Running Commentary

I believe divisions are the lifeblood of APA. Divisions became a formal part of APA in 1945 during a general reorganization of the association and have grown in number and importance to APA since that time. Approximately 49 percent of APA members belong to at least one of our 53 divisions, and their work is central to much of what we do, from APA's Annual Convention to the prestigious journals we publish. Because the work of individual divisions is often where the action is in psychology, I have decided to devote an occasional column to focus on the work of a particular division.

To open the series, I will highlight the work of Div. 18 (Psychologists in Public Service) and the important professional contributions of a few of its members. What better place to start then with a division that's at the front lines of delivering psychological expertise to solving many of today's most pressing social needs?

Div. 18 comprises five sections representing the many settings in which its members work--community and state hospitals, criminal justice, police and public safety, psychologists in Indian country and Veterans Affairs. Steven Nisenbaum, PhD, a staff psychologist at Tewksbury Hospital in Tewksbury, Mass., is the 2003 division president. He and Bill Safarjan, PhD, the division's membership chair, brought to my attention three division members who not only do outstanding work, but also represent the broad and critical work that is being done by psychologists in public service across the country.

Dr. Steven J. Helfand, is the deputy director of mental health services at Rikers Island-Prison Health Services in New York City. Helfand is second in charge of providing mental health services to a population of more than 14,000 inmates--of which approximately 2,000 receive mental health services--but still he manages to keep his sense of humor, telling me he has worked at Rikers for two and a half years of a potential life sentence. Helfand manages the work of about 150 mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, activity therapists and mental health unit chiefs for each jail (there are nine jails in total at Rikers). Helfand and his team ensure that all referred prisoners are evaluated and treated within mandated time frames throughout their stay at Rikers and that they are assessed for discharge planning should they be released.

Dr. Bruce Allen is the clinical director of the Bristol Bay Counseling Center in Dillingham, Alaska. The center serves 31 tribes and villages in an area the size of Ohio but unconnected by roads. He and his counseling center staff of six serve the mental health needs of these communities with the assistance of 21 village-based paraprofessionals. Travel is, as described by Bruce, by "very, very small plane or skiff."

What are the challenges that Bruce and his team face? Because his patients are so spread out, visits to each village only take place every six or eight weeks, and much therapy, supervision, and especially emergency evaluation, is done by telephone.And, according to Bruce, the suicide rate is "astronomically high in this part of Southwest Alaska"--approximately six times that of the overall rate for the lower 48states. (Read more about the challenges of work in rural communities in this month's cover package)

Dr. Ann Louise Barrick bridges teaching and public mental health service delivery through her work as part of a unique collaboration between the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill (UNC) and John Umstead Hospital (JUH), a state psychiatric facility. As the director of psychology for the program, Barrick oversees patient clinical services at the hospital; teaches within the psychology department at UNC; supervises UNC and Duke University practicum students and JUH interns; and participants in the design and implementation of research studies both by hospital staff and students. And finally, there's also the paperwork, as Ann is the lead administrator with responsibility for the provision of all psychological services at JUH.

"This has been a win-win situation, says Barrick. "The academic connection has brought resources to the hospital as well as a superior training site for graduate students."

APA appreciates the contributions that all members of Div.18 make to their communities, to psychology and to society. To learn more about the division of Psychologists in Public Service, visit or contact Bill Safarjan at