President’s Message

Examining the importance of Division 20 in the field of psychology of aging.

By Bill Haley

During the past year, while I've been president-elect of the division, I've thought a lot about the challenges that we face as a division. As someone who has been in the field of aging for 30 years, I see aging research and psychological practice with older adults as having come a very long way. I teach an undergraduate course in Psychology of Aging, and it's not at all challenging to find interesting work that's done at the state of the science across areas as diverse as neuroscience, cognition, personality, social, and clinical psychology. I see an increasing number of universities turning out strong psychology PhDs who focus on aging, and the caliber of scholars who win our divisional awards is impressive. At an institutional level, APA has gone from an organization that largely ignored aging issues to one that is an important voice promoting the value of psychological science and practice in addressing the needs of an aging society. APA has also made huge strides in recognizing and advancing clinical geropsychology, with APA endorsing Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Older Adults and with ABPP accreditation in geropsychology proceeding successfully.

Despite these successes in our field, Division 20 faces a serious challenge in terms of membership. We are having a difficult time engaging junior colleagues to join APA and the division and in continuing membership. Many of our members are themselves aging and moving into non-dues-paying status. When I talk to junior colleagues, many don't see the point of being a part of APA or the division. This has caused me to reflect on what being a part of Division 20 has meant for me and what to tell colleagues about why being a member of APA and Division 20 is valuable.

I didn't study aging in graduate school. In fact, my clinical psychology program didn't offer a class or a lecture on aging, and I never saw a client over age 50 in our clinic. I happened on aging when I completed my internship at the University of Washington-Seattle and found myself without a job. I took an NIMH postdoc in geriatric psychology and made research and practice with older adults a specialty after that very positive experience.

In my early years doing aging research, I didn't know many colleagues with interests in aging. I hadn't been a part of one of the large training programs of the period, and I didn't have many senior level colleagues to provide me with mentorship and opportunities. In the early years of my career, I was fortunate to have a number of senior Division 20 colleagues step up and provide me with key support. One early example was Powell Lawton. While Powell was editor of Psychology and Aging®, I submitted a paper with good ideas, good but limited data and a weak statistical approach. Instead of rejecting my paper, or sending me a pro forma revise and resubmit letter, Powell wrote a letter detailing just how I might deal with the statistical issues in my paper, while taking into account the limitations of my sample size. His guidance helped me publish my first paper in Psychology and Aging in 1987, and the paper ended up being widely cited and a key to my future success.

Margaret Gatz is another senior Division 20 colleague who stepped up and gave me some major opportunities in my career. Although I hadn't gone to USC, I began to notice Margy attending my presentations at GSA and APA and encouraging me and my work. Margy also gave me a major opportunity by supporting my appointment to the editorial board of Psychology and Aging in 1993. Around that time, Margy and I were asked to write a book chapter together reporting on the proceedings of the 1992 National Conference on clinical training in psychology. Margy treated me like a colleague, and let me be first author on this work. This was a huge boost to me. This kind of generosity seems to be part of the tradition of Division 20. It's a group that truly cares about this field and in supporting and mentoring the next generation of scholars and clinicians. I think many of us share a missionary zeal for this field and are invested in the success of junior colleagues.

When I was first appointed to be associate editor of Psychology and Aging in 2003, I sent out one of my first manuscripts as action editor to a senior colleague (whom I won't name) I had met through Division 20. She provided a great review, but also privately chided me for sending this paper out for review at all, instead of triaging it. This was a great and important lesson for me that really helped me to do a better job in the future. It's great to be a part of a community of colleagues who call them as they see them and set you straight every once in a while.

I could continue this for a long time … so many Division 20 members have helped me in my career and become good friends. Besides senior level scholars, Division 20 has helped me develop a peer network for support. It's been great to see others who completed their PhDs around the same time I did become successful leaders in our field. It's always a joy to see these colleagues at APA and GSA meetings and talk about the new challenges we face in running programs, maintaining grant support and mentoring students.

Division 20 has also offered me many opportunities to be a part of APA activities that are very important for advancing opportunities for psychologists who do aging research and practice, and that contribute to the public good. I've participated in APA task forces on primary care and end-of-life issues. Being a part of these activities, I was able to make sure that aging issues were a major component of the discussion. I was a part of the APA Presidential Task Force a few years ago that developed the APA Caregiver Briefcase, which has brought information about evidence based assessment and intervention to psychologists who aren't specialists in this area. Through APA's Office on Aging, I've been able to provide commentary and support for APA's responses to major initiatives that really matter for psychology and the public, such as the IOM report on the Mental Health Workforce for Geriatric Populations, and the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease. I haven't been a member yet, but APA's Committee on Aging also has a major role in advocating for psychological science within APA and agencies like the NIA. APA is a very important force for good in the field of aging, and being an APA member and Division 20 member allows psychologists to support and participate in these efforts.

In summary, being a part of APA and Division 20 has been a key part of my professional identity and success over 30 years in the field of psychology of aging. I can't imagine that my career would have been as successful or fulfilling without the opportunities, connections, and friendships I have gained through Division 20. Throughout my presidential year, I'm going to ask some colleagues to share their stories about what Division 20 has meant to them in our newsletter. For everyone reading this, I urge you to share your stories with colleagues, encourage them to join the division, and do what you can to make Division 20 thrive.

Best wishes to all, and I'll look forward to seeing many of you at GSA.