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2010 Education Leadership Conference: Psychology and lifelong learning

Many questions remain about how to make lifelong learning as effective as possible

By Rebecca A. Clay

The theme of the ninth annual Education Leadership Conference — Psychology and Lifelong Learning — is vital but often overlooked, said Cynthia D. Belar, PhD, executive director of APA’s Education Directorate.

“We have paid more attention to undergraduate and graduate education in psychology than to professional development and lifelong learning despite the fact that much more time is spent in the course of one’s career than in the preparation for that career,” she said.

Redirecting some of that attention to lifelong learning was the goal of this year’s conference, which brought together representatives of psychology education and training groups, psychological membership organizations, APA divisions, and APA governance groups. The event took place September 11-14, 2010, in Washington, DC.

Like previous conferences, the event had a threefold purpose: to address issues of mutual concern to education and training groups at all levels, promote a shared identity among psychology’s educators and influence public policy regarding education in psychology and psychology in education.

“As we address this year’s theme of lifelong learning, it’s important for you to contribute by helping us to identify promising practices and taking that information back to your organizations and the entire psychology education and training community,” said APA Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) Chair Janet R. Matthews, PhD, who welcomed more than 130 participants.

Belar kicked off the event with an overview of trends in lifelong learning for psychology’s practitioners, researchers and teachers.

Several factors are prompting the field to focus new attention on lifelong learning, which Belar said requires the ability to recognize what you need to learn and the sustained motivation and self-initiated work needed to fill those gaps.

“Given the expansions in knowledge and technology and the increased demands for accountability, the health professions have been paying a lot of attention to lifelong learning and the maintenance of competence,” she said, predicting that such attention will only increase in coming years. “Already there is a different regulatory and credentialing landscape at both the individual and program levels in other professions. There is also talk of more federal involvement.” Major reports from the Institute of Medicine, Macy Foundation and elsewhere are also driving changes in policy at all levels, she said.

Within psychology, she added, APA’s Ethics Code requires psychologists to undertake ongoing efforts to develop and maintain their competence. Accreditation requires programs to inculcate a commitment to lifelong learning in their students. And 44 states require continuing education (CE) for practitioners.

Yet many questions remain about how to make lifelong learning as effective as possible, said Belar. Take CE for practitioners, for example. “In our current CE approval system, there are no measures of actual learning or demonstrated transfer to practice required,” she pointed out. “In fact, surveys of licensed psychologists have suggested that we do not want to be examined on what we have learned in CE experiences.”

There’s growing support for re-examining the criteria for awarding CE credits as well as the relationship between CE and lifelong learning. “I don’t believe that either ‘seat time’ or self-assessment will suffice in the future if we are to have a credible system for maintenance of competence,” said Belar.

And while there is some evidence that CE works, she said, there isn’t yet a strong research base supporting its usefulness in psychology. “We need not just CE in evidence-based practices, but evidence-based CE,” she said.

Belar urged participants to consider several questions during the conference, including the role of on-the-job learning, ways of facilitating lifelong learning for scientists and teachers, and strategies for promoting research on lifelong learning.

The scientific basis of adult learning

The conference’s first full day began with a look at the research on adult learning.

There’s a huge gap between what we know from the science and what actually happens in classrooms, according to Art Graesser, PhD, codirector of the Institute for Intelligent Systems and a professor at the University of Memphis.

Teachers want students to spread their learning out over time, for example, but they often just cram before exams. Teachers want students to be curious, but on average it takes 6 or 7 hours for a student to ask a single question and even then, it’s usually a shallow question like “Can I go to the bathroom?” And teachers want precise articulations of knowledge, but students often use vague, noncommittal language. In addition, students often lack tolerance for boring material or complex learning. “That’s the first exit sign for a lot of learners,” said Graesser.

