I have been making plans for APA in Denver and have recognized that I’m most looking forward to the Division 49 events – especially the board meetings. I have taken the opportunity to reflect on my years of involvement in professional associations. The overall feeling I have about professional associations is that I receive much more than I give. Yes, there is a financial cost. There are also time, energy, and personal costs. Anything that is worthwhile comes with a cost of some sort. Life is full of choices that require effort to obtain what is desired. It is said; “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” While one can argue the use of the superlative, the general principle is recognizable. Professional association membership and involvement holds a multitude of benefits that matter to me. I won’t be able to articulate them adequately, but I’d like to share a few thoughts.
When I feel frustrated that something doesn’t make sense or I want to cry out “it shouldn’t be this way,” my next feeling can be helplessness because I know it is unlikely that I can change things alone. With like-minded colleagues who share my frustrations I don’t feel so alone. As we commiserate, energy builds until we jointly say “let’s do something about that.” With multiple talents and various skills we can do so much more together than any of us could on our own. The larger numbers carry additional weight to the positions we are advocating, and public opinion and policy can be influenced.
Like all of us, I occasionally second guess myself or get unclear about some situation that presents itself infrequently. Listserv’s, websites, newsletters, etc. often provide excellent information. Having multiple professionals, who I know well enough to call is an important resource for me. Joining with fellow group psychologists in conferences and workshops provides some of the familiarity that helps to feel connected, but working together in a board, committee, sub-committee, or task force setting builds a different level of connection and friendship.
Working on a project that makes a difference for the profession generally also provides a sense of contributing to a cause that is larger than my everyday routine, and I find that satisfying. I’ve learned new skills and developed important qualities through association service. My time as a lobbyist was a confidence builder, and sharpened my ability to be succinct. My time on an ethics committee helped me to be more thoughtful and to consider multiple positions at the same time. Serving on a continuing education committee gave me a greater appreciation for organization and logistics.
It is important to me to be aware of the trends in my profession. Association involvement assures that I am among the first to be informed of new developments and potential shifts in the field (current changes make this a particularly useful benefit). I have been able to adjust my private practice just ahead of insurance company changes that resulted in preferred status with some insurers (and a more stable business).
Being an active contributor to a profession that has fed and sheltered my family also matters to me. Someone lobbied for me to have a license, someone else challenged the insurance companies attempt to decrease my income, another represented my profession to the public through the media (decreasing stigma and encouraging new patients toward my services), and others planned and provided opportunities for me to learn new things that keep me current (and meet CE requirements). I feel better when I also contribute something to the joint effort, even if all I can do is attend a monthly board meeting and share my views or make a few phone calls to encourage new members or to help a legislator understand an important issue. Maybe my willingness to write a short article for a newsletter or participate on a conference call with the early career committee is all I can offer one year. Still, I can feel that I am a contributor. Most association service requires small amounts of time that is able to be flexibly placed into a schedule.
If this sounds like your experience in the groups you lead, it’s not a coincidence. Association work is working in a group, and thus utilizes the power of group processes. This is another reason I find association service so energizing and rewarding. Wrestling with priorities and ways to implement action items calls forth multiple perspectives and the dialogue around those differences has all of the advantages of group work. Relationships are strengthened, learning occurs, the synergy of interaction promotes a sense of well-being, etc.
Yes, there are costs associated with association membership and service, but I have received so much more than any cost required of me. I am so thankful to those with whom I currently serve and also to the many with whom I have served. Thank you for being willing to press me to understand you and for being willing to hear me. Thank you for modifying my good ideas and making them better and for shooting down my bad ones. In short, thank you for letting me work shoulder to shoulder with you in an important endeavor.
I invite any of you to join us on the board. Just let anyone on the board know of your interest and we will welcome you and find a place for you.