APA will honor two psychologists who have made a lasting impact on the science and practice of psychology with its Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology. Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, and Patrick DeLeon, PhD, JD, will receive the awards at APA's 2009 Annual Convention in Toronto.
DeLeon, trained as a clinical psychologist and lawyer, is chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). He answers the phone with the Hawaiian word aloha, which means not only "hello" and "goodbye," but also "love" and "compassion." The latter meanings, he says, serve as a blueprint for how he thinks psychologists should act toward the public and their field.
He grew up in Waterbury, Conn., in a politically involved family, and says if he hadn't chosen a psychology career in college, he probably would have pursued elective office. DeLeon says two professors—Robert Birney, PhD, at Amherst College, and Cliff Swensen, PhD, at Purdue University—impressed upon him the value of psychology.
Even though psychology won out, his political interest never waned. While obtaining his master's in public health at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, he began working for Inouye as an adviser. Seven years later, he earned a law degree from the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. More than 30 years later, he's still advising Inouye, serving as his chief of staff, and with his training he's been able to bring psychology to bear on local and national policy.
Longtime friend Morgan Sammons, PhD, dean of the California School of Professional Psychology, says that DeLeon's greatest contribution has been increasing awareness that psychology can and should be used to steer policy decisions, especially to help those who otherwise are overlooked.
"Providing services for the underserved motivates everything Pat does," Sammons says.
Among DeLeon's top priorities is pushing for psychologists' prescriptive authority. He has been a driving force behind many attempts to persuade state legislatures to allow properly trained psychologists to prescribe psychotropic medicines.
In 2000, as APA president, DeLeon says he learned a great deal about how psychology interacts with, and is viewed by, the public.
"The key for me is that psychology should spend more time focusing on society's real needs," he says, especially making sure psychologists' expertise is made available across the health-care spectrum.
"Pat has been wise to think of the multiple ways that psychologists can function as health-care providers and has been an advocate for promoting the growth of the field in that direction," says Wade Pickren, PhD, associate chair of the psychology department at Ryerson University in Ontario, Canada.
DeLeon encourages psychologists to get involved wherever and whenever possible, whether it's an APA division, a sports team or local government. And don't get discouraged by setbacks, he says.
DeLeon, who has substantial hearing loss, was told he'd never make it through high school; then college; then law school. He accomplished all those things. "You just don't accept other people's limitations," he says.
'Using our best evidence'
An enormous issue facing psychology today is the disconnect between clinical research and clinical treatment, says Kazdin, APA's 2008 president. The Yale psychology professor has spent his career bridging that divide and developing effective parenting methods.
In Kazdin's perfect world, "We would make sure we are using our best evidence to have impact on public life," he says.
The real world often falls short of that goal. People typically aren't aware what behavioral treatments work best and so don't demand them. The result is that the best-researched treatments rarely reach those who need them.
"In our clinical work, if you go anywhere in this country and you get a treatment for, let us say, aggression in children or depression in adults, you will not get the treatment that our evidence—psychology's evidence—has strongly supported," Kazdin says. "That is shameful. We should be getting the word out and really helping people with the best things we have."
Kazdin's colleague, Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, says that Kazdin's dedication to providing the best treatments possible has motivated the entire field to focus on evidence-based interventions.
"I think he's really pushed the field to stick to evidence," she says.
Kazdin follows his own advice at Yale's Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, where he helps parents raise children with disciplinary problems. Most notably, the center develops treatments for conduct disorder. Additionally, Kazdin's book, "The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child" (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), which was featured on "Good Morning America" has inspired many parents and psychologists to approach parenting from a psychological mindset: less spanking, for example, and more teaching and positively reinforcing appropriate behavior.
His time as APA president also taught him there are "greater pockets of isolation" among psychologists than he had previously thought. Not only does good research too rarely reach the public, he says, very often it does not even reach one's own colleagues. In that vein, Kazdin hopes that his lasting contribution to psychology will be encouraging psychologists to better communicate among themselves and to the public.
"I am trying to change how we do what we do to make it better and more relevant," he says.