Professional Point

The Practice Directorate recently launched a redesigned consumer Help Center as part of its ongoing public education campaign. The Help Center was redesigned to be more user-friendly based on input from consumers and APA members. It also has been updated to expand the resources available to the public.

The site, initially created in 1996, now includes facts and tips on subjects such as resilience, the warning signs of school violence, dealing with disasters and terrorism, managed care and health insurance, and various mental health issues we know consumers look for online. Site traffic over the first three-quarters of the year (preceding the redesign) registered 1.3 million visits, with an average of 5,500 visits per day. We anticipate that site enhancements and strategic promotion will increase consumer traffic.

One frequently asked question is why the Help Center doesn't provide direct referrals to psychologists for those consumers seeking services. Unfortunately, because of its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, APA is not legally permitted to have a referral service. The site includes a toll-free number for consumers to call and request brochures specifically created for their needs or to be connected to local referral sources, including available state psychological association (SPA) referral services.

Unlike APA, most SPAs are categorized by the Internal Revenue Service as 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organizations and therefore are permitted by tax laws to provide referral services. Since a consumer caller to the Help Center can be easily transferred to an SPA's referral service, or a service used by the SPA, the Help Center is able to facilitate consumers' access to psychologists while still complying with the legal requirements of a 501(c)(3) organization.

The APA Practice Organization (APAPO) also is working to further facilitate consumers' ability to access psychologists. As practitioners will recall, the Practice Directorate created APAPO in 2001 as a "companion" organization with a 501(c)(6) tax status to enable advocacy and other activities that the APA is not permitted to do. APAPO is funded by the practice assessment paid by licensed psychologists providing health services. APAPO is currently developing a "locator service" so that consumers could fill in their ZIP code online and receive the names of practice assessment-paying licensed psychologists in their area. We anticipate that the locator service will be used in conjunction with SPA referral services so that consumers can obtain additional information about a psychologist's area of practice or specialties by contacting the referral service.

The Help Center is just one component of a much larger public education campaign that is also undergoing a redesign. Periodic public opinion survey research and focus group testing have identified some current themes and potential messages that will both connect with consumers and distinguish psychologists from the many other health and mental health professionals in the marketplace.

In particular, the public increasingly is aware of an important link between psychological health and physical health, or the mind-body connection as consumers frequently refer to it. Further, treatment for psychological problems is now being recognized as an essential part of treatment for physical problems and illnesses. While the "Talk to Someone Who Can Help" campaign has always included messages related to the mind-body connection, we believe the time is right for a campaign whose central theme is the critical and unique role psychologists play in dealing with problems at the intersection of the psychological and physical.

Additionally, the redesigned campaign will be more aggressive in its efforts to distinguish psychologists from other health-care professionals. Earlier iterations of the campaign were focused on delivering more generic messages related to mental health and psychological health. This approach addressed significant knowledge gaps uncovered by prior public opinion research. Also, at the campaign's inception, focus group participants consistently rejected as too self-serving messages that directly promoted psychologists. This does not appear to be the case today: Direct messages seem much better received. The potential tag line "Talk to a Psychologist Who Can Help" focus tested significantly more positively than when tried in 1995. "A Psychologist Can Help" also tested extremely well. The redesigned campaign will reflect this contemporary messaging.

Although the redesigned campaign will include more aggressive messages, it is important to remember that it is a public education campaign, not an advertising or marketing campaign. These latter types of campaigns require tens of millions of dollars annually. And, as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, the APA is not legally permitted to do direct marketing for psychological services. Even so, APAPO, a 501(c)(6) organization, continues working to help practitioners market their psychological services.