APA's surveys of where our members work and what we collectively do show an enormous variety. We work in clinics, in colleges and universities, in industry, in correctional settings, in schools, in practice offices — and we are engaged in a wide variety of activities, from implementation of large-scale community mental health programs to individual psychotherapy to basic research on brain-behavior relations. We serve multiple roles as administrators, practitioners, educators, scientists and consumers — in the private and public sectors.
This diversity is, of course, the core of our discipline's strength. But it raises challenges in trying to categorize who we are and in supporting common areas of concern across the association. Pessimists predict that such diversity must lead to a split between guild and science concerns. Optimists, such as myself and the vast majority of APA's governance, believe this diversity can serve as a catalyst to develop both the science and the practice of psychology in new and fruitful ways.
Psychology — together and yet apart
This goal, most succinctly termed "science-practice integration," has been a central concern for APA for years, including being a high policy priority for Joe Matarazzo's presidency back in 1989. Considerations by an APA Task Force on Science-Practice Integration, formed in 1998, are now embodied in an Action Plan with the goals of sharing information, publicizing science-practice collaborations, promoting similar initiatives in divisions and state associations and promoting shared training.
Why is promoting such integration an issue? At a global level, psychology itself is an example of science-practice integration — the practice of psychology is informed by and informs the science of behavior. But at the more everyday level of common issues, programs and goals, this integration has proven devilishly hard to accomplish for many reasons: changes in curricula, in practicum demands, in the sheer size and degree of specialization of the discipline mean diminishing overlap in the training, focus, workplace, and everyday activities of those who typify "science" and those who typify "practice." This leads to a perception that practitioners and researchers are occupied by completely different issues. Skeptics proclaim that "scientists and practitioners come from different curricular traditions, don't speak the same language, don't read the same literature," implying that they live in different universes. However, the advent of managed care and new constraints and demands on the practice side, coupled with new funding thrusts and increased demands for social accountability on the science side, raise new challenges and opportunities for asking how science and practice can mutually inform each other and serve as productive catalysts.
Moving beyond the easy answers
This is not an easy task. We need to move beyond the easy answer that scientists should do research relevant to practitioners and that practitioners should inform scientists about what problems research should address, or provide populations on which to test it. We need to explore the synergy that emerges when practitioners and scientists meet on common ground and work together on concrete tasks. Many issues —memory loss in older people, coping with the stigma of mental disease, compliance with treatment —are fertile ground for science-practice dialogue, thereby serving society well. But we need to forge stronger mechanisms for making sure that this dialogue occurs more often within the throes of busy schedules and in ways that augment and serve the best of science and practice activities.
APA has supported many innovative programs — one example is the "alliance" project, aimed at increasing collaboration between state associations (which represent primarily practitioners) and academic departments (which house primarily researchers) around concrete, policy issues. Such activities allow scientists and practitioners to begin to share each other's parlance. A common response from both sides is respect and surprise at the range of activities and concerns under the respective purviews of science/practice. Similar efforts must be crafted to promote such interaction in more states, divisions and conventions. Manny Donchin's accomplishments within California and Illinois are extraordinary.
There is a recognition in many arenas, including public health, law, education and social services, that behavior and behavioral interventions are key —but progress is hampered by a lack of translation between findings from the lab and explanations, interventions or decisions made in situ. We need to learn what issues are amenable to science-practice collaboration; what questions can be fruitfully asked and answered in ways that span the continuum from explaining behavior in its multidimensional context to investigating it in its tractable components. Focusing on the translation function requires input from us all. Aloha.