Annual Reports

Division’s Task Force on Poverty responds to APA president’s call to address poverty

Understanding how religion and spirituality can perpetuate and overcome poverty.
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By Andy J. Johnson, PhD, and Glen Milstein

President Tim Sisemore initiated the Div. 36 Task Force on Poverty in 2018. Andy Johnson and Glen Milstein were appointed co-chairs and are developing the mission statement for the task force. Our mandate from President Sisemore is to be intentional in coordinating our efforts with those of APA President Rosie Phillips-Davis and the APA Task Force on Poverty at large. For more information, please explore What Is Deep Poverty? 

President Phillip-Davis asked that APA members work to:

  • Change attitudes and perceptions. Utilize psychological science along with related communications science in framing and persuasion to challenge biases, stereotypes, prejudicial attitudes and narratives about people living in poverty that lead to discriminatory behaviors and decision-making.
  • Change policy. Reframe negative poverty-related attitudes to garner political support for effective safety net and other scalable programming that benefit those living in deep poverty and mitigate ineffective/inequitable policies.
  • Change practice. Build the capacity of poverty serving organizations to access and utilize psychological science to more effectively promote and implement evidence-based antipoverty programming and policies in their communities of influence.

Our goal is to consider the roles of religion/spirituality – both individual and corporate – in perpetuating poverty, as well as in the sustained effort to overcome poverty.

We envision the following efforts for each of the APA President’s topic areas:

  • Change attitudes and perceptions. We are reviewing the texts of different religious traditions to identify the self-designated responsibilities of religious communities across humanity. These texts are explicit in their expectations of persons to both recognize their connection to all others, as well as to provide resources to any in need. We want to explore further the psychological continuity of these values and their role in sustainable communities.
  • Change policy. Where can persons feel like an adult? This is a significant psychological stressor to persons with few economic resources. How can they nurture the dignity of being generative in their community? How can psychology encourage congregations to work with and empower people experiencing extreme poverty? Religious congregations can do this. In religious congregations, all persons can have a role to contribute to a congregation, including persons without income or finances, such as through service of various kinds, teaching, etc. Rather than charity (lower level helping), congregations can build dignity, opportunity, generativity, purpose and emancipation. Because there are over 344,000 religious communities in U.S., these efforts can expand to change practice that facilitates these objectives on a grand scale.
  • Change practice. An area of particular concern to this committee is our understanding of the self-harm that comes from the dissonance between LGBTQ+ religious persons and their communities. Too many LGBTQ+ youth find themselves rejected from their homes and communities based on religious prejudices. This leads to poverty and great risks to mental and emotional health. We see a cross-divisional opportunity for Divs. 36 and 44 to use our shared expertise to respond to this growing risk to the well-being of our youth. 

Participation in the Task Force outside of the co-chairs is minimal at present. There were only a couple of responses to email requests for proposals for a possible symposium at APA 2019. Our plan is to have presentations at mid-year and a Hospitality Suite Conversation Hour at APA’s Annual Convention to facilitate networking and to publicize the task force. 

Glen Milstein will be presenting at mid-year 2020, and we have plans to submit Hospitality Suite proposals for APA 2019 in Chicago. We also plan to compose an article for the newsletter before the end of this academic year.

Goals/Initiatives for 2019-2020

  • Propose a Conversation Hour or Symposium each year at the APA Convention.
  • Include a social hour at each APA convention in which members get together to build relationships (outside of the Conversation Hours) and informally discuss research agendas and grant opportunities.
  • Encourage the development of research on the psychology of religion as it relates to poverty.
  • Work toward collaboratively creating and disseminating Educational/Training Resources via our Task Force’s or the division’s webpages, for use by our divisions’ membership, by other professionals and by the interested public
  • Begin to develop a mentoring program for psychologists of religion interested in studying relationships between religion and poverty.

Author Bios

Andy Johnson is an associate professor of psychology at Bethel University. Johnson’s scholarship focuses on religion and gender violence. 

Glen Milstein is an associate professor of clinical psychology at the City College of New York. Milstein’s scholarship focuses on collaborations between clinicians and clergy as a way to promote mental health.

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