A Psychology Initiative

By Robert J. Resnick, PhD, APA President
The Special Science Initiative Subcommittee, chaired by Denise Park, PhD, did an outstanding job of taking scores of proposals and distilling them down to the best ways to use the $500,000 allocation from the APA Council of Representatives. The Subcommittee recommended the development of four specific projects that Ronald E. Fox, PhD, Dorothy W. Cantor, PsyD, and I (the three presidents of APA) enthusiastically endorsed. These key projects include educating the media about the importance of psychological science through a visiting science writers program, and then bringing that message to the nation though an existing nationally distributed public radio program. The result of these two programs will be the general public's increased awareness about psychological science. The creation of an undergraduate student science institute where outstanding students can be mentored by some of our leading scientists will help to draw the best undergraduates into scientific psychology careers. Lastly, the building of an almost limitless number of electronic communication systems for virtually every interest in psychological science can only help to expand and contribute to the body of knowledge in our profession and discipline.

Now that the special science initiative is underway, I want to propose another activity that I believe deserves the attention of the entire Association.

We are witnessing extraordinary change across the discipline of psychology in the ways our newly minted colleagues are employed. This is just as much a concern in the practitioner community as it is in the scientific/academic community. I know this has been an issue for some time among scientists. And now, the remarkable and rapidly occurring changes in the health care delivery system have forced the issue into the practice arena.

Places of employment for psychologists are not what we thought they would be 10 or 20 years ago. Practitioners are in such nontraditional areas of practice as consultation; liaison; primary, secondary, and tertiary health care; managed care situations; as well as in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and employee assistance plans. These individals provide a wider variety of services than we had imagined in the past.

Scientists work not only in college and university settings, but also in large and small industrial sites, government, and consulting firms, to name only a few. Scientist-practitioners have always been employed in different settings, and this is even more true today than a generation ago!

It is time that those of us who train psychologists recognize this reality and examine what we are preparing these individuals for and how we are doing it! We cannot use the frame of reference that we have relied on for the last generation or two. It simply isn't the way the world works now, nor will it be in the future.

First, we need to develop a much better understanding of the variety of employment possibilities that exist for all psychologists. Then, we must demonstrate to industry and other potential employers the spectrum of skills that many psychologists already possess. Last, we need to engage in a vigorous self-study of how we train our doctoral students, look beyond the old (or even current) kinds of jobs held by psychologists, and prepare our new colleagues for a changing work environment.

Will the training models we use now be appropriate in the future? Should we identify core competencies for practitioners? Join me in giving these questions serious consideration. In my opinion, outcome measures in training are just as important as those for the interventions we provide.

The Science Directorate has been interested for some time in the employment situation for scientific psychologists, and in fact, has included in its 1996 budget some developmental activities in this area. It is my hope that we in APA can take a broader look at this critical issue and examine employment issues for all psychologists.

I believe the importance of this initiative cannot be underestimated. We must undertake the difficult task of reviewing the nature of our training models to determine whether they are responsive to the rapidly changing health care systems and delivery models. This means developing as clear an understanding as possible of how and where psychologists--scientists and practitioners--might be employed to best use their wide variety of skills and abilities.

Together, we can look at this problem with the care it deserves. Please let me know what you think and let us try to move forward together.

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