Looking Inward and to the Future: Advancing Needs, Opportunities, and New Directions for the Society of Clinical Psychology

By Bradley E. Karlin, Ph.D., ABPP




Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

– John F. Kennedy


What an incredible – and seminal – 124th American Psychological Association Convention for the Society of Clinical Psychology (SCP)! SCP sponsored an amazing program of many well-attended sessions, several of which were followed by media coverage, interviews, or other follow-up requests. My deep appreciation to our Convention Co-Chairs, Claire Collie and Kristine Day, for their tireless efforts in coordinating the development of the program. SCP also held two successful APA-sponsored pre-convention workshops (Cognitive Therapy for Suicide Prevention by Dr. Greg Brown and Contemporary Problem-Solving Therapy: A Transdiagnostic Approach to Enhance Resilience by Dr. Art Nezu).

Especially exciting – and shall I say momentous – on the evening of the second day of Convention was the SCP Social Networking Event and Awards Ceremony, which was standing room only! A wonderful time of socializing, connecting, and inspiring was had by many who filled the room. Particularly momentous was the first-ever SCP Speed Mentoring Event held at the event, during which “mentees” were paired with three “mentors” (experts or leaders in various clinical psychology sub-fields or roles). The Speed Mentoring Event (carefully planned by our Dr. Michele Karel, Natalia Potapova, and our SCP Mentorship Program Task Force) was designed as the hoped-for kickoff of a robust SCP Mentorship Program. In this column and on the SCP listserv, I have discussed significant opportunities and developing plans for a Mentorship Program that could be a member benefit for potentially all SCP members, leveraging the considerable expertise, wisdom, and experience of our broad membership – and serve as a vehicle to bring our membership and many Sections together. The intent is that the program would be available for general mentorship in clinical psychology, as well as be organized by more specific interest areas (e.g., integrated care, evidence-based psychotherapies, working in academic medical settings, working with older adults, working in administrative, executive, or other “non-traditional” roles, establishing a practice, evidence-based assessment, working with specific minority populations, etc.).

It has been our plan to use the experience of the Speed Mentoring Event at the APA Convention and more general response of membership to inform the final decision and planning for the full Mentorship Program. I am delighted to report that the SCP Speed Mentoring Event appeared to be a terrific success and created a lot of buzz and energy in the room during the SCP Social Networking Event. While we are conducting surveys and reaching out to participants to more fully evaluate the event and receive feedback, the reports of several mentees and mentors immediately after the event was extremely positive. In fact, the enthusiasm was a highlight of the Convention for me, personally. In addition to the experience of the Speed Mentoring Event at the APA Convention, we have also planned to assess the interest of SCP members in participating in such a program (as a mentee and/or mentor) and to identify specific areas of mentorship interest and expertise in the SCP Needs Assessment, the results from which are the focus of the remaining ink in this column! So as not to leave you in too much suspense, you will see from the results below that there was overwhelming response of interest in the program. Based on this, I am very pleased to announce the plans for the SCP Mentorship Program are official, and development of what I hope will be a very strong, value-added, and enduring program are underway, with plans to launch the program in the coming months! I hope you will consider being a part of this exciting program.

In my last two TCP columns, I reflected on the important need and opportunity for internal and external change in SCP, which has informed several new presidential initiatives and activities this year. In my last column, I argued for critical attention within clinical psychology, and SCP, specifically, to implementation science and practice – the contextual “how” factors that impact the delivery and uptake of evidence-based treatments (or lack thereof). This is a critical area of external leadership ripe for professional psychology, and clinical psychology, specifically, to impact and help shape. In the prior column, I emphasized the need to look internally and promote membership value and engagement within SCP, particularly following declines in membership within SCP in recent years, declines also experienced by many other membership organizations. In the current column, I would like to share some updates and developments related to organizational-level activities designed to promote membership value and engagement. In particular, I am pleased to share with you key findings from the first SCP Needs Assessment recently administered to the membership. Before doing so, I would like to share some important and timely information.

