Several major shifts and transformations are occurring in psychology—some intentional and some in response to changing environments. For example, with advances in neuroscience and genetics and the expansion of translational research, psychology has much to offer. Yet many areas are dropping psychology from their names—developmental science, cognitive science, neuroscience.
At the same time, clinical and counseling psychologists are quickly becoming generic mental health practitioners who perform counseling or therapy, rather than provide psychological services. You can see this change in job advertisements where psychologists are equated with social workers, counselors and other master's-level providers.
There are an estimated 700,000 mental health providers in the United States, most of whom are master's-level providers, not doctoral-level psychologists. Many patients, however, don't understand the difference. At the same time, primary-care providers treat 70 percent of people with mental health problems, without the assistance of psychologists. In some states, such as California, there are even proposals to do away with psychology license boards in favor of a generic mental health license.
Meanwhile, consulting and industrial/organizational psychologists are often not licensed as psychologists and are referred to as business and organizational consultants. These psychologists are also teaching in business schools rather than in psychology departments.
Thus, one can ask, where have all the psychologists gone?
We see the lack of understanding of psychologists' unique skills in other areas as well. While seeking more funding for psychological research from Congress, we frequently encounter questions about where psychologists fit in the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and other federal agencies.
We also get questioning looks from members of Congress or their staff when we tell them that psychologists conduct neuroscience research, that they developed the research methods or that the way that pilots train is based on psychological, human factors research.
Working in a medical school, I frequently hear my colleagues talking about neuroscience research, but they identify themselves as from their profession, not as generic neuroscientists. Why don't psychologists do this?
Clearly, these issues point to a public relations problem. But there are solutions:
• We need to highlight our training and identities as psychologists. To fully and powerfully advocate for federal research funding we have to both educate and justify why psychologists need this funding. There are strong arguments for this, as it is widely held that major health problems are caused by lifestyle and psychosocial issues, yet less than 10 percent of the NIH funding goes to research in these areas. Collaborative and multi-disciplinary research is our future, but it does not require that we give up our identities as psychologists.
• We need to make psychology primary. As psychologist Susan McDaniel, PhD, has suggested for years, psychologists need to provide services in primary care. This is where most patients are treated. This requires that we practice both in public and private medical settings.
• We must become clinical leaders. Gilbert Newman, PhD, past president of the California Psychological Association, argues that we can no longer just provide psychotherapy. We need to become clinical leaders who can design, implement and evaluate services and manage staff. Psychologists must be prepared to transform and lead health systems.
• We must diversify into community health centers and institutional practices. Most Americans receive their mental and health care in publicly funded, not private, settings. Yet psychologists do not regularly practice in these settings. APA, in conjunction with some states, is working to open opportunities in these areas for psychologists in community health programs.
Let me hear from you—engage—get involved. This is YOUR APA. Contact me anytime by e-mail.
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