Attendees of the Leaders' Health Care Breakfast 2000 left with a clear message: If psychologists are truly interested in improving the nation's health, they need to get out of their offices put a face on psychology in their communities.

"We have a good product, but no one wants it because we're not well integrated into the health-care system," said Neil Schneiderman, PhD, of the University of Miami.

"What's been problematic is the way we talk about what we do," said Carol Goodheart, EdD, a practitioner in Princeton, N.J. "We haven't talked about it in ways the public really understands."

Indeed, agreed the participants at the session, psychology needs to stop insulating itself and take its message to physicians, policy-makers, businesses, schools and the community at large to have a more far-reaching impact on the health and welfare of more people.

APA President-elect Norine G. Johnson, PhD, with Board of Directors Members Bruce Overmier, PhD, and Ruth U. Paige, PhD, coordinated the second annual breakfast at APA's 2000 Annual Convention, Aug. 4-8, to give psychology's leaders a forum for identifying ways to boost psychology's role in meeting the nation's most pressing health challenges. The 60 participants--leaders from all walks of psychology--were asked to brainstorm innovative approaches for overcoming the barriers that keep psychologists from being major players in the nation's health care.

"We're striving for a cross-contingency conversation so that we can begin to integrate--in a way that we haven't totally successfully done before--the science, practice, advocacy and education of psychology with health care," said Johnson kicking off the event.

Among the group's ideas:

  • Psychology needs to expand its message. For example, the public often perceives that psychologists treat "illness." Instead, psychologists need to convince schools, businesses and other health-care professionals that they are skilled at preventing behavioral problems.

  • Psychologists should improve their outreach to communities by speaking out at schools and community events. Psychology can take its message to the business community by emulating the success the New Jersey Psychological Association has had with its Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award, which recognizes employers who promote healthy lifestyles.

  • Psychologists need to collaborate with other health professionals--and to do that more effectively, they need to increase their knowledge of health and medical issues. "We're still operating under a generalist model for training," said Marcus Patterson, chair of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students. "There are limited places you can get medical training."

  • To become a more powerful force to advancing their message, psychologists should organize with their local colleagues and become more active in the state associations.

  • With more consumers gathering health information online, psychology needs to embrace national guidelines for such specialty treatments as smoking cessation, diabetes management, and eating disorders--and must be at the table when such guidelines are being developed.

  • More psychologists need to be connected to the World Wide Web. An icon to link psychologists with APA could be put on every psychologist's computer screen, allowing them to download the information they need--from practice guidelines to electronic journals to networking opportunities with their colleagues--to build a better psychology community.

How can psychologists convince more of their colleagues to engage such outreach?

"We need to model it," said APA Board of Director Member Laura H. Barbanel, EdD, of the School of Education, City University of New York-Brooklyn College. "Many of us became in involved in organized psychology because of our mentors. If we do what we've been talking about, students will do what we do."