Cover Story

APA President Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, opened APA's 2003 Annual Convention in Toronto, Aug. 7-10, by thanking those in the audience for their decision to attend considering the challenges the SARS virus created this past spring.

APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, also acknowledged the SARS issue in his welcoming remarks, saying, "This was the convention that almost didn't happen."

The rest of the nearly two-hour session was pure fun and celebration.

After welcomes from Patrick O'Neill, PhD, president of the Canadian Psychological Association, and Ester Cole, PhD, president of the Ontario Psychological Association, all were entertained by Fig for a Kiss, a traditional Celtic music group.

As the program continued, George A. Miller, PhD, a former APA president, was honored with an Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology Award. Miller's career in psychology spans six decades. He helped to establish the fields of cognitive science and psycholinguistics, but within the APA family, Miller may be best known for his directive to "give psychology away" when he served as the association's president in 1969.

"I've enjoyed psychology and psychologists for 65 years," said Miller in accepting the award. "I'm not going to take this award as a signal that it's time to stop."

Psychologist to novelist

Stephen White, PhD, the session's keynote speaker, only lasted three weeks as a creative writing major at the University of California, Irvine, but after a 12-year career as a clinical psychologist, White returned to writing and has become a best-selling novelist. His first novel, "Privileged Information," was published in 1991.

After the book's success, White retired from clinical practice to write full time--leading to the publication of 10 additional books, including eight New York Times best sellers. White's latest novel, "The Best Revenge," was published this year.

Commenting on his remarkable--and surprising even to him--career success as a novelist, White said: "Years ago, the idea that I would be delivering a talk to my peers at APA was a fantasy, the idea that I'd be delivering the keynote address at this convention psychotic delusion.

"Tom Stafford once said that in any community of 1,000 souls, there are 900 doing the work, 90 doing well, nine doing good and one lucky dog writing about the other 999. I am that lucky dog."

White told his audience that he is often asked how he made the transition from psychologist to novelist and warned that monetary success in writing is hard to come by. "For a practicing clinician to decide to make a living as a fiction writer would be like me deciding to fund my retirement buying Powerball tickets," he said.

White began writing fiction in 1989 because he needed practice to master a new word-processing system. He wanted to write a story based on an idea related to work he was doing for the Colorado Psychological Association. It involved an interesting twist of the Tarasoff rule--that a therapist must take steps to prevent harm if a patient makes a threat against someone. That story became his first book, "Privileged Information." Twelve years later, he has sold more than five million books.

White described his life as a writer as nearly ideal--"I haven't returned a call to a managed-care company in over a decade," he said--but added that he believes his years as a practicing psychologist were critical to his success.

"My years as a psychologist gave me essential things that I had no other way to get," he said. "What I know about the way people think, how they feel, the way they talk--it all comes from the fact that I am, and in some essential way I always will be, a psychologist.

"I don't have any illusions about the importance of writing stories," he added. "What I do as a novelist isn't going to change the world...I wake up some mornings and realize I'm not going to do the kind of good I used to do when I helped a petrified kid make it through a bone-marrow aspiration or the kind of good I used to do when I could shed a ray of light that helped a young man or a young women out of the cave of depression. But I take joy in knowing what I do provides diversion in a world that often lacks it."