To help educators overcome these and other challenges, said Graesser, the federal Institute of Education Sciences came up with a list of evidence-based principles teachers can apply in their classrooms. These include spacing learning over time, interleaving worked solutions with problem-solving exercises, combining graphics and verbal descriptions, integrating the abstract and concrete, using quizzes, helping students allocate their study time effectively, and asking students deep questions rather than shallow “who, what, when and where” type questions.

In a collaborative project a decade ago, APA and the Association for Psychological Science came up with their own list of principles to enhance lifelong learning. “One of my favorites is the principle of cognitive disequilibrium,” said Graesser, explaining that most learning happens when there are disagreements or obstacles to goals. “Some teachers try to make learning easy, but actually it’s when the world breaks down that most learning occurs.” Another principle is “desirable difficulties,” he said, explaining that students tend to remember material better when it’s challenging. Also important is immediate feedback — a task that computers can help with.

Graesser ended with a discussion of self-regulated learning. “As you go through life, you can’t say, ‘Stop, world! I have to take three courses,’” he said. “You have to somehow figure out where your information needs are, find the right information and apply it to the challenges you’re being faced with.”

Several factors make that difficult. For one thing, students tend to avoid areas that are difficult for them and stick with what they think they’re already good at. Furthermore, students tend to hide their difficulties. “A good student should expose their flaws and misconceptions, not hide them,” Graesser emphasized.

“And a lot of teachers try to avoid confusion when actually that’s a learning opportunity.”

How technology can advance lifelong learning

Next Joan M. Falkenberg Getman, senior strategist for learning technologies at Cornell University, described how technology can facilitate lifelong learning.

Web 2.0 — an interactive, networked online environment that connects people, services and resources — could revolutionize learning, said Getman. Of particular interest are the opportunities it offers for informal education, including online classes, “communities of practice,” and websites where anyone can teach anyone anything, she said. “Sitting passively isn’t the best way to learn,” she emphasized. What’s key is active learning — becoming creators and producers in a way that many are already doing via sites like YouTube and Flickr.

Getman then outlined Web 2.0 tools for just about every lifelong learning task. If you’re feeling “drowned in information,” for example, she suggests social bookmarking sites like delicious.com that allow users to bookmark sites, organize them into personal collections, and share them with others if desired. Technologies such as videoconferencing and Skype can help learners and instructors communicate with each other, while “wiki” pages allow collaborators to gather resources, e-mails and other project materials together in one place. LinkedIn, Facebook and Ning help users connect with each other and create communities of practice.

Blogging can get learners engaged in dialogue and give them immediate feedback. “Blogs are increasingly being used to give students experience with public opinion,” said Getman, recommending the academic blogging portal BlogScholar.com. VoiceThread.com allows users to add text, audio or video commentary to texts. “Feedback doesn’t just come from the instructor,” said Getman. “It’s group learning, and there’s a record of it.”

Technology can also help with what Getman called “authentic learning,” which she described as bringing real-life challenges to a learning environment for group problem-solving. In one recent project, Getman brought law students and engineers together in a virtual world to explore a real-world class action suit. At Loyola Marymount University, a schizophrenia simulation helps students understand what life is like for schizophrenia patients. And for users who need to practice skills, online repositories like the MERLOT Information Technology Portal offer tutorials and other learning resources.

Another trend is “cloud computing,” said Getman, describing free Internet-based services. Instead of using Photoshop, for example, people can use JayCut.com. Instead of using Blackboard, they can use SlideRocket to create presentations.

Drawing on the New Media Consortium’s 2010 Horizon Report, Getman ended with a look at emerging trends. In the short term, she said, trends include the growing use of mobile technology and the democratization of information. The next two to three years, she predicted, will see the rise of e-books, gesture-based computing and “augmented reality,” in which users connect the virtual and physical worlds via “tagging.” On the far horizon, she concluded, are technologies for visual data analysis. “The idea is that there’s so much information that doing a first pass visually can enable us to wade through and manage information,” she said.

Self-assessment in self-directed learning

Larry D. Gruppen, PhD, chair of the department of medical education at the University of Michigan Medical School, then shared what research has found about the difficult art of self-assessment, which he defined as a “metacognitive judgment of some aspect of yourself.”

