APAGS at the 2011 APA State Leadership Conference

From March 12 through March 15, 18 members of the APAGS Committee and the APAGS Advocacy Coordinating Team joined numerous state psychological associations at the American Psychological Association (APA) Practice Organization's State Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

Opening Session of the State Leadership Conference

Attendees discussed the future of psychological practice, participated in leadership training, and advocated for professional psychology on Capitol Hill. Below are highlights from the conference.

The Future of Psychological Practice

In her opening keynote address, Dr. Katherine Nordal (Executive Director for professional practice at APA) emphasized the need for psychology to focus on accountability, evidence based treatment, and primary health care. She described how patient outcome data will become critical to demonstrating the efficacy of psychotherapy treatments. 

Psychotherapy's shift into primary health care and the rise of health psychology (using psychology to improve physical health and prevent physical illnesses) was a constant theme throughout the conference. Dr. Benjamin Miller (Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine) said, "Mental health and primary care are inseparable; any attempt to do so results in inferior care." He presented data describing how most patients in need of mental health services are first seen in primary care, yet few psychologists work in this area. Dr. Miller summarized how coordinating care through integrated settings not only makes sense for providers and patients, but it also saves money for all those involved. Other panels also described the growing opportunities for psychologists in military and gerontology specializations. 

As the graduate student representative on a panel discussing the future of psychology, I advocated for the development of new training models. While primary care is the future of practice, most training programs only focus on careers in academia and private practice. I also reported on the current state of the doctoral internship crisis and the urgent need to implement a comprehensive solution that increases informed consent from undergraduate students, modernizes internship and program accreditation, facilitates departmental mentorship of internship applicants, creates new geographic consortiums, and advocates for increased federal funding of internships. The danger of inaction could result in a lost generation of psychologists from all psychological associations.

APAGS Leaders meet with APA President Dr. Melba Vasquez


Dr. David Satcher (former Surgeon General of the United States) spoke about the importance of building a leadership pipeline. He clarified how leadership is, "not just about winning a race, but passing the baton forward." To accomplish this, he recommended professionals work alongside students. Through this partnership, organizations will learn how to respond to developing challenges and capitalize on new opportunities.

Dr. Satcher also called on psychologists to work towards eliminating health disparities. He recommended focusing not only on improving access to health services but also to healthy lifestyles.

APAGS Leaders meet with Dr. David Satcher

APAGS representatives discussed the whys and hows of getting students involved in leadership roles. Both Susan Wilson (APAGS Chair) and I explained how getting students involved in leadership actually revitalizes organizations by creating a leadership pipeline, generates opportunities for collaboration on contemporary challenges (e.g. psychology and social media), increases the flow of psychologists to growth areas in the field, and reduces the workload from existing leadership. I congratulated California, Maryland, and Ohio for inviting their student leaders to the conference and encouraged other states to follow their example in the future. I also asked faculty to discuss the importance of leadership in their ethics and professional issues courses and described how APAGS can help organizations interested in increasing student leadership. 

Expanding the Reach of Psychology

Another prominent theme was the need to expand the reach of psychology outside of the clinical office. Dr. Tom Demaio (Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice) described how he expanded the impact of his practice by getting involved in his local community (e.g. outreaching to schools and local businesses). He encouraged psychologists to experiment with new roles and, "have 30 years of experience, not 1 year of experience 30 times." Members of the audience described how they have expanded their practices by working with lawyers, real estate agents, and elected officials.

This theme was also applied to new technologies. Dr. Pauline Wallin (President of APA’s Division on Media Psychology) underscored psychology's ethical imperative to combat the vastly unscientific and misleading information that is available on the internet about mental health. She encouraged psychologists to use new media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook) to join the online conversation about psychology. Dr. Nancy Gordon Moore (APA’s Executive Director for Governance Affairs) reinforced this message in a later panel by describing how new media can help psychologists stay up to date on market trends and changes in the field. In the same panel, I described how psychology's value of prudence could be used to embrace new technologies. Specifically, I encouraged a partnership between emerging psychologists and established psychologists. Emerging psychologists understand new technologies while established psychologists are experts on professional identity and ethics. Together, both can collaborate to develop best practice guidelines for using new media.

APAGS Leaders meet with APA CEO Dr. Norman Anderson


Several sessions stressed the importance of advocacy and political involvement. Dr. Nordal warned, "…if we aren't at the table it's because we're on the menu." She noted that no one would work to protect and promote the practice of psychology except psychologists. Dr. Stephen Pfeiffer, Executive Director of the Association for the Advancement of Psychology (AAP), expanded on this idea by discussing the importance of political giving in establishing political relationships. He noted that the data on psychology's contributions to its political action committee was grim. When it comes to health care, psychology is dead last in political giving (behind dieticians). Though if a larger percentage of psychologists donated to the AAP, psychology has the potential to become one of the most influential political organizations in healthcare. 

On Capitol Hill, conference attendees advocated for three main issues: Medicare reimbursement for mental health (due to biases in the reimbursement equation, mental health benefits have been cut), adding psychologists to the Medicare physician definition (we are the only doctoral level clinicians who are not included), and inclusion of psychologists under the HITECH act (mental health is currently excluded from funds to adopt electronic medical records). Additionally, at a black tie dinner with Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, I spoke to the Senator about the psychology doctoral internship crisis and the need to expand funding for the Graduate Psychology Education program.

Shanda Wells, APAGS' Member at Large Practice Focus, and the Illinois Psychological Association with Representative Jan Schakowsky

The Psychological Healthy Workplace

Each year, the APA Practice Organization honors companies that have made a commitment to the psychological health of their employees. This year's winners implemented several healthy workplace initiatives including improving employee health and safety, offering flexible work hours, encouraging employee growth, and recognizing employee excellence.

Daniel Pink, best selling author of Drive, delivered a keynote on increasing employee motivation. He demonstrated how management is an outdated technology from the 1800s designed to increase employee compliance, not innovation. Mr. Pink then reviewed the science behind why carrot and stick motivators don't work. Specifically, after paying employees enough to make money a non-issue, employee motivation does not significantly change with increased financial rewards (see hedonic adaption). He suggested shifting to systems based on increasing employee engagement. Mr. Pink recommended that companies focus on building employee autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose. He also cautioned against implementing too many constraints on employee work. Breakthrough thinking requires minimal constraints and increased autonomy (e.g. Google's 20% time). From Mr. Pink's perspective, the science is clear - giving employees a sense of engagement will lead to real business results. For more on increasing employee motivation, watch Mr. Pink's recent TED talk.


Several state and federal leaders were honored at the conference for their commitment to supporting mental health issues. California State Senator Dr. Leland Yee and Former Speaker of the House Representative Nancy Pelosi were recognized with leadership awards. Representative Dr. Judy Chu and Senator Ron Wyden were honored during receptions. The Iowa Psychological Association received the APAGS State Association of the Year award for its commitment to supporting graduate students and early career psychologists.

APAGS Chair Susan Wilson presents the State Association of the Year award to the Iowa Psychological Association