President's Column

Have you ever been to a meeting of APA's Council of Representatives? Or maybe you've been wondering exactly who this group is and what it does? If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can safely assume the answer is "no." The Council of Representatives is the governing body of APA. One hundred sixty-two representatives from APA divisions, state associations, provinces and territories, plus the Board of Directors (the executive committee of Council) meet twice a year to conduct the business of APA. These meetings are one of the few times when psychologists with very different backgrounds and ideas about what it means to be a psychologist come together to work for the good of psychology and our beloved organization.

Psychology includes many subfields and employment options. For example, we have "bench scientists" who study the electrochemical properties of retinal cells, test developers for large corporations, consultants for sports teams and wellness centers, psychotherapists working in private practice, public institutions and hospitals, school psychologists, and even a recent Nobel Prize winner in economics. With so many varieties of psychologists in one room, the differences among us can become more apparent than our commonalities.

It is important that all psychologists have an academic and professional "home" at APA because every subfield in psychology is a piece of the complex puzzle of thoughts, emotions and behaviors. The field of psychology is so broad that there are many types of diversity at council meetings. Sometimes, the multiple perspectives create dissenting points of view. When issues are discussed on council, representatives from different groups often respond in ways that leave others wondering, "Where is that person coming from?"

The diversity in the backgrounds of representatives at times makes communication on council reminiscent of the Tower of Babel. As a way of understanding priorities and interests, I asked representatives to come to this past February's meeting prepared to discuss the three most important issues identified by the group they represent. The goal was for all representatives to learn more about what is important to APA's diverse membership, with the hope that by knowing more about what is important to different groups of members, representatives would work together better. This was also a direct way for members to send their priorities to council via their elected representatives.

Commonalities

As expected, there was a wide range of priorities that pertained to individual groups (e.g., more respect for hypnosis), but there was also considerable overlap among seemingly different groups. Summaries from discussion groups showed that a similar clustering of themes emerged when the representatives came together:

  • Desire for integration across science, public interest and practice.

  • Concerns about income, mental health parity and managed care.

  • Educating the public about psychology as a science and profession; K-12 education and the shortage of school psychologists; and education in psychology for teachers.

  • Prevention research, especially in health.

  • Member-related issues such as recruitment, member apathy and increasing ethnic diversity in membership and governance.

  • Using psychological knowledge for public good--e.g., violence prevention.

  • Better communication with international organizations.

  • Internships; training and licensing issues; the "medicalization" of mental health; and graduate student debt.

What was learned?

Learning outcomes are difficult to assess because we ran short of time when unanticipated agenda items crowded out the time set aside for the discussion of group priorities and formal assessment, so I am left with the following impressions, anecdotes and reflections based on written materials from each group.

As psychologists we study stereotyping, in-group and out-group prejudices, and all sorts of biases, but far too often we are willing to see psychologists whose work is different from our own merely as a member of "some other group" that we are too ready to characterize in unidimensional ways, instead of seeing the ways in which all psychologists are interconnected and the common goals we need to pursue.

To the general public, "we are all the same," and our future will rise and fall together. I am not suggesting that we endorse the stereotypical view that psychologists are all the same, but our strength comes from the balance between tensions that stretch our field and agreements that reinforce it. There is strength in our numbers and the interdependent support of science, practice, public policy and education. Psychologists who do not belong to APA often justify their disinterest by claiming that APA does not represent "their interests."

Like any organization, we can always improve, but as long as we are open to learning from each other and committed to moving beyond stereotypes about the "other" psychologists, we are moving in the right direction.