The problem, said Gruppen, is that self-assessed performance doesn’t always match actual performance. Asked about such qualities as their athletic ability, leadership potential, or ability to get along with others, for example, most people rate themselves above average — a tendency Gruppen termed the “Lake Woebegon effect.” “The research continues to convey the message that self-assessment is woefully inadequate,” he said.

But research on self-assessment is plagued by problems, Gruppen emphasized. For one thing, he said, the judgments people are asked to make are often very difficult. “If you don’t know people well, you don’t know where you stand,” he pointed out. In addition, because research on self-assessment looks at group averages, it ignores individual differences. Gruppen’s own research has found that people’s ability to assess themselves accurately is stable over time. Unfortunately, he said, the people who need help the most are often the ones who are worst at assessing their own performance.

What does this mean out in the real world, where people don’t get the kind of objective feedback that students get? If feedback is positive, said Gruppen, there’s no motivation to pursue self-directed learning. And how people react to negative self-assessments depends on whether they interpret the problem as intrinsic or extrinsic, he said. “If it’s something about you, you’re more likely to pursue self-regulated learning than if you say an adverse event for a patient is because of the complexity of the disease,” he explained.

It’s when people take negative feedback to heart that they think about pursuing self-regulated learning, Gruppen said. Even then, they have to decide that the matter is important and that they’ll find the resources they need. If they don’t find what they need, they stop or start over again. Once they find resources, they evaluate the effect they’re having and may then decide to change their behavior as a result. They then evaluate the new behavior and drop it if it doesn’t work out over time. “This framework is designed to convey how complex the process is and how many ways it can fall apart,” Gruppen concluded.

Emerging models for professional development in psychology: Problems and prospects

The focus then shifted to emerging models of professional development within psychology.

Greg Neimeyer, PhD, associate executive director of APA’s Office of Continuing Education, began by exploring the distinction between lifelong learning and CE. “They’re not the same,” he emphasized.

CE, he explained, is more formal, narrow and utilitarian. APA, for example, defines CE as the ongoing process of formal learning activities that allows psychologists to keep pace with emerging issues and technology and develop and maintain competence so that they can improve service and enhance contributions to the profession. CE aims to counter the naturally occurring process of entropy. “Knowledge becomes obsolescent across time,” said Neimeyer. “There’s a half life for knowledge — the time after training when, because of developments, you’re half as competent to meet the demands of your profession.”

Given that obsolescence, should CE be mandated? APA’s Ethics Code requires psychologists to maintain competence, but such exhortations may not be enough, said Neimeyer. His own research has confirmed the existence of “CE laggards” — individuals who in the absence of mandates don’t engage in much ongoing, formal training. In a survey of licensed professional psychologists in North America, Neimeyer found that fewer than 2 percent of psychologists in states that mandate CE fell into the laggard category, defined as five or fewer CE hours in the previous year. In states without mandates, that figure jumped to almost one in five. Similarly, psychologists in states that require a CE course in ethics were twice as likely to complete such a course as those in states without mandates. 

“CE mandates work,” said Neimeyer. “But the real question — where the rubber meets the road — is what difference does CE make?” That’s still not known, he said, adding that the most commonly studied outcome in psychology CE is participant satisfaction. The problem, he said, is that psychologists resist being evaluated on higher order outcomes.

Emerging models of CE could change that, Neimeyer concluded. Most CE programs use what has been called a “spray and pray” technique, he said, explaining that presenters spray information out and pray that some of it sticks. “If we’re going to do that, I suggest a friendly amendment — spray, pray and weigh — where we steel ourselves and measure how much really does stick,” he said.

Even better are alternative models. These include problem-based learning, reciprocal teaching and “cognitive apprenticeships,” a type of active, supervised tutorial. Medicine offers other examples, such as workplace audits and feedback, checklists and protocols, and point-of-service learning that lets clinicians learn something when they need it rather than taking time off from work to learn.

