Feature

Shortly after Pat DeLeon, PhD, JD, was elected APA president last fall, a friend sent him a copy of a letter from the California Psychiatric Association. It urged members to contribute money to help stop DeLeon from winning prescription privileges for psychologists.

"I think it's funny," smiles DeLeon, in his corner office in the Hart Senate Office Building, "that psychiatry finds me the greatest thing they ever had to rally their troops." And although DeLeon may personify psychiatry's worst fears about psychology, the 56-year-old father of two says, "I don't think the people who responded to that letter would recognize me if I was standing next to them on the street."

In fact, DeLeon, who has been a key advisor to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) since 1974, looks like any other Capitol Hill staffer, usually dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and conservative tie. He's soft-spoken and, despite a long time hearing loss for which he compensates with the help of a hearing aid and some lip reading, he rarely misses anything in the many meetings he attends.

He readily admits he doesn't fit most people's image of a leader. In fact, he says, if he could change one thing about himself, he would be taller than his 5 feet, 7 inches, because people often equate leadership qualities with height.

But, neither image nor inches have stopped DeLeon from being a leader, despite the many obstacles thrown his way.

"I've always had someone in authority telling me I would never graduate high school," says DeLeon. "I would never go on to college. I would never go to law school. I would never be a public speaker."

He's learned to ignore nay-sayers.

After graduating from Amherst College, he earned his PhD in clinical psychology at Purdue University in 1969. He earned a JD in law at Catholic University in 1980.

"There's always a way," he says, "and when people say, 'You can't do it,'--like winning prescription privileges--I say 'No, there is a way. You just need to figure out how to do it.'"

His optimism has influenced many psychologists, says Ron Fox, PhD, chair of APA's Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice. "He's been a persistent advocate, motivator and encourager for the field," says Fox. "He's been phenomenal in terms of encouraging people to feel like they can make a difference."

This year, DeLeon will have an opportunity to encourage and motivate more psychologists as APA president.

Making a difference

"In a very quiet way and without a lot of glitz, Pat has become enormously effective," says psychologist Ruby Takanishi, PhD, of New York City, a former congressional science fellow in Inouye's office.

That effectiveness was evident several years ago when DeLeon helped social workers secure Medicare reimbursement for outpatient mental health services. It would have taken much longer without DeLeon's leadership, says Susan Hoechstetter, former government relations director for the National Association of Social Workers who still works with DeLeon on social work.

His guidance in the late 1980s also helped advanced nurse practitioners gain prescription privileges, says Geri Marullo, former chief executive officer of the American Nurses Association.

He would like to see the same happen for psychologists. DeLeon says winning prescription privileges for psychologists will benefit patients, because he believes psychotropic medications are often overused.

"When I see something like prescription authority used inappropriately, I say let's change it," says DeLeon. "Let's have medication used when necessary and not come to rely on it."

But pushing for prescription privileges is just one of DeLeon's presidential initiatives. He is also interested in boosting women's presence in science and technology. One area he'll explore is the impact information technology is having on girls in school, and women at work.

A third focus for his presidential year is fostering better relationships between psychology and the law. He is particularly interested in bringing together the two professions, to find more effective ways to help people in prisons who have mental illnesses or addiction problems. His goal is to have every state association that he visits in the coming year meet with their local bar association president and consider establishing a local committee on legal issues.

Changing the system

DeLeon's leadership isn't confined to mental health issues. In fact, the accomplishment he's most proud of has little to do with psychology. He says his most meaningful experience has been helping to establish the pediatric emergency medical service (EMS) system, a $17 million federal program that helps emergency rooms across the country provide the best physical and psychosocial care for children

DeLeon began pushing for emergency-room reforms in 1984 after a frightening experience he had when his infant daughter, Katherine Malia Malie, was rushed to an emergency room in Connecticut with acute meningitis. DeLeon remembers the staff telling him and his wife, Jean, that their daughter would be dead by morning. When Kate was still alive the next day, doctors told them she would be brain-damaged for life.

"There was no psychosocial intervention," DeLeon says. "The staff just told us she would die."

The emergency room also wasn't equipped with surgical instruments that were small enough to treat a baby with meningitis, he says.

Despite these obstacles, Kate survived without any complications. Today, the 16-year-old sophomore plays on the varsity soccer team at Washington, D.C.'s Sidwell Friends School.

"She's fine now," says DeLeon, "but there was nothing about the way she was treated in the emergency room that gave me a sense that I'd want anyone to be treated that way." So, he sought to change the whole system, urging Inouye to sponsor a bill establishing the pediatric EMS program. After much persistence, the bill passed in 1984.

"He's created something that has impacted every state, every community," says David Heppel, MD, division director for child, adolescent and family health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "He is one of those individuals who can really say they've made a difference for every child and every family."

Overcoming barriers

DeLeon says he inherited his tenacity from his two greatest influences--his mother, who was Connecticut's second female attorney, and his grandfather, a Russian orthodox priest.

"Neither of them ever knew there was a limit," he says. "When there were barriers in front of them, they just went around them."

It's a quality that DeLeon wanted to pass onto his son. He and his wife, who had lived in Hawaii for five years, named him Patrick Daniel Nainoa. The DeLeons translate his Hawaiian name, Nainoa, to mean "to overcome adversity and seek peaceful resolutions."

One hurdle that wasn't difficult for DeLeon was being elected APA president. He won by a substantial margin the first time he ran, which may not be surprising, considering that he'd been active in APA governance for 25 years. He was elected to the Council of Representatives twice, and served one term on the Board of Directors and two terms as recording secretary. He's past-president of Divs.12 (Clinical), 29 (Psychotherapy) and 41 (Psychology and Law). He's the former chair of the ad hoc Committee on Legal Issues and the Board of Professional Affairs. He has also served on the Finance Committee, Committee on APA/State Association Relations and Public Information Committee. He's a former chair of the Professional Caucus of Council.

He's also developed a network of colleagues that he keeps in touch with daily through e-mail. Each month, he sends hundreds of "aloha" letters--typically a few lines offering congratulations for a job well done, or encouragement on an upcoming challenge. "He's a good friend, he supports a lot of people," says Stanley Moldawsky, PhD, a private practitioner in New Jersey who has worked with DeLeon in APA governance.

He should know. The day DeLeon was elected APA's president he called Moldawsky, who plays the piano in a six-piece jazz band, and invited him and his group to entertain at the presidential party at the 2000 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C.

DeLeon's also arranged for folk singer and social gadfly Pete Seeger to be the keynote speaker at the 2000 Annual Convention in August. But, DeLeon says, Seeger will probably do more singing than talking. Seeger, who usually sings and tells stories, is expected to tailor his performance for psychologists.

DeLeon, a long-time fan of Seeger, invited the singer after seeing him perform at Sidwell Friends. He hopes Seeger--who sings about social reform--will encourage APA members to reflect on why they went into the profession, where they came from and where they're going.

"What Pete Seeger did as a folk singer was bring people back to the reality that there are certain things people should do for society," says DeLeon. "His music teaches us that we have a responsibility to act to make society better. When you don't like something, speak out about it and try to change it."