At an APA State Leadership Conference (SLC) in the late 1990s, University of Virginia clinical psychologist Peter Sheras, PhD, chatted with attendee Dan Abrahamson,
PhD, at the back of a meeting room filled with nearly 400 state,
provincial and territorial psychological association (SPTA)
representatives. Both were struck by one thing: All but a handful
of the attendees were white.
“I looked out at the people in the room who were
representing psychology and said to Dan, ‘You know, this is not
a very diverse group, and that’s not OK,’” recalls Sheras, who at
the time was chair of APA’s Committee of State Leaders.
Many other APA leaders were having this same conversation,
and had been for some time. By 2000, those discussions led
to the APA Committee of State Leaders Diversity Initiative, to
develop diversity within state-level governance by supporting
the attendance of ethnic-minority members of SPTAs at the
SLC, says Abrahamson, now assistant executive director for state
advocacy in APA’s Practice Organization. The effort is funded by
APA’s Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice
and the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs.
“The thought was that if we could find a way to promote
and encourage ethnic-minority psychologists [to come to SLC
and see advocacy in a new light], they might go back to their
state associations and get more involved,” Abrahamson says.
That has paid off, says Susan Lazaroff, APA’s director of state
advocacy. The program has now funded more than 200 “diversity
delegates” at SLC, about 30 percent of whom have moved into
elected leadership positions within their state association or
APA divisions, boards and committees. Seventeen delegates have
become president or president-elect of their SPTAs.
“That has been a very tangible outcome of the diversity
initiative,” Abrahamson says.
Another indicator of the program’s success has been the
number of SPTAs that now fund their own diversity delegates,
he adds. APA typically funds approximately 15 diversity
delegates each year, and state associations now fund another 10
to 12 delegates.
“This number has sustained itself over the years, even though
many SPTAs are struggling financially,” Abrahamson says.
Continued need for training
The program’s success has also led to an expansion of the events
that diversity delegates participate in during each year’s SLC.
In 2009, the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs and APA’s Div.
31 (State, Provincial and Territorial Psychological Association
Affairs), under the leadership of then-President Jennifer
Kelly, PhD, developed the Diversity Leadership Development
Workshop, a daylong training forum offered every other year
the day before the SLC begins.
Several minority leaders in the field come to the workshop
to teach leadership skills, such as confidence building and
public speaking, and to mentor participants, says Kelly, a clinical
psychologist and member of APA’s Board of Directors.
“There are so many issues facing our society that psychology
can have an impact on, and we need leaders to make this
change,” says Kelly. “One of my goals is for all the SPTAs to
have an ethnic-minority president, and the diversity initiative is
grooming leaders to do just that.”
An eye toward the future
As more minority psychologists become governance leaders,
Sheras says he’s looking forward to seeing the “natural
expansion” of multiculturalism throughout the field to reflect
more of what America truly looks like.
“The diversity initiative helps to strengthen our perspective
and our ability to provide services to folks,” he says.
The participation of more minorities in governance has
also shed light on parts of the field that may still be lagging
in addressing diversity, such as undergraduate, graduate and
continuing-education curricula developed with diversity
training in mind, says Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, executive
director for professional practice at APA and the APA Practice
“As a psychologist who spent all of my professional clinical
career in Mississippi — a state with a large minority population
and with very few psychologists of color — I am acutely aware
of the need to not only have a pipeline to graduate school
for psychologists of color, but also of the need to provide
opportunities for professional growth and leadership once
graduate school is completed and careers started,” Nordal says.
“The diversity initiative is truly helping to further develop these
outstanding psychologists, many of whom have earned their
way to the highest level of state association leadership and into
APA governance.” n
Amy Novotney is a writer in Chicago.
An APA program is successfully attracting more ethnic-minority
psychologists to governance roles at the state and national levels.
BY AMY NOVOTNEY