State Leadership Conference

"I'm thrilled to spend the morning in the company of so many mental health professionals," Pulitzer Prize-winning political commentator Eugene Robinson told participants at the State Leadership Conference. "Now more than ever, this is what we need here in Washington."

Robinson, a Washington Post columnist and MSNBC political analyst, characterized the current election cycle as one of the most unusual ever. Describing the Republicans' efforts to choose a nominee, Robinson said, "I think what we're witnessing is one of our two main political parties in the midst of an emotional crisis, what used to be called a nervous breakdown." Earlier in the election cycle, he said, it was the Democrats who were in turmoil.

The election will be close, Robinson predicted, adding that presidential elections are by definition close these days. "Fifty-three to 47 percent is what passes for a landslide," he said, explaining that only 5 percent to 6 percent of the electorate have votes up for grabs. "This is a polarized country."

Alan Lowenthal, PhD, a member of the California Senate, urged his fellow psychologists to get engaged in the political process. But while they should represent and fight for psychology, he said, their activism should go far beyond that. Noting that chronic despair is replacing the American dream for large segments of the populace, he argued that the solution is collective action. "This is a defining moment in this nation," he said, explaining that the gap between "an elite, privileged class and the rest of us" is growing. "We can't sit on the sidelines anymore."

Unfortunately, many psychologists don't pay attention to the political process, said James L. Werth, PhD, a former APA congressional fellow and a psychology professor at Radford University.

But psychologists have a crucial role to play as constituents who can influence policymakers, Werth said. Psychologists should visit their representatives on Capitol Hill, he said, adding that multiple visits are preferable to one-time events. And if you like what your member of Congress has done, write a blog post or letter to the editor and send it to his or her office with a note of appreciation.

—R.A. Clay