A Closer Look

Rivka Bertisch-Meir, PhD, remembers the difficulty she encountered when she lived in Argentina and Israel and tried to connect with American psychologists.

"I was intimidated to write to APA," says Bertisch-Meir, because of the language barriers and uncertainty about whom to approach in the association.

After hearing similar tales of frustration from psychologists around the world, Bertisch-Meir developed an Adopt a Psychologist program. In addition, other Div. 52 (International) members began a pilot mentoring program to better connect their international brethren with the division and APA. Program participants help psychologists abroad navigate membership and professional issues, such as publication in U.S. journals.

For both sides, the benefits run deep. Americans can learn from their colleagues abroad based upon how they approach the science and practice of psychology, says Div. 52 President Michael Stevens, PhD, DHC. For example, South African psychologists are noted for applying their particular cultural context to qualitative research in their country, he says. "If we really are to advance as a science and a profession and be relevant in an increasingly interconnected world, we need to connect."

Adopt a Psychologist

In late 2004, Bertisch-Meir, now a corporate consultant and assistant psychology professor at Hunter College of The City University of New York, kicked off the Adopt a Psychologist program. She sent personal e-mail invitations to 1,400 prospective overseas members, mailed invitation messages in five languages and advertised through Div. 52's newsletter, The International Psychology Bulletin. From her initial blitz, 120 international psychologists responded.

Chief among their concerns was help with paying the division's dues. A major hurdle for many international psychologists is payment, says Bertisch-Meir. Although it's relatively easy for Americans to visit APA's Web site, enter their credit card numbers and pay their dues in a matter of seconds, many psychologists in other countries may not have computers or access to the internet--and APA doesn't accept non-U.S. dollar checks from non-American banks.

What's more, some psychologists work in areas where Div. 52's $25 annual membership fee represents a large percentage of their income. "If you go to Argentina, it's a lot of money--it's almost 100 pesos, in Israel it would be like $130," says Bertisch-Meir. Bertisch-Meir "adopted" Samvel Jeshmaridian, PhD, a psychologist who was working in Armenia, where professors make about $52 a month. "I had not the money to pay," says Jeshmaridian, "and even if I had that money, I could not transfer it to the United States because I was in a third-world country."

Through the Adopt a Psychologist program, American members pay the division dues for their adoptees, and Bertisch-Meir requests that the adopters keep in touch with their sponsored colleagues. The program's benefits run both ways, says Stevens, who's also a psychology professor at Illinois State University and honorary professor at Lucian Blaga University in Romania. Some psychologists abroad believe American cross-cultural researchers just swoop in and collect their data without forging lasting ties with their foreign colleagues.

"One of the important things to keep in mind is how to preserve those linkages, whether it's continuing to do research, inviting colleagues from abroad to attend the APA convention, have colleagues write a paper for a symposium, or be ad hoc reviewers for journals," says Stevens.

Indeed, Bertisch-Meir admits that one of the greatest challenges facing the Adopt a Psychologist program is keeping communication going. The division wants the collaborative element to be just as important--if not more so--than the monetary assistance offered by the program. Otherwise, says Bertisch-Meir, new international adoptees will lose interest in the division, even though someone is paying their dues.

Worldwide mentors

In keeping with Div. 52's spirit of outreach to international psychologists, division members are also engaged in a pilot mentoring program. Div. 52 Past-President Joy Rice, PhD, began the program as a presidential initiative, and it's now run by Anie Kalayjian, EdD, who serves as chair of the Mentoring Committee and as mentoring-match liaison. Like Bertisch-Meir, Kalayjian's personal experiences fueled her interest in helping other international psychologists. She is Armenian and came to the United States at age 15.

"When I received my high school diploma, I was at a loss because I didn't know the language and the school counselors found me very timid and left me alone," she says. "I had to fend for myself and figure it out, and it was the hard way."

Kalayjian, now a psychology professor at Fordham University and president of the Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention, didn't find guidance from mentors until she was well into her doctoral program. She says she was "virtually mentored" through books and research by Viktor Frankel, MD, PhD, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. Eventually she was able to study with him in person.

Based on her own experiences, she vowed to smooth the process for other students and early-career psychologists. The mentoring program now includes 11 mentor-mentee pairs, including Marilyn Safir, PhD, an American-born psychology professor at the University of Haifa in Israel, and early-career psychologist Efrat Hadar, PhD, also faculty at the University of Haifa. Safir offers career guidance to Hadar such as encouraging her to focus on her publications more than her clinical work, because publications are important for achieving tenure.

"Coming to Israel where psychology departments are relatively small and there isn't much funding for research, I had very few articles and didn't speak the language," she says. "Though I know it now, no one ever said, 'That's a silly move, Marilyn, maybe you should wait until you've gotten some more publications and established a professional relationship in Israel before moving there.'"

Cultivating a working relationship with APA and American psychologists can do much to advance the careers of foreign psychologists, say Div. 52 members. In many countries, affiliation with APA--the largest psychological association in the world--is held in high esteem. In some countries, even having a membership certificate from APA or Div. 52 validates psychologists, says Bertisch-Meir. Once connected, psychologists find ample opportunities for collaborative research, particularly for those conducting cross-cultural research. American psychologists can help their international colleagues get published in American journals by translating articles or walking them through the submission and review process. They can also help by sending literature abroad. In many countries, access to scholarly books and articles is almost impossible, says Ivana Petrovic, a Serbian psychologist who gained access to these publications when she was adopted by a Div. 52 member.

American contacts can also prove a boon when international psychologists travel here. A case in point: Bertisch-Meir and her family helped Jeshmaridian when he encountered health problems while visiting America.

For their part, American psychologists can also benefit from embracing views outside the American tradition.

"Perhaps historically we have been in a position of being more of the donator nation--donating the knowledge and skills and resources we have...We tend not to think that we could necessarily profit from the knowledge that's being developed elsewhere," says Stevens. "But I think we could."

Ultimately, what works in American psychology may not work in other countries that have different healing traditions, says Bertisch-Meir. And without understanding and incorporating other cultures' approaches, "we cannot standardize psychology and treatment," she says.

Div. 52 at a glance

Div. 52 (International) encourages its members' participation in intercultural research, discussions of effective assessment and treatment models in working with particular cultures and a better understanding of the psychological problems that predominate in particular regions of the world. The division encourages participation in international conferences and supports efforts to facilitate international visits, workshops and lectures. The International Psychology Bulletin is the division's newsletter, which is posted on the division's Web site three times per year. For more information on Div. 52, visit www.internationalpsychology.net/home.