International Presidents’ Initiative at the 2012 APA Annual Convention

Presidents and officers from national psychology associations around the world attended the APA Convention for an opportunity to talk about psychology in their own countries and as a general discipline, and to discuss possibilities for joint collaboration.

By Dana Townsend and Merry Bullock, PhD
By Dana Townsend and Merry Bullock, Office of International Affairs

(From left): Jianxin Zhang (China); Vito Tummino (Italy); Lars Ahlin (Sweden); Takao Sato (Japan); Wilson López (Colombia); Manuel Berdullas Temes (Spain); Reza Zamani (Iran); Claudia María Sanín Velásquez (Colombia); Alexander Cheryomukhin (Azerbaijan); Nedret Öztan (Turkey); Simon Crowe (Australia); Carole Allan (UK); Rahmattullah Khan (Malaysia); Tor Levin Hofgaard (Norway); Leyla Akoury-Dirani (Lebanon); Gina Rossi (Belgium); Joaquín Caso Niebla (Mexico); Violeta Fajardo Vargas (Mexico); Brigitte Khoury (Lebanon); Telmo Mourinho Baptista (Portugal); Peter Banister (UK); Lyn Littlefield (Australia); Samuel Antunes (Portugal). Not pictured: Edwin Yair Oliveros Ariza (Colombia); Fernando Chacón Fuertes (Spain); Emelita J. Outerbridge (Bermuda); Ole Tunold (Norway)

(From left): Jianxin Zhang (China); Vito Tummino (Italy); Lars Ahlin (Sweden); Takao Sato (Japan); Wilson López (Colombia); Manuel Berdullas Temes (Spain); Reza Zamani (Iran); Claudia María Sanín Velásquez (Colombia); Alexander Cheryomukhin (Azerbaijan); Nedret Öztan (Turkey); Simon Crowe (Australia); Carole Allan (UK); Rahmattullah Khan (Malaysia); Tor Levin Hofgaard (Norway); Leyla Akoury-Dirani (Lebanon); Gina Rossi (Belgium); Joaquín Caso Niebla (Mexico); Violeta Fajardo Vargas (Mexico); Brigitte Khoury (Lebanon); Telmo Mourinho Baptista (Portugal); Peter Banister (UK); Lyn Littlefield (Australia); Samuel Antunes (Portugal). Not pictured: Edwin Yair Oliveros Ariza (Colombia); Fernando Chacón Fuertes (Spain); Emelita J. Outerbridge (Bermuda); Ole Tunold (Norway)

At this year's APA Convention in Orlando Florida, attendees had the opportunity to meet with leaders in psychology from around the globe. 2012 APA President Suzanne Bennett Johnson and the Office of International Affairs invited presidents from national psychology associations outside the United States to attend the APA Convention as part of the 2012 Presidents' Initiative. In total, 27 presidents and officers from 19 psychology associations participated in the Initiative, representing associations in Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bermuda, China, Colombia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

During Convention, the Presidents' Initiative attendees participated in two planned events where they discussed psychology in their own countries and broadly as a discipline. The following is a summary of some of the discussion at those meetings — a "business meeting" where the presidents and officers talked among themselves about their associations, issues, and opportunities for joint collaboration, and a symposium/discussion, chaired by APA President Suzanne Bennett Johnson, in which the participants addressed broad questions about professional psychology and health, and psychology education in their countries. Although countries varied greatly in terms of size, demography and the development of psychology, there were common concerns, including the growth of the profession and adaptation of the profession to meet the needs of society, regulation of psychology practice and the title of "psychologist" and quality assurance for education in psychology.

Psychology as a profession

Most representatives reported that psychology was growing rapidly in their countries. In Iran, Reza Zamani, Past President of the Iranian Psychological Association, reported, "The last 30 years have changed a lot for psychology... Everywhere in the public media, people are referencing psychology and quoting psychologists. As a result, people are more willing to see a psychologist and address these issues than ever before."

Telmo Mourinho Baptista, president of the National Organization of Portuguese Psychologists agreed with the growing popularity of psychology, but suggested that advocacy is still needed to convince legislators and the public of psychology's importance.

"The challenge is to sell the profession to the public," said Baptista. "People only see psychology as a priority when there's enough money left over for it." Although psychology is a popular course of study in Portugal and it has a high production of psychologists, too few hospitals are hiring clinical psychologists.

