President’s Column

Craig Parks, PhD
Craig Parks, Ph.D.

Difficult Times and What to Do About It, Part II

In my last column I discussed how the controversy over APA’s purported easing of ethical standards so as to allow psychologists to participate in enhanced interrogation techniques has negatively impacted perception of our discipline. I noted that those of us who work with groups have seen critiques of our expertise increase: We subject people to peer pressure so that they will do thing that they don’t want to do, we force people to reveal intense personal information during group therapy sessions, and so on. Further, many of these critiques are coming from experts in other areas, so we cannot simply dismiss the words as being from uninformed laypeople. In this column I want to talk about some ways in which we can connect with other disciplines to help build awareness of what we do, the scientific basis of our inquiries, and the ways in which we contribute to betterment of the human condition.

The BECC (Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change) Conference is a yearly event at which academics, industry, and government people come together to talk about climate-related research and problems. The 2015 (ninth) conference was attended by over 700 people, with 100 of these being research academics. BECC has become a key event, perhaps the key event, for fostering a mutual understanding of how to synthesize research, practice, and policy on energy consumption behavior and its impact on the environment. Given how many different entities are interested in group-based phenomena, it is not inconceivable that a similar yearly event could be developed around groups. I fully expect that many would greet this idea with skepticism, but it is worth pointing out that the original BECC organizers, a group of 15 from academics, government, and industry, had attendance far in excess of what was anticipated. I acknowledge that energy and climate are urgent and visible topics, certainly more urgent and visible than the kinds of things we investigate, but the point remains valid that a lot of people came out of the woodwork to search for common ground on energy issues. There is no reason to think the same could not happen for a conference on groups.

One could argue that there are already sessions devoted to complementary perspectives and common concerns on groups. This is true, but these meetings are oriented toward collecting researchers from different disciplines who are all interested in groups. I am aware of no meetings (no regular meetings, anyway) at which a psychotherapist who is an expert on leader dynamics in therapy groups can talk to a state government official who is seeking interventions to help his governmental subcommittees be more functional, or a sport psychologist who is studying social comparison in cardiovascular rehabilitation groups can compare notes with a US Army official who is trying to understand how social comparison impacts members of a platoon. (And make no mistake; there is a lot of common ground underneath the individuals in both of my examples.) A yearly conference of this type could be enormously fruitful for identifying research connections, as well as opportunities to extend the practice of group psychology into realms that would like it, but do not know best practices, nor have the time or resources to acquire that knowledge. At our end, regular interaction with those in the industry and governmental sectors would give us the chance to hear about emerging challenges that we could study. And of course, an annual meeting would give us the chance to show that group’s research, and psychology in general, is a rigorous and careful science that generates valuable insights and recommendations. In my last column I encouraged you to conduct a search on “psychology sham science” to see who criticizes us. Noticeably absent from those criticisms are representatives of the energy sector. BECC has shown them that psychology has a vital role to play in their world.

I have begun some informal conversations with some industry and government people to assess their level of interest in such a meeting. I will continue to work on this in the coming months, and I hope that I find a sufficiently strong level of interest that I can begin looking more formally into arrangement of at least a small get-together. I hope to have information on this to share in Denver.

And speaking of Denver, the Division 49 hospitality suite will be at the Hyatt Regency. Please join us at one of our events for food, drink, and conversation. I hope to see you there!