How do you find an area to lend your expertise-one you'll enjoy and you know will make a difference? Veteran volunteers offer some advice.

  • Think locally. Volunteering doesn't have to be a dramatic undertaking in a far-off land. You can make as much of an impact-and have a more lasting effect-if you stick close to home, says Chicago-based clinician Nancy Molitor, PhD, who has worked on APA's public education campaign since its inception. "Most psychologists off the top of their head can probably think of five to 10 places in their community that they're already a part of," she says.

If you're not as familiar with your community, another tack is to drive around your neighborhood and find the places of worship, community centers and schools closest to you, adds Long Beach, Calif., clinician Jana Martin, PhD. If one piques your interest, find out who's in charge of pro bono services, then offer to do an educational program, she says. Similarly, locally based service organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis are great ways to meet community leaders and learn about your community's needs, Martin notes.

  • Choose work you'll enjoy. If you like working with children, chat with your local school administrators about ways to address mental health needs in the school, says Martin. If presentations are your bag, target audiences you'd enjoy talking to.

  • Shadow someone who's doing the work. One of the best ways to ignite your own interest is to tag along with a successful and enthusiastic psychologist-volunteer, Martin contends. "You'll get a feel for what it's like, and you'll see firsthand the benefits to the community and to the volunteer," she says.

  • Join your state's public education campaign. Becoming part of your state psychological association's public education campaign is a sure way to learn about mental health needs in your state and to tap into ready-made, high-quality materials and presentations, notes Summit, N.J., clinician Roz Dorlen, PsyD, who chairs New Jersey's public education campaign. Such involvement also enhances your professional identity and your network of colleagues, she adds.

  • Clarify your motives. Analyzing your reasons for undertaking community service will help give your work long-term meaning, Martin says. She's not shy about telling people that the reason she trains teachers on psychological issues involving youngsters is because those children will eventually be her children's neighbors and co-workers. "It's in my best interests to help those youngsters be as well-adjusted as possible," she says.

-T. DeAngelis