From the Executive Director

APA’s Strategic Plan, Part 2

One goal of APA’s strategic plan is to expand psychology’s role in advancing health. The science of psychology is an integral part of this goal.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

As I wrote last month, APA’s Council of Representatives just approved the first strategic plan in the Association’s 117-year history.   The plan is organized around three strategic objectives:

  1. Maximize organizational effectiveness 

  2. Expand psychology’s role in advancing health 

  3. Increase recognition of psychology as a science

Last month, I commented on how the third goal in particular is designed to advance the science agenda of psychology.  This month, I want to focus on the second goal: expanding psychology’s role in advancing health.  Scientific psychology is also an integral part of this goal.

To understand this strategic goal, it is helpful to look at the 7 focused objectives that Council included as part of the goal.  These include:

  1. Advocate for the inclusion of access to psychological services in health care reform policies 

  2. Create innovative tools to allow psychologists to enhance their knowledge of health promotion, disease prevention, and management of chronic disease 

  3. Educate other health professionals and the public about psychology’s role in health 

  4. Advocate for funding and policies that support psychology’s role in health 

  5. Promote the application of psychological knowledge in diverse health care settings 

  6. Promote psychology’s role in decreasing health disparities 

  7. Promote the application of psychological knowledge for improving overall health and wellness at the individual, organizational, and community levels

The health and future vitality of psychological science depends on deep public appreciation for the applications that ultimately derive from the science.  Of all the applications of psychological science, health and health care clearly rank at the top in terms of breadth and impact on daily living.  And of all the professional associations that serve our discipline, APA is in the best position to support the flow of knowledge from basic science and research into health care and delivery systems.

Science is infused throughout this goal.  Several of the objectives are especially relevant to our work in support of psychological science.

Consider the fourth objective (advocate for funding and policies that support psychology’s role in health).  NIH is the single largest funder of psychological science.  Increasingly, NIH has been demanding clear connections between the research it funds and translation of that work into practical health-related applications.  Psychology has a big role to play, and a big stake.  By making a stronger case for the relevance of basic psychology research to the health-related goals of NIH, we increase the support ultimately available to our science.

Or consider the sixth objective (promote psychology’s role in decreasing health disparities).  As President of APA in 2008, Alan Kazdin created a series of booklets to highlight the insights from psychological science in addressing some of society’s grand challenges.  One of the booklets focused on health disparities (PDF, 1.27 MB).  In it, we discussed how research helps to better understand how to buffer people from the effects of poverty, to reduce the strain of stress, to nurture a sense of control, and to achieve equal treatment for all.  The booklet also touched on future promising directions for research: modeling cause and effect, understanding within-group differences, eliminating bias, testing interventions, cultural competence, and the implications of all of these for social policy.  Psychological science has a lot to contribute, and this objective of the strategic plan makes it clear that APA needs to spread the word.

We develop a strategic plan to help guide and focus our efforts.  We achieve the goals by defining specific objectives, and then we go to work by designing concrete initiatives in support of those objectives.  APA is now at the point of designing the concrete initiatives.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  The initiatives represent decisions about how to spend money, allocate staff time, and direct the efforts of those who choose to become involved.

APA’s governance bodies (Boards and Committees) will be focusing their attention this spring on strategic initiatives.  The effort will work best if it is fed by a diversity of ideas and perspectives.  We welcome all thoughts and suggestions.  Talk with members of APA governance, or contact me.  Working together, we can do this.