To further address this issue, Lars Ahlin, president of the Swedish Psychological Association noted that utility and cost-benefit analyses can be used to demonstrate the value of behavioral approaches to policymakers, while Tor Levin Hofgaard, president of the Norwegian Psychological Association, urged psychology as a discipline to focus less on the workforce needs of psychologists and more on critical analysis of what society needs from psychology.


The question of psychology's role in health care stimulated discussion on the varying ways that psychology is understood as a health and mental health profession.

In some countries, psychology is a recognized health profession and psychologists are regularly incorporated into a broad variety of health care settings. For example, in Italy, psychology was historically a part of medical education, and in Norway psychology is legally recognized as a health profession and psychologists are regularly included in primary care teams. Defining a broad role for psychologists in health is still a challenge for the discipline. Colombia, like many countries, broadened its psychology training to meet health needs by creating a graduate specialization in health psychology. As a result, over the last ten years many health institutions have included psychologists in their recruitment. However, as explained by Claudia Maria Sanin Velasquez, President of the Colombian College of Psychologists, involving psychology in health continues to be a challenge because the health care policy only allows a role for psychologists in certain programs of hospital care — much of psychosocial care is allocated to nursing and social work.

Joaquin Caso Niebla, President of the Mexican Psychological Society, speaking during the Presidents’ symposium on health and education, while Regina Fanjul de Marsicovetere (Guatemala) translates and Vito Tummino (Italy) and Nedret Öztan (Turkey) listen Tor Levin Hofgaard (right), President of the Norwegian Psychological Association, speaking with Ellen Garrison, APA Senior Policy Advisor, at the Pre-Opening Session Reception

On the other hand, representatives from Australia and the United Kingdom noted that psychology was included within their systems under the health care sector, with increasing opportunities beyond mental health services. Carole Allan, vice president of the British Psychological Society, remarked that there is a movement in the UK so that mental health services, which have traditionally been poorly funded, can reach parity with the funding for physical health services.

In many countries, especially those in which psychology is a newer and still growing discipline, psychology continues to work almost entirely on filling mental health needs. In Malaysia, for example, where most psychology is research oriented and academic, there are only 80 clinical psychologists for a country of 28 million, just ten of them trained at the doctoral level. Issues involved in working to meet a mental health gap were also mentioned by Jianxin Zhang, director of International Affairs at the Chinese Psychological Society, who noted that the goal in China is to train 300,000 practitioners — a goal that raises a significant educational and regulatory challenge.

Regulatory challenges

One of the biggest challenges mentioned by several participants is the lack of regulation for the title of "psychologist."

"There is no licensing in Malaysia," said Rahmattullah Khan, president of the Malaysian Psychological Association. "Anyone can go out, open a practice and call themselves a psychologist or a 'motivator'." In Malaysia, as in some other countries, there is pending legislation to include clinical psychologists within the legal regulatory system.

According to Nedret Öztan, past president of the Turkish Psychological Association, the title of 'psychologist' can be used in Turkey after four years of undergraduate education. Although two additional years of graduate work are necessary to use the title of 'clinical psychologist', psychology practice remains unregulated. Japan similarly has no official licensing system, and the lack of regulation in Lebanon has led to malpractice and ethical issues. Similarly, the lack of regulation for psychotherapy is an issue in Belgium where the title of psychologist is regulated but the psychotherapist title is not. All agreed that increased public education and regulatory attention is necessary for assuring high professional standards in providing care.

Some noted that much of the tension arises from challenges in balancing psychology's goal of educating a broad and diverse psychology workforce and supporting specific areas of service delivery. In some countries, workforce shortages have created a tension between pressures to rapidly increase the psychology workforce in specific areas and an expressed goal of maintaining broad psychology education and high professional educational standards.

APA President Suzanne Bennett Johnson introduces the panel of association presidents and officers during the Presidents’ Initiative symposium on health and psychology education Carole Allan (UK), Ole Tunold (Norway), and Edwin Yair Oliveros Ariza (Colombia) after the Business Meeting

For example, Manuel Berdullas Temes, International Relations Coordinator at the Spanish Psychological Association, noted that government efforts to increase the psychology workforce may be at odds with psychology's own standards. Because Spain has such a great need for practicing psychologists, its government pushed for psychology education to be more narrow and specific in order to produce more practitioners at a more affordable rate. It did so by lowering the requirements for graduation and licensure (similar to government initiatives in Australia and other countries). In doing this, however, "standard" psychology education in Spain will no longer meet the standards set by the European Federation of Psychologists Associations (EFPA) for professional psychology education in Europe.

