On Your Behalf

Securing loan repayment for school psychologists

School psychologists are now eligible for loan repayment when they work in underserved areas, thanks to advocacy by APA’s Education Directorate. Since 1995, the National Health Service Corps has reimbursed clinical and counseling psychologists when they agree to work with underserved populations in facilities such as community mental health centers and hospital outpatient treatment clinics. As much as $60,000 in loan repayment is available for two years’ full-time or four years’ half-time of service.

Starting this November, psychologists working with students in K–12 schools can apply for student loan repayment. To qualify, a school must apply for designation as a National Health Service Corps site and be located in a Health Professional Shortage Area.

For more information, go to NHSC Loan Repayment.

Helping people cope with natural disasters

APA’s Disaster Response Network (DRN) worked with American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health officials in Washington, D.C., and mobilized an estimated 50 volunteer psychologists to travel to Southern states devastated by deadly tornadoes and floods in April and May. In addition, the Red Cross trained more psychologists in disaster mental health skills to support their local Red Cross chapters’ relief efforts. The psychologists offered emotional support, promoted coping skills and referred those who needed additional assistance to community resources. APA’s DRN also recruited about a dozen psychologists who are Red Cross disaster mental health instructors to participate in teleconferences and learn the updated version of the Red Cross disaster mental health course on May 12 and May 19. Those psychologists are training new volunteer psychologists in the South.

Speaking up for Native Americans’ health

Inadequate mental health and substance abuse services contribute to a suicide rate that is 60 percent higher among American Indians than the general population, said APA member Pamela Deters, PhD, during a May 3 House Appropriations subcommittee hearing. That’s why the Indian Health Service needs more funding for health services and to expand a loan repayment program that brings more health professionals to its facilities, she said. Deters, a member of the Cherokee/Choctaw tribe and a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Louisiana and Mississippi, is president of the Society of Indian Psychologists. Her testimony was arranged by APA and presented on behalf of the Friends of Indian Health, a coalition of more than 50 health organizations and individuals, including APA. While Deters testified in support of President Barack Obama’s Indian Health Service budget request of $4.6 billion for fiscal year 2012, she asked Congress to allocate more to better meet the physical and mental health needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Discouraging the use of American Indian mascots

American Indian mascots have negative psychological consequences for American Indians and race relations, APA member Stephanie Fryberg, PhD, testified at a May 5 Senate Indian Affairs Committee oversight hearing. Fryberg outlined empirical research on mascots, including a 2008 study she published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology (Vol. 30, No.3) that shows how exposing American Indian high school and college students to the mascots decreased their self-esteem, feelings of community worth and achievement-related aspirations.

“American Indian mascots are one of the taken-for-granted features of everyday life that serve to foster racial and ethnic inequality in this country,” said Fryberg, who is a member of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington state and a social and cultural psychology professor at the University of Arizona.

Advocating for Department of Veterans Affairs research funding

Citing the need to develop empirically based prevention, assessment and intervention tools for our nation’s veterans, APA’s Science Directorate Government Relations Office is helping rally opposition in Congress to a proposed cut to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research program.

The Obama administration proposed $509 million for VA research funding in its fiscal 2012 budget, a more than 12 percent decrease compared with the fiscal 2010 level of about $581 million.

APA and veterans service organizations co-hosted a Capitol Hill reception on May 4 to build congressional support for full funding of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ research program. VA leaders and congressional staff honored veterans and researchers at the reception. Country music singer and Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan Stephen Cochran talked about how VA clinicians helped him deal with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) also spoke, affirming his commitment to VA research and medical care programs.

APA wants Congress to reinstate, at a minimum, research funding at the fiscal 2010 level.

Encouraging undergraduate psychology research

University of Maryland undergraduate researcher Tana Jin Luo, right, with adviser Dr. Andres De Los ReyesOn April 13, the Council on Undergraduate Research held “Posters on the Hill,” an exhibition of undergraduate research at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. The exhibit included posters from 11 undergraduate psychology students who shared their findings with members of Congress, congressional staff and visitors from other government agencies and academic organizations.

Poster titles included “Cultural influences on risky business decision making,” “Prenatal methamphetamine exposure alters executive functions in adult mice” and “Effects of 12-hour shifts on performance in pharmacy personnel.”

