Practice gets major focus at APA convention

By James Bradshaw Senior Editor
September 1, 2008



Boston, MA – About 14,000 attended the 2008 APA Convention at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, down slightly from the anticipated 15,000 turnout.

For practicing psychologists the program included CE courses and information sessions along with commitments from the incoming APA President James H. Bray, Ph.D., and the newly ensconced executive director of the Practice Directorate, Katherine C. Nordal, Ph.D., to attack head-on the major problems facing practitioners.

Bray, as president-elect has already formed a 13-member task force to study the Future of Practice, which will hold a summit May 14-17 in San Antonio, Texas.

“It’s not up to the task force alone to plan the future,” Bray told a luncheon gathering at the Sheraton Boston Hotel, outlining plans for the summit of 150 delegates, which will include representatives from practice divisions, state associations and other practitioner organizations.

Carol Goodheart, Ed.D., task force co-chair, said the effort will focus on future practice openings and opportunities and setting priorities for practice-oriented goals.

Bray said the task force has had the full support of the Council of Representatives, incumbent president Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., and the Practice Directorate, particularly Nordal and Deputy Director Randy Phelps, Ph.D.

Bray hoped to have policy recommendations ready for adoption during his term as president next year but now believes the preparations will carry over into 2010.

“We will make sure that we deal not only with private practice but public practice,” he said, adding that much work is needed to ensure that psychology and mental health receive proper roles in the coming national health reform.

In another session dealing with the agenda for the task force Nordal said problems practitioners face include the 47 million uninsured or underinsured Americans with no access to treatment, managed care denials of coverage because of pre-existing conditions, the need for better outcome measures to demonstrate accountability, the 35 percent incidence of PTSD or TBI among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and the challenges of technology, including electronic record-keeping, claims processing and remote delivery of services.

She said the directorate also is working to have psychologists included in the Medicare definition of “physicians” and is studying means to deal with the huge college loan debt of graduate students. Models such as the National Health Service Corps program that pays up to $25,000 on education debt need expanding, Nordal said.

Practice also was the focus when Lisa R. Grossman, J.D., Ph.D., and Donald McAleer, Psy.D., received the 2008 Heiser Awards for outstanding contributions to practicing psychology. The awards are named for the late Karl F. Heiser, Ph.D., who authored the first U.S. psychology licensure law, which was adopted by Connecticut in 1945. He received special recognition at the 1977 APA convention after Missouri became the 50th state to adopt licensing.

In a governance session, the Council of Representatives adopted a new mission statement: “The Mission of the APA is to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.”

CEO Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D., said work is continuing on a strategic plan that is slated for presentation to Council in February.

In a narrow vote, 81 to 67, the council sided with the board of directors not to increase the “Monetary Prize” for those who receive APA awards. The motion called for a $35,000 increase in the 2009 budget.

One of two potentially controversial measures – acceptance of a report from a task force on mental health and abortion – was handled with little fanfare. Rachel MacNair, Ph.D., was allowed to speak in opposition to the report, which she said downplays the psychological injury that guilt associated with abortion can cause, but the report was accepted without modification in an overwhelming show of hands.

The second issue, the continuing movement that seeks a ban on psychologists working in Guantanamo or similar detention centers, did not come up for official consideration but is the object of a petition drive seeking a membership vote by mail to mandate Council to adopt the ban.

The Council’s current position, twice approved at conventions, lets psychologists to work in such facilities but forbids them to participate or give advice on torture tactics that violate the Geneva conventions. APA condemns such activities but contends psychologists accused of wrongdoing are not members of APA subject to its ethics rules.

There was a small demonstration in front of the convention center in protest of the APA position and in support of Steven J. Reisner, Ph.D., who is running for APA president on the single-issue platform of seeking to have the Council adopt a total ban. “If it weren’t for this issue I would not be running.” Reisner said.

Both abortion and the torture issue were again raised to no avail in a town hall meeting with top APA officers along with complaints that the APA expends too much effort promoting politically correct issues, such as the support of gay marriages.

While those matters sparked emotional discussions, the majority of members were more disturbed by immediate concerns such as the sprawling nature of the convention, which spread registrants among 14 hotels along shuttle bus routes that made it impossible to travel between some meetings within the allotted time.

Another complaint was that the convention program was so expansive that many meetings were poorly attended, including some where panel members outnumbered listeners.

Anderson and Kazdin said the entire convention format is under study and staff members were assigned to make head counts both as sessions opened and again at a halfway point to determine if audience members were leaving early.

The Council adopted a preliminary budget estimating a 2008 operating budget deficit of $937,500 and a 2009 surplus of $721,100, including an annual infusion of $3.5 million from building rental revenues.

Anderson said the association is on sound footing financially and has 148,000 members, including associates and student and teacher affiliates. About 90,000 are full Ph.D. members, he said.

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