APA’s international responsibility
BY MERRY BULLOCK, PHD • DIRECTOR OF APA’S OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
One part of APA’s vision statement addresses international aspirations:
APA shall serve as a “principal leader and global partner promoting
psychological knowledge and methods to facilitate the resolution of personal,
societal and global challenges in diverse, multicultural and international
contexts.” What are APA’s actions and challenges in achieving this aspiration?
APA is one of approximately 120 national psychology
associations around the world. Like most, APA provides a voice
for psychology, develops the discipline, and serves its members
and society. APA also has broad international activity. Around
7,000 APA members and affiliates live outside the United States
in over 90 countries. Our journals publish authors from around
the world. Our databases cover sources from 60 countries. In
addition, APA governance leaders and staff routinely represent
the association at conferences on every continent.
Beyond membership, products and networks, APA pursues
international partnerships. Its United Nations activities,
including Psychology Day and the new Psychology Caucus,
connect psychology organizations in international advocacy.
Another example is the recent “First Street Accord” in which
APA and the Canadian Psychological Association recognize
each other’s accreditation processes. Equally important is APA’s
partnering with psychology associations around the world to
facilitate dialogue and collaboration.
A challenge to APA in being a global partner is balancing
our historical and national role as an organization that
publishes a major portion of mainstream research and “sets
the rules” — in publication style, clinical guidelines, program
structure, psychology education, and the like — with a
recognition that things are not “the same” globally. One
might expect that psychology’s global growth would enable
psychologists from anywhere to be effective everywhere.
However, the overwhelming importance of context, culture,
history and identity in both the organization and content of
psychology has become increasingly salient.
Variability around the world means that assumptions
about who psychologists are, their roles and how they work
are not universal. In addition, strong global variation in the
ways psychologists frame and explain behavior challenges
the generalizability of what has, until recently, been seen as a
mainstream and universal discipline. As APA and its members
reach out internationally, it is important to understand that we are
all on the frontier in mapping which models, constructs, theories
and applications fit in specific cultural and historical contexts.
Finding a balance between known and novel, defining the
issues, and adopting a “learning” perspective are crucial to
global psychology. It requires understanding how psychologists
in other countries — with different health, education and
mental health systems — have addressed the science, practice,
and training of psychology. It also requires encouraging
APA members to have deeper knowledge of the literatures,
perspectives and history of psychology outside the United
States. APA is taking one step in this direction with its new
international journal to launch in 2012.
APA’s international responsibility does not end with
knowledge alone. We must foster an attitude and set of values
congruent with being a global citizen. As psychology in this
country extends itself to address those issues that will improve
the lives of the majority of the world’s citizens — the challenges
of poverty, trauma, war, displacement, education and the
environment — it must do so with full understanding that
it cannot be “business as usual.” Addressing these challenges
requires us to gain expertise about issues that are not now part
of the typical psychology curriculum or research portfolio. They
also require us to have a learning attitude, including reflection,
humility, appreciation of privilege, and appreciation of cultural
contexts and explanatory frameworks that stretch boundaries.
This is also APA’s international responsibility — to promote
and facilitate an internationalized expertise, a learning attitude,
and commitment to a science and application that addresses the
grand challenges of a global society. n
This month, APA CEO Dr. Norman B. Anderson asked Dr. Merry
Bullock to write a column on APA's international responsibilities.