Feature

The annual convention of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) has the cutting-edge workshops and networking opportunities that other psychology conventions offer. But it also offers an emphasis on African-American-focused research and practice too often ignored by so-called mainstream psychology, and a worldview steeped in African-American culture and traditions that might seem surprising at other psychology conferences, such as the pouring of libations, the honoring of elders and ancestors and other rituals rooted in African heritage.

“The emphasis on tradition is a reminder of the importance of who we are and why that’s important for our psychological well-being,” says ABPsi member Kevin Cokley, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. That focus on African-American identity is also why Cokley and others consider the association their “professional home.”

ABPsi is one of four ethnic-minority psychological associations. The three others are the Asian American Psychological Association, the Society of Indian Psychologists and the National Latina/o Psychological Association. Each group is invited to send a nonvoting delegate to the APA Council of Representatives; all of them except ABPsi send such a delegate.

What the organizations have in common are efforts to recruit and keep ethnic-minority students in psychology’s pipeline, professional development activities and intimate networking opportunities. “Each of the associations has a different history, but in general they began in order for people to have a place to focus on the unique research, training and treatment issues related to ethnic-minority psychology,” says APA President Melba J.T. Vasquez, PhD. “When these organizations were established, APA wasn’t seen as a place that provided that. But even when APA started to become more open and inclusive, these associations have continued because they offer a unique place to address those issues.”

You don’t have to be a particular ethnicity to join any of these groups. “Ethnic-minority psychological associations tend to be welcoming of allies — people who share an interest in ethnic-minority psychology,” Vasquez says.

But not enough psychologists and students know about the ethnic-minority psychological associations, says Cokley. “There needs to be more of an effort made,” he says. “The ethnic-minority associations need to communicate to the world what we do, and APA and others need to try to get to know us and our work.”

To help achieve that goal, here’s a rundown of the history and major activities of each group:

The Asian American Psychological Association

Before AAPA was created in 1972, co-founders Stanley Sue, PhD, and his brother Derald Sue, PhD, and other Asian-American psychologists would try to find each other by scanning faces at APA’s convention and similar venues.

“There was no organization for those of us who wanted to do research or practice with Asian-American groups,” says Stanley Sue, who directs the Center for Excellence in Diversity at Palo Alto University.

To change that, he asked two of his graduate students to find every Asian-sounding name in APA’s membership directory. They sent out invitations and came up with a small group of people that became AAPA.

Today, the association has approximately 600 members, who are psychologists, psychology students, master’s-level practitioners and others interested in Asian-American research and practice. The organization has a dual mission: to advocate for Asian-Americans’ mental health and to “create a space” for those committed to Asian-American issues, says Alvin N. Alvarez, PhD, AAPA’s delegate to APA’s Council of Representatives and a counseling psychology professor at San Francisco State University. In recognition of the community’s diversity, AAPA now has several divisions that address the special interests of women, students, South Asian-Americans and Filipino-Americans.

One highlight of AAPA’s activities is its annual convention, typically held the day before APA’s own. Focused on Asian-American mental health, the event features more than two dozen breakout sessions, poster presentations and a banquet. The association launched an Asian American Journal of Psychology, published by APA, in 2009.

One of the association’s newest initiatives is the Okura Mental Health Leadership Foundation Fellowship, awarded by AAPA and the American Psychological Foundation. The fellowship provides mentoring and a stipend, plus the chance to attend AAPA’s executive committee meetings and take on a leadership-related project. AAPA is also helping to launch another fellowship as part of the Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Interests (CNPAAEMI).

“It has really become a concern and a priority for us to make sure we create a leadership pipeline,” says Alvarez.

Advocacy is another priority, whether that means getting AAPA members on editorial boards, APA groups and National Institute of Mental Health review groups or fighting the English-only movement in California. A current battle is to convince the National Research Council to recognize that while Asian-Americans are overrepresented in higher education as a whole, they’re underrepresented in psychology and thus should be included in diversity initiatives.

