Education Leadership Conference

It's well-accepted that no one discipline has the answer to difficult challenges in such areas as health care, education and the environment, said Cynthia D. Belar, PhD, Executive Director of APA's Education Directorate. Belar kicked off the association's 2011 Education Leadership Conference on Sept. 10.

The annual meeting, during which psychologists visit policymakers on Capitol Hill to advocate for psychology's educational priorities, focused this year on interdisciplinary teaching, research and practice.

The solution? "Interdisciplinarity," Belar told almost 150 representatives of psychology education and training groups, psychological membership organizations, APA divisions and APA governance groups.

While "multidisciplinary" refers to different disciplines working independently to address various aspects of a problem, Belar explained, "interdisciplinary" means two or more disciplines coming together to solve problems beyond the scope of a single discipline. "It's working together to create something different, not just a parallel process," she said.

Interdisciplinarity is a growing trend in research, said Belar. The percentage of government funding going into multi-investigator projects has increased dramatically, for example. At the National Science Foundation, the percentage of funding going to single-investigator projects plummeted from 88 percent in 1988 to just 38 percent in 2010.

"Psychology really is a hub science for interdisciplinary research," said Belar, pointing to a 2005 Scientometrics study by Kevin W. Boyack, PhD, and others. Using publication data to see where articles were being cited, the study showed that psychology was one of seven science hubs, along with such disciplines as physics, chemistry and medicine.

Psychology practice is also becoming more interdisciplinary, said Belar, although in this realm, "interprofessional" is the term used more often. For example, health-care reform emphasizes patient-centered care in which psychologists work as members of primary-care teams to improve care.

Also on the rise is interprofessional education, in which students from two or more disciplines learn from and with each other to improve collaboration and health outcomes. Within psychology, the Graduate Psychology Education program, housed in the Bureau of Health Professions at the Health Resources and Services Administration, has interdisciplinary training at its core.

Belar concluded with a call for a double agenda. "We must provide adequate preparation for our own work force and advance psychological science to teach teamwork in other disciplines as well," she said. "We don't have to smash our silos, but we do need to foster interconnectivity."

Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, DC