The event coincided with Undergraduate Research Week and was sponsored by the research council, which supports and promotes high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship.

Defending psychology’s training and ethical standards

APA and the Arizona Psychological Association asked Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in a letter dated April 22 to veto legislation that conflicts with psychology’s Ethics Code and accreditation standards for professional psychology training programs. The legislation prohibits a university-based training program in counseling, social work or psychology from disciplining or discriminating against students who decline to counsel a client during a therapy training session about goals that conflict with the students’ religious beliefs, if the student consults with a supervising instructor or professor to determine the proper course of action to avoid harm to the client. Such religious beliefs could relate to extramarital or same-sex relationships, for example. APA opposed the legislation because it conflicts with accreditation standards that emphasize the need for students to be trained to work with a diversity of clients to ensure competency in professional practice. In addition, the law conflicts with APA’s Ethics Code, which includes the principle that psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on client diversity factors and states that psychologists may not use religion as a reason to discriminate against a client.

Despite APA’s and the state association’s efforts, the bill was signed into law by Brewer on April 29 and takes effect in July.

Emphasizing the need for interdisciplinary teams in geriatric care

APA has endorsed the “Position Statement on Interdisciplinary Team Training in Geriatrics: An Essential Component of Quality Healthcare for Older Adults” developed by the Partnership for Health in Aging, a coalition of 35 organizations representing health-care professions caring for older adults. A statement APA issued in May describes the importance of interdisciplinary teams in providing quality geriatric care, and references an APA report, “Blueprint for Change: Achieving Integrated Health Care for an Aging Population” (2008) concluding that involving psychologists optimizes health care for the nation’s diverse and growing population of older adults. The endorsement complements APA’s longstanding commitment to advocating for policies and legislation promoting integrated health care, such as the Positive Aging Act. That bill would make mental health services for older adults an integral part of primary-care services in community settings.

Supporting behavioral science mentoring

Minority undergraduate students who finished a summer neuroscience research project with specially trained mentors significantly improved the critical thinking and research skills needed to successfully study for a career in psychology and the neurosciences, said APA Fellow Julio J. Ramirez, PhD, during a Capitol Hill reception May 11 hosted by the Coalition for National Science Funding, an APA-member science advocacy group.

Ramirez, a professor of psychology at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., who received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in January, talked to members of Congress and staffers about a mentoring program he runs, which is partially funded by the National Science Foundation and matches undergraduate students from underrepresented groups with junior faculty. In an evaluation of the program, he found that the minority students who received the mentoring have consistently outperformed their European-American counterparts in self-reported measures of critical thinking, research skills and ratings on delivering an oral presentation of their research, he said.

Meeting with staff members from the offices of Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) just prior to the reception Ramirez requested support for Obama’s fiscal 2012 $7.8 billion funding request for the National Science Foundation. This level would mark a 13 percent increase from fiscal year 2010.

Promoting mental health awareness

APA marked Mental Health Awareness Month in May with briefings, blogs and online chats:

  • On May 3, APA co-sponsored a congressional briefing and its Public Interest Government Relations Office arranged for APA member Abigail Gerwitz, PhD, to speak about the success of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network in raising the standard of care and improving access to services for traumatized children and their families. Established by Congress in 2000, the network’s 60 academic and community-based service centers serve as a national resource for developing and distributing evidence-based interventions, trauma-informed services and public and professional education. In addition, Gewirtz met with key staff from the offices of Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) to inform them about the network’s important contributions and to urge their support for continued funding in the fiscal year 2012 budget.
  • On May 18, psychologists writing for APA’s public education blog, Your Mind Your Body, invited members of the public to share their stories related to mental health and emotional wellness.
  • On May 24, APA and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force co-sponsored a congressional briefing addressing health disparities among diverse older Americans in honor of Older Americans Health Week. APA member Patricia Arean, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco, presented research showing that integrating mental health into primary care reduces health disparities and lowers costs. James S. Jackson, PhD, of the University of Michigan, discussed his research, which has found complex patterns of physical and mental health outcomes over the lifespan related to race, ethnicity, place of birth, gender and cultural differences. Laurie M. Young, PhD, of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, discussed health disparities in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders. Arean and Jackson also met with key Senate staffers and discussed recommendations for reducing disparities among the nation’s elderly.

—C. Munsey