State Leadership Conference

Psychologists are slow to embrace change, whether it’s technology, new practice models or business trends. They do a poor job of working across fields, even though they recognize the value of integrated care. Their training models aren’t preparing practitioners for today’s patients, let alone tomorrow’s.

Those were among the observations voiced by a panel of three psychologists and one graduate student at a State Leadership Conference session, “Productive Disruption: Key Issues and the Changes Necessary to Ensure a Viable Future for the Next Generation of Practitioners,” chaired by David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, the APA Practice Directorate’s assistant executive director of marketing and business development.

The speakers — J. Paul Burney, PhD, Sarah Morsbach Honaker, PhD, Ali Mattu and Nancy Gordon Moore, PhD, MBA — took a brutally honest look at psychology’s weaknesses, as well as its opportunities to move the profession forward.

“Things are changing so fast in this world, we need to be quick and proactive,” said Burney, a member of APA’s Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice. “We need to watch what our business colleagues are doing. If they are doing the same thing they did six months ago, they are out of business. We’re doing the same thing we did 15 years ago.”

After voicing its concerns, the group identified ways psychologists can turn these challenges into opportunities. Those calls for action included:

  • Keep up on the science. Researchers are uncovering new ways to identify and treat mental health conditions, such as brain mapping that can spot nuances in brain disease, and designer drugs that target an individual’s symptoms. “Within 10 years, what we understand about the brain is going to make our current understanding look like we didn’t know anything,” said Moore, APA’s executive director of governance affairs. “I could see that if we are not careful, talk therapy could look like bloodletting in terms of an effective intervention.”
  • Fix the internship crisis. For the past decade, too many graduate students are chasing too few internships. The field needs innovative solutions to solve the problem. “This is not a student issue, this is a membership issue,” said Mattu, chair-elect of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students. “When students don’t get an internship, there is a lot of upset and these students don’t want to go into the field. If we want psychology to be around in the next 50 to 100 years, we have to solve the internship crisis.”
  • Recognize changing demographics. Get the training you need to practice in today’s multicultural world. For one, learn Spanish, said Honaker, a member of APA’s Committee on Early Career Psychologists. But you also need to learn the language of business, said Burney. “You cannot ... do consulting if you talk like a psychologist. You’ll be dead in the water,” he said.
  • Show psychology’s value. Psychologists need to be accountable for their services, said Honaker. “As scientists, psychologists are in a great position to take the lead on defining and measuring outcomes that demonstrate that we are good at what we do.” 
  • Pay more attention to key markets. Psychologists’ services are greatly needed in primary care, by the elderly population and by military service members and their families. Psychologists need to stay on top of environmental trends, get training in those areas and deliver services that meet emerging needs.
  • Partner with the next generation of practitioners. The field needs a pipeline of leaders for the next generation. “Students and early career professionals can help more established psychologists with technology, and they can help us with ethics and developing our professional identities,” said Mattu.
  • Embrace technology. Telehealth, electronic health records and social media are here to stay, so psychologists need to understand and embrace these advances. Social media, in particular, are a great public education and marketing tools, said Moore. Through Twitter, for example, you can keep your followers up to date on important psychology topics. “It’s quick and easy to do,” she said.
  • Collaborate with other professionals. Psychologists need to get out of their silos, the panelists agreed. In his work at a New York City clinic, Mattu said, “Almost all of our referrals come from psychiatrists — they are our best friends, and yet when we are trained in graduate school, we’re told psychiatrists are out to get us.”
  • Make interventions more efficient. The 50-minute session isn’t going away, but it’s going to be more difficult to provide only that type of service, panelists warned. Psychologists are, however, successfully offering different options. In response to the recession, for example, some practitioners allowed patients who could no longer afford the longer sessions to — when appropriate for individual cases — to come for 20- or 30-minute sessions, keeping revenues flowing and services affordable.

“The market is in flux,” said Moore. “If you don’t shift and change, you’ll get buried. You have the opportunity to shape what happens.”

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