Executive Director's Column

The Mosaic of Scientific Psychology

One of the true values of scientific psychology is the contribution it makes to human welfare. More than any other scientific discipline, psychology connects to people.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

Last month, I suggested that professional societies are important because they are able to mobilize the full force of their disciplines. I even claimed that APA is among the very best at doing it. I made the claim with confidence. Let me tell you why.

A scientific discipline thrives when several components operate in synchrony. Let's start with education - the teaching and training of people. We all know that psychology is one of the most heavily subscribed college majors in North America, and increasingly we find psychology being included in K-12 curricula. The scientists and practitioners of psychology ultimately find their way to graduate school, and still additional years of intensive training. Psychology thrives in large part because of the active role that APA plays in education - in providing curriculum resources, training and accreditation standards, continuing education courses, networking opportunities for psychology educators, and advocacy on behalf of psychology education. Most aspiring psychology graduate students spend hours studying the APA publication Graduate Study in Psychology. Education is a fundamental part of the discipline, and APA supports it (View Education).

Science also depends on communication and publication. One of APA's greatest strengths is a vigorous program for publishing books (View Books) and journals (View Journals). This is a Herculean effort, including the management of a review process and a production apparatus. Most professional societies are fortunate if they can manage the publication of just a few journals and an occasional book. APA publishes dozens of books and journals every year, including the most prestigious and widely subscribed publication outlets for scientific psychology - Psychological Review, Psychological Bulletin, American Psychologist, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Journal of Experimental Psychology, and the list goes on. Publication is a fundamental part of the discipline, and APA does it extremely well.

One of the true values of scientific psychology is the contribution it makes to human welfare. More than any other scientific discipline, psychology connects to people. Psychology celebrates the diversity of humanity, and seeks to understand it. When the National Science Foundation insists that every funded project demonstrate its contribution to society, psychology never has a problem. Broader impact is our middle name. What may surprise many scientists, however, is the enormous investment that APA makes in promoting psychology in the public interest (View Public Interest). It makes me proud to be a psychologist when I ponder all of the many ways that psychology matters, and APA is very adept at raising social awareness.

I know that many people perceive a schism between the science and the practice of psychology. Yet, neither can exist without the other. Much of psychological science is inspired by the need to solve human problems in learning, action, perception, social relationships, and health. The practice of psychology, in turn, owes much of its success and credibility to the scientific foundation on which it is built. It is hard work keeping the science (View Science) and the practice (View Practice) of psychology on the same page, but it is important work and APA accepts the challenge of doing it.

Many scientific voices demand attention and resources, in a world that seems to be running short on both. What's a scientific discipline to do? In a word, it is advocacy. We need to be organized and persistent in making sure that legislators, funders, and the general public understand and appreciate the importance of psychological science. This is really hard work. It requires an incredible knowledge of politics at the federal, state, and local levels. It depends on organizing people, and on penetrating the often bureaucratic infrastructure of funding agencies. It takes many hours and many people, and sometimes quick action. APA devotes an entire staff to cultivating public policy and advocacy in support of scientific psychology at the APA Public Policy website.

The science of psychology is one part of a large mosaic. The big picture includes education, communication, publication, public interest, practice, advocacy, and science - all working in synchrony. APA embraces the entire mosaic. Out of the synergy created, science at APA derives its great strength. The science of psychology is ready to meet the opportunities and the challenges of the 21st Century, and APA is unique in its ability to help.