While the Institute of Medicine hasn’t yet identified “iron-clad best practices,” said Neimeyer, it has outlined promising CE methods. These include needs assessments, case studies or other simulations, checklists or other protocols, interaction via small groups or other means, opportunities to reflect on learning and draw from one’s own experience, the use of multimedia and multiple exposures to information, an organized sequence of learning, rehearsal and evaluation.

Plenary discussion

Conference participants spent their first afternoon together in small groups devoted to discussing specific topics and developing questions to explore with the larger group. Chaired by Janet Matthews, the interactive session that followed the next day focused on five areas: 

  • Promoting professional development opportunities for teaching faculty. Jane Halonen, PhD, of the University of West Florida asked about tenure’s impact on lifelong learning. Those who thought tenure had a negative impact outnumbered those who thought its impact was positive or neutral. En route to tenure, some said, there’s just not time to spend on lifelong learning activities. “You’re devoting time to filling your tenure dossier,” said one participant. And while tenure takes that pressure off, said others, some professors don’t take advantage of that newfound time to engage in lifelong learning. Halonen offered several suggestions for counteracting this tendency, such as promoting team-teaching, rewarding lifelong learning in tenure and promotion policies, and hiring the curious. “My first question to candidates is, ‘What are you reading outside the discipline?’” said Halonen.

The next question focused on teaching centers’ impact on lifelong learning. While the majority thought such centers had a positive impact, there were some naysayers. “In theory, these centers obviously have a good impact,” said one participant. “But in practice, it’s now someone else’s job to take care of continuing development. It takes the burden off faculty and departments to think about it and be creative.” Plus, you run the risk of having a bad center. Another challenge, Halonen added, is that faculty sometimes view such centers as serving only those who need remedial attention.

The group’s final question was how well prepared participants felt they were to handle diversity issues when they began teaching. The results were evenly divided among well-prepared and unprepared — a divide that most attributed to generational differences. “At least at my university, there’s a big push toward having faculty coming in being sensitive to the needs of diverse populations,” said one participant. “Plus, our population is much more diverse than it was when I was in grad school.” While older professors are learning about diversity informally, he and others said, new faculty often have formal training sessions. Such training should begin even before that, said another participant, calling for more diversity training for students.

  • Working with cross-professional teams in educational and other settings. Led by Todd Gravois, PhD, of ICAT Resources, this group’s first question focused on what prompts people to decide to work as a team, group, or individual. Participants overwhelmingly responded that they chose a team approach when it seemed like the best way to achieve a goal rather than being motivated by political expediency; state, national or institutional requirements; or the desire to model interprofessional collaboration for students.

Next the group explored whether it was better to prepare future professionals to work in the traditional system, which is individual-oriented; the future system, which is interprofessional; or the settings in which they expect to practice. Most participants responded that training students for interprofessional futures was crucial. “The future is already here in terms of interprofessionalism in health-care services,” said one participant, pointing out that the health reform law and education and training grants all promote interprofessionalism. “If we’re not getting our students up to their elbows in interprofessionalism, they’re going to be left behind.” Health care isn’t the only setting where interprofessionalism is becoming the norm, said another participant. “The problems that people are facing in our society are so complex that it takes more than one professional to address them,” the participant noted.

The group then considered the optimal time for psychologists to learn to work collaboratively. The responses were equally divided between grad school and continuing professional education. A grad student described the struggles of students from different disciplines trying to conduct research together. “We understand how powerful it is to mix disciplines, but we need to know more about what people are doing in each department,” said the student, calling for a forum where students can share ideas, learn each other’s language and so on. Another participant suggested introducing interprofessionalism to high school psychology students as a way of increasing their interest in the field.

The discussion ended with a look at the challenges of interprofessionalism. These include status differences among different professions, competing time pressures, the lack of institutional incentives, differing values between professions and diverse perspectives.

