APA/VA Psychology Leadership Conference draws record turnout

More than 160 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) psychology leaders met in April to focus on psychology's role in integrated mental health and behavioral health care in the VA health care system

by Communications Staff

May 21, 2008 — The 11th annual APA/VA Psychology Leadership Conference boasted record attendance, with more than 160 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) psychology leaders meeting last month in Dallas-Fort Worth. The conference is co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA) Practice Directorate, Association of VA Psychologist Leaders (AVAPL) and APA Division 18 (Psychologists in Public Service).

Founded in 1998, the yearly conference showcases the highest quality of patient care to U.S. veterans while addressing the professional needs and concerns of VA psychologists. The annual conference provides an opportunity for participants to share their contributions to this goal while seeking to cultivate growing numbers of psychology leaders in the upper levels of the VA health care system.

The 2008 conference theme was "Integrated Mental Health and Behavioral Health Care: Psychology's Role." In his opening remarks, Randy Phelps, PhD, deputy executive director of the Practice Directorate, spoke of the progress psychology has made in achieving leadership roles in the VA, the largest health care system in the country. The VA is also the largest single employer of psychologists in the U.S.

James Bray, PhD, president-elect of the APA, delivered the keynote on integrated care models and the future of professional practice. A panel on integrated care convened as well, with presentations by leaders in the field.

The new APA Executive Director for Professional Practice, Katherine Nordal, PhD, who participated in the conference during her first week on the job, described the speakers as "thought leaders" who offered "cutting-edge paradigms" related to integrated care. "The private sector has a lot to learn from the VA in this area," she observed.

In her own remarks, Dr. Nordal reminisced about growing up in a military family, drawing warm applause when she revealed her talent for spit-shining boots and polishing brass. Dr. Nordal told the attendees that she appreciated their commitment to the nation's veterans and their family members and applauded VA psychologists for their "desire to bring the best behavioral health care to those who have risked their lives in serving our country."

Other conference panels included experts on post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma, as well as latest developments in the assessment of traumatic brain injury.

APA Past President Pat DeLeon, PhD, MPH, JD, focused on the future of psychology and the need for continuing to expand the boundaries of psychology's scope of practice.

On the last day of the conference, participants attended one of two half-day workshops on acceptance and commitment therapy or implementing the recovery model.