Last week, information was sent to Division leaders providing analysis and graphical presentation of membership data over time for each of the APA Divisions conducted by Shane Martin using membership data maintained by the APA Divisional Services Office. These data revealed some particularly interesting themes, in my mind. In particular, the trend data revealed that the steepest membership declines over the past couple of decades were experienced by General Psychology (Division 1), Clinical Psychology (Division 12), Psychotherapy (Division 29), and Psychologists in Independent Practice (Division 42). Although the reason for membership declines in organizations is generally multifactorial, what all of these divisions have in common is that their focus and membership are among the broadest of all divisions, presenting challenges to membership identity, strategic priorities, differentiation, and, potentially, membership value. This, of course, is also true of APA as a whole – more so than most other guild organizations. As one colleague recently put it, the level of breadth and diversity found within professional psychology is not something you would experience among chemists!). Most of the other organizations on Martin’s graph have a much more specific identity. Significantly, one Division – Clinical Neuropsychology (Division 40) – is an especially interesting and conspicuous outlier in that it has shown dramatic membership growth that has been sustained in recent years. Qualitative researchers take note, as this would make for very interesting case study! When you have a moment, I invite you to examine the graph, which can be accessed at: https://psyborgs.github.io/projects/apa-division-memberships/

As Martin’s analysis reveals, Division 12 remains among the largest of APA divisions, but this is by no means destined to be our future. In fact, looking at just demographics, Division 12 may find itself a considerably smaller division over the next decade and beyond because of age factors alone. With the average age of Division 12 membership approaching the age of Medicare eligibility, we may see a precipitous drop-off in Division membership in the years ahead (of course, as a gerontologist, I am hoping that is many years into the future for many of our senior members!). Martin’s analyses, the breadth of SCP, the membership composition of SCP, and the spate of seemingly similar membership organizations in SCP urges that we work in earnest to promote membership value and engagement among a broad range of members, including by placing important and increasing focus on students and early career psychologists (ECPs). Of note, there is some cause for optimism as it relates to SCP membership and our efforts to promote important focus on students and ECPs: Relative to the same timeframe last year, SCP experienced a 30 percent increase in new student and ECP members year to date this year. Maybe there is hope!

To gain a better understanding of our membership, how SCP is meeting the needs of members, and how SCP could better do so, we developed and administered an SCP Membership Needs Assessment, the first such assessment of the membership that we are aware of. I would like to acknowledge, in particular, the SCP Membership Committee (and, especially, Committee Co-chairs, Drs. Elizabeth Davis and Claire Collie), as well as SCP Administrative Officer, Tara Craighead, who helped with developing and pilot testing the survey. I would like to take the opportunity here to provide a highlight of key results, as well provide as some initial reactions to the results and their implications. We also plan to conduct a webinar open to all SCP members within the next couple of months to review the needs assessment results and invite member reactions and comments. Many of the results and implications of the findings are very consistent with and validate current and planned areas of emphasis and initiatives, as well as provide valuable information for additional opportunities and for informing future directions.

The SCP Needs Assessment was administered June 15-July 14, 2016. Surveys were sent to 3,155 SCP members, with multiple reminders. Submitted surveys were received from 760 submitted surveys. I would like to extend my thanks to all of those who took the time to respond to the needs assessment. While we received a robust response, I should note that the results, of course, do not necessarily generalize to all members. Below is a summary of key results:

  • In terms of SCP membership satisfaction, 91% reported being Very of Somewhat Satisfied.
  • In terms of value of SCP membership, 83% reported being Very of Somewhat Satisfied.
  • In terms of likelihood of renewing SCP membership, 73% reported being Extremely Likely and 22% reported being Somewhat Likely to do so.
  • In terms of likelihood of recommending SCP membership to others, 51% reported being Extremely Likely and 35% reported being Somewhat Likely to do so.
  • The most common reason respondents reported for first joining SCP was “Professional Identity”.
  • By far, the most common way in which respondents reported first learning about SCP was through a mentor.
  • SCP resources identified to be of greatest interest to respondents (in descending order of frequency) are: (1) Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice (Division journal); (2) The Clinician’s Toolkit/treatment manuals and resources (Division website); (3) The Clinical Psychologist (Division newsletter); (4) SCP Continuing Education Webinar Series.
  • Many respondents reported infrequently visiting or being unaware of the Division website (div12.org), and a number of respondents provided recommendations for improvements to content and functionality.
  • Several themes emerged in response to open-ended questions eliciting recommendations for promoting membership value, adding new programs or activities, or other suggestions, including: Increased communication to members/more active listserv; more communication regarding available resources; more networking/social events; more applied tools and resources (like the Clinician’s Toolkit); additional advocacy; increasing focus on diversity.

