For APA President Ronald F. Levant, EdD, the negative view some have of psychology came sharply into focus when he was attending APA's 2003 Annual Convention in Toronto. While walking to a session, he overheard a passing woman say: "He's so weird—he really should see one of those psychologists that are walking around town," Levant recalled during his presidential address at APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C.
"People think you have to be weird to see a psychologist," he said.
In the first of Levant's four presidential initiatives, he is working to change that kind of public perception of psychology. He has created a task force to identify ways to broaden public attitudes toward psychology. Interested APA members can join their ongoing conversation at www.apa.org/about/president, Levant said. As part of this effort, Levant has collaborated with APA's Practice Directorate on a tool kit for members interested in communicating psychology's value.
"The stage is set for the public's full embrace of our profession if--and this is a big if—we make them aware of psychology's scientific value and our professional expertise," Levant said.
His other three presidential initiatives are promoting health care for the whole person, increasing APA's cultural diversity and defining evidence-based practice.
Integrated heath care
One major area in need of psychology's value and expertise is health care, Levant noted. The health-care system is not able to keep pace with demand, and many people are going bankrupt as a result of medical bills, he said.
"These problems are clearly so serious that they demand a complete re-examination of the U.S. health-care system," Levant explained. "One core assumption that requires rethinking is the idea of the separation of mind from body. By assuming that mind and body are separate...we have maintained a health-care system that is unable to deal with the many varied roles that mind and behavior play in so-called physical illness. This system, further, does not even deal with mental health and illness, per se, effectively."
Psychologists need to put forth a vision of integrated care—health care for the whole person, Levant said.
For his second presidential initiative, Levant created a task force to enact such a vision—in the form of a statement that was adopted by APA's Council of Representatives at its August meeting. The statement notes that many of the most common medical complaints—such as fatigue, back pain and insomnia--have psychological components, and the U.S. health-care system could be more cost-effective if it treated the body and the mind as an integrated whole.
The group has garnered support for the statement from 23 other organizations, including the American College of Nurse Practitioners and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The combined group presented its findings during a press conference held at the convention (see sidebar).
Increasing APA's diversity
As the third prong of his presidency, Levant seeks to make APA more welcoming to marginalized minorities. To this end, he appointed a task force to write recommendations for enhancing APA's diversity, and those recommendations were presented to APA's Council of Representatives, which voted to receive the report during the convention. The task force also presented a resolution to enhance diversity within APA, which was adopted by council (see page 28). The resolution directs APA CEO Norman Anderson, PhD, to develop a diversity implementation plan for achieving improved diversity within the association.
"By APA becoming more welcoming...the level of creativity and productivity will increase because our deliberations will be enriched by having diversity broadly defined," Levant said.
Also as part of this initiative, Levant teamed up with the Society of Indian Psychologists and Div. 18 (Public Service) to host an "APA night" at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. The night included a purification ceremony, performed by Doug McDonald, PhD, a University of North Dakota psychology professor and member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, musical performances and a speech by Levant.
The term evidence-based practice has become increasingly important among policy-makers, but it is defined too narrowly much of the time, said Levant. For his fourth presidential initiative, Levant created a task force to develop a consensus statement on evidenced-based practice and a report providing rationale and references supporting the policy.
"Psychology needs to define evidence-based practice or it will be defined for us," he said.
The definition created by the task force--and adopted by APA's Council of Representatives during the convention (see page 28)--is based on the definition provided by the Institute of Medicine. It gives weight to multiple sources of research evidence in addition to clinical trials and more fully discusses the role of clinical expertise and the range of patient characteristics, cultural factors and values than past definitions, Levant said.