This is my last column as APA president and an opportunity to reflect on my experiences over the last year. I served as president under APA's first strategic plan; a plan that consists of three goals: maximizing organizational effectiveness, increasing psychology's role in health and enhancing psychology's recognition as a science. As a member of the APA Board of Directors, I was fortunate to have a voice in developing this strategic plan, and all of my presidential initiatives have focused on these goals. To maximize organizational effectiveness, I highlighted the importance of attracting the next generation of psychologists to APA, not only as members but as leaders. To increase psychology's role in health and to enhance psychology's recognition as a science, I focused on interdisciplinary science and practice and on obesity — the major health challenge facing our nation.
I learned a lot in the past year. Very early in the year, I realized that although all of my presidential initiatives were important in their own right and consistent with APA's strategic plan, there was a superordinate issue that needed attention: the paradigm shift from viewing psychology and APA as predominantly a "mental health" discipline, profession, association to a "health" discipline, profession, association. Since I had spent my entire career in health and since APA passed a policy statement in 1996 acknowledging psychologists as health service providers, I was under the mistaken impression that everyone knew that psychology was a health profession/discipline and that APA — as an association — promulgated that view. As president, I quickly realized this wasn't so. When I wrote about obesity as a serious health-care challenge that psychologists should care about, I got pushback. When APA selected obesity as the focus of its effort to develop treatment guidelines, it got pushback. Many APA members and staff wondered why obesity was a concern of psychology — wasn't psychology's focus "mental health"?
This experience was a real wake-up call for me. I realized that in addition to my presidential initiatives, this larger issue needed to be the centerpiece of my presidency. I have taken every opportunity to write and speak about this paradigm shift and will continue to do so.
As APA president, you have many predetermined roles and responsibilities. You run every Council of Representatives and Board of Directors meeting, attend every consolidated meeting of the governance groups, participate in every leadership meeting — state, division, education and science. You are APA's spokesperson at the National Academy of Sciences, at international meetings and at a host of other events. All of this is a major job in and of itself. But the APA presidency can be so much more. It provides a platform to speak out on the most pressing challenges facing psychology. It offers the power to convene, not only within APA, but between APA and other important organizations. It offers an opportunity to bring an outside, real-world perspective to the dedicated APA staff who need that type of input to function most effectively.
When you become APA president, you are offered an "executive coach." This person works with you gratis, and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the powerful influence of my executive coach, Dr. Robert Lee. Div. 13 (Society of Consulting Psychology) offers this service and helps find you a coach who best meets your personal needs. Dr. Lee did much to help me define my focus and make my presidential year a true growth experience. I am grateful not only for his assistance but also for all those who supported me so well during this year both within and outside of APA. It has been a life-changing experience.
So, if you love psychology, have a vision for its future, and are willing to dedicate a year to psychology and APA, run for APA president. And if you win, get a coach!