President's Column

Psychology is one of the learned professions. At a time when only 20 to 25 percent of our nation's adult population possess a baccalaureate degree, our doctoral training cries out for us to provide visionary leadership in addressing society's pressing needs. As someone who has been involved in the public policy process for more than 25 years, I am constantly surprised by the number of colleagues who simply do not understand our societal responsibility. Some proclaim lack of interest, shortage of time or, in more candid moments, admit discomfort. Others wonder if they can have any real impact. A number do not want their national association involved with what they consider political agendas. In my judgment, however, it isn't just important for psychologists to be involved in public policy--it is essential to our very future.

Influencing the system

Psychology has developed an extensive repertoire of information, based on behavioral science research, in areas as diverse as effective strategies to prevent smoking, the causes of violent behavior (including suicide) and factors that improve airline pilot safety.

Few areas of administration or legislation cannot be effectively informed by psychological science. The work of the legislative branch of government at the state and national levels directly impacts how we are able to do our work. For researchers, the annual appropriations for various research institutes direct which areas of inquiry shall be funded (and sometimes, what kinds of research cannot be supported, e.g., needle-exchange research), as well as how such research can be conducted (e.g., the use of animals, what kinds of questions can be asked of adolescents). The clinical practice of psychology is similarly affected, including issues surrounding scope of practice and reimbursement eligibility. For educators, funding for universities and student aid is vital.

Most importantly, if psychologists do not participate in the public policy process, competing voices will dominate the debate. The cost of not participating may well exceed what we expect. The public policy process is never ending and ever changing. Psychology must be continually aware of pending developments to ensure that our collective views and expertise are consistently considered.

Public policy fellowships

One of the most exciting investments that APA has made is the public policy fellowship program. Over the past 25 years, 74 psychologist colleagues have been APA Fellows with five fellows serving this year.

The first fellow, in 1974, was Pam Flattau. All together, about 120 psychologists have participated in a wide range of fellowship programs sponsored by APA, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Society for Research in Child Development. Upon completing their assignments, half have taken policy-related positions within the public sector or with public interest or policy research organizations.

These programs are an outstanding way to train psychologists in public policy and prepare them for future careers. The fellows do not formally represent APA's interests. They do, however, provide critical expertise in the development of programs and educate high-level policy-makers about the important contributions psychologists can make to specific policy areas.

One does not have to move to our nation's capital to become personally involved. Involvement is possible at all levels--state, county or national. Two psychologists, Ted Strickland and Brian Baird, serve in the U.S. Congress. About 10 others serve in local legislatures. Alan Leshner is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) and Kathy Hawk Sawyer is director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. John Gardner served as secretary of the then-Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Our immediate APA Past-President, Dick Suinn, was mayor of Fort Collins, Colo.

Being involved in the public policy process is a personally rewarding experience. It represents the best of our democratic way of life. One addresses important policy issues and interacts with extraordinarily effective and dedicated individuals. As your president, I have been reaching out to members weekly--talking to colleagues I have never met.

APA's highest policy body is the Council of Representatives. Today we are almost at the stage where every division and every state association has a voice. Almost, but not quite. This year, seven states will have observers but no voting representation. I hope we rectify this. Our nation was founded upon the underlying principle that every individual should have a vote--the same should be true for every division and every state association. Aloha.