In this issue

President's message

The outgoing president of the Society for Military Psychology calls for better communication with the public about the vital work military psychologists do.

By Kathryn T. Lindsey, PhD

As I begin to wind down my term as the president of the Society for Military Psychology, please allow me to thank each of you for all your support, encouragement, sage advice, and faith in me. You are a most impressive group of professionals. Although my tenure was short, it was a genuine pleasure to serve with each of you.

I think that most of you would agree that one of the most difficult challenges we face as professionals committed to the future of military psychology, is communicating what we do so that others understand our distinct skill sets as well as the depth and breadth of our mission. Div. 19 is perhaps one of the most diverse divisions within APA. Our members include clinicians, researchers, academics, and government employees. I would also venture to say that most of our members serve in their area of expertise with a unique passion. On a daily basis, I have witnessed dedication and determination to further understand and improve the lives of those who serve, and those who support them—whether we are talking about active duty, family members, retirees, contractors, government employees, policymakers, consultants, or those in the private sector. I would say without hesitation that what we do is often difficult to translate to others. At times, there are obstacles to overcome including national security considerations (e.g., classified missions) and cultural nuances within each of the services. For these reasons, we must be proactive in communicating the elements of military psychology to the general public. For example, some current challenges include our highly mobile population—making treatment difficult (i.e., for both clinicians and patients), making it difficult to perform research in highly applied or operational environments, and, at times, limiting resources related to overseas assignments. In fact, we may be experiencing some of the same issues facing the greater profession of psychology as highlighted by the current APA president, Nadine Kaslow, PhD, who recently observed, “Psychology does fantastic science, but we need to get that out more effectively to the public.”

I would contend that the onus is on each of us to be vigilant and consistent in explaining what we do to the public and to other psychologists who may not have the same experience or exposure working within military populations. For example, there are numerous difficulties related to some of the work we do in national security settings. Our operational psychologists routinely have a hard time discussing what they do, as there are significant limitations to what they can relate. Even some of us on active duty are not privy to information related to the specifics of their jobs.

Cultural differences can also affect the dissemination of information about what we do. Even among active duty personnel and civilians working among military populations, each of the services has a unique language, customs, and mission demands. We find ourselves in the challenging position of trying to understand the contextual and service-specific effects on research outcomes when communicating them to the wider profession and applying them in our own work.

Most civilian psychologists work with a geographically stable patient population, whereas military populations are highly mobile. Military clinicians must determine how best to treat particular patients with a short-term model of treatment or make a decision to transfer their care because they face an impending deployment or an upcoming change of duty station. Researchers attempt to determine how best to capture follow-up data when their research participants transfer to another assignment. The profound mobility of a military population is a challenge that may not be well appreciated outside the military environment.

We routinely engage our military psychology researchers for guidance in many areas. We look to them to inform our practice through evidence-based research, to positively affect our awareness of policy issues, to publish empirical research that informs about our unique population, and to clarify those findings to the general public. At times, even military psychology researchers within a particular service may struggle with conclusions regarding generalizability of their findings because of the unique missions, philosophies, approaches, and language among distinct military units.

Another aspect of military psychology is the great work done with limited resources. It may directly impact how we treat clinically as well as how we conduct empirical research studies among military populations. These difficulties include, but are not limited to, reduced availability of personnel, significant funding shortfalls, no readily available consultative resources, lack of peer support, austere facilities in which to conduct clinical work and research, and restrictions based on classified information and procedures. In my experience, there is never a shortage of members within Div. 19 who are willing to offer guidance and support in these challenging situations. We have many experts in virtually every specialty area, and I would encourage you all to reach out and seek the wisdom of “those who have been there.” They are some of our most valuable resources. Please join me in continuing to carefully explain and communicate what we do to the greater public to enhance the overall understanding of military psychology as a science.

In closing, I would like to issue a call to action to every member of the division—a challenge to keep doing what you are already doing so well. I urge you to continue to communicate and educate others about the great work psychologists are doing within our community of scholars and practitioners in military psychology.