How is America's increasingly diverse and aging population affecting the services psychologists provide? Renowned psychologists will attempt to answer that question in the symposium "Diversity and psychological services: preparing psychology for the demands of a changing world," at APA's Annual Convention in Chicago, Aug. 22-25.

Presenters will review the nation's current and projected demographics for minorities, immigrants and older adults as well as what those population changes mean for psychological services and research.

"It's imperative for us to reflect the real world," says Maria Root, PhD, chair of APA's Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and the session. "If we don't stay current and address the real population that exists, psychologists and the families and clients on the receiving end would really be at a disservice."

Speakers will discuss areas where growing diversity presents challenges:

  • Teen-agers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) or have GLBT family members. "The fact that GLBT kids are coming out earlier and earlier, and more GLBT families have kids in public schools provides a lot of challenges for psychologists," says Alan Storm, PhD, who will be presenting on behalf of APA's Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns. For example, cultural differences can cause Hispanic GLBT teens to have different concerns from African-American or white youth. Psychologists, he explains, need to develop an awareness of sexual orientation and the implications being gay or having gay parents have for mental health services.

  • More older adults. According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, older adults represented 12.7 percent of the nation's population in 1998, but that percentage is expected to climb to 20 by 2030, after baby boomers retire. Moreover, baby boomers report higher rates of depression and are more likely to use psychological services than previous generations, says Bob Knight, PhD, a psychology and gerontology professor at the University of Southern California.

Unfortunately, psychology training doesn't reflect this booming population, aging experts say. "More aging [education] needs to be injected into psychology training really from the very beginning," explains Martita Lopez, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin. "The students we're training now are simply not going to be prepared to deal with one-fifth of the population," unless they are trained in the differences between older and younger adults, she says.

Psychologists should also be aware that minority elders, especially those who are Hispanic, represent one of the fastest-growing population segments of older adults, says Lopez.

  • A growing number of immigrants. It's important for psychologists to distinguish between ethnic minorities and immigrants, says Felicisima Serafica, PhD, of Ohio State University. Immigrants face a whole range of cultural adjustment issues not experienced by American minorities. Moreover, some immigrants aren't people of color. In her presentation, Serafica plans to discuss the unique needs of immigrant children, youth and families, and the kinds of psychological services available to them.

"Typically, it's not the psychologist that the immigrant encounters first," she explains. Instead, it may be a physician or a social worker. "In order to reach immigrants, psychologists have to do it through other professionals in the community," she says, explaining that such collaboration is necessary to reach immigrants. Unfortunately, there's little re-search on treatment strategies specifically for immigrants to back up the best practices that psychologists are using, she says.

Presenters will also discuss the need for new service delivery systems and research to determine what works. "It's time for mental health to think more creatively as to how we can have community-based services that can be reimbursed," explains Vickie Mays, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. For example, says Mays, instead of treating postpartum depression in the office, psychologists could explore reaching women at primary-care offices or neighborhood new-mother groups. Making services available to diverse Americans might require psychologists to work in some atypical places, she says.

The session is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 23, 1-2:50 p.m.


To register, go to the APA Convention Web site.