When Judy Chu, PhD, won a special election in July, she became the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress and one of three psychologists serving in the House. Chu, formerly a professor at East Los Angeles Community College and mayor of Monterey Park, Calif., represents a predominantly Latino district in East Los Angeles and Covina, Calif.

Her psychology training has been invaluable in her new role. “I learned a great deal from Carl Rogers’s emphasis on listening and empathy, and I took those lessons to my role as an elected official,” she says. “People really want to be listened to. There will always be conflict in politics, but the question is whether people feel that their concerns are being heard and are being addressed.”

During the past several months, she has touted the value psychologists add to health care.

“Psychologists have a very holistic view of health care,” she says. “We know that 75 percent of health-care spending occurs on conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and many forms of cancer, all of which are related to and aggravated by very modifiable behaviors, including smoking, lack of physical activity, improper diet and alcohol. Psychologists have so much to contribute in an integrated model of care that incorporates mental health at parity into primary care.”

“I hope I can work with my colleagues in making sure the voice of psychology plays a prominent role in what’s going on in our country,” she adds.

In addition to working on improving health care, Chu is pushing for immigration reform. She’d like to give illegal immigrants a path to legalization, while also reforming existing laws that tend to splinter families.

“A strong family unit gives immigrants a better chance at succeeding in the economic arena,” she says.

Chu entered political life in 1985 as an opponent of the “English-only” movement, which sought to keep languages such as Chinese and Spanish from being used in court and in other public contexts. The movement, she says, was largely a backlash against Chinese, Mexican and Taiwanese immigrants, and fighting it allowed these and other communities to join together and push for a city that values diversity.

Chu says she will continue that fight by pressing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

“I really do believe that our causes are one and the same,” says Chu. “I cannot fight for the rights of one group without fighting for the rights of all people.”

—C. Munsey