On the topic of an SCP Mentorship Program, an astonishing 237 members reported that they would be Very Interested in serving as a mentor in the SCP Mentorship Program, and 160 members said that they would be Very Interested in being a mentee. Both mentors and mentees identified a range of content areas for mentorship, including specific topic areas (e.g., Evidence-Based Practices, Mental Health/Primary Care Integration, Dissemination and Implementation, Assessment) and more general professional development or role transitions (e.g., Building a Practice, Working in Academic or Administrative Leadership, Growing a Career, Clinical Supervision).

In sum, respondents reported generally high levels of satisfaction and perceived value of membership, yet there are key opportunities for improvement. First, it is clear that there is significant interest in and opportunity for promoting member connectedness and sense of community, including in-person and virtual connectedness. Related to this finding is the reported strong interest the planned SCP Mentorship Program! Second, it is important that we increase communication with and among membership, including encouraging more active listserv communication. This fits well with an important focus this year on promoting inclusivity within the Society.

Third, there is clear interest in promoting awareness of existing resources and in expanding practical tools. I am pleased to announce that this aligns well with the current focus of the newly-appointed SCP Science and Practice Committee, which I have requested focus specifically on expanding the Clinician’s Toolkit and related practical clinical resources for members, incorporating additional therapies and conditions. Fourth, there is clearly an opportunity to enhance the SCP website and increase its use by both expanding content and improving functionality. This corresponds well with plans underway to significantly overhaul the SCP website. Specifically, the SCP Executive Committee has been working with SCP Web Editor, Dr. Damion Grasso, and our external web developer on plans to significantly update and modernize the look and feel of the website, enhance organization and layout of content, and improve overall functionality and technological capabilities. We are excited about this development, which will be completed over the coming months.

Fifth, a number of responses either directly or indirectly highlighted the importance of clarifying and communicating leadership focus and identity in a field as broad and diverse as clinical psychology. Along these lines, several respondents expressed significant enthusiasm for SCP’s new focus on Dissemination and Implementation and specific emphasis on attracting and engaging students and ECPs. As we move forward, careful additional reflection and focus on SCP’s identity and strategic planning will be important.

Lastly, from a recruitment perspective, the finding that most respondents, by far, became connected to SCP through a mentor suggests important opportunities for engaging in targeted recruitment-related outreach to mentors and supervisors. This is a tangible and very feasible action that is likely to yield additional increases in student and ECP members. Included in this specific outreach and messaging may be information about the SCP Mentorship Program, Clinician Toolkit and related resources, and other benefits likely to be of particular interest to developing psychologists. In discussing this at the SCP Board Meeting in August, there was strong agreement for moving forward with this action and even establishing an incentive referral program that would reward mentors who refer students and ECPs with free SCP membership or other benefit. Those of you reading this who advise or work with students or ECPs, we would be very interested in your thoughts and suggestions about this. Also relevant to this – and recruitment more broadly – we have solicited proposals from communications and branding experts to work with us in to develop messaging, marketing, and strategic communications materials.

As the Summer chapter comes to a close and so does my second to last Presidential column in TCP, I feel invigorated by the process of looking inward and working to make SCP an even stronger organization – and by the validation and response to recent developments and new initiatives. Standing several feet from the SCP Speed Mentoring Event at the APA Convention, eagerly watching the session draw to a close, one of the mentors approached me to say that one of the mentee participants reported that this single session brought motivation and clarity in his career directions that he had not experienced in his 3 years of graduate training or other life experiences. The energy and enthusiasm from this experience and the overall SCP Social Networking Event was infectious and left me and several others leaving the room reflecting on the good we can achieve when we come together!

I hope that together we can bring continued growth and positive change to SCP and clinical psychology in the months and years ahead.