Feature

Cynthia D. Belar, PhD, isn't stepping away from APA because she's lost her passion for psychology or no longer enjoys overseeing a staff of 43 and working 80-plus hour weeks. She's simply ready to embrace the next phase of her life.

"In the past year, I turned 68, I went to my 50th high school reunion, I celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary and I realized that it's time for me to be passionate about other things," she says.

She also wants to leave now to model appropriate work-life balance. "I used to be an interesting person!" she laughs. "I have become so focused on the job and that is a terrible example to set for future psychologists."

After Belar's last day on July 31, her top priority is traveling with her husband, Jean-Louis Monfraix, to his native France. After that, she'll let her intuition and interests drive her.

"My father was forced to retire when he was 65 and that's when he picked up a paintbrush for the first time and became an accomplished watercolorist," she says. "I hold onto the hope that, like him, I will find something new to get passionate about."

Her colleagues don't doubt it. Belar, who came to APA in 2000, is well known as an enthusiastic, innovative leader whose intense energy has enabled her to spearhead major changes in psychology education at all levels. Her overriding goal for all her efforts has been improving the quality of psychology education.

"From K through 12, through undergraduate and graduate education, and well beyond to the policies and procedures that will scaffold the field's continuing quest for excellence, Cynthia leaves legacies that will guide ongoing educational initiatives for the generations to come," says Greg Neimeyer, PhD, APA's director of continuing education. 

"Dr. Belar is simply one of the most outstanding psychologists with whom I have had the pleasure to work," adds APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD. "Her contributions to psychology education and training and to health psychology are immeasurable."

It may sound like a cliché to say that the accomplishments during her tenure are too numerous to list, but in Belar's case it's the undeniable truth. They include:

  • Launching in 2001 APA's Education Leadership Conference, where each September, psychology's education leaders come together to discuss their top concerns. The conference — the only forum of its kind — culminates in advocacy on Capitol Hill where psychologists press their case about the field's top educational priorities.
  • Establishing the Graduate Psychology Education program (GPE), the only federal program dedicated to preparing health service psychologists. Through the program, Congress has appropriated $34.4 million that has funded 72 grants for doctoral and internship programs in 32 states since 2002.
  • Establishing the Education Advocacy Trust within the American Psychological Association Practice Organization to promote education advocacy.
  • Creating the Center for Deployment Psychology, which has trained more than 2,500 health professionals to provide high-quality, deployment-related mental and behavioral health services to military personnel and their families.
  • Developing guidelines for teaching high school psychology to help ensure that educators have the knowledge and skills to teach the content spelled out in psychology's national standards.
  • Establishing principles for undergraduate psychology education — critical guidance that was urgently needed since psychology is among the most popular majors at U.S. colleges and universities.
  • Creating educational resources, such as the Online Psychology Laboratory, which offers interactive tools for teaching psychological science, as well as numerous resources for K–12 teachers.
  • Working to address the internship imbalance by advocating for a variety of initiatives, including APA's $3 million internship stimulus package, which is helping unaccredited sites gain the accreditation they need — thus creating more internships.
  • Developing a psychology component of MedEdPORTAL to promote the scholarship of teaching and learning and the preparation of other health professions in psychological science.

"Dr. Belar has been a visionary leader of the Education Directorate," says Jodie Ullman, PhD, chair of APA's Board of Educational Affairs. "She has transformed the directorate into a pillar of APA that has made a meaningful impact in domains of psychology education spanning from high school across the lifespan."

Among her most far-reaching initiatives has been working with other organizations to help them understand the skills and expertise psychologists bring to health care. She has forged strong relationships with, for example, the Institute of Medicine Global Forum on Innovations in Health Professional Education and the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative. She was also instrumental in the interorganizational Health Service Psychology Education Collaborative that produced the first set of competencies adopted by APA for health service providers in psychology.

"When I consider Dr. Belar's time at APA, I am impressed by the impact she has made in so many communities," says Anderson. "She has worked tirelessly to bring together the large and diverse education community in psychology. … She is also viewed as a leader in the Washington, D.C., education and health policy communities, and has represented APA so well." 

Others laud Belar for her tremendous vision. "Cynthia sees where the focus for the future should be and leads others to get there," says Catherine L. Grus, PhD, deputy executive director of APA's Education Directorate. "She inspires those around her to put forward their best efforts to enhance education in psychology and psychology in education through her knowledge, guidance and unwavering support."

When asked what she is most proud about in her time at APA, she says it is bringing together such a great team in the directorate. "That's why it is easier to retire now," she says. "I have a team that is so great, though I will greatly miss working with the people in the Education Directorate and my colleagues on APA's Executive Management Group."

When it comes to specific programs she is most proud of, she quickly names the GPE. "I wrote the plan and lobbied hard for it, so it is a great source of gratification," says Belar.

Also near to her heart has been working to ensure psychologists are included as members of integrated-care teams.

"I've been doing integrated care for 40 years," says Belar, whose career before APA included overseeing the psychological care of 1.3 million members at Kaiser Permanente. "Our efforts to train a workforce that can work collaboratively with other professions to serve underserved populations have been well respected" — and have made the idea of psychologists as members of integrated teams mainstream.

"Of course, it has to be balanced with quality assurance to make sure that psychologists are rewarded for providing high-quality services that improve care, but it's really happening. That's another reason it makes it easier to retire now."

Although, she adds, psychology's future directions has her curious. "When I reflect on my career, and the years it took before a broader definition of psychology as a health profession was accepted by organized psychology — and I think how my ‘cohort' struggled with this — I wonder now who is out there doing innovative things that we should be supporting, paying attention to as it might be the next frontier for the application of our science?"

Whatever those next innovations turn out to be, chances are they will be built on a foundation that Belar helped to establish.