Psychologists can make a difference in their entire community.

As the education chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Kentucky, Shambra Mulder, PhD, has spent the last five years going to her local school board’s meetings and sharing data and ideas for closing what she calls the “equity gap.” Now she hopes she’ll soon be on the other side of the table.

“I’ve been an advocate as an outside person,” says Mulder, a former school psychologist who launched a Lexington private practice called Abundant Living to provide psychological and coaching services to children and adolescents in 2016. “If I were on the school board, I might be heard a little more.”

Running for a seat on the Fayette County School Board takes a lot of time and money, says Mulder, who spends her spare time fundraising, distributing yard signs and giving her stump speech. For an early career practitioner, that’s time away from building her practice, she admits. But it’s important for psychologists to get involved in policy, she says, citing psychologists’ ability to analyze data, solve problems and communicate in contentious situations.

If you’re thinking of running for office — at whatever level — Mulder and Bobbie Celeste, PhD, a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist and seasoned campaign pro, share these tips:

  • Find your passion. Think about where you can have the most impact and where you have the most knowledge and skills to offer, says Mulder. “I have no interest in anything outside my professional wheelhouse,” she says. “I don’t want to be on the city council talking about parks and regulations and sewer systems.”
  • Build relationships. “Reach out to a political figure who’s interested in the things you’re interested in,” suggests Celeste. “If you’re concerned about mental health services in your county, ask a local county commissioner to come to a meeting of your psychological association or to your clinic.” Also sit in on meetings of the office you’re hoping to occupy and get to know potential future colleagues.
  • Volunteer on a campaign. Find out what’s entailed in a run by helping someone else, says Celeste, urging psychologists to email or call campaign headquarters and offer to help. Possible roles include writing issue papers, analyzing district demographics and strategizing as well as making calls and knocking on doors. The experience and training you receive — “They’ll train you exactly what to say and how to answer questions,” says Celeste — will serve you well if you decide to run for office yourself.
  • Start small. Don’t aim too high at first, says Celeste. If you’re interested in politics, start by running for local office — perhaps a neighborhood advisory board, city council, township board of trustees or school board.
  • Seek resources. You don’t have to figure things out on your own: Organizations on both sides of the aisle provide training and other resources to would-be candidates. Mulder, for instance, took advantage of intensive training provided by Emerge America, a group that prepares Democratic women to run for office. Others include the Leadership Institute, National Women’s Political Caucus and Emily’s List.

This column is geared toward early career psychologists working in practice settings. "Running start ... to a great career" features topics typically not covered in graduate school and includes tips and advice from psychologists.

Published Nov. 1, 2018