Professional Point

In psychology's tradition of drawing on its heritage, the March 2006 State Leadership Conference (SLC) theme, "Psychology and Communities: Advancing Health, Building Resilience and Changing Behavior," built on our theme from last year's conference. In 2005, psychology leaders from throughout the United States, its territories and the Canadian provinces discussed psychology's central role at the intersection of psychological and physical health. We began considering the implications and opportunities as psychologists become recognized as experts in behavior in a health-care system that relies increasingly on the important role of behavior.

Now we need to start taking steps to maximize our contributions where health and behavior are concerned. We need to determine how to best position psychology to capitalize on opportunities and how to enable our profession to be preeminent in advancing health, building resilience and changing behavior.

Our nation continues to suffer from debilitating and costly preventable health conditions in which behavior plays a critical role. The six leading causes of death are related to behavior. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate in America is approaching 30 percent, and 65 percent of the population is either obese or overweight. A recent APA survey on stress found that Americans most concerned about their stress level were more likely to smoke and use "comfort foods" but less likely to exercise than people not concerned about their stress level (see the April Monitor ).

If improving health has the potential to solve some of the prob lems in our current health-care system, and behaviors can improve health, it is not such a stretch to say that health-care reform is really all about behavior reform. To help stimulate necessary reform, we first should assure that our skills as psychologists are honed to facilitate behavior change in those whose unhealthy behaviors are taking a toll.

Second, to help facilitate change, we must build bridges between psychology and communities using tools at our disposal. We can start with solid psychological interventions that can effectively treat mental health problems and significantly influence physical health. To these core competencies we add our message that health-care reform is really about behavior reform, or behavior change. We use the APA Public Education Campaign to take that message to consumers, our Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards program to take that message to employers and our grassroots advocacy to take that message to policy-makers. And we use our leadership skills to collaborate within our community and with other key communities that surround us.

Our profession no longer has the luxury of setting itself apart to observe, analyze and evaluate from a distance; we must be active participants in all our communities to accomplish our goals. Nonprofit organizations, public service agencies, fraternal and service organizations, and social, religious, civic and cultural groups provide us with opportunities to actively participate.

While our nation continues to suffer from preventable health conditions related to behavior, it is not so grandiose to say that we-our profession and our organizations-do have solutions to many of these problems.

Which brings me back to the main idea: We must do better at getting our message beyond the borders of our own profession. Others beside us need to know that we have solutions to some of the country's most significant problems. And we must do more to collaborate with others-other professions and other communities-if we hope to put those solutions to good use.

So I challenge us to continue finding more ways to spread the word, to continue working to trigger "the tipping point" (a term coined by Malcolm Gladwell in his book with the same title) that starts an "epidemic" of good health in this country. In recent years, we have made good progress getting out of our offices and into the community. Public education activities have helped with that. But let's now take the next steps. Offer to help state and territorial psychological associations (SPTAs) identify as many possible leverage points in all possible relevant communities where psychologists could be participating and spreading the word. Work with your SPTA to survey the local landscape to see where and how psychology's community network can be strategically expanded to further the spread of our message.

This initiative can build over time. Ultimately, it will be the cumulative effect of our message, our collective persistent efforts to carry that message, and our collaboration with communities beyond our own that enable us to succeed.

 This column was adapted from Newman's keynote address at the 2006 State Leadership Conference.