"Additional education is not always affordable and may not necessarily be the best solution," said Alexander Cheryomukhin, president of the Azerbaijan Psychologists Association, regarding the struggle between maintaining quality training and increasing the psychology workforce. Instead, Cheryomukhin proposed setting up intensive training programs for professional psychologists in order to maintain a standard quality of practice.

On the other hand, others in the panel expressed support for maintaining high quality education in spite of workforce demands and education costs. For instance, Lars Ahlin, president of the Swedish Psychological Association, remarked, "Over the whole world, it's understood that nobody wants to see a medical doctor who is not qualified or under-trained," said Ahlin. "The same should be true of [psychologists] when it comes to maintaining the quality of our training." The rapid growth in psychology has also led to regulatory challenges in the education of psychologists. For example, Mexico is struggling to accommodate a surge in students who will soon be joining the workforce. According to the current statistics in Mexico, there are over 700 psychology programs and 115,000 psychology students, soon to join the more than 150,000 psychologists already working in the field. This growth in the number of programs and students has taxed efforts to monitor the quality of education, according to Joaquin Caso Niebla, president of the Mexican Psychological Society, and the discipline is working to develop and implement comprehensive systems of quality assurance for educational programs, certification procedures for graduates and life-long continuing education. He described an ongoing effort to establish a national certification and recertification process to ensure that psychologists maintain a high standard of practice and undergo additional training throughout their careers. This is especially important in Mexico, where licenses given to psychologists are permanent. Vito Tummino, president of the Italian Federation of Scientific Societies of Psychology, added that in Italy, quality assurance efforts are challenged by the rapid growth of private education organizations that operate outside of the regular university system.

Other activities

While in Orlando, the presidents and officers were also invited to participate in a session "Psychology Without Borders," co-sponsored by the APA Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP) and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS). The session included three roundtable discussions on international teaching, research and service, as well as the myriad issues faced by psychologists who specialize in these domains. Some of the Initiative representatives attended this event and shared their own areas of expertise. Presidents' Initiative participants also had the opportunity to attend APA's Evening at Epcot and the APA President's Reception at the Orlando Museum of Art. To view photos from the 2012 Presidents' Initiative, see the Flickr album.

This is the second time that presidents of national psychology associations have been invited to the APA convention. The first time was during the 2007 convention in San Francisco and included representatives from 18 psychological associations and two regional societies. For more information on the 2007 Presidents' Initiative, please visit Presidents from Around the World Gather to Discuss Perspectives on Psychology.

(From left) Wilson López López (Colombia); Merry Bullock (APA Office of International Affairs); and Claudia María Sanín Velásquez (Colombia) (From left): Joaquín Caso Niebla (Mexico); Alexander Cheryomukhin (Azerbaijan); Dana Townsend (APA Office of International Affairs); Samuel Antunes (Portugal); Leyla Akoury-Dirani (Lebanon); Eirini Adamopoulou, (Presidents’ Initiative Hospitality Committee); and Violeta Fajardo Vargas (Mexico) at the Orlando Museum of Art

2012 Presidents' Initiative attendees

Australian Psychological Society
Simon Crowe, president
Lyn Littlefield, executive director

Azerbaijan Psychologists Association
Alexander Cheryomukhin, president

Belgian Association for Psychological Sciences
Gina Rossi, international affairs representative

Bermuda Psychological Association
Emelita A. J. Outerbridge, member at large

British Psychological Society
Peter Banister, president
Carole Allan, vice president

Chinese Psychological Society
Jianxin Zhang, international relations officer

Colombian College of Psychologists
Claudia María Sanín Velásquez, president
Wilson López López, international relations advisor

Colombian Society of Psychology
Edwin Yair Oliveros Ariza, president

Iranian Psychological Association
Reza Zamani, past president

Italian Federation of Scientific Societies of Psychology
Vito Tummino, president

Japanese Psychological Association
Takao Sato, president

Lebanese Psychological Association
Leyla Akoury-Dirani, president
Brigitte Khoury, secretary and founding president

Malaysian Psychological Association
Rahmattullah Khan, president

Mexican Psychological Society
Joaquín Caso Niebla, president
Violeta Fajardo Vargas, CEO

Norwegian Psychological Association
Tor Levin Hofgaard, president
Ole Tunold, secretary general

National Organization of Portuguese Psychologists
Telmo Mourinho Baptista, president
Samuel Antunes, vice president

Spanish Psychological Association
Fernando Chacón Fuertes, vice president
Manuel Berdullas Temes, international relations coordinator

Swedish Psychological Association
Lars Ahlin, president

Turkish Psychological Association
Nedret Öztan, past president