SPTAs help members deal with economic uncertainty

By Thomas H. DeWall, CAE
February 1, 2011



Many members of state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations (SPTAs) are facing stressful times in the current economic environment. Those of us working for SPTAs know that the income of many of our members is down or you are working harder and longer for the same income. Throughout this recession the SPTAs continue to create value for psychologists and engage in numerous initiatives to benefit our members and their clients.

One of our most important initiatives is advocacy for more enlightened public policy. These changes don’t always pay off financially in the short run, but they enhance the field of psychology, benefit psychologists’ clients, and expand opportunities for psychologists in the long run.

In recent years SPTAs have fought for legislation to:

  • Limit the power of managed care to curtail access to psychological services, e.g., by disclosure of “medical necessity” criteria, restricting authorizations, requiring direct payment to out-of-network psychologists or increasing the size of panels;
  • Authorize psychologists with appropriate training to prescribe psychotropic medication;
  • Implement the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the state level;
  • Change the sequence of training, enabling psychologists to become licensed after receiving a doctorate;
  • Strengthen public mental health and drug/alcohol outpatient systems;
  • Establish mental health courts to divert offenders away from prison and into treatment;
  • Create loan forgiveness programs for early career psychologists working in underserved areas;
  • Establish grants and scholarships for minorities entering the field of psychology and to promote cultural competence.

These policy initiatives are all part of an important strategy: establishing building blocks, one block at a time, to provide legal recognition for psychologists to practice to the full extent of their scope of practice in any appropriate venue. In this vein, we also work with the APA Practice Organization on the critical issues of Medicare reform and implementing or extending mental health parity.

A complementary initiative is each SPTA’s Public Education Campaign (PEC), which informs potential consumers of the contributions that psychologists can make. Through the PEC we coordinate our public education efforts with those of APA. We have gone to great lengths in the campaign to “make psychology a household word.”

We sponsor speakers bureaus, present free “mind-body health” workshops for the public, and train psychologists to be spokespersons for interviews with the media. Many SPTAs publish electronic updates for our members or in Pennsylvania, an e-newsletter for the public, “Psycholog-ical News You Can Use,” that focuses on issues of general concern to a lay audience. By educating the public about psychology we complement our advocacy efforts in strengthening the whole field of psychology.

An essential service that we provide our members is professional development. Our members receive the latest information on a wide range of issues at our CE workshops throughout the year as well as at our annual conventions. Members typically receive significant discounts on those activities. Our listservs provide forums for members to provide consultation to each other in solving a host of practical issues that arise.

Each SPTA has a website to provide professional information for our members. We utilize Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other new media. Of course, we provide a great deal of useful information the old-fashioned way, via newsletters and journals.

Probably our most valuable form of professional development is the ethics education that we provide. I refer to a whole network of activities, including advice via articles in our journals and on our websites; online, home-study and live continuing education programs. Some of us maintain free or low-cost legal consultation plans.

In addition to these resources, much of our professional development on ethics is supplied in the form of consultation with our staff members and volunteer leaders with expertise in certain specialties and types of practice. Together with the members of SPTA Ethics Committees they field thousands of inquiries from our members each year on all aspects of ethics, regulatory, legislative, insurance and other practice issues. These activities often help our members avoid problems with licensing boards.

In order to provide advocacy, public education, professional development and other services on behalf of our members, we engage in activities to keep our associations strong and solvent. We expend efforts on member recruitment and retention activities, including emphases on early career psychologists, graduate students and diversity within our memberships. We provide direct benefits that help the bottom line, including career centers on our websites, merchant credit card programs, various types of insurance and many other benefits.

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Thomas H. DeWall is a certified association executive and has been executive director of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA) for 24 years. He is a past chair of the Council of Executives of State and Provincial Psychological Associations and received the Award for Outstanding Achievement of a staff member of a state psychological association in 1993. Prior to his work with PPA, he was executive director of Common Cause/Pennsylvania. He has a BA from Carleton College and an MA from Howard University.

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