Feature

As she steps into the APA presidency, Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD, brings with her a wide range of experience. She has worked in a state psychiatric hospital, in Eric Schopler's groundbreaking TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children) program, as an academic administrator in four universities, and as a professor of psychology for over 30 years. She also served two terms on APA's Council of Representatives and two terms on its Finance Committee.

Says Brehm, "I hope that I know enough about APA so I can avoid egregious mistakes and that I am open to new directions and opportunities for the association."

Brehm thinks of herself as a futurist. "Although I love history, I am always trying to figure out what lies ahead," she says. Indeed, all of her presidential initiatives and her convention themes have a direct link to future outcomes.

Take the initiative

Her first initiative-Integrated Health Care for an Aging Population-has a very personal origin. In the 1970s, Brehm's mother was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease. Her sister, who was their mother's major caretaker, became concerned about their mother's emotional state. But the doctors who were consulted just said, "Your mother isn't depressed; she has Alzheimer's." Finally, a more sophisticated physician recognized that it was possible to have both and prescribed the appropriate medication for the depression. When many years later, Brehm heard about integrated health care, she realized that collaboration between psychologists and physicians in treating the "whole person" is especially important for the elderly.

This presidential initiative is quite timely. The first U.S. cohort of the baby-boomer generation will be 65 in 2011, and the last cohort will reach 65 in 2026. In the United States and many other countries, this combination of large birth cohorts and greater longevity will produce the greatest proportion of elderly individuals in the history of humankind. Brehm emphasizes her belief that "the aging of the boomers will create the opportunity for a significant restructuring of health care in the U.S. and integrative health care, using interdisciplinary teams, will become a vital and basic component of this restructuring." The association's work on this issue began in October when Brehm convened the first meeting of the Presidential Task Force on Integrative Health Care for an Aging Population, co-chaired by Toni Antonucci, PhD, and Toni Zeiss, PhD.

Brehm's second initiative also focuses on the future. "The U.S. is already having a hard time competing in math and science-and the technology that is based on math and science-with the growing expertise in other countries such as China and India," she says. "This is certainly one of the most significant issues our country faces in terms of its long-term economic prosperity."

Brehm, Nora Newcomb, PhD, who is chair of the task force, and Aletha Huston, PhD, who is president of the Society for Research on Child Development (SRCD), worked together in developing the scope of this initiative and selecting the membership. The joint APA-SRCD task force on math and science education will be convened in the spring. Basic goals of this task force include articulating the importance of psychology in improving math and science education as well as emphasizing the role of psychology in contributing to public policy affecting math and science education.

The topic of Brehm's third initiative is of vital importance to the future of the scientific community: the working relationship between institutional review boards (IRBs) and psychological scientists. Brehm and Thomas Eissenberg, PhD, chair of the task force, will ask the task force members to conduct a comprehensive review and analysis of this relationship. In particular, the task force will identify "disconnects" between psychologists and IRBs that lead to perceived and/or actual conflict. The task force will also articulate ways in which to improve the relationship between IRBs and investigators such that both constituencies work together to protect research participants. The goal of this task force is to articulate ways in which ethical standards are rigorously maintained and psychological science can flourish.

Although APA's 2007 Annual Convention is many months away, Brehm has already begun to work on the program. Her first step was to designate two presidential themes for the convention:

Building Bridges, Expanding Horizons.Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives.

Brehm notes that interdisciplinarity has increased rapidly over the last decade and she believes that this paradigm shift will accelerate in the years ahead. By "interdisciplinary," she refers to collaborations among psychologists in different areas of study as well as between psychologists and individuals in other fields. She also emphasizes the importance of having scientists and practitioners work together on developing evidence-based applications.

Brehm is a strong proponent for the internationalization of psychology. She believes that the long-term fate of psychology as a discipline and APA as an association will depend on the extent to which psychology becomes a truly international discipline. In particular, she urges psychological educators to include a strong cross-cultural emphasis in their courses, and she encourages all psychologists to focus especially on developing professional connections with psychologists in non-Western countries. For psychology to succeed, she says, it has to be truly global in scope.

A challenge ahead

As indicated in her presidential column (see "The APA map"), Brehm is greatly concerned about membership in APA. She emphasizes that there are many factors that contribute to the difficulty in increasing the total membership, but one-size-is particularly intriguing to her. On the one hand, she notes, bigger is better. Large organizations often have greater resources than smaller ones. They also tend to be more diverse, which makes them more interesting, creative and resilient.

On the other hand, she notes, human beings have a tendency to like small and homogeneous groups, which are simpler to navigate, easier to influence and generally more comfortable. In a sense, APA has the best of both worlds: large "mothership" and smaller divisions and state associations. However, the psychological "pull" of the smaller groups appears to be stronger these days than the attractions of the larger group.

Although she recognizes that there is no easy solution to this dilemma, Brehm believes that one absolutely necessary step is to publicize more effectively what APA does for its members that the smaller groups cannot do. What are APA's unique and crucial contributions to individual psychologists and the field as a whole that no other group can match? Brehm plans to work hard to help the association make the case for APA.

Once upon a time

When Brehm wants to relax, she'll usually watch "Law and Order" or pick up a book. She's an avid reader of nonfiction, especially biographies-a recent read is Antonia Frazier's "Marie Antoinette: The Journey" (Anchor, 2002)-because of their psychological bent. In fact, she owes her psychology career choice to her teenage reading habits. Once she had picked up a book by Sigmund Freud, she was hooked forever.

As an undergraduate at Duke University, she not only majored in psychology, but also worked during her junior and senior years as an attendant on the psychiatric wards at Duke University Hospital. After receiving a master's degree at Harvard University, she returned to Duke for her PhD. In 1975, she and her then-husband, Jack Brehm, moved to the University of Kansas, where she was on the psychology faculty for 15 years and he is now Professor of Psychology Emeritus. Although they were divorced in 1978, they pride themselves as having had "the first amicable divorce in our neighborhood," and they are still good friends.

After serving as dean of the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at SUNY Binghamton, provost at Ohio University, and chancellor of Indiana University Bloomington, she returned to the faculty at Bloomington. In addition to her APA service, she also currently serves on the boards of the Bloomington Area Arts Council, Medaille College, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Brehm says that after her APA presidency, she intends to get back to writing. She wrote prolifically earlier in her career, but wasn't able to continue to do so as an academic administrator. For now though, her top priority is to serve APA and its members. The presidency, she believes, is a two-channel com-munication device:

  •  1) Listen to the members and communicate their views to the Board of Directors and staff.

  •  2) Inform the members about APA's activities, goals and unique contributions to psychology.

As she says, "I'm looking forward to a busy year."