I can still remember my first APA conference in 2014 when I was just beginning my second year as a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University. Even though I had not proposed anything for the conference and I had no idea what to expect, I decided to go, just to see what it was all about. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend, so I ended up in a hotel way outside of the city center that featured trash bags in the hallway and stairwell, peeling wallpaper, and larger quantities of strange mold than you’d expect to find in the bottom of a pond. My bus commute to the convention was so long, I ended up missing an award ceremony for my professor who was receiving an award for which I had nominated her. Needless to say, it was an adventure.
Given the context I just offered, you may expect to hear that I decided against ever returning to the APA Convention. On the contrary, I absolutely loved it. I recall being thoroughly inspired. As indicated by the massive chain of division and association ribbons dangling from the bottom of my badge, I was eager to soak up everything. I felt, during that conference, that I had arrived somewhere I belonged.
I believed then and I am convinced even now that the convention provides a variety of important benefits for counseling psychologists. The advantages offered by the convention are not limited to the list below, but these stand out to me the most:
- Networking: The convention offers opportunities to create life-long friendships and academic partnerships. Part of the reason I look forward to the convention every year is because it gives me the opportunity to connect with the many friends I’ve made.
- Cross-pollination of ideas: Given the scholarly tenor of the convention, it is the perfect place for ideas to mix and for new ideas to be born.
- Vital training: From APAGS tutorials on statistics to continuing education symposia, the convention hosts a variety of learning opportunities that enhance both practice and research in psychology.
- Social justice and advocacy: In recent years, counseling and other psychologists have organized important demonstrations and opportunities to advocate for marginalized communities. Like me, I am sure there are many counseling psychologists who cherished the opportunity to participate in the #BlackLivesMatter march last year.
- Social events: Networking is already listed, but I feel that social events need their own mention. The Division 17 socials are epic.
Furthermore, I believe that this year’s conference offers the added opportunity to reflect on what involvement in the APA convention means for counseling psychologists. Given the conference theme for this year is the power of us, we may have the unique opportunity to consider our contribution to the overall arc of psychological practice. To be sure, a history of pondering the identity and role of counseling psychologists is well documented as are calls for counseling psychologists to be agents of social justice and social change.
As I consider the opportunities of this year’s convention, I reflect on the broad range of diversity represented by the American Psychological Association’s 56 divisions. It strikes me that these diverse groups overlap and intersect in unique ways to make up the entire profession of psychology. In the midst of all of this rich diversity, I wonder about the unique contribution that is made by counseling psychologists. Some ideas about our role in a conference focused on “Us,” or on the overall discipline, stand out to me.
- A pull toward social justice: I hope we will take the opportunity, provided by our presence at the convention, to call attention to the issues faced by minority populations within and outside of the APA. While counseling psychologists are not the only multiculturally aware psychologists, I take pride in our emphasis on justice and advocacy. As someone who was impacted by the Hoffman report, I anticipate that the convention will provide counseling psychologists the opportunity to make a corrective impact on the APA.
- An opportunity to sharpen our discipline’s identity: By interacting with other psychologists in the context of the conference, we get an opportunity to better understand ourselves in the broader context of our field.
- A chance to form alliances: By reaching out to other divisions, we can work to strengthen the overall contribution of psychologists in the world. One of my favorite phrases is, “A rising tide lifts all ships” and I anticipate that the convention will be an opportunity for counseling psychologists to join hands with others in a way that benefits all of us.
- A moment to remember that we are pretty great: The work of psychologists can be exhausting sometimes. It is my hope the conference will offer us the opportunity to be reminded of the importance and beauty of the work we do and of who we are as professionals.
I recognize that every individual’s motivations for attending the convention may be different. At the very least, I offer an invitation for reflection on what this year’s convention means for you, the reader. In addition to my general excitement about the convention, I know I’ll be experiencing extra gratitude about my accommodations. Nowadays, the absence of mold stalactites and funky smells in my hotel room always make my time at the conference seem like a luxury vacation. I hope you have you have a similar exciting and growth fostering experience this year.
About the Author: Douglas Knutson (he/him/his) is a Ph.D. student in counseling psychology at Oklahoma State University. He is currently completing a predoctoral internship at Texas Woman’s University Counseling Center before taking an assistant professor position in counseling psychology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Douglas also earned a Masters of Theology (M.T.S.) from Boston University School of Theology and a Masters of Education (M.Ed.) in Applied Behavioral Studies with Professional Counseling from Oklahoma City University. Douglas conducts research in multicultural competence and diversity (broadly defined). His current projects are: an exploration of health care access among transgender individuals in rural areas, an investigation of depression among drag performers, and a study of self-harm and related factors among LGBTI transitional-aged youth in the State of Oklahoma.Tags: APA Convention, Diversity and Social Justice, Students