Cover Story

APA's 2004 Annual Convention in Honolulu, July 28-Aug. 1, opened with a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of Hawaiian sunshine. But psychologists weren't there to just enjoy the beach: A higher-than-expected 12,700 registrants filled the convention halls to hone their skills, hear master lectures and network. In the process, they also learned about Hawaii's famous "aloha spirit."

In fact, the convention's opening session delved into how traditional Hawaiian ideals like connectedness, family and unity relate to issues in modern psychology--including the difficulties of balancing work and family.

The session also honored psychologists and others who have exemplified that balanced life, connected with their fellow professionals, exposed segregation's harms or exhibited courage in the face of adversity.

'Ke ola'

The opening session featured a cultural lesson from Hawaiian psychologist Paul Pearsall, PhD, head of Ho`ala Hou, a Honolulu institute for the study and application of ancient Hawaiian principles to modern life. Pearsall explained that the well-known greeting "aloha" means more than just "hello": Traditionally, it's the sharing of the sacred breath of life. "Alo" is to share, Pearsall explained, and "ha" is a sacred breath.

Pearsall and his teacher, or "kumu"--Kawaikapuokalani Hewett--also later presented an edu-concert, or "aha mele," that incorporated chant, music and hula to illustrate resilience in Hawaiian culture. In the aha mele, Pearsall pointed out that modern Western psychologists often know little about the psychological systems of people in other places and times. "Our current psychology," he said, "is only the most recent version of a journey to understand ourselves and goes back more than two millennia."

However, he said that modern psychology increasingly is intersecting with traditional Hawaiian culture's focus on strengths-based thinking. Hawaiian thought, he said, often centers on the idea of "lokahi," or unity of all things--not the deficits or differences among them.

"We focus primarily on the between," he explained, "not just the within."

It's an idea that reflects "an oceanic consciousness," said Pearsall, explaining that water serves as a metaphor for the idea that all things are connected. A related concept, he added, is "ke ola," or mental health, which is conceived as keeping connection with the world around, including God, the land and "ohana," or family.

"Hawaiian psychology valued cultural connection and saw all illness as some form of disconnection," he said, noting modern psychology's growing appreciation of indigenous cultures. That connectedness is seen, he said, in the field's willingness to respect and integrate people's cultural beliefs into therapy, research and other arenas.

Pearsall also noted other similarities between Hawaiian values and modern psychology, including recognition of the importance of social systems, the importance of the mind-body connection and the integration of work and family.

Remarks from the psychology 'ohana'

Several other speakers also welcomed convention attendees to the APA meeting:

  • Norman B. Anderson, PhD, APA's chief executive officer, gave a summary of APA's financial status: The association's 2003 $90 million budget included a $2.5 million surplus, he said, noting that member dues accounted for only 16 percent of the total revenues. And APA's financial future looks bright, he added: APA has $45 million in cash investments and owns two buildings that generate a cash flow exceeding $3 million annually.

  • June W.J. Ching, PhD, president of the Hawaii Psychological Association, and Honolulu deputy medical examiner William Goodhue, MD, representing mayor Jeremy Harris, welcomed convention-goers to the city of Honolulu. Ching reminded convention-goers to live "island-style" while in Hawaii--by balancing their convention time with seeing Oahu's sights--and to forgo suits, ties and nylons.

  • Diane F. Halpern, PhD, APA's president, gave an overview of her presidential initiative on work-family integration--a topic she selected in part because of its applicability to all psychologists. Sweeping demographic changes have changed the nature of family dynamics, she added, including the increase of working mothers and the need to care for aging relatives. New models of work and family are needed, she said, to turn such tensions into a win-win situation for employers and employees (see page 66, "Striking a balance").