President's Column

Wow, I'm the new president of the American Psychological Association! I'm grateful to be so honored by my colleagues. What a challenge! What a responsibility!

It's been a long way up from the South Bronx ghetto, where I was born and reared, to this pinnacle of professional recognition. The way up from being a shoe-shine boy on Southern Boulevard is traced to the transformation that education created, igniting my imagination and love of learning. Free library books opened amazing new worlds. Biology revealed hidden realms of life, physics converted mysterious forces to laws of nature, history illuminated patterns of human decisions and power, literature put centuries of creative genius in my hands. But with psychology, the secrets of the mind could be uncovered, principles of behavior discovered, mental suffering healed. The opportunity to contribute to such a dynamic field was the intellectual bait that captivated me.

Dedicated teachers baited that hook, fishing many kids out of ponds of ignorance and streams polluted with limited aspirations. Overworked, underpaid and often under appreciated by our society, teachers should be honored, as our nation is redefining heroism, for their commitment to cultivating student minds and strengthening the very fabric of our society.

Recognizing the importance of good teaching in psychology is a primary goal of my presidency. I will support innovative programs for enhancing teacher effectiveness across the curriculum and for more imaginative resources for all levels of learning--from college and high school to middle school. Adult, nontraditional learners are also part of our educational family.

Why should psychology occupy a central position at all levels of education? Most major problems facing our nation involve psychological causes, correlates or consequences. Solutions and prevention require changes in attitudes, values, behavior and life styles. A few examples:

  • AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases with controllable risk factors.

  • Addictive processes in substance abuse, and other self-destructive practices.

  • Obesity-related morbidity, such as diabetes and heart disease.

  • Stress at work and at home that weakens the immune system.

  • Prejudice and discrimination.

  • Disproportionate dropout rates of minority students.

  • Crime and juvenile delinquency.

  • Untreated major mental illnesses.

  • Lethal hostilities, from domestic discord and gang fights to war.

Psychology can help in solving such problems, but equally important, our field can illuminate and empower positive potentials of individuals and groups, promoting their virtues, talents and strengths.

Unique in our history, the crisis created by terrorism puts psychology on center stage. Terrorism seeks to undermine the assurances of security, predictability, control and justice on which stability, trust and normal functioning are based. Since the tragedies of Sept. 11, these assurances are being supplanted by fear, anxiety, trauma, stress, confusion and vulnerability. Prescriptions for antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and sleeping pills have increased nationally. Psychology can offer better healing of inner wounds in this new Fear War. We can also provide sound advice to national leaders to guide the next struggle for changing anti-American attitudes. Psychologists have responded wonderfully to the flood of traumatic stress disorders, and will be called upon to promote individual resiliency, courage and social health. We need to integrate comprehensive community public health models with mental health models, educate broadly through our Web sites and public service messages, while advancing new creative research agendas.

My professional life has been guided by the exhortation of former APA President George Miller "to give psychology away to the public." But psychologists have been too modest in recognizing all that we have to offer, and the public and media have not been adequately prepared to accept our best offerings. I will cultivate more effective, collaborative relationships between psychology and all media that are gatekeepers to the public so that we can share the best of psychology accurately and usefully. Psychology has had a long history of contributions to national service in both peace and wartime; APA continues in advancing that tradition.

Let us go forward with pride in our discipline and passionate commitment to research, practice, education and service in the public interest. Conscious that we are privileged to observe, influence and heal, let us respect the contributions of each subdiscipline to the common good of psychology. In embracing diversity and an expanded global perspective, we are committed to the well-being of individuals and communities everywhere. The time has come for psychology to make a significant difference that truly enriches the human connection. We should expect nothing less, and each be willing to dedicate ourselves to even more.