From the CEO

One part of APA's vision statement addresses international aspirations: APA shall serve as a "principal leader and global partner promoting psychological knowledge and methods to facilitate the resolution of personal, societal and global challenges in diverse, multicultural and international contexts." What are APA's actions and challenges in achieving this aspiration?

APA is one of approximately 120 national psychology associations around the world. Like most, APA provides a voice for psychology, develops the discipline, and serves its members and society. APA also has broad international activity. Around 7,000 APA members and affiliates live outside the United States in over 90 countries. Our journals publish authors from around the world. Our databases cover sources from 60 countries. In addition, APA governance leaders and staff routinely represent the association at conferences on every continent.

Beyond membership, products and networks, APA pursues international partnerships. Its United Nations activities, including Psychology Day and the new Psychology Caucus, connect psychology organizations in international advocacy. Another example is the recent "First Street Accord" in which APA and the Canadian Psychological Association recognize each other's accreditation processes. Equally important is APA's partnering with psychology associations around the world to facilitate dialogue and collaboration.

 A challenge to APA in being a global partner is balancing our historical and national role as an organization that publishes a major portion of mainstream research and "sets the rules" — in publication style, clinical guidelines, program structure, psychology education, and the like — with a recognition that things are not "the same" globally. One might expect that psychology's global growth would enable psychologists from anywhere to be effective everywhere. However, the overwhelming importance of context, culture, history and identity in both the organization and content of psychology has become increasingly salient.

Variability around the world means that assumptions about who psychologists are, their roles and how they work are not universal. In addition, strong global variation in the ways psychologists frame and explain behavior challenges the generalizability of what has, until recently, been seen as a mainstream and universal discipline. As APA and its members reach out internationally, it is important to understand that we are all on the frontier in mapping which models, constructs, theories and applications fit in specific cultural and historical contexts.

Finding a balance between known and novel, defining the issues, and adopting a "learning" perspective are crucial to global psychology. It requires understanding how psychologists in other countries — with different health, education and mental health systems — have addressed the science, practice, and training of psychology. It also requires encouraging APA members to have deeper knowledge of the literatures, perspectives and history of psychology outside the United States. APA is taking one step in this direction with its new international journal to launch in 2012.

APA's international responsibility does not end with knowledge alone. We must foster an attitude and set of values congruent with being a global citizen. As psychology in this country extends itself to address those issues that will improve the lives of the majority of the world's citizens — the challenges of poverty, trauma, war, displacement, education and the environment — it must do so with full understanding that it cannot be "business as usual." Addressing these challenges requires us to gain expertise about issues that are not now part of the typical psychology curriculum or research portfolio. They also require us to have a learning attitude, including reflection, humility, appreciation of privilege, and appreciation of cultural contexts and explanatory frameworks that stretch boundaries. This is also APA's international responsibility — to promote and facilitate an internationalized expertise, a learning attitude, and commitment to a science and application that addresses the grand challenges of a global society.


This month, APA CEO Dr. Norman B. Anderson asked Dr. Merry Bullock to write a column on APA's international responsibilities.