“I would never want to be part of a group that would have someone like me as a member” – paraphrasing Groucho Marx.
When I ran for President of the Society I was asked to think about and write a statement for what my priorities might be if I were elected. It really didn’t take me long to come up with the key priorities of supporting students and young investigators who were interested in group psychology and group psychotherapy research and practice. The statistics that I have seen about the age of members of our Society were sobering and reinforced this focus. The average age of members of Division 49 is well over 60 years, which means that most members are looking at retirement in the coming decade. On the face of it, it seems that this is a serious challenge for our Society. Without replenishing the membership with younger people, we could face a crisis within a short period of time.
It is important to say that we are not alone with this problem. Most societies and professional organizations are facing the same trends in demographics. Some of the trend is simply a fact of broader societal factors related to aging baby-boomers who in many cases were leading figures in the development of organizations like Division 49. Also, one could speculate that GenY and Millenials tend to congregate in very different ways than their parents and grandparents (i.e., with social media, and more amorphously organized groups), and tend to have different expectations and definitions about community service. One could also take a more optimistic view that people don’t tend to join organizations and societies until they get older – similar to what Erikson described as the generativity phase of human development. That is, at a younger age one is more invested in personal and professional achievements and/or demands of raising a family, whereas later in life one begins to give back to society to create meaning in one’s life by mentoring those who are younger.
With this in mind I hope to spend my time on the Executive of the Board of Division 49 discussion ways in which we can better engage younger members of our organization, particularly those in the 30 to 40 year old bracket. The Division has already invested a portion of its budget to providing the Richard Moreland Dissertation of the Year award, and a student poster award. We hold a division social that is well attended by students at the APA conference. We are also looking into ways of engaging new members and students and to retaining members who have not renewed their memberships. One possible avenue is to open membership to the Society to non-APA members around the world who nevertheless identify themselves as group psychologists. Further, we are supporting an application to the Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology for recognition of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy as a specialty in professional psychology. This would bring to the attention of the broader professional community the importance of specialized training in group psychology.
Those of us involved in group practice and group research in clinical, social, organizational, military, and sports settings know the importance of group psychology and know the impact of and strength in numbers. For that reason it is important to have a vibrant Society like ours to support the work we do and to support the next generation of researchers and practitioners in group work. I strongly encourage you as a member of the Society to reach out to your younger colleagues. Encourage them to join, and tell them why it’s important to join. Come to our events at the APA conference including the Division Social event on Friday August 4th at 6pm – bring a student or younger colleague with you.