APA members have elected pediatric psychologist Gerald P. Koocher, PhD, as the next APA president. Koocher, professor and dean of the School of Health Studies at Simmons College in Boston and a lecturer in psychology at Harvard Medical School, became president-elect on Jan. 1 and assumes the presidency on Jan. 1, 2006.
He brings to the post a blend of research, teaching and clinical experience. Koocher's career has focused on ethical considerations in psychology practice and research as well as the psychological needs of children and adults confronting chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
He also holds more than 25 years of APA governance experience--spanning from his service on APA's Ethics Committee as a 25-year-old to his completion in December of two five-year terms as APA treasurer, an office that includes membership on APA's Board of Directors.
As president, he plans to tap that association knowledge as well as his varied professional interests to form his presidential initiatives--all of which "focus on family." His goal is to not only highlight how psychologists can contribute to the many aspects of family wellness, but also how they can strengthen the profession's family of researchers, practitioners, educators and advocates.
"We need to stop feuding amongst ourselves and turn our attention to ways that psychology can improve our lives at home, at work and in society at large," he explains. "We need to take our knowledge from classrooms and laboratories to people's real lives."
Through his "focus on family" platform, Koocher plans to spotlight three areas that span all of psychology's constituencies:
Children and their families. Koocher will explore how APA can further raise public awareness that psychological services can be routinely helpful to families in such domains as work-family balance, strengthening intimate relationships and raising children.
"Psychology has a lot to say about these areas," he says. "And it's a message that the public in increasingly ready for," he says, pointing to growing public acceptance of mental health care.
The initiative, he notes, will dovetail with the public-awareness project "Make psychology a household word" by current president Ronald F. Levant, PhD (see page 50). And it will also include continuing to take that message to Congress and federal officials.
"If you don't lobby Congress you are going to risk having political ideology driving science," says Koocher. "We have to make our psychological science available so that it gets used."
Diversity in psychology. APA has made strides in recent years to increase its diversity, including hiring its first African-American CEO, the election of the first African-American woman to APA's Board of Directors, the appointment of the first female minority journal editor and improved relationships with minority psychological associations. But there is still much more work to be done before APA reflects the face of America, he says.
"Our society is becoming diverse in ways that couldn't have been imagined 20 years ago," says Koocher, noting that not only are minority populations growing, but so are transracial marriages and international adoptions. "Psychology has the potential to help to move America in greater acceptance of multiculturalism."
Early-career psychologists. Koocher will encourage APA to step up its efforts to help the field's newest members jumpstart their careers. New professionals are facing such challenges as student loan debt, struggles to join managed-care provider panels and mobility restrictions, Koocher notes, while new researchers face political restrictions on federal research funding and other hurdles in academe.
APA is beginning to address many of these issues, he says, pointing to the recently formed Committee on Early Career Psychologists and the growing representation of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students. However, efforts to serve recent graduates must continue to expand, he notes.
"We are rapidly getting to the point where we're going to depend much more on junior psychologists than on our current membership, with an average age in the 50s," he explains. "We need to act now to make APA a more positive environment for new psychologists."
A blended career
Koocher's drive to assist new psychologists hearkens back to his undergraduate years at Boston University when he took classes with developmental psychologist Freda Rebelsky, PhD, and the late social psychologist Robert Chin, PhD. Despite the fact that they taught at a large university, Rebelsky and Chin cultivated relationships with their students--an example that Koocher has tried to follow.
Today, he lectures and supervises interns and postdocs at Harvard Medical School, while holding other appointments at Boston College, Brigham & Women's Hospital and Children's Hospital Boston, where he worked for 30 years and served as the chief psychologist before moving to Simmons College in 2001. He still donates his time one day a week at the Children's Hospital, managing two or three children's cases and supervising psychology interns.
And his volunteer efforts extend to his community: He is an elected member of the Brookline, Mass., Town Meeting and a president of the Brookline Community Mental Health Center. He has been president of the Massachusetts and New England psychological associations as well as APA Divs. 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology), 29 (Psychotherapy) and 37 (Child, Youth and Family Services), as well as the Society of Pediatric Psychology and the Society of Clinical Child Psychology, now APA Divs. 53 and 54.
He is a fellow of 12 APA divisions and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Koocher founded and is the editor of the journal Ethics & Behavior and has served as the editor of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology and The Clinical Psychologist.
But he says one of his highest honors came when APA Div. 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues) awarded research by him and his colleagues on using anatomically detailed dolls in child sexual abuse evaluations with the Robert Chin Memorial Award, honoring the psychologist who sent him on his path.
--D. SMITH BAILEY