Feature

At the 2001 Leaders' Health Care Breakfast at the APA Annual Convention, APA President Norine G. Johnson, PhD, asked attendees to "consider the breadth of the topic--the psychology of health and prevention."

They came up with a clear message: Psychology must cross boundaries within the field--among practice, science and education--as well as with other professions such as public health and community medicine to forge a prevention path.

Organized in 1999 and coordinated by Johnson and Board of Directors members Bruce Overmier, PhD, and Ruth U. Paige, PhD, the breakfast gives psychology's leaders a forum for identifying ways to secure psychology's role in meeting the nation's health challenges.

Participants divided into focus groups--on complementary medicine, youth violence, child mental health, substance abuse and chronic illness--to tackle some critical questions: What are psychology's contributions to prevention and the research on which prevention strategies can be based? And how can the field advocate for public policies that recognize prevention as equal to treatment?

"Many psychologists are just discovering that we have something to say," said Judith Albino, of the California School of Professional Psychology. There are several "disconnects" in the profession, she added, between research and practice, between psychology and public health, and between psychology and the media.

"The work of psychology has lost its identity when translated by the media," she noted. "Like [with the topic of] smoking--much of the research comes from psychology but is owned by medicine."

In a discussion on substance abuse issues, Jalie Tucker, PhD, of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, brought up another point that was voiced throughout the morning in different groups--the need to destigmatize and "mainstream" psychological interventions.

"We have 20 or 30 years of good research," she said, noting that often that research doesn't translate into practice.

Among the ideas that stemmed from this early-morning meeting of the minds:

  • Psychology needs to partner with public health to better illustrate the public health interventions the field can offer.

  • The public image of psychology and psychological interventions must be enhanced through credible spokespeople and grassroots campaigns, such as the "Mothers Against Drunk Driving" movement. Said Beverly Thorn, PhD, of the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, "The public doesn't read scholarly journals. We need pieces in magazines and outlets like the American Association of Retired Persons' publications."

  • Psychologists need better training to work in systems, advocacy and alliances with other professions. "There are barriers in education, and we can do something," said Ruth U. Paige. "We need to think differently about training and really educate psychologists in health psychology," added Albino.

  • Gain federal funding for psychological research in prevention. "We must want to get money for funding," said Pat DeLeon, PhD, JD, APA past-president. "We have to revolutionize the field and get federal dollars. If you're not asking for the money, all you will do is talk to yourselves."