How to Maximize APA Convention: Zoom In

The size of the American Psychological Association Convention is pretty vast. This is no wonder, given that the conference is the largest annual professional gathering of mental and behavioral health professionals in the US. Anyone who has attended the massive gathering for the first time knows that, on the surface, it can be somewhat overwhelming to navigate. From a bird’s-eye-view, the convention is a vast network of meeting spaces, poster presentations, exhibitors, and hotels.

The immensity of the APA Convention is due, in part, to the large number of divisions that function within the Association. While the many divisions contribute to the remarkable size of the gathering, they also work to guide members to useful or interesting content (e.g., Division 17). Thus, conference goers are able to break the unwieldy conference into more manageable chunks. From this closer vantage point, the convention becomes a bit more accessible.

Still, larger divisions offer a wide array of programming and despite the inclusion of social hours and mixers, newcomers may still feel swallowed up. People unfamiliar with the structure and governance of large groups like Division 17 may be unaware that the division is not the smallest grouping of like-minded psychologists and psychologists-in-training that the convention has to offer. As one zooms in a little further, sections and special interest groups come into view.

Division 17 is currently home to 13 different active sections. Offering information about each of these sections is beyond the scope of this article, but digging into the various sections to discover their offerings at the conference is a worthwhile endeavor for anyone interested in networking and connecting with others at a personal level at the unwieldy conference. In the interest of space and because, in full disclosure, I am an executive committee member, I will focus on the Section on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues (SLGBTI).

SLGBTI currently features a rich and diverse leadership team of individuals who are committed to creating a robust and innovative space for counseling psychologists to connect and advocate for LGBT+ people both locally and globally. As an executive committee member, I have the benefit of sitting in on meetings during which psychologists and students engage in deep discussions about ways to support LGBT+ scholarship within Division 17 and beyond.

There are a number of ways that SLGBTI works to foster connections and collaboration at the APA Convention. One of the annual cornerstones of this effort is the dinner that the section holds on the Thursday night of the conference. This year’s dinner will be held at Perry’s Embarcadero and will feature the presentation of three awards:

  • Significant Contribution to Social Justice and Advocacy
  • Early Career Award for Contribution to LGBT Counseling Psychology
  • Award for Outstanding Graduate Student

Distinguished past recipients include Dr.s Y. Barry Chung, Theodore Burns, Sharon G. Horne, lore m. dickey, Melanie Brewster, and Stephanie Budge.

In the spirit of advancing LGBT scholarship, SLGBTI participates in the SCP Student Poster Session each year. This year, as in previous years, the topics selected by the section cover a broad range of diverse subjects and identities that intersect with LGBT+ identities, such as:

  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Romantic Relationships
  • Social Connectedness
  • Social Outlook

In addition to the opportunities listed above, the section plans to offer a “get to know you” time during its annual board meeting. In an effort to foster cohesion within the section and to welcome newcomers, the board meeting will be designed to engage attendees and to acquaint them with the section. For more information about SLGBTI programming, feel free to visit the section’s website and check out other LGBT affirmative presentations.

Whatever you choose to do at the APA Convention, I hope that you decide to zoom in. Though the conference can be impressive and its offerings are vast, there is great value in attending some of the smaller, more intimate section events. It may help to know that, in the midst of so much activity and energy are smaller groups of like-minded attendees looking forward to connecting with you. You only need to look closely enough to find them.

Douglas Knutson, Ph.D. (he/him) is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Douglas conducts research in LGBT health and his current focus is on transgender affirmative care.


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