Association of Black Psychologists

ABPsi was established in 1968 in response to a variety of factors, says Thomas A. Parham, an ABPsi past president and interim vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of California at Irvine. In addition to APA’s insensitivity to African-American psychologists’ needs, he says, those factors included APA’s refusal to address the underrepresentation of African-American students in psychology graduate programs and biases in theory, testing and assessment in schools and clinical and counseling therapeutic work — all of which had a negative impact on the lives of African-Americans generally.

“This wasn’t just a group of men and women who were frustrated with APA and decided to take their ball and find another playground,” says Parham. “It was really about a cultural war — a war of ideology, a war of values, a war of relevance and a war of self-determination.” Grounded in what Parham calls a culturally nationalist rather than integrationist perspective, ABPsi works to address the needs of the African-American community and African-American psychologists. These days, the association has more than 1,000 members.

The association provides a haven that promotes psychological well-being among its members, says Parham, pointing to ABPsi’s annual conference as an example. “Coming to APA’s convention for some years, I was having to spend half my energy fighting for the legitimacy of African psychology,” he says. “It wears people down.” In contrast, he says, ABPsi’s event offers a “sense of validation and affirmation.”

ABPsi also serves its members by offering board certification in African-centered/black psychology. A traditional doctoral degree isn’t sufficient for working with African-Americans, even for African-American psychologists, says Parham, explaining that traditional psychology training is Eurocentric. Psychologists get certification training during special sessions at ABPsi’s convention.

Other member services include a journal called the Journal of Black Psychology and a newsletter, Psych Discourse. There’s also a Student Circle that nurtures the next generation of African-American psychologists. The Student Circle, which has its own board of directors, offers a support network for undergraduate and grad students and opportunities to help plan ABPsi’s convention and run the organization.

A key component of ABPsi’s work is to advance social justice, says Parham. The association’s leaders develop position papers, write op-eds and meet with the Congressional Black Caucus and other legislators on advocacy priorities, such as reducing recidivism for formerly incarcerated African-Americans.

ABPsi also continues to advocate within psychology. “Mainstream psychology has a history, especially when it comes to nonimmigrant African-Americans, of seeing healthy, efficacious behavior as pathology,” says psychologist Linda James Myers, PhD, a professor of African-American and African Studies at Ohio State University and also a past president of ABPsi and its delegate to CNPAAEMI, of which APA is a part. Western mainstream psychology diagnosed slaves who tried to escape from their captors as psychotic, she points out, while a disease called dysesthesia aethiopica supposedly produced such symptoms as not being enthusiastic about forced labor. One of ABPsi’s successes, she says, is its “very viable and strong critique of mainstream psychology in terms of its incapacity to really meet the mental health needs of people acknowledging African descent and its development of psychological knowledge relevant to, and from the cultural worldview of, nonimmigrant African-Americans.”

National Latina/o Psychological Association

NLPA isn’t the first organization for Latino psychologists: 1970 saw the creation of the Association of Psychologists por la Raza; that gave way to the National Hispanic Psychological Association, founded in 1979. After about 20 years, “that association had pretty much become dormant,” says Patricia Arredondo, EdD, a past president of NLPA and now associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

The need for an organization that Latino and Latina psychologists could connect to didn’t go away, however. In fact, says Arredondo, there was a growing sense among Latino and Latina APA members and students that they needed more than APA could offer. At APA’s 2002 convention in Chicago, professionals and students came together to re-establish the National Hispanic Psychological Association. Things took a different twist: Instead, the group founded NLPA.

While the nearly 600-member organization embodies traditional values of familismo — a sense of family connection — and personalismo — a sense of interpersonal relationships — says Arredondo, it challenges other traditions. “As with other old cultures, women are often not the visible leaders,” says Arredondo. “Having ‘Latina/Latino’ in our name has been critical in terms of consciousness-raising for our members and others who think of us through the U.S. term of ‘Hispanic.’”

