded by a National Institutes of Health grant to train medical students on psychosocial and behavioral issues. In recent years, he's trained an increasing number of international medical residents, which he says has been both mind-opening and fun.
"They seem more naturally attuned to psychosocial issues [than American medical residents], and they've taught me a lot about multicultural perspectives and the importance of looking at those factors in patients," he says.
In the public interest domain, Bray heads a clinic that provides psychological services to people who lack health insurance and who have disabilities, and he has worked for more than a decade supervising staff and consulting to homeless shelters and transitional living programs. For example, under a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Bray helped develop a substance use treatment intervention in Harris County, Texas, that was so successful the county still uses it, though federal funding ended.
Bray also has conducted several large NIH-funded studies untangling the effects of divorce and remarriage on children's development and adjustment—a new focus for the field when he began the research.
Among his findings: The first year is most stressful for new stepfamilies, but that stress decreases significantly in a year. Problems can flare up again in adolescence, and nonresidential parents continue to play an important role in children's adjustment even after several years.
"We learned a lot of practical things that have become part of our changing society," he says.
To move the field forward, Bray is launching three initiatives to help psychologists start thinking about their roles in new ways:
Supporting the future of psychological practice. It's important both to nurture psychologists' unique identity and to prepare them to work in a changing marketplace, says Bray. To these ends, Bray launched a Task Force on the Future of Psychology Practice, which will help practitioners identify new practice opportunities in medicine, business and other areas.
In medicine, "the whole country is moving toward an integrated-care model, where people work and collaborate together," he says. "If we don't move in this direction ourselves, we'll be replaced by others who are."A major part of this effort will be an APA Presidential Summit in San Antonio, May 14–17, where 120 psychology experts and 30 stakeholders from the insurance industry, government and health-related associations will discuss ways to ensure that psychologists provide needed services that can be adequately reimbursed. These efforts will also position psychology to promote its expertise to Congress, Bray adds. "We need to be ready, like our primary-care medicine colleagues, or psychology will be left out of health care reform," he says. "That would be a disaster."
Beefing up science education. Psychological science must also change with the times—in particular, to join multidisciplinary trends in health care and neuroscience, Bray believes.
"Our understanding of the biopsychosocial aspects of people and functioning requires a multidisciplinary perspective," he says, "but in many cases, we don't train our graduate students and post-docs how to understand the world or operate in those terms."To improve the situation, Bray is launching the Task Force on Psychological Science Education, which will discuss ways to incorporate these new directions into graduate education. He also wants to team up with APA's Science Directorate to advocate for research funding. "Only 7 percent of the NIH budget is spent on psychosocial and lifestyle research, yet research shows that half of all health problems are caused by psychosocial and lifestyle factors," he says.
A new convention direction. Bray also is working to retool APA's Annual Convention so it's more useful and attractive to both scientists and practitioners. Called the "Convention within the Convention," the new design will dedicate 93 hours of convention programming to state-of-the-art presentations in a few defined tracks. Psychologists will build their clinical skills by learning about new research on topics such as evidence-based therapies or consulting with business and industry. Scientists will gain advanced training in areas such as quantitative methods and emerging technologies. Thirty-six APA divisions and six boards and committees are helping to create the programming. Several APA groups donated their convention hours to the program: 75 from divisions, 10 from boards and committees, four from the Board of Directors and four from Bray's presidential hours.
"It should be a memorable convention experience, so get your passports ready!" he urges. The APA convention will be held Aug. 6–9 in Toronto.In a fourth initiative, Bray will create a Task Force on Psychology's Contributions to Ending Homelessness to showcase effective interventions and identify funding sources for such interventions, as well as for relevant research."I'd like this task force to shine a light on the homeless and provide psychologists, APA and our society ways to more effectively address these problems," says Bray. While Bray is up to his earlobes professionally, he isn't all business. He flies small single-engine planes, he's a wine aficionado, and he literally surfed his way through part of his undergraduate education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. After transferring to the University of Hawaii, he found time between catching waves to play football on the university's team, the Warriors. At times, Bray considered leaving psychology to become a commercial pilot or politician, he says.
But the field keeps calling him back. "Psychology has been very good to me," he says. "Being involved in such a diverse and exciting profession is too enticing to miss."
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.
GOODHEART IS NEXT YEAR'S APA PRESIDENT
At Monitor press time, APA announced that members elected Carol D. Goodheart, EdD, an independent practitioner in Princeton, N.J., as the association's 2010 president. Goodheart won the election with 13,898 votes. The other candidates and their vote totals are: Ronald H. Rozensky, PhD, 7,755 votes; Steven J. Reisner, PhD, 4,674 votes; Robert E. McGrath, PhD, 2,552 votes; and Jack Kitaeff, PhD, JD, 1,767 votes.
An interview with Goodheart will appear in next month's magazine.