Member at large: Advocacy column

Becoming an advocate for the division

The first step in becoming an advocate is deciding what issues are the most salient for you.

By Sangeeta D. Parikshak, PhD

I have received feedback from students and early career psychologists interested in advocacy and policy indicating that it is difficult to understand what advocacy looks like as a psychologist and how to become involved in policy at different points throughout one's career. One of the reasons I believe this is difficult is because there is not a clear path to becoming an advocate or policy maker. Unlike graduate school, with its structure of multiple steps, goals, and phases of achievement, advocacy is often meandering and open to interpretation.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines becoming an advocate as “working to change the world, starting with oneself.” They write that “advocates change what they can, beginning with small, everyday problems.” This definition of an advocate is empowering as it sends the message that anyone can be an advocate, and advocacy can happen at every level, from the individual or local level to the state to federal.

The first step in becoming an advocate is deciding what issues are the most salient for you. What do you think needs to be changed, and do you have the desire to change it? If you are able to answer both of these in the affirmative, then the next step is beginning to understand the landscape for change. At what level does change need to occur, and where would your time be best spent advocating for this change? For example, with the topic of homelessness, many people advocate by signing petitions to create more housing in their area, while others choose to testify in Congress on research targeting this area of concern.

To provide some structure around advocacy and aid psychologists in thinking about ways to advocate for children and families, Div. 37 has started to create a series of YouTube videos that focus on advocacy within different psychological topic areas. The first one that has been posted is a presentation by John P. Murray, PhD, on media violence and children. He discusses the research behind the impact of media violence on child outcomes and then outlines ways to be an advocate for children within this area. We will be uploading more videos as they become available.

If you are looking for other ways to get involved or learn more about being an advocate, particularly at the federal level, another good resource is APA's guide to federal advocacy. (PDF, 2MB)

Please stay tuned for more information regarding advocacy from Div. 37. Furthermore, if you are interested in joining the Advocacy Committee, or have questions about more information you would like to see regarding advocacy from the division, please email us. Finally, please continue to look out for new advocacy-related materials on the division's website.