Perspectives on the future of professional psychology

Panelists assessed the gaps that exist between market realities and the current state of professional psychology

By Communications staff

March 29, 2012—The word cloud was shaped like a Brontosaurus, but workshop chair David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, APA assistant executive director for marketing and business development, made it clear that he doesn’t think psychologists are dinosaurs; it is being slow to adapt to market realities that poses a threat to the viability of the profession.

Four panelists representing various membership segments and a range of populations from graduate students to mid-career psychologists were asked to provide 25 words each to describe the current state of the profession for the 2012 State Leadership Conference (SLC) workshop, “Closing the gaps: Key issues for the future of professional psychology.”

The words, a mixture of positive and negative expressions, were used to create a word cloud, which enlarges or shrinks text based on frequency of use.

Word cloud
Image Credit: / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Following last year’s “Productive Disruption” workshop during the 2011 State Leadership conference, this year’s workshop had panelists discuss key issues such as communication technology, legislative and regulatory developments and marketplace trends to assess the gaps that exist between market realities and the current state of the profession.


Ali Mattu, MA, chair of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students, says the changing nature of technology makes it difficult to stay up-to-date. Establishing a “continued collaboration between new psychologists and established ones,” says Mattu, will keep people connected.

Joshua M. Cohen, PhD, an independent practitioner and president-elect of the Maryland Psychological Association, says new technology can take psychologists outside their offices by enabling greater flexibility and mobility. The resulting changes in practice setting can be anxiety-provoking, she says.

Jennifer F. Kelly, PhD, ABPP, member of the APA Board of Directors advises approaching technology “as a business person.” Look at the bigger picture and keep in mind what technology implementation, such as electronic health records, can do for you in the long run.

And Jo Linder-Crow, PhD, executive director of the California Psychological Association, says that while some new technologies may not necessarily be a good fit for everyone, the availability of a wide variety of tools can help psychologists reach more people. The nimbleness of new technology and the engagement it enables will be powerful tools for the profession.

Legislative and regulatory developments

“Have a relationship with your legislator,” says Kelly. Psychologists are not trying to expand their scope of practice; they just want to be able to do what they’re trained to do. Mattu agreed that psychologists need to be forward-thinking and apply what they know about behavior change and treatment effectiveness to promote the value of professional psychology.

Cohen says, “We need to work with [physicians], but make sure we’re doing it as equals.” Without our input, politicians won’t do the work of assuring the profession’s inclusion in the evolving health care system, so psychologists need to create opportunities for themselves.

Marketplace trends

Linder-Crow says psychologists need to learn the language of persuasion to talk to other provider communities. Be able to say “this is what psychologists do” to demonstrate the value of the profession and differentiate psychology from other health care professions. Psychologists always need to be learning – whether it’s business skills or technology, or just knowing what you don’t know, according to Linder-Crow.

Kelly emphasizes that psychologists must be both health care professionals and business people, and that they may need to change in order to meet emerging needs. Training to work with changing demographics and an aging population can help psychologists begin meeting some of the new demands of the marketplace.

The future of professional psychology

“Undervalued,” “attacked” and “static” came up in the word cloud from panelists, and audience members added “risk-averse,” “worried” and “scared” to the mix.

But there were bright spots. Words like “opportunity,” “caring” and “resilient” were also featured prominently. According to Mattu, psychologists need to find what is working and replicate it. He says psychologists must create a path from the negatives to the positives, and they can do that by investing in the future and finding opportunities for engagement.

Psychologists are some of the best and brightest, says discussant Sandra L. Shullman, PhD, federal advocacy coordinator for APA’s division of consulting psychology and managing partner of the Executive Development Group’s Columbus office, and they need to become “agile learners.”

Shullman points out that psychologists have been trained to be critical – to find what is wrong; they need to adjust their mindset and focus on what psychologists can do. Psychologists need to recognize opportunities and think globally about the roles they can play in evolving health-care systems.