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Psychology in the Public Interest

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by Marilyn Charles, PhD, ABPP

Division 39 president Marilyn Charles, Ph.D., ABPPScientists learn a great deal that is of potential value to others but often find it difficult to communicate such knowledge to those who might benefit from it. Although psychoanalysts recognize the internal, unconscious forces at work in both individuals and groups that motivate actions we would not consciously choose, we have not been very effective in offering that information in accessible language. Psychoanalysis offers a useful lens through which to recognize how compellingly the safety and well-being of each of us depends on the safety and well-being of all, and to consider how we might better address the issues that divide us so that we might build towards peace through mutual understanding rather than further fomenting hostility and aggression. 

In this time of great chaos and social unrest, the American Psychological Association (APA) affirmed APA goals of public service and well-being by offering their first Psychology in the Public Interest Leadership Conference in Washington, DC. Participants welcomed the opportunity to become acquainted with and develop ideas regarding how to make use of the substantial energy and resources being expended by APA on trying to better understand the causes of distress and to better advocate for social change and social justice. 

The purpose of this event was to offer information to APA leaders that might assist them in being more effective in advocating for issues of importance to them. This was a working conference, offering an interplay of didactic information and working sessions to help members to integrate the information being offered and to apply that information to their own particular concerns regarding social issues.

Activities focused on acquainting participants with leadership and information as to resources available to support the public interest efforts of APA members and Divisions. Presentations focused on:

  1. how to most effectively communicate findings from science, 
  2. interventions that have been effective in producing social change, and
  3. making use of media, legislative bodies, and non-legislative government agencies to most effectively have an impact on policy and public understanding.

Break-out sessions were offered to allow participants to work together to discuss and integrate the information offered and to consider how we might apply that information to our own concerns. This working conference was an important step towards helping APA members to be more effective in their efforts to address social welfare and social justice issues, and to more powerfully advocate for the values we cherish and provide solutions for the issues of pressing concern.

Given the extent of the suffering here and abroad, it becomes even more important to be able to make use of whatever resources are available, at all levels, to bring the tools afforded by a psychoanalytic lens to bear on the problems of our day.

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