The association’s purpose is to promote Latina/Latino psychology and address the issues that those of Latino heritage face in the United States, says Azara L. Santiago-Rivera, PhD, NLPA’s delegate to APA. In addition to psychologists and psychology students, the association’s membership includes social workers, school psychologists, counselors and other types of practitioners. “We welcome anyone who’s interested in Latina/Latino psychology, no matter what their background is,” says Santiago-Rivera, a counseling psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee who will join the California School of Professional Psychology this summer.

Because of the growing number of student members, the association makes mentoring a priority. NLPA’s biennial conference is one major venue for that mentorship. Student members identify topics of interest and create sessions on them for a student professional development track at the conference. That student programming is like “a miniconference within a conference,” says Santiago-Rivera. The association also provides scholarships to encourage students to attend the event. NLPA’s mentoring program isn’t aimed just at students, however. Early career psychologists and even senior-level psychologists looking for new challenges can also benefit, adds Arredondo. “The organization serves as a support network, so that when there are questions about tenure or anything else, people know there’s someone they can come to and talk to,” she says.

An active email discussion list allows members to stay in close contact between conferences. A quarterly, bilingual newsletter called El Boletín covers advocacy issues, such as immigration and equal rights for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender populations, as well as other topics related to Latina/Latino psychology. The association is also launching an APA-published Journal of Latina/Latino Psychology, which will debut later this year or next year.

“No one can deny the tremendous growth of the Latino and Latina population in the last several decades,” says Santiago-Rivera. “Advancing Latina/o psychology is more important than ever, and NLPA is taking the lead.”

The Society of Indian Psychologists

Established in the early 1970s, SIP is the smallest of the ethnic-minority psychological associations, says President Jacqueline Gray, PhD, a professor in the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine. Its members include psychologists, students and master’s-level practitioners who practice in Indian country. Together they advocate for the mental well-being of native people by increasing the knowledge and awareness of issues affecting native mental health.

SIP’s premier event is its conference, which brings about 100 to 200 participants to Utah State University each June. The weekend before the conference, SIP sponsors a retreat, a relaxed event that features informal mentoring, a sweat-lodge ceremony and a native healer. “We bring in a medicine person to help meet some of the needs of the people out there serving others all the time,” says Gray, explaining that the healer may conduct ceremonies, lead prayers or give a presentation. “It helps to replenish us.”

To maintain members’ sense of connection between conferences, SIP has an active email discussion group. And last year, the association introduced local chapters for students, faculty and staff, something that will also help SIP achieve one of its top priorities — mentoring students.

“This way, mentoring isn’t just ‘one-shot, you’re inoculated,’” says Gayle Skawennio Morse, PhD, SIP’s delegate to APA’s council and a psychology professor at Utah State. The University of North Dakota has become the first chapter and plans to bring in elders from around the country and sponsor presentations on Indian psychology and the ethics of research in native communities, among other topics.

“We are a different culture and have a different worldview,” says Morse. Students also need help with practical issues, she adds. “For me, for example, nobody in my family had ever gone to grad school and nobody had a clue how to apply for funding or any of that.”

SIP also promotes research on native mental health. Native communities are underresearched despite having the nation’s highest rates of mental and physical illness, says Morse. To help bridge that gap, SIP has recently developed an online journal called the Journal of Indigenous Research.

“The journal is different from other journals because it’s designed to also disseminate information to the native communities where the research has been done,” says Morse.

Advocacy is another priority, says Immediate Past President Pamela B. Deters, PhD, a private practitioner in Hammond, La. SIP has long advocated for an expansion of the Indians into Psychology program, a federally funded initiative that pays for scholarships and other efforts to encourage Native Americans to pursue psychology degrees. Now that the health-care reform law has authorized an expansion of the program from three sites to nine, SIP is working with government relations staff at APA to obtain appropriations for the six newly authorized programs.

The society’s next goal? To increase SIP’s membership. “There aren’t that many native psychologists, and we’re scattered over such a large area,” says Gray. “Many are working in isolation, whether they’re on a reservation or in an academic program where they’re the only native psychologist.”


Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.

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