Anthony J. Marsella, PhD, got the wake up call in 1967 while working on a research project in the jungles of Bornia. The University of Hawaii professor had used the most sophisticated diagnostic instruments developed at Harvard and Yale to measure the mental health of the natives.
He was shocked at the results: All the people were diagnosed with schizophrenia.
"That night," he told participants at the APA Annual Convention session "Psychology in the 21st century--internationalizing the curriculum," "I threw all my papers up in the air and I said, 'Either everyone is crazy, I'm crazy or there really are different realities.'"
"This experience," he added, "altered the window of the world for me in terms of understanding different perspectives."
Indeed, agreed speakers on the session panel, the world has become a global community and American psychologists must be more inclusive of other cultures when doing research, clinical work or teaching.
To understand different perspectives, Marsella said, "We need a new psychology. It's no longer sufficient to train our students in isolation of other disciplines from students across the world, from contact with different cultures. We need a psychology attuned to the changing times, a psychology that is alert to ethnocentric biases inherent in the Western academia psychology and one that values the diverse psychologies of the world."
These values are at the heart of APA's international programs, added Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, APA's chief executive officer. Internationalizing the curriculum, he said, "is a daunting task when one realizes that the ultimate goal is to equip the next generation with skills that will enable them to tackle the challenge of our increasingly global community."
The Internet, for instance, has changed or eliminated boundaries. And a U.S. scientist can easily collaborate with one in China, said Fowler.
"It is increasingly clear that new psychologists who do not have the benefit of a sophisticated orientation to international issues will be severely handicapped in their career options," he said.
APA's Committee on International Relations in Psychology is making internationalizing the psychology curriculum a priority. It's planning to survey graduate and undergraduate department chairs to determine what, if any, textbooks and other tools they may be using to teach cultural and international issues.
"They want to develop school curriculum modules and a curriculum tool kit that contains international case studies and looks at international societal issues like environment, urbanization and immigration," said Fowler.
Other activities APA is undertaking in this arena:
APA's Teachers of Psychology in the Secondary Schools has developed a series of unit plans for teaching psychology in U.S. high schools. The slate doesn't yet include a model on international issues, but a plan on diversity is being developed.
APA Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology) offers a wealth of materials and resources designed to enrich the existing curriculum. The division has had a long standing interest in fostering international issues through its journal, Teaching of Psychology.
APA's Div. 52 (International) focuses entirely on international issues. Most members are already actively involved in developing international curriculum.
Fowler said he just returned from the Second International Congress on psychologists' licensure, certification and credentialing. Psychologists from all over the world "were all interested in finding common ground on such issues as licensure and regulation, education and training...ethical standards and topics like prescription privileges, mobility and substance abuse treatment," he said.
Psychologists aren't the only ones interested in making international connections. President Clinton signed an executive memorandum last April on international education policy that will commit the government to encourage students from other countries to study in the United States, promote study abroad by U.S. students, enhance programs at U.S. institutions that build international partnerships and expertise and support teachers in their efforts to interpret other countries and cultures for their students.
Marcela J. Kogan is a writer in Chevy Chase, Md.