APA's Public Policy Office (PPO) is petitioning Congress this year for new funds to provide pre- and postdoctoral psychologists with more training opportunities in two arenas: geropsychology and public health.
In collaboration with APA's Office on Aging, PPO will lobby Congress for $5 million to fund a provision of the Older Americans Act that authorizes the U.S. Administration on Aging to make grants to train graduate-level mental health professionals to specialize in the needs of older individuals. They will request support specifically for training pre- and postdoctoral geropsychologists.
More training opportunities are needed, says Nina Levitt, EdD, head of APA's education advocacy efforts, because few psychology departments provide specific geropsychology training. Moreover, while there is a program to train geriatric psychiatrists in the Bureau of Health Professions, there is no such program for geropsychologists.
PPO and APA's Office on Aging plan to send several association members to a Senate Special Committee on Aging roundtable hosted by Sen. Ron Wyden (D- Ore.) this spring to inform the senators about the need for geropsychologists.
"It is critical to educate policy-makers regarding the unique skills geropsychologists have to offer older adults and their families," says Deborah Digilio, APA's aging issues officer. "From the treatment of anxiety and incontinence to improving memory performance and reducing agitation in persons with Alzheimer's disease, geropsychologists can provide a variety of effective, nonpharmacological treatments."
APA is also requesting money to fund psychologists' participation in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), a two-year postgraduate program in public health for investigating potential epidemics worldwide with physicians, epidemiologists, social and behavioral scientists, nurses, veterinarians and other professionals. EIS officers have responded to public health problems such as polio, smallpox, Ebola, HIV/AIDS, as well as mental health needs in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Despite the service's far-reaching impact, only two psychologists have participated in the program, which was founded in 1951. Most recently, research psychologist Martie Thompson, PhD, worked in EIS's violence prevention branch performing data analyses, conducting a field investigation and writing manuscripts. The EIS, she says, gave her a well-rounded training experience in epidemiology.
"Since many public health problems are rooted in behavior, psychologists can make contributions to the EIS in areas like [managing] anxiety and fear and decision-making processes," says Levitt. "This is particularly apparent in light of last fall's anthrax scares."