Running Commentary

I was asked to give a paper at the 2001 convocation of the American Board of Professional Psychology at the recent APA Annual Convention in San Francisco. I decided to do some speculation about psychology's future, and because a new grandchild was much on my mind, I made it in the form of a letter to him.

Dear Sam:

Welcome to the world. Since you're only a few weeks old, you probably aren't giving a lot of thought to career planning, so let me do a little of that for you now and you can do it on your own when you're ready for it.

Long before you decide on what you want to do when you grow up, you'll probably imagine yourself in a variety of jobs, perhaps including fireman, astronaut and cowboy. I don't know much about the future of those jobs, but since you might consider psychology as a profession (I promise not to urge that on you), I'll tell you what I think that profession might be like 25 or 30 years from now.

First of all, psychology has attracted, over the years, students with very high academic achievement and test scores, and I don't see that changing. So, if psychology is to be your choice, you need to be making good grades right on through school, and particularly in college. Whether you choose an academic career, some form of practice or some other aspect of psychology, taking a wide variety of courses will serve you well.

For you and your generation, the Internet and its successors (Internet II, Internet III, etc.) will be so much a part of your life that you would have trouble imagining life without it. But it is only in the last decade that the Internet has begun to impact the science and practice of psychology, and that impact is, as yet, relatively small. By the time you enter the field, the impact will be much greater, and you'll be much better prepared for that than most of us who are around today.

For academicians, technical advances will make real-time, face-to-face discussions among colleagues in different countries as practical as walking across the hall. Sharing data and ideas around the world should facilitate research, especially cross-cultural research.

Teaching, which in many ways has hardly changed over the years, will be quite different in your generation. Distance learning, now plagued with many technical problems, will be quite simple and widely used. Universities will exist much more as research institutions than teaching institutions: Teaching will mostly take place on the Internet.

The Internet will have no less impact on the practice of psychology. Telehealth, which is providing health and mental health information and services by Internet, is, like you, in its infancy, but my guess is that it will be an important part of psychological practice in the future. And the Internet has great potential for convenient continuing education, clinical supervision and consultation with specialists.

At this time, most practitioners in psychology are trained as generalists, but an increasing number are continuing on for postdoctoral work. As with the field of medicine, the day of the general practitioner of psychology is probably coming to an end, and most practitioners of your generation will probably add at least a couple of post-doctoral years to their doctoral training in order to qualify as specialists.

One area of specialization that is currently somewhat controversial involves training psychologists to prescribe medication. Surveys indicate that most psychologists are in favor of that development, although some psychologists are strongly opposed. Optometrists, podiatrists, nurses and others already have limited prescriptive authority in most states, so it is reasonable to assume that psychologists will have it eventually. My guess is that it will be pretty well established nationally by the time you enter the profession. Many practitioners, including most who are already practicing, will choose not to prescribe. Those who do will take postdoctoral work to qualify for special licensing.

If you decide to go into psychology, you will, as a male, be in a minority throughout your college years and into your professional years. By the time you complete your doctorate, 80 percent of your fellow graduates and 70 percent of all psychologists will be women. I don't think that will bother you much. Just keep in mind that for psychology's first 100 years, women were even more in the minority, and they've done very well.

Finally, Sam, I think I can assure you that if you decide on a career in psychology, the field will be alive and well and probably even more exciting than today. Maybe not as exciting as being a cowboy, but there are a lot of other satisfactions that will make up for it.

                      Love, Pop