  • How to work with the media and use media to promote your work. During this small group’s meeting, Kim Mills of APA held a mini-workshop on dos and don’ts of working with the media. In
    the plenary discussion, Frank Worrell of BEA asked how participants would respond to seeing an explicit photo of a student on Facebook. Most participants agreed that the situation called for a discussion with the student about the implications for relationships with colleagues, patients and others. The situation becomes trickier when the person with an inappropriate post is a faculty member, they agreed. “If it’s a mid-career or senior faculty member, I don’t think a grad student or junior faculty should confront them about it,” said one participant, noting that there could be retaliation in terms of evaluations or tenure votes. The group agreed that the field should develop clear guidelines, make students and faculty aware of them and identify chains of command. Education about new media is another must, said another participant, explaining that even heavy users may not understand the limitations of privacy protections.

Worrell then asked which activities contribute most to lifelong learning: blogging, press interviews, Facebook and other social websites, or YouTube videos. The overwhelming response was blogging. Students and psychologists should take more advantage of this medium, said a grad student. “We need much more practice in being able to convert all the great research we’re producing in journal articles and labs and put it in a form that you don’t need a graduate degree to decipher,” he said.

The conversation then turned to the greatest ethical challenges related to working with the media. The participants agreed that their biggest worries were the blurring of public and private lives and their inability to correct inaccurate information. “We have very little control over information that’s put out there and changed by people whose training and comfort with material can vary extensively,” said one participant. “That can damage us and the profession as well.”

Despite these concerns, most institutions don’t have policies on social networking by staff. “Our institution — a drug and alcohol treatment center — just put one in place,” said one participant, explaining that the policy forbids employees from using the center’s name in their posts. “If their advice resulted in a negative impact, it opens us up to liability,” she explained.

  • Professional development for practitioners: Critical issues in continuing education and lifelong learning. To kick off this discussion, APA Board Member Nadine Kaslow, PhD, described one effort to facilitate psychologists’ professional development: a self-assessment program developed by the College of Psychologists of Ontario.

Psychologists use a self-evaluation tool to assess their strengths and weaknesses and then craft a two-year plan for enhancing competence in both current and potential areas of practice. At the end, they turn in a declaration that they have completed their plans. In the discussion that followed, most participants liked the idea, although some argued that such a program would only be worthy of adoption in other jurisdictions if most supported it and were willing to accept that formal CE wasn’t required. “This is an excellent way to promote self-assessment activities and reflective practice after graduate training,” said one participant.

The group then discussed cultural competence. Most participants agreed that cultural competence was a core competency as well as an ethical responsibility. “But it’s important that when we describe it as a competency, we don’t see it as something to be checked off,” said one participant. “That’s why I see it as a journey; we’ll never be there.” Others called for more research on cultural competence.

The discussion then shifted to the technologies used to support participants’ lifelong learning. Most said online databases were the technology they used most often, while a sizeable number said they didn’t use technology for lifelong learning at all. Describing an integrated program of Google alerts, Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, a grad student proposed what he called a radical idea: calling on grad students and early-career psychologists to teach their more experienced colleagues how to make the most of technology.

The conversation concluded with thoughts on how best to ensure that lifelong learning activities actually have an impact on client or patient outcomes. Getting supervision from peers and reviewing clients’ process and outcome data received the most support from participants.

  • Specialties, specialization, specialists and the role of lifelong learning. Ronald Rozensky, PhD, of APA’s Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology, launched this discussion by sharing APA’s definition of a specialty — a defined area of psychological practice that requires advanced knowledge and skills acquired through an organized sequence of education and training and after the acquisition of core scientific and professional foundations. He asked participants when that definition should be shared with those interested in psychology. Participants were evenly divided in thinking that a high school psychology class, undergraduate class, or graduate program was the right time. “Only a small minority of people who take high school psychology will end up as psychology undergraduates and even fewer in grad school,” said one participant. “It’s important to introduce this early, so they can be intelligent consumers of psychological services later on.”

