Feature

Growing up in Alabama, Jana Martin, PhD, wanted to be a minister.

She enjoyed public speaking and wanted to help troubled teens and families--including a schoolmate dealing with an alcoholic parent--learn to cope with tragedy and trauma.

Her goal changed, though, when she experienced her own revelation a few years into her theology degree.

"I realized that the people I wanted to reach wouldn't likely be found in church," she says. "So I switched my major to psychology, and, after graduating, entered public service."

Today, as a former president of the California Psychological Association and an APA Public Education Coordinator--a liaison between APA and her community--Martin is one of many psychologists across the country who are spreading the word about psychology in such community organizations as schools, hospitals, businesses and chambers of commerce. Martin's work also dovetails with the "Making Psychology a Household Word" initiative of APA President Ronald F. Levant, EdD.

The initiative aims to build on the Practice Directorate's Public Education (PE) campaign that develops materials for psychologists to use in workshops, speeches and other forms of public outreach.

Levant's initiative seeks to train APA members to use the PE materials in community presentations to show the public how psychology can affect their lives. Levant also hopes the initiative will help teach psychologists to communicate better with the media.

Customizing the message

Using the messages of the PE campaign to communicate psychology's everyday benefits to the public is not difficult, says Martin.

For example, recently, in a single month, Martin tailored the campaign's message of building resilience to teach parents of hospitalized children how to deal with grief, aid a preschool after a student's unforeseen death and help hospital workers manage workplace stress.

She balances the public engagements with her private clinical practice because she believes that she's making an impact.

"After a public education presentation, the people in the audience know that psychologists are not something to be afraid of," she says. "I'm putting a face on the word 'psychology' and lessening the stigma of seeing a psychologist."

Audience members seem to agree.

"She has a wonderful approach to using common sense approaches to deal with stress and grieving," says Chaplain Sharon Yagerlener of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller's Children's Hospital, who asked her to speak at a conference after seeing her presentation. "She's proof of the value and excellence that psychology has to offer."

Informing the public

Meanwhile, Illinois State Psychological Association Past-president Nancy Molitor, PhD, and her colleagues are also working to educate the public about psychology. Since the inception of the PE campaign in 1996, they have worked with APA's Practice Directorate to talk to communities, distribute press releases and advertise on the radio to plant "psychology" in Illinoisans' consciousness.

As a result of those efforts, after the outbreak of the war in Afghanistan, Molitor worked with the Chicago Headline Club, a chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, to help reporters who had covered 9/11 and the war cope with the stress of negative news stories and a job that could summon them to work any day or hour of the week.

"In an hour group discussion I gave them the information that they need to cope with their workplace stress and I let them know where they can turn for more help," she says.

Likewise, in 2003, the Illinois Psychological Association co-produced four radio ads with APA's Practice Directorate to broadcast the PE message of how to cope with the stress of the holiday season.

Molitor also works closely with the media. At the same time, she says psychologists are increasing their presence in the Illinois media.

"The media are calling us up and asking to speak to a psychologist--even with basic issues that a number of professionals could comment on," she says. "And it's making what we do that much easier."

Making news

Similarly, the household word initiative has inspired New Hampshire Public Education Coordinator Richard Marchand, PhD, to retool the annual Sunday special advertising supplement, "Psychology and You," he produced and edited in the New Hampshire Sunday News into a three-page spread in the paper's "State and Local" section.

The move has greatly increased the feature's visibility, Marchand says.

The stories are written by New Hampshire Psychological Association (NHPA) members and prominent psychologists, such as 2004 APA President Diane Halpern, PhD. And with headlines such as "I dare you to try this at home (or at work)" and "Hey kids! How bouncy is your brain?" and stories that convey complex ideas about cognition and resiliency in an approachable manner, Marchand and NHPA are providing psychologists a forum in which to showcase their work to the public.

"[The special section] is a way to promote psychology through a 'soft sell,'" Marchand says.

He notes that NHPA psychologists are also seeing a boost in their visibility.

"People are responding," Marchand says. "They are calling up our offices and saying that they've seen our articles."

In addition to the newspaper columns, NHPA has worked with New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch to designate one week in February as "New Hampshire Psychology Week." In doing so, the association is attempting to capture the attention of the public and local media.

Marchand and his colleagues are not the only psychologists in the Northeast attracting media attention.

In New York, Sara Weiss, EdD, the New York State Psychological Association public education coordinator, keeps a visible presence in the media. With clinical practices in Manhattan and Staten Island, Weiss gives at least one or two interviews a month--and after 9/11 she was frequently asked for insight into coping with trauma.

"We went out to the public and showed them that psychology is not just for the mentally ill, but in certain circumstances it can help people bounce back," she says.

After 9/11, the main thrust of her message was resiliency. Weiss teamed with three other psychologists in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Manhattan to help school principals, assistant principals and children come to grips with their emotions.

"We had to teach them that their feelings were natural," she says. At the same time, she notes that, "It's hard to help people heal when you're still healing yourself."

Despite the difficulty of her work, Weiss remains eager to lend a helping hand.

"Whatever we can do to get the word out is good," she says. "It's good to get people to learn about psychological issues and realize who we are."