My Vision for Psychology at this Critical Time
It is clear we’re in trouble in our country, both psychologically and socially. Among our problems are 1) the upheaval caused by the pandemic; 2) the ongoing and disturbing menace of racism and inequality; 3) the despair caused by economic and class divisions in our society; 4) political polarization; and, resultantly, 5) the inability of the political process to adequately address pressing issues such as climate change, the state of our educational system, the influence of technology on society, the problem of sustainability and housing, and the viability of our present way of life.
These issues cry out to our profession to take urgent, concerted action. My vision for psychology therefore is to unify around three basic goals: 1) the promotion of healing dialogues to organizations both within and outside of our profession; 2) the call for a “Psychologist General” of the U.S. who would work in coordination with federal agencies and the American Psychological Association (APA) Advocacy office to focus full time on explicitly psychosocial approaches to mental healthcare; and finally, 3) advocacy for an integrative, “whole person” approach to our research, theory, and practice in psychology.
My idea for implementing these goals is as follows:
A) Bolster the dialogue formats that I have found so fruitful in my work as a moderator for the conflict mediation group Braver Angels, to bridge our social and professional divides.
B) Draw from my new book “The Depolarizing of America: A Guidebook for Social Healing” to make similar formats more widely available.
C) Encourage fellow psychologists who are interested in promoting such supportive, structured dialogues to join me in this effort.
D) Use the dialogue formats to “build bridges” among traditionally rivaling factions within APA—such as scientists and practitioners, quantitative and qualitative researchers, multicultural activists and supporters of the status quo and so on. Such forums would promote greater capacities to learn about and understand one another—increasing the likelihood of achieving common ground.
E) Convene a summit for all 56 APA Division presidents to report on how their Division specialty can address today’s crises in public mental health. I will then ask that this data be collated and communicated to the individuals and communities to which they’re addressed.
F) Initiate a task force aimed at investigating the merit of a “Psychologist General” of the United States who would elevate our influence in accord with APA’s Strategic Plan in government and society. This task force would advocate for coordination of the Psychologist General with the APA Advocacy office as well as other relevant agencies in the communication of its advisories. Further, I would advocate that the Psychologist General be a distinguished expert in integrative, psychosocial approaches to mental healthcare. I have written about this proposal in a recent article in Scientific American and have developed a New Business Item (NBI) at APA Council echoing a similar stance.
G) Advocate for an integrative, “whole person” approach to mental healthcare across diverse domains of our discipline. I would reinforce this advocacy through the aforementioned dialogue groups as well as in the many medical and nonmedical settings within which our profession is already engaged. The research on the contextual-relational elements of effective psychotherapy, for example, would be one area that I would highlight.
In sum, our society desperately needs a psychological perspective to deepen our understanding of the most pressing social issues of our time. Psychology needs a “seat at the table” in the national discourse to help guide healthy ways to meet the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, navigate solutions to racial injustice and healthcare disparities, and move forward with resilience to build a better nation. I believe concrete proposals such as the above will position us to pursue just such an imperative new direction.
Note: Kirk Schneider is a 2020 Candidate for President of the APA and member of the Council of Representatives of the APA.