Feature

It's a remarkable time for psychologists: Some form of health-care reform seems likely, technology is transforming the way every psychologist works and the nation is becoming ever more diverse. Those factors and more are creating great opportunities for psychologists in research and practice alike, said APA President James H. Bray, PhD, in his presidential address during APA's 2009 Annual Convention.

In the realm of practice, one of Bray's priorities was hosting the 2009 Presidential Summit on the Future of Psychology Practice, where 150 thought-leaders from a variety of fields began to shape a new vision for the profession. (See article on page 66 for more summit details.) Through that event—and his experience as APA president—Bray has identified several ways that practitioners must change to prepare for the opportunities ahead.

Practitioners, he said, will have to:

  • Expand the focus of practice. Providing psychotherapy is, of course, just one of practitioners' many skills, but the public often doesn't know that. "Ask someone on the street, 'What is a psychologist?' and most people will say that they either don't know or that we are mental health professionals." It's time to get the message out that psychologists can help people in a vast array of domains, said Bray, from guiding business and industry through global change to helping employers maintain psychologically healthy workplaces.

  • Provide integrated health care. The future health-care system will demand that psychologists practice side-by-side with medical colleagues, said Bray. The nation's top health problems are linked to psychosocial and lifestyle problems—issues that are not effectively addressed by the medical profession. "We are the profession who knows the most about human behavior and how to change it," he said.

  • Integrate technology into practice. The emerging health system will require psychologists to use electronic health records (see article on health information technology, page 64) and other technologies to document psychological interventions. Practitioners will need the knowledge and skills to communicate to a variety of health professionals, all the while protecting confidential patient information, Bray said.

  • Apply scientific evidence to practice. Evidence-based treatments will also be vital. Psychology practitioners will need to integrate findings from many different research areas—from neuroscience to family process research—into their work with clients.

  • Be accountable. Upcoming changes in health-care payments and reimbursements will require practitioners to show that their services work, he said. As a result, practitioners must develop practice guidelines and methods to assess their outcomes. "We have long resisted developing these guidelines, but the time has come to define psychological practices—or others will do it for us," said Bray.

  • Meet the needs of our diverse society. Understanding cultural differences is critical to providing high-quality care. Psychologists must be properly trained to work with different populations, he said.

Psychological scientists also have tremendous opportunities at their doorstep, said Bray.

The growth areas for researchers include:

  • Multidisciplinary research. "It's rare now that NIH will fund a grant that is done by a 'siloed' group of psychologists," said Bray. But, he emphasized, while multidisciplinary research is our future, "It does not require that we give up our identities as psychologists."

  • Behavior and climate change research. During the convention, APA's Council of Representatives approved a report that's "eagerly awaited" by the U.S. Congress: APA's Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change report details the ways psychologists can help change people's behaviors to protect the planet. (See article on page 24.) "Congress is expected to allocate billions of dollars to [this area,]" he said. Psychologist and Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) has introduced H.R. 3247 to create a social and behavioral sciences program within the Department of Energy. The legislation will be on Congress's agenda this fall.

  • Other timely research. Health-care reform efforts will increasingly require comparative effectiveness research. Policymakers and others will also seek psychologists' studies on health and patient safety. And work on the behavioral aspects of genetic research will continue to be in demand.

  • Securing psychology's place in basic science. Bray has created the APA Presidential Task Force on Psychology as a STEM discipline. The goal of the group—chaired by Yale University's Jack Dovidio, PhD—is to define psychology clearly as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) discipline. Without such recognition, psychology is at risk for losing funding from such key groups as the National Science Foundation.

"We are at an important fork in the road," said Bray. "While psychology has before it great opportunities for the future—and is well positioned to take advantage of them—it will require the field to change."