Feature

APA's 2004 president, Diane F. Halpern, PhD, has always had a broad sense of what psychology is. Even as a graduate student at University of Cincinnati, she couldn't decide what aspect to focus on and, to this day, she still doesn't claim a single overall specialty.

"I came to psychology because it was asking all of life's really interesting and important questions," she says.

That appreciation for psychology's breadth was, for Halpern, one of the major attractions of the APA presidency. Indeed, pulling the diverse resources together is much of what it will take for Halpern to tackle her presidential initiatives which include improving general awareness of the needs of workers and families, helping retiring psychologists and developing multilingual academic psychology resources.

Halpern plans to ask members of APA's governance to foster within the association a better understanding of the diverse roles of psychologists. She hopes this will encourage psychologists to cross traditional practice and academic barriers and combine their knowledge and perspectives into a more cohesive picture of the field's contribution to society.

"I see the possibility for great unity within psychology. I think we have a lot to learn from each other," she says. "Working with diverse professionals really makes you rethink the lens through which you see yourself and others."

Working within and across various divisions subspecialities is old hat for Halpern, who served as president of APA's Div. 1 (General Psychology) in 1996 and president of Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology) in 1997, both groups that are cross-divisional in nature.

Halpern serves as the director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., where she is also professor of psychology.

In each of her pursuits--APA governance, the work-family institute, international work and research--Halpern has stressed that psychology has a great deal to offer the world, and she's worked toward that end. She says her job at APA is to make sure the field's innate value is well understood and well used.

"I want us as an organization to say we have a huge amount to contribute to education, to health, to peace, to the reduction of prejudice, to basic sciences, to brain science--to all the things that are really important," she says. "I really believe in psychology. I believe in what we do and I believe in the importance of what we do. Now all we have to do is convince everyone else."

A background in working families

Working among colleagues in different academic disciplines is routine for Halpern. She left a 20-year tenure at California State University, San Bernardino, in 2001 to start up the Berger Institute, which, with its focus on work and family issues, matched what had emerged as one of her academic and policy passions. The institute integrates the fields of psychology, economics, sociology and public policy to work on issues that face working individuals, families, communities, labor and business.

"I left for the opportunity to start something from scratch, something I believe to be very, very important," she says. "There's truly a revolution in the way we look at work: There's the changing nature of who's at work--mothers with young children are in the work force in large numbers. We have large numbers of older workers in the work force. We have the changing nature of what work involves, the need for a much more educated work force, the need for lifelong learning--it's an endless list. The Berger Institute is giving us the chance to look at all those issues and their interactions and to use research in psychology to find ways that offer returns on investments to both employers and working families."

Halpern traces her thinking on these issues to when she started her doctoral program with two children, a son and a daughter--something she says is really not all that unusual, especially today. Fortunately, she had a supportive husband, but despite the large numbers of dual careers families, the world of work has done little to support dual career couples and the problems of coordinating professional careers and family life have changed little in the intervening decades.

"Work-family stress is something that touches every person's daily life--it is a universal and personal issue," she says. "People are taking care of children, taking care of parents, caring for friends and neighbors, who often serve the role of family, going to work, going to school and succeeding, but we need to find ways to help everyone find that success. There are many benefits to these multiple roles--including enhanced self-esteem, more father involvement in child care, and increased income, but we need to find ways to help relieve the universal squeeze for more time."

Presidential agenda

In addition to her involvement in work and family issues, Halpern has a strong career in psychology leadership. She's held positions on APA's Board of Educational Affairs, Panel on Public Policy and Innovations in Education, Council of Representatives, Committee on International Relations in Psychology and Committee on Learning Outcomes. She also served as president of the Western Psychological Association from 1999 to 2000.

Combining that dedication to the field with her research interests and experience working with international psychologists, and with input from APA members and staff, Halpern has devised a set of initiatives for her presidency.

  • Advancing work and family advocacy. Halpern plans to continue pressing to improve conditions for families, a goal inexorably linked to adult work conditions because jobs both provide livelihood and benefits and dominate a significant amount of any working adult's time. She'll do this by consolidating the many ways APA already addresses these issues into one cohesive plan to improve families' lives, in terms of health care, child care, stress levels and family stability.

She is working with a diverse group of experts who are creating a database of research findings and will make empirically-supported recommendations to policy-makers, employers and families on a wide range of work-family issues. Halpern says she'd like to see APA offer legislators a set of guidelines to consider when they're making decisions about work-family legislation.

"The recommendations we offer don't have to be linked to any single piece of legislation," she says. "Rather, we can contribute broad guidelines for legislation no matter if it's welfare reform, or welfare-to-work incentives or education because most of the policy decisions involve work and family issues in some way."

For example, she says, considerable research shows that flexible scheduling of work hours can help reduce absenteeism, which in turn saves money for employers and reduces stress for employees.

"There's an example of a message we can give employers through research," she explains. "Flexible scheduling may not be applicable for every employer, but it's something people can keep in their mind for when these issues come up, so the research knowledge is available when it's applicable."

Halpern says work-family issues have not yet been sufficiently addressed by any one specialization in psychology, partially because the concerns span many different specialties. That's why her goal for her tenure will be to guide APA to develop a coherent message that spans all of psychology and includes other groups beyond APA.

"The more consistent we can be on this topic, the more effective we can be," she says.

  • Assisting members into retirement. Halpern also aims to support psychologists as they move into retirement by helping them find ways to keep active in their communities, continue contributing to research and find work, either volunteer or paid, she says. She wants to create a structure within APA that will connect retirees' with volunteer work or paying jobs that can be done part time or full time if that is preferred.

For example, a retired child psychologist might find meaningful part-time or full-time work if matched with a women's shelter or children's hospital or by mentoring a beginning psychologist or teaching at a college, high school or parenting class.

"The demographics are such that we're going to have larger numbers of our members moving into retirement," Halpern says, citing 2000 census numbers and membership information. "We need to be prepared to offer assistance to a huge number of members as they move into retirement and want to remain active in psychology and continue to use their skills in ways that give back to their community."

A mechanism connecting retired and semi-retired psychologists with community organizations that could use their services wouldn't necessarily have to be psychology-specific, she adds: "It just needs to make the connections these professionals need to keep contributing."

  • Breaking language boundaries. Teaching positions in Moscow, Istanbul and Mexico have exposed Halpern to the challenges and benefits of doing psychological work across cultures and languages, and to the complexities of prejudices across language groups and national borders. Stemming from those experiences, Halpern is working to have scholarly materials on prejudice translated into multiple languages.

"We can make a contribution just by ensuring that materials that already exist on the nature of prejudice are usable in multiple countries and cultures," she says.

With financial assistance from government and private funding institutions outside APA, Halpern hopes to develop a database of translated materials that will allow a world discourse on the issue of prejudice. The materials would then be available on the Web for distribution to psychologists throughout the world. If additional funding is obtained, she plans to find materials that are not currently available in English and have them translated into English and other languages so, she says, "that we can learn from each other and begin an international dialogue designed with the lofty goal of enhancing our understanding of and reducing the incidence of prejudice world-wide. It's an advancement for people to think about the science of studying prejudice in different cultures," she says. "And there would be a benefit for English speakers in seeing how other cultures tackle tricky and often ugly issues of prejudice. I have found that sometimes Americans think we invented prejudice and are surprised to find that it is a world-wide phenomenon that needs a global approach to fit our ever shrinking world."