The group then discussed whether professional psychologists should be encouraged to explore training in a specialty area postlicensure. Responses were mixed. “For those of us who work in very rural environments, specialization is the last thing we need,” said one participant. “We need a broad base to respond to everyone who comes in.” Others pointed out that general practices, such as those in clinical and counseling psychology, are recognized as specialties.

Participants then considered the situation of a psychologist who has been in general mental health practice for five years but wants to start working with medically ill patients and labeling himself as a specialist in clinical health psychology. Most participants thought the person should review Division 38’s education and training guidelines and seek consultation from a board-certified health psychologist. Others suggested that the practitioner also undertake a supervised CE program to fill gaps in knowledge or seek a formal two-year postdoctoral fellowship in clinical health psychology. One challenge, they agreed, is the potential shortage of psychologists who can provide supervision and support to would-be specialists.

Education Advocacy Awards luncheon

The awards luncheon is a highlight of every Education Leadership Conference. BEA presented two Education Advocacy Distinguished Service Awards.

The award for an APA member-at-large recognized Cindy Juntunen, PhD, of the Council of Chairs of Training Councils (CCTC). Describing Juntunen as a long-time supporter of education advocacy, Janet Matthews described just one example of Juntunen’s work. “As chair of CCTC, she not only played a significant role in promoting communication and collaboration among psychology’s training councils to advance psychology education and training, but also urged CCTC members to join our grassroots network and support other related activities,” said Matthews.

The Education Advocacy Grassroots Network Award acknowledged the work of Philinda Hutchings, PhD, who attended the meeting as a representative of APA’s Federal Education Advocacy Coordinators network. “She is always looking for opportunities to raise awareness of the need to be involved in grassroots activities,” said Matthews. “Most recently, during a three-month period she single-handedly recruited 30 new campus training representatives for educational advocacy.”

The Friends of Psychology Distinguished Service Award recognizes the essential role that congressional staff members play in education advocacy. This year’s award went to Debbie Jessup, legislative aide on health appropriations and policy for Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). The award acknowledged her support of the Graduate Psychology Education program. “Congressional staff members are often the unsung heroes in legislative efforts,” said Matthews. “Debbie Jessup exemplifies that tradition.”

Graduate Psychology Education: Serving veterans and unemployed persons in underserved communities

The conference’s final presentations highlighted the needs of two underserved populations: veterans and persons who are unemployed. “Frame this in the context of our Hill visits tomorrow,” chair Linda F. Campbell, PhD, a BEA board member, urged participants. “Our legislators know this, but they need to be reminded.”

The panel began with a look at soldiers and their families from David Riggs, PhD, director of the Center for Deployment Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. One challenge is the sheer number of people who need help: About 300,000 to 400,000 soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and other problems, said Riggs, adding that these issues also have an impact on family members.

Unfortunately, said Riggs, these individuals face barriers to seeking help. “The large number of veterans coming back with emotional problems far exceeds the capacity of providers in uniform,” he said. Others — such as the quarter of those deployed who are in the National Guard or reserves — return to their communities rather than military bases. “They’re not necessarily within easy access of VA hospitals or even clinics,” he said. Stigma can keep soldiers from reaching out even when help is available. “They worry that they’ll be seen as weak, that their leaders won’t trust them, and that they’ll be alienated from their units,” Riggs explained. Culture clashes between clients and providers are another problem. “Providers need to respect military culture and the choices clients have made to serve and honor those,” said Riggs. “If they don’t, people say, ‘You don’t care’ and walk out the door.”

Riggs then described the work of the center, whose mission is to train military and civilian mental health providers to deliver high-quality deployment-related behavioral health services to military personnel and their families. Developed four years ago as the result of an initiative begun by APA, the center offers a two-week course on what it’s like to be a deployed mental health provider, a one-week course for civilian providers, and mobile training teams that provide training in evidence-based treatment in partnership with the Wounded Warriors Project, the Pennsylvania Red Cross, and similar organizations. There’s also a course for university counseling centers. “We’re really making an effort to blanket the United States as best we can,” Riggs concluded.

