Columns Committee Reports

Expanding our Scope — Reactions to the 2018 Practice Leadership Conference (PLC)

Sean Woodland, Ph.D.
Sean Woodland, Ph.D.

This March I was a first-time attendee at the Practice Leadership Conference (PLC). It was a fantastic opportunity to connect with other psychologists interested in advancing the practice of psychology.  The PLC is full of forward-thinkers who have an eye toward advocacy, with an aim to equip all psychologists with the tools and the courage to advocate for themselves and the profession at large.

As a psychologist employed in a primary care setting, I naturally gravitated toward the talks and workshops related to the practice of health psychology. With that said, I also went in with my group and systems hat on, and believe that the following summary is relevant to all members of our division.

Advancing Practice Together 

The theme of this year’s PLC was “Advancing Practice Together.” This has been a major focus of Dr. Arthur Evans since he became the CEO of APA, urging us as members to think more broadly about our value as psychologists, and to continually assert this value as the practice landscape continues to evolve in turn.  In an introductory workshop Dr. Evans stated that we can no longer define ourselves as only psychotherapists if we desire to advance the discipline.  Rather, we must clearly define the unique contributions that practicing psychologists make to healthcare, and to focus on the skills we can bring to many different settings.

Dr. Evans listed three areas unique to psychologists which we can better leverage: 1) training as scientist practitioners, 2) conceptualizations of problems, and 3) the ability to develop expertise in a wide range of specialty areas.  Dr. Evans contends that making these areas more visible to other professionals in the settings in which we now and will yet work will prepare us to adapt well to current and future healthcare trends. Psychologists in the future will find themselves increasingly accountable for the results produced by interventions, and will be called upon in innovative ways to serve the private and public sector alike. Will we be ready to step in?

Improving the Leadership Group 

Another theme that permeated the Practice Leadership Conference, as the name suggests, was leadership, be it in our practice settings, our state associations or divisions, and in our communities.  The mood of the conference was one toward psychologists taking the lead in forsaking isolationism in these settings, broadening and deepening collaboration with a range of organizations and professionals outside the discipline.  For example, APA currently has worked with the American Diabetes Association to create a clinician education program with the effort of training psychologists to help diabetes in behavior change.  It was noted that the rate of depression in individuals with diabetes is twice that of the normal population.

The PLC also encouraged better leadership of our various boards.  One speaker, Eloiza Altoro, spoke extensively on this topic.  Ms. Altoro is an organizational consultant with a clinical psychology background.  She emphasized that high-functioning boards find the “sweet spot” where personal purpose, organizational purpose, and role purpose converge.  Successful boards are team-oriented and transparent, and are as flexible as they are formal.  On the other hand, relationships in boards (and of course, groups!) break down when there is a lack of trust, misinformation, and lack of strategic direction.  Another symptom of poorly-functioning boards is constant turnover.

The attendees at PLC were also encouraged to become leaders in their communities.  This was communicated most clearly by Dr. Jessica Henderson Daniel, new president of APA.  A main pillar of her presidential term is the “citizen psychologist” initiative, which aims to encourage psychologists to be more active in community settings, and to recognize psychologists who are already highly involved at home.  She publicly recognized two such psychologists during a town hall meeting, and reports excitement to honor more.

Advocacy and Activism 

The final theme at the PLC was advocacy.  This was culminated the final day of the conference with visits to Capitol Hill.  Tagging along with the delegation from my home state of California, I had the opportunity to go to the offices of three different California representatives to advocate for causes important to the practice of psychology. This included asking for co-sponsorship of the Medicare Mental Health Access Act, advocating for maintenance and expansion of Medicaid, and advocating for understanding of gun violence as a multifaceted phenomenon.

While it was indeed exciting to participate in his political process, perhaps the most moving piece of advocacy came during the above-mentioned town hall meeting.  The first speakers to get up were the delegates from APAGS, APA’s graduate student group.  They called for greater diversity and inclusion, and were quite courageous in communicating the ways in which they felt that they had been marginalized throughout the proceedings.

In Closing

As leaders in group psychology and group psychotherapy, I believe it is incumbent upon the division to continue to have a voice and a presence at this conference.  Perhaps it could take the form of leading an intergroup dialogue, or a workshop to help psychologists gain a better understanding of group leadership.  Or, in the spirit of advocacy, having a voice to communicate to leaders in the field the importance of understanding the complexities of group treatment in an ever-changing healthcare system. Furthermore, advocating for furthering research in group psychology and group psychotherapy also has a place at the proceedings, as there’s a definite focus on enhancing the productivity, collaboration, and overall success of the professional groups in which we regularly are found.  In short, the PLC needs experts in group!  And notwithstanding this need for more group expertise, the PLC is also a great conference for anyone generally interested in leadership, advocacy, or in advancing the practice of psychology.

For questions or more information on the PLC, please contact Sean Woodland, PhD at