APA members have elected their 2009 president: James H. Bray, PhD, a Baylor College of Medicine associate professor of family and community medicine and psychiatry and a University of Houston adjunct psychology professor.
Active in APA's governance for 15 years, Bray is perhaps best known for his clinical work and research on developmental and family factors in divorce and remarriage; adolescent substance use; applied methodology; and collaboration between physicians and psychologists.
Bray heard the news of his election while on a northern Oahu beach. "I figured it would be a great place to be with my wife whether I won or lost," he says.
He recently sat for a quick interview with the Monitor.
Why did you run for APA president?
For two reasons, actually. First, psychology has been incredibly good to me, and serving the members as president is the ultimate way to give back. Secondly, I've observed that as president, you are able to move issues forward more quickly, and there are some issues that I've worked on in APA for a number of years that I want to move a little bit further.
What are those issues?
One is continuing to have psychology as a health profession and being recognized as a partner and equal with all the health professions. But being on the campaign trail, I've shifted my priorities because in talking with hundreds of psychologists, I've learned that they are hurting. Practitioners in particular are hurting very badly in their practices. As a member of the APA Board of Directors, I'll also sit on the board of the American Psychological Association Practice Organization. As a member of that board, I hope to be able to do things that support psychology practitioners' economic viability. Doing so would help not only practitioners, but also the people who use psychological services. We need to do something to help, and I have some ideas on how to do that, but I don't want to present them right now.
The same is true for scientists. Budgets at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are at record high levels, yet psychology can't get its research funded. I'm a victim of that myself. My lab, which studied adolescent substance use, went away a couple of years ago because I couldn't get refunded, even though I had been funded for 10 years. This just doesn't make sense. A lot of psychological scientists are asking, "What is going on here?" and that is something, I believe, APA can address.
The irony is we know from research that at least 50 percent of health problems are caused by lifestyle and psychosocial issues, but only about 7 percent of NIH's budget goes to researching them. That seems a little disproportionate to me. One of the things I want to do as president is to increase that number.
Any other priorities?
Yes, helping graduate students, who are leaving school with record-level debt. Even established programs are having trouble funding their students. We need to look for new ways to get federal and other types of funding to support psychologists' training. I think this is a diversity issue because people who come from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds may look into psychology careers and see that they will leave with $80,000 worth of debt. As a result, they are going to turn around and go somewhere else. For us to attract the best and brightest, as well as a diverse group of psychologists, we need to help them get through graduate school. We also need to communicate the value of psychologists' skills and know-how to health systems, schools and corporations.
There are two other things I hope we can do. One is that I've worked with the homeless for years and I want to shine a light on that community. Many people are homeless because of psychological trauma, mental illness, problems with drug and substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse. And when you give them the help they need, they can become productive citizens. Homelessness is increasing. I'd like to see what we can do to turn that around.
I will also continue to highlight the importance of prescription privileges for appropriately trained psychologists. My goal would be to have at least three more states pass legislation that gives psychologists prescriptive authority. [Currently, only Louisiana and New Mexico give appropriately trained psychologists the right to prescribe.] I'll do everything I can to make that happen.
Do you have a message for members?
First, I'm very grateful for this opportunity. APA is a great organization. But unfortunately a lot of the great things APA does are unknown by the members.
The other thing I want members to know is that my understanding of what psychology is has broadened incredibly. A lot of the small divisions do some fantastic work, and I want to promote that. For example, I'm a pilot and when I trained to be a pilot, the way I communicated and trained was based on research by psychologists. When millions of people fly, most people don't know that psychologists' research is behind it. Psychologists do incredible things and we don't get credit for it.
Finally, one of my passions is politics, so I'll be working hard to advance psychology's agenda with Congress. APA has trained me well to be an advocate. I am ready to fight for issues that will have a real impact on not only our discipline but on the contributions our discipline can make to society.