These veteran psychologists are continuing to have a significant impact on the field through their contributions to education and training. One is facilitating funding for geropsychology training, another is sharing his aging-related insights and experiences with future providers and another is working to expand the minority provider pipeline.
Psychologist John F. Santos, PhD, 82, has been interested in training ever since his service in the Army during World War II, when he taught soldiers survival skills such as parachute and high altitude training and basic survival techniques. "It really highlighted the importance of adequately preparing people in advance," he says.
Santos later trained Peace Corps volunteers in Brazil in cultural competence and survival skills and helped establish the psychology department and gerontology center at Notre Dame, where he taught until retiring. He developed an interest in aging early in his career, and combined this with his training experience to help establish the field of geropsychology at Older Boulder, a conference held in Boulder, Colo., in 1981 that identified the skills psychologists need to work with older adults. This conference and a second aging conference held in Washington, D.C., in 1992, were funded in part by the Retirement Research Foundation (RRF), a MacArthur-endowed organization for which Santos is a member of the Board of Trustees. In the 17 years since his retirement, Santos has spent much of his time on projects endowed by the RRF and the Alliance for Aging Research, where he serves on the Board of Directors. Most of the projects have focused on research, training and education efforts in the field of aging such as the recent grant that went to psychologists Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, director of clinical training for geropsychology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Peter Lichtenberg, PhD, director of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University. Qualls and Lichtenberg will train occupational and physical therapists, nurses, social workers and other health-care workers to spot the signs of mental and emotional distress in older adults and how to refer them for outside help.
Santos was also instrumental in getting RRF funding for the geropsychology training conference held in June in Colorado Springs (see "Help wanted: Geropsychologists"), which also received money from APA, several divisions and other sources.
He believes that this kind of funding is vital. Without more gero-specific training, psychologists and other practitioners will be overwhelmed with problems they are ill-equipped to deal with, Santos concludes.
Expanding the minority student pipeline
When former APA president Richard M. Suinn, PhD, now 73, retired, he found that he missed interacting with students. So he fashioned a new role for himself. As an emeritus professor in the counseling psychology program at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colo., Suinn now acts as a kind of goodwill ambassador, welcoming all new counseling psychology students. Each year he sends a letter to incoming students and meets with them informally once they start school to get to know them. Suinn and his wife also invite students to go skiing at their condominium in the mountains as a break from the pressures of the academic year.
He's also focused on projects to attract more ethnic minorities to psychology--a major focus of his 1999 presidential tenure at APA. For instance, after a student suggested that ethnic-minority high school students might become more interested in psychology if they could speak with similar role models close to their own age, Suinn decided to propose a program to APA that would bring undergraduate ethnic-minority psychology majors into high schools to talk about their background and choices. APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS) and Psychology Teachers at Community Colleges decided to support a pilot of the project, which was supported by funds Suinn had requested as chair of APA's Membership Committee. The pilot worked well--TOPSS received positive feedback from students and schools--and is now a permanent program, run by TOPSS and APA's Education Directorate. Suinn plans to continue using his free time to work on diversity projects such as the study he's working on right now, which will examine factors influencing Spanish-speaking Hispanic students in their selection of math and science majors or careers. Depending on the results, Suinn may continue his work with Chinese students in Hong Kong.
Virtual prep for med students
Former APA President Robert Perloff, PhD, 85, uses a cane to walk and a wheelchair to get through the airport, but he isn't complaining. It's all part of what he likes to call "Playing the hand you're dealt," a philosophy he has written about for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and recently elaborated on--via a teleconference projected onto a big screen in the classroom--to a group of medical students in a class on the social context of medicine and public health that psychologist A. Dean Byrd, PhD, a clinical professor, teaches at the University of Utah.
In the video-lecture, Perloff said practitioners often tell older adults what they can't do, rather than helping them focus on what they can do. He advised his physician-in-training audience to treat the person, and not the disease. He also recommended encouraging patients to participate in their health care and involving them in decisions about treatment. Perloff noted that advanced age should not be associated with incompetence.
Class instructor Byrd says students were fascinated by the psychological focus on medical issues and had many questions for Perloff, such as, "What do you do when a patient has unreasonable expectations?" "Communicate; don't coddle," was Perloff's answer. Byrd is pleased at how well the session went and says he would like to have Perloff speak again, if possible.
Since his retirement from the University of Pittsburgh, where he taught business psychology, Perloff has reviewed psychology books for various publications, written papers for journals and occasionally has participated in talk radio shows.
As he has emphasized in various op-ed pieces, Perloff believes his that his slant on behavior, grounded in--the theory of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy proposed by Albert Ellis, PhD--applies to people of all ages, not just to older adults.
He maintains that drastic behavioral changes, such as an introverted person trying to become extroverted, are difficult and often counterproductive. Rather, people should showcase their strengths and ask themselves what they can do to make themselves happier and more fulfilled by living with their own particular attributes and limitations or, "in their own skin."
"Live with yourself," Perloff concludes.
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