In the Public Interest

The year 2000 provides a convenient dividing line to look forward from a public interest standpoint, taking into consideration the myriad issues and concerns that reside in APA, the Public Interest governance and the Public Interest Directorate. One matter of interest is a move by APA's Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) to create a thematic emphasis for the directorate and its public interest committees: Valuing Diversity.

This theme challenges the public interest constituencies to go beyond development of groups that represent diverse interests. The point is to keep in mind that people's differences add something to a particular group. They shouldn't just occupy a seat at the proverbial table. Diversity when valued is encouraged, sought out and recruited. Diversity enhances.

Often, however, diversity is misunderstood. A colleague related to me that the topic of diversity was raised among a group of psychologists homogeneous in race and gender. Someone declared that they were a diverse group in that, as psychologists, they advocated different theoretical positions. I believe there are many challenges for American psychology and APA in the next year, decade and century. Diversity may be one, valuing diversity is yet another.

Challenges for psychologists

Possibly within the next decade, as more women enter the field as scientists and practitioners, it will become important to think about matters of power and dominance within psychology. If the past is prologue, the science and profession may suffer. A proclamation of the first decade as the "Decade of Behavior" and the attainment of prescription privileges will likely place psychology as one of, if not the, pre-eminent science and health profession. As a result, there will be much to share or fight about.

Almost all demographic projections indicate that, within the next decade, there will not be a majority group within this nation. White people will be one of several racial ethnic groups vying for political and social power. Psychology has examined the increasing disparity from society of a field that is 94 percent white and 6 percent ethnic minorities (Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians). The field has addressed the matter in a sustained, ongoing manner.

At that same time, two key issues have not been adequately recognized. For one, people of color bring important ideas about behavior, whether in research or practice. People of color also have mental health needs that are poorly understood, barely taught and hardly learned within graduate and professional schools. Thus, the challenge to psychology is two-fold:

  • Increase recruitment of minorities within the field.
  • Develop, teach and value a multicultural curriculum.

At both ends of the life span, psychologists as well as other professional and scientific groups tend to neglect the young and the old. There seems to be strong motivation and consistent rewards for generating knowledge about young adults and middle-aged people. Perhaps the aging and retirement of the politically active baby boomers will bring a change, but politically inactive children and youth may continue to languish, receiving research attention and psychological services only when a highly publicized, tragic event occurs. Even attainment of prescription privileges is unlikely to bring more interest or services to underserved children and youth, many of whom are poor or otherwise disadvantaged. While psychological research and practice may begin addressing needs of the elderly, the challenge is to increase psychology's interest in the young.

Gay men, lesbians and bisexual persons actively pursue careers in psychology, but also continue to be targets of discrimination and prejudice within and outside the psychological community. Some mental health and religious groups continue to characterize homosexuality as a mental health disorder. While APA has taken a position against homosexuality as a mental health disorder, the association's future challenge will likely be addressing the status of transgendered individuals.

Last in this set of challenges is the participation of people with disabilities as psychologists in academic, professional and research settings. Graduate and professional schools, often illegally, discourage entry of people with disabilities into training programs. Those with sensory impairments or those requiring physical assistance, for example, are often barred from participation because they are unable to overcome attitudinal, physical or communications barriers. The challenge is to encourage better program access and responsiveness.

Prediction

These challenges to psychology are not new. Each of them has been addressed in the past, and some are being addressed now. What is consistent is that psychology has not valued diversity enough. However, I predict that in the 21st century, psychology will become more valued and simultaneously will become a field that increasingly values the diversity of its own.