Zeeshan Butt, PhD
Associate Professor, Medical Social Sciences, Surgery (Organ Transplantation), & Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
The Society for Health Psychology is a Division of the American Psychological Association (APA). It can be confusing sometimes: members sometimes equate what the Society does with the Association work, and vice versa. If I had a nickel for every time somebody got the two confused, I’d have a quarter pretty quickly.
Some people have a different concern – they are content with being a member of the Society, but want nothing to do with the APA proper. I understand folks who have this perspective. There have been times that the APA has enacted policies and done things in a way that I don’t personally agree with and it’s given me pause. But in this column, I’d like to make an argument for why getting involved on APA Boards and Committees may be more important now than ever before.
Every year, the APA solicits nominations from members to be involved on its Boards and Committees. These Boards and Committees (https://www.apa.org/about/governance/bdcmte/) are charged with advising the APA on a number of guild-related issues in clinical practice, science, education, and policy. Sometimes people seek endorsements from Divisions, but one can absolutely self-nominate. Historically, the elections have seemed pretty insular, but increasingly, the call for nominations make specific requests for early career and/or new-to-governance nominees. Typically, the deadline for nominations is around early March. The Boards and Committees decide who to place on the election slates in spring, and the APA Board of Directors approves the slates in June. Those who were placed on slates are contacted soon afterwards to confirm their willingness to run and serve, if elected. In late October, members of the APA Council of Representatives receive ballots with the slated individuals.
Is it hard to run for a position on an APA Board or Committee? No, it’s not hard to run. You find a group that is doing work that you want to contribute to and submit materials during the call for nominations. Some people take the extra step of making themselves known to voters, but that’s not always necessary. But like any election, just because you run doesn’t mean you get slated. And just because you get slated doesn’t mean you’ll win. In fact, I’ve run for a number of elections at the APA level and either didn’t get slated or didn’t win. I don’t bring that fact up to be discouraging, but just to help set expectations: it may take more than one try to get elected to these positions.
What happens if you get elected? That’s when the fun starts. Different Boards and Committees have different expectations for when and how their work gets done. Some have regular phone calls with expectations of work being done in between and others have more focused times when work gets done. Having a sense for this as you’re scouting the different options can be helpful. Some of you may work at positions that have an expectation that you engage in national service. Others may be in positions that make it difficult, if not nearly impossible, to commit to much volunteer time. If your time is too limited to make a longer commitment, you may want to consider other roles in the Society or the Association (more on this in a future column).
But let’s get back to the why? One thing that’s become increasingly clear to me is that we can’t think of the Society and the APA as completely distinct or even as frenemies. The Society needs the influence of the APA and the APA needs the expertise of the Society. If we want to see health psychology represented in what the Association does on a day-to-day basis, we need to have good advocates not just within the staff of the APA (and we do have those relationships) but also within its volunteer base. Even if this isn’t the right year for you to consider putting your name forward for an APA Board or Committee role, consider putting it on your 1- or 5-year plan. We absolutely want you at the table when decisions are getting made at the Association. In addition to encouraging you to consider roles within the APA, we also want to bring back into the Society our health psychology colleagues who are doing this important work already.
Are you interested in getting more involved in the APA (or the Society), but aren’t sure if you know exactly what next step to take? I’d be happy to talk with you individually to discuss your interests and options. And when I don’t have the answer for you, I likely know who does and can help move you in the right direction.
You have a lot to contribute to our field and we need your expertise. We can help figure out a way to get your voice heard.
Zeeshan Butt, PhD
President, Society for Health Psychology