Campaign Background & History

APA began the Public Education Campaign in 1996 at the behest of the Council of Representatives, which directed APA to develop a plan for a public education campaign that would educate the public about the value of psychological services and elevate psychology’s visibility.

The Public Education Campaign started after APA conducted a series of focus groups and a nationwide poll to find out how the public perceived psychology as well as how much they understood about mental health issues. Findings revealed that there was a significant gap between what the public understood about psychology and the realities and practice of psychological services. Additionally, APA members were voicing their concern that “the public does not understand what we do.” In response to the public and its members, APA developed Talk to Someone Who Can Help, a public education campaign designed to increase the public’s knowledge of the profession and the value of psychological services.

Although the campaign has, from the start, used advertising to a limited extent, it never was intended to be an advertising campaign, and it has not been funded at a level that would make for a successful advertising campaign. Rather, the public education campaign is a carefully orchestrated set of grassroots activities developed with input from both the public and psychologists. It is designed to systematically disseminate a flight of messages about psychology and psychological services for specifically selected target audiences. The campaign has used strategic partnerships with the media to expand its reach. The partnership with MTV, for example, enabled APA to reach teens and young adults in language and venues that would make them more open to APA’s message. Additionally, it was because of APA’s strong partnership with MTV that APA was invited to the White House to participate in an anti-stigma campaign led by then-Vice Presidential spouse Tipper Gore.

Through the years, the Public Education Campaign evolved to respond to teen violence (the Warning Signs campaign developed with MTV), address the public’s desire to build resilience (Aftermath: The Road to Resilience, developed with Discovery Health), to deal with the war in Iraq (Resilience in a Time of War materials developed with Sesame Workshop and MTV), and to deal with everyday stressors for children (Resilience for Kids & Teens, developed with MTV and Time Magazine for Kids), and to educate the public about the critical link between psychological health and physical health (Mind/Body Health: For a Healthy Mind & Body, Talk to a Psychologist) by focusing primarily on: stress, obesity, and heart disease, all areas which are based on a solid research foundation demonstrating the critical connections between health and behavior and the mind-body connection.

Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards

A component of APA’s Public Education Campaign, the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards recognize organizations for their efforts to foster employee health and well-being while enhancing organizational performance. The initial state-level awards were established in 1999 followed by APA’s Best Practices Honors in 2003 and the APA Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2006. Spanning North America, PHWA is designed to showcase the very best from among the winners recognized by APA’s affiliated state, provincial and territorial psychological associations (SPTAs). Since the inception of PHWA, more than 450 organizations have been recognized and 56 State, Provincial and Territorial Psychological Associations have implemented a PHWA program. The APA’s PHWAs and Best Practices Honors are presented annually at the PHWA ceremony held during APA’s State Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

Public Education Campaign Enters a New Decade

In 2010, the American Psychological Association (APA) Council of Representatives reauthorized funding for the Public Education Campaign (PEC) and voted to instruct the CEO and Executive Management Group of APA to determine the best way to implement and measure the outcomes of the PEC, with objectives to be consistent with APA’s Strategic Plan.

In response to Council’s motion, APA CEO and Executive Vice President Norman B. Anderson, PhD, established a multi-directorate campaign steering committee and appointed Rhea K. Farberman, executive director for public and member communications, chair. Members of this committee include Dr. Anderson; L. Michael Honaker, PhD, APA Deputy CEO; Cynthia D. Belar, PhD, executive director for education; Steven J. Breckler, PhD, executive director for science; Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD, executive director for public interest; and Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, executive director for professional practice.

The PEC Steering Committee evaluated and set the current overarching direction for the campaign that is in line with the association’s strategic plan to expand psychology’s role in advancing health and increase recognition of psychology as a science.

APA continues to implement the Mind/Body Health Campaign and the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards. The communications strategy for the Mind/Body Health Campaign is broader, educating the public about the science base of psychology and the role of psychology and behavior in health, wellness, and individual and organizational effectiveness. This campaign continues to promote psychologists as health practitioners and educate the public about how psychology informs health care practice and delivery.

In 2014, APA launched a new campaign initiative, Psychology: Science in Action, to demonstrate the breadth and depth of psychology and the variety of settings in which psychologists work. Multimedia resources, including videos, posters, fact sheets and stories about psychologists, showcase the impact psychology has across all aspects of daily living, from business and education to health, environment and public service.