Last February in Tampa, Fla., more than 650 parents and caregivers gathered for an all-day Parent University, an educational program where they could gather information and resources to learn how to provide better care to children "from crib to college."
During the event, 90 mental health providers discussed everything from how to raise a gifted child to how to boost the self-esteem of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
"We're helping people in a positive way rather than focusing on problems," says psychologist Michael T. Smith, PhD, a member of the program's steering committee. "And by emphasizing normal development, we're giving parents a road map to help them through their children's [life] transitions."
Smith says the psychologists and other mental health professionals behind the program's normal-development focus hope it gives parents and caregivers an opportunity to see mental health providers in a different light.
"We want to show that mental health professionals can help people in positive situations, as well as negative ones," Smith says.
The program's work to lessen the stigma of working with a psychologist is just one way psychologists across the country are using novel methods, like holding community workshops, working with TV reporters and podcasting, to reach out and inform the public about what psychologists do.
Their work dovetails with the "Making Psychology a Household Word" initiative of APA President Ronald F. Levant, EdD, which aims to enhance the public's understanding of psychology and psychologists' work.
Psychology in the news
Another such effort to bolster psychology's presence in the public's consciousness was created by Sharon Brennan, PhD, during her tenure as New York State Psychological Association president in 2004 and as past-president in 2005. She coordinates a media ambassador program in which 33 ad hoc public relations committee members reach out to partner with TV stations across the state. The media ambassadors are psychologists trained in media relations who seek to increase psychology's media presence, Brennan says.
"We're trying to tap into the everyday struggles of life to show people how psychology is relevant to their lives," Brennan explains.
To date, the association has taped four public-service announcements (PSAs) that address common issues relevant to viewers, such as allaying adults' distress over their aging parents' memory loss, handling work stress and easing children's anxieties about divorce and separation. The media ambassadors then distributed the PSAs to 55 TV outlets. In the program's second phase, the ambassadors will send the PSAs to radio stations throughout the state.
Although Brennan says it is difficult to measure when and where the PSAs are played, she says that the message is getting across in a number of ways.
For instance, one of the association's media ambassadors, Rudy Nydegger, PhD, recently taped a half-hour TV show for WNYT, an NBC affiliate in Albany, in which he discussed the range and breadth of psychologists' work and also showed clips of the PSAs.
"We want to show people the emotional strains of everyday life to help support people with needs," Brennan says, suggesting that many people are unaware of how to seek help to relieve their everyday stress and anxiety.
Also drumming up publicity for psychology are Marlo J. Archer, PhD, and graduate student Devin Jones, who in May began broadcasting "The Psychology Session," which is one of the first Internet radio shows and podcasts-a prerecorded broadcast that listeners can download onto their MP3 players-to focus exclusively on psychology. As the technology catches on, Archer and Jones hope the program's audience grows (as of September, the most downloaded show had about 40 listeners).
The show delves into a range of consumer-related topics such as whether psychologists should be granted prescription privileges and how parents can cope with children who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Archer and Jones also invite a range of guests to their studio, housed in Archer's Phoenix home. For example, Phoenix firefighter Janet Boberg recently discussed the fire department's youth fire-starter intervention program. Likewise, Chuck Eade, co-director of the nonprofit Wilderness Ability Project, a program that promotes wilderness accessibility for people with disabilities, discussed the psychological aspects of developing outdoor programs for children with disabilities.
"We bring a human aspect to the show, so that we can illustrate how psychology is relevant to people's lives," Jones says. "We want people to know that there's more to psychology than just therapy."