July 2, 2009

Psychologists Participate in White House Stakeholder Discussion on Health Care Reform

WASHINGTON—Psychologists representing the American Psychological Association joined other invited health care practitioners, leaders and aides to President Obama today for the latest White House Stakeholder Discussion Group, emphasizing that health reform must include psychological services as part of primary care.

APA stressed the need for a change in the delivery of health care as well as the importance of an integrated health care system that fully cares for mind and body.

APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Dr. Katherine Nordal was accompanied by practicing psychologists Dr. Jean Carter from Washington, D.C., and Dr. Mary Karapetian Alvord from Silver Spring, Md.

“I’d like to make the case for fully integrated care,” Nordal said during the discussion. “Mental health and substance abuse need to be treated like other disorders. …We need health care teams that treat the whole person.”

Psychological services need to be viewed as treatment options for conditions beyond mental disorders. Many chronic illnesses can be prevented or better managed through lifestyle and behavior changes—areas of expertise for psychologists. The inclusion of psychologists in primary care settings helps patients with chronic illness deal with three key problems: difficulty in making lifestyle changes, lack of motivation and lack of treatment compliance, Nordal said.

Stigma of mental health remains a significant obstacle in the way of whole-body care, psychologists Carter and Alvord said. One way to alleviate the problem of stigma is blurring the line separating what is mental or behavioral health care and what is considered physical or medical.

“Mental health is not separate from behavioral health. Prevention is about changing behavior,” said Carter, a member of APA’s Board of Directors. “We get back the tests with numbers but what do you do with it?”

Alvord, who primarily treats children and teens, said parents are often reluctant to use insurance because of the stigma attached and privacy concerns.

“We must make sure psychologists are considered health providers within primary care,” said Alvord, a recipient of APA's Presidential Innovative Practice Citation. “Obesity is related very much to lifestyle changes. Parents need to be able to get preventative services and not have to wait until the problem is too great.”

The White House Stakeholder Discussion Group, an ongoing series of discussions organized by the Obama administration, is just one of many recent efforts by APA to reach out to lawmakers about its priorities for health care reform. APA established eight priorities for health care reform that include recommendations related to integrated care, health promotion, mental and behavioral workforce development, the inclusion of quality psychological services in all benefit plans, enhanced consumer involvement, and the elimination of health disparities.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.