State Leadership Conference

As managed care continues to put the financial squeeze on, more psychologists are choosing between membership in APA and membership in their state or provincial psychological association. But according to Russ Newman, PhD, JD, executive director for practice at APA, choosing one over the other will only make it harder to defeat managed care and other threats to psychology's future.

"Current circumstances potentially create an untenable position in which we compete among ourselves for members," said Newman. "But we can do more together than each of us can do on our own."

To find solutions to this problem, the 2000 State Leadership Conference (SLC) focused on enhancing collaboration between APA and the state and provincial psychological associations (SPPAs). The conference, "Partnerships for Power: States, Provinces and APA Working Together," was held March 11­14 in Washington, D.C. In addition to plenary sessions and training in advocacy, participants also visited their representatives on Capitol Hill.

The biggest SLC ever, the meeting attracted more than 500 leaders. And for the first time, the Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice and the Commission on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention and Training in Psychology provided funding for 13 ethnic-minority graduate students and psychologists to attend as part of an ongoing diversity initiative.

For Sheila A. Schuster, PhD, the energy participants showed as they discussed ideas for boosting joint membership in APA and SPPAs was inspiring.

"Unlike sausage and the law, which one should never watch being made, partnerships can be as beautiful in the making as they are powerful in their results," said Schuster, chair of the Council of Executives of State and Provincial Psychological Associations. "Our power lies not in APA nor in any one state or provincial association; our power lies in belonging to both."

Working together

In his keynote address, Newman emphasized the power of collaboration.

The most obvious example is psychologists' work promoting patient-protection legislation in Congress, said Newman. Five years ago, APA staff drafted language giving consumers the right to sue their managed-care plans. Psychologists at the state and local levels then went to work on their representatives. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, psychologists delivered more grassroots pressure than any other group in the months leading up to the historic House vote in favor of patient protections last fall. As a result, managed care is now on the defensive.

APA's test case program is another example of the power of collaboration. APA and psychologists at the state level are working together on four test cases. The issues at stake range from the usurpation of clinical decision-making to retaliation against providers by managed care. Without psychologists' willingness to share both expertise and dollars, said Newman, the program couldn't exist.

Perhaps the best example of collaboration's power is the "Warning Signs" youth violence prevention program, part of APA's ongoing public education campaign. APA launched the program last year with a youth forum in Hollywood's Paramount Studios and the airing of a documentary co-produced with MTV. But the "legs" of the campaign were the 615 youth forums that SPPAs and practice division leaders then organized, said Newman, noting that these efforts reached almost 60,000 teen-agers and 12,000 adults.

Now APA and its local-level partners face new challenges, Newman warned. Key among these is the meteoric rise in the use of the Internet. Although the Internet gives psychologists a chance to share information with unprecedented numbers of people, among other benefits, it potentially threatens their profession. Imagine scenarios in which patients participate in managed-care created group therapy via chat rooms or patients seeking care are directed to assessment and self-help materials on a managed-care company's Web site before being authorized for psychotherapy, said Newman.

The Internet also raises the issue of direct versus representative democracy, said Newman. The Internet's role in the governing process could go too far if citizens start using "push-button politics" to manipulate their representatives like puppets. Finding ways to harness the Internet's power could be the most important benefit of cooperation between APA and SPPAs, Newman concluded.

Sharing ideas

That spirit of collaboration was exemplified at the conference itself by the use of electronic polling technology during a "town hall meeting."

Participants used individual keypads to vote on various strategies for promoting joint membership in APA and SPPAs. One of the most popular ideas was offering joint members discounts on products, continuing medical education and other services. Other ideas included giving joint members discounts on future dues increases and offering them access to online continuing education, special Web sites or listservs.

In the discussion that followed, participants emphasized the need for national and state association leaders to tell potential members how joint membership would help them personally. They also argued that lowering membership costs and improving services would help attract new members. "We need to take lessons from the business world," said Douglas Wear, PhD, president-elect of Div. 31 (State Psychological Association Affairs).

Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.