APA's Board of Directors formed the Office of International Affairs as an outgrowth of the association's Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP) in 1973. Since then, the office has served as the association's main conduit of international information.
But as psychology has grown increasingly international-both in terms of APA's outreach and international collaboration in the field-APA has sought to transform the office into a catalyst to foster the development of international science, practice and educational collaborations, says psychologist Merry Bullock, PhD, who took over as senior director of the international office last June.
"The world has changed," Bullock says. "It's increasingly globalized and there are tremendous opportunities for bringing psychological expertise and behavioral perspectives to international issues."
As such, Bullock works with CIRP and others to help raise psychology's international presence. For example, her office is developing a set of resources to facilitate international psychologist mobility, to promote the use of psychological expertise in international policy and to support the infrastructure development of psychology around the world.
However, the internationalization of psychology is a two-way street, Bullock says. The office aims to help U.S. psychologists expand their reach outside U.S. borders while at the same time working to make psychologists aware of the work of their colleagues around the world.
Raising international visibility
APA's decision to ramp up its international efforts grew out of a 2004 APA Board of Directors' subcommittee that reviewed the association's international scope and activities. The subcommittee found that
APA should take steps to capitalize on the many opportunities to increase psychology's presence in the world arena.
"As a leading organization in psychology, it makes sense for APA to network with other national and international organizations in order to strengthen our profession's identity and outreach," says CIRP Chair Georgia Chao, PhD.
In response to the subcommittee's findings, the office enlarged its scope and planned how to expand its outreach resources. For instance, in its role as an accredited nongovernmental organization at the United Nations, APA hosts issue briefings to bring a behavioral perspective to U.N. initiatives and activities, and individual APA psychologists play prominent roles within U.N. nongovernmental organizational committees like the Committee on Ageing, the Committee on Mental Health and the Committee on the Status of Women. They also provide psychological information and expertise to policy-makers and their staffs. Additionally, the APA U.N. psychologists inform APA's membership about relevant U.N. initiatives.
And this emphasis on APA's U.N. role is generating interest. When the office sought to fill an opening in APA's U.N. representation, which had specific requirements such as the need to live in the New York City metropolitan area, it received more than 70 inquiries and 30 applications.
"There are a large number of psychologists with interest, expertise and experience of international issues within the field," she says. "And we hope to build on those already-present networks."
To do so, the office collaborates with global and regional organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization and the International Union of Psychological Science, as well as other national psychology organizations. It advocates for such issues as developing mechanisms to facilitate mobility for psychological practitioners, researchers and academics.
But the mobility effort raises an abundance of challenges because governments and governing bodies often are involved-each with its own regulations and educational requirements.
To help countries develop common professional infrastructures, the office partners with global and regional psychology organizations to promote the development of organized psychology. For example, they encourage nations that do not have a large psychological presence to develop professional psychology organizations and to advocate for psychological science.
"As an international leader in psychology, APA can help other countries' psychologists answer the question, 'How can psychology help the world?'" says Chao. "And APA can share suggestions as to what works and what doesn't."
The international office takes a collaborative approach when it embarks on any organizational partnership, including consulting APA's many offices and groups and also other international organizations.
For example, APA's International and Ethics Offices are working with the Science and Practice Directorates to develop a set of materials that will advise psychologists on ethical issues in research and interventions after emergencies and disasters. They will examine, for instance, whether it is feasible to obtain informed consent in disaster situations.
"[In the United States] we have a certain model of informed consent that has legal, clinical and ethical underpinnings," says Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD, director of APA's Ethics Office. "But when you are in a disaster situation that model of informed consent might not work, so we have to think through the ethical underpinnings and examine how our way of thinking about changes in emergency situations-especially in cultures that may be very different from ours."
The international office is also working with the Science Directorate to help promote international research by, for example, providing information about regulations and conditions affecting research.
"We want to make it easy for people who want to work or collaborate internationally," Bullock says.
Another way the international office plans to facilitate international research is by making its Web site a focal point for researchers to find international collaborators, funding sources and other essential resources.
"We want to serve American psychologists while also serving the world of psychology," Bullock says. "By providing one reference point of information, we're helping to facilitate psychologists' access at a disciplinary level."
Part of that development includes helping future psychologists, says Bullock. She hopes to develop international programs for graduate and undergraduate students.
To start, the International Office is offering incentives like the APA International Travel Grant, which aims to encourage students and early-career professionals to attend international conferences and form international collaborations.
"There's a lot of value in working internationally-it enriches our thinking," Bullock says.
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