Early-Career Psychology

If chairing a committee for your state association or advocating on behalf of the field to lawmakers seems like too much to tackle early in your career, consider Pepperdine University associate professor of psychology Miguel Gallardo, PsyD. Four years after “catching the advocacy bug” as one of the first early career delegates to APA’s State Leadership Conference, Gallardo became the youngest psychologist, at 34, to serve as president of the California Psychological Association in 2008. That year, he secured funding for two grants that foster leadership opportunities for early career and ethnic-minority psychologists. His experience also led then-Gov. Arnold Swarzenegger to appoint him to the California Board of Professional Psychology in August.

“The SLC experience gave me exposure in organized psychology that has served me well and still does,” says Gallardo, who has attended several SLC meetings since. “While my training was a good foundation, my education and socialization as a psychologist really came through my involvement in organized psychology and opportunities like SLC.”

APA’s annual State Leadership Conference is where professional psychologists gather to network, build leadership skills and learn how to advocate on behalf of psychology practice. Each year, APA’s Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice selects the top early career candidates from nominations by state, territorial and provincial psychological associations and APA’s Practice Directorate invites them to the meeting.

Eight vanguard early career delegates echo Gallardo’s sentiments, noting that the conference cemented their commitment to service in the field. (One of his fellow 2004 delegates, Mary Annette Moreno-Torres, PhD, was not available for comment.) Here’s how they fit leadership, advocacy and service into their busy lives — and their advice for new psychologists looking to do the same.

  • Colin Christensen, PhD, a practitioner at Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health in Canton, Ohio, says SLC showed him that there were ways even beginners could serve their state associations. “Early in my career, I didn’t have the benefit of experience to offer others in my state association, but was able to offer my time and energy” by becoming an active member of committees within the association, says Christensen. These days, he serves on the Ohio Psychological Association’s diversity, finance and development committees and represents the Akron Area Professional Psychologists on OPA’s board of directors. This year, he is working with the finance committee to help update OPA’s financial policies so that the association will have the resources to weather the down economy.

    On getting involved: Volunteer for committees at your state association, says Christensen, who got his start by volunteering for OPA’s diversity committee simply because diversity was his dissertation topic. “You’re not getting your money’s worth if you’re just sending in your check and waiting for good things to happen.”
  • Christine Farber, PhD, a practitioner specializing in trauma in South Windsor, Conn., has served on the executive committee of the Connecticut Psychological Association since 2004, and co-chairs its legislative committee. Farber and the legislative committee host monthly meetings at the Connecticut legislature, inviting early career psychologists and students as a way to pique their interest in advocacy. She’s also monitoring the implementation of federal mental health parity in her state. “We’ve had a strong parity law for years now, so we’re working with other professionals in mental and behavioral health to ensure those strong parity laws stay in effect while new federal requirements further parity,” she says.

    Keeping motivated: Choose to advocate for something you’re passionate about, advises Farber. “If you work with children, consider talking with legislators about children’s issues, bringing your specialty into advocacy,” she says. “If, as psychologists, we do what we love to, that’s also good for the world.”
  • Allison From, PsyD, assistant professor and director of counseling services at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky., says SLC gave her more insight into APA and strengthened her commitment to the Kentucky Psychological Association. With the skills she learned at SLC, she ran for and was elected as the association’s secretary and established an early career committee. “With support from the KPA board, we were able to have more programming directed toward early career issues.”

    She and her colleagues recently celebrated a big success in Kentucky: Psychologists can now be fully licensed once they get their doctorate and pass their exams. They don’t need a year of postdoctoral supervision to earn licensure.

    Don’t forget self-care: Avoid burnout, says From. “As psychologists, we do know best when it comes to self-care, but we aren’t always as good about taking our own advice. Follow your values when it comes to work-life balance.”
  • Jason Guber, PsyD, a practitioner in Garden City, N.Y., became president of the Nassau County Psychological Association two years after he attended SLC as an early career delegate. While Guber has since stepped back from leadership to spend more time with his family, “I met some incredible people and learned plenty about what it takes to be a leader at SLC.”

    His confidence builder: Find a mentor as soon as possible, says Guber. “I only met with mine on a few occasions, but I found those talks were vital in giving me the confidence I needed to work through my insecurities as a new professional and succeed.”
  • Andrea Johnson, PhD, a practitioner in Edina, Minn. — who went to SLC with her husband and 1-year-old baby in tow — says the experience validated her life choices. “For the first time, I felt like I could balance everything, be a leader and a mom,” she says. Johnson put her own twist on the skills she gained at the meeting: She volunteered to serve on the board of a local homeless youth agency the following year.

    Networking is key:
    Grow a professional network and tend it constantly, says Johnson. “I stay in contact with other professionals and share resources and referrals, and it’s been really valuable to me personally and professionally,” she says.
  • Dana Myers, PsyD, of Spanaway, Wash., runs a private practice, Pacific South Associates, and has two young children. Since SLC, she has been a co-chair of the Washington State Psychological Association continuing-education committee, and she co-chaired WSPA’s 2008 conference on end-of-life concerns. As the mother of two young children, she also finds creative ways to stay involved with her state association. “I generally participate in things that can be done in the middle of the night, like writing to senators and representatives,” she says.

    Reaching out: If you want to engage early career psychologists, include family-friendly activities and offer child care during meetings and workshops, says Myers. “I think most organizations are prone to a graying leadership simply because those folks are more likely to have the time to fill leadership roles after their children have grown.”
  • At SLC, Michael Oosterhoff, PhD, a consulting psychologist in Toronto, learned how other groups were helping early career psychologists. He used that insight to convince the Ontario Psychological Association to make membership and annual convention fees more affordable for new psychologists. He also started a listserv for early career psychologists, got early career representation on the OPA board and created a guide for other associations looking to reach their early career members.

    Achieving balance: Feel busy? Find small ways to serve, he says. “Getting involved may seem like the last thing that should be on your list, but it’s important” because associations need input from new psychologists to reach more of them, says Oosterhoff.
  • Bruce Poulsen, PhD, a child psychologist in Salt Lake City, helped establish an early career group at the Utah Psychological Association after SLC and then went on to serve as president of UPA in 2007. That year, UPA had a legislative success: Utah passed legislation to allow psychologists to become licensed without a postdoctoral residency.

    Seek out expertise: If your state association doesn’t do enough to help early career psychologists, reach out to seasoned professionals to ask how they run their practices, he says. “Through these relationships — as a kind of side effect — ECPs are able to establish some enduring relationships that can be helpful in developing a career.”

To find out more about opportunities for Early Career Psychologists, go to APA's Early Career Psychologists.