M. David Rudd, PhD, dean of the University of Utah’s College of Social and Behavioral Science, continued with a further look at challenges that returning soldiers face:

  • Stigma. The criteria governing who’s eligible for a Purple Heart exemplify the military’s attitude toward mental health services. Both PTSD and traumatic brain injury — the “signature injury” of the current wars — are excluded from the criteria, said Rudd. “That sends a very profound message,” he said. Plus, soldiers believe that having a mental illness or injury is inconsistent with the “warrior identity.”

  • Repeated deployments. “These two wars are unlike any in history,” said Rudd. “We’ve sent the same men and women for nine years to fight the same wars repeatedly.” These repeated deployments mean more exposure to trauma and thus greater habituation to it. “When you go into combat four or five times, you become habituated to weapons,” he said. “It becomes easy to pick up a weapon.”

  • Chronicity. Once a problem becomes chronic, said Rudd, recovery is much less likely and more difficult to achieve. Yet the military typically waits until someone is disabled by PTSD before addressing the problem. Instead of incurring the financial and psychological costs of discharging an active duty member for PTSD, he said, “Why don’t we pay them to get treatment at the beginning of the illness?” Congress has greeted such proposals with rousing disapproval, he said, fearing that it would lead to an explosion in diagnosis rates. That’s not right, said Rudd, noting that quick treatment can forestall PTSD. “We need to think creatively about how we manage disability with veterans,” he said. “Our current system is flawed.”

Nadya Fouad, PhD, chair of the department of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, then shifted the focus to unemployed persons.

People often think of work as separate from other areas of life, said Fouad, but that’s a false dichotomy. For one thing, people spend 80,000 hours at work over 40 years of full-time employment. In addition to being a means of survival, work is central to people’s identities, connects them to others and gives them a chance to contribute. Work is also strongly related to mental and even physical health outcomes, said Fouad, explaining that unemployed persons have significantly lower levels of mental health, physical health and life satisfaction.

Today, said Fouad, the national unemployment rate is almost 10 percent. Many more are underemployed, meaning they’re working part-time even though they’d prefer to work full-time. That figure doesn’t count those on furloughs, those earning less than they made before or those who have given up, she said. How does that compare to the 1930s? In 1933, unemployment was more than 5 percent and underemployment was 37 percent. While the rates aren’t so high now, said Fouad, consumer debt is considerably higher than it was then.

Psychologists need to know how to help these individuals, Fouad emphasized, but often don’t. They need to be able to provide both general psychological help as well as more specialized job-seeking assistance and support. Psychologists must know the obstacles rather than blithely assuring clients they can succeed, she said.

They need to understand the demographic factors that affect employment, for example, and the issues faced by specific populations like recent graduates or people who thought they would be retired by now.

The situation’s not likely to change soon, Fouad concluded. “I don’t think we’re likely to see the economic environment change in such a way that the job market is going to come back like it was before,” she said. “We’re going to be living with this.”

Legislative issues

On the conference’s final day, participants headed to Capitol Hill to visit their congressional representatives. Their goal? To persuade the House and Senate to support a $7 million appropriation for the Graduate Psychology Education program in Fiscal Year 2011.

The Graduate Psychology Education program is a federal grant initiative for doctoral, internship and postdoctoral programs in psychology, the Education Directorate’s Nina Levitt, EdD, told participants in a briefing before their visits. The focus is on interdisciplinary training and work with underserved populations.

“Obviously we’re up against other health-care reform beneficiaries and all the other national priorities,” said Levitt. “That’s not going to deter us, because we have a compelling message and a successful program.”

The next day, participants made more than 180 visits to the offices of their Members of Congress. Tired but enthusiastic, many expressed a sense of satisfaction in having carried psychology’s voice to the Hill and made the case for training health service psychologists to work with underserved populations.