Practice Leadership Conference last week was energizing and inspiring! I started the conference with the Ohio Delegation at the opening reception and ended on Capitol Hill advocating for increased access to mental health care. One highlight of the first evening was the amazing dinner hosted by Jim Brush and his wife in their home in D.C. Jim made pad thai from scratch and got it just right, a real trick! We discussed their interest in getting more federal representation for D.C. (as they have no senators or representatives at the federal level) and his wife’s experiences when she lived in Afghanistan. The beautiful green embroidered tablecloth and napkins we used were purchased there at the same time that a bombing was occurring on the other side of town.
Sunday and Monday were filled with keynotes and conference sessions. I attended a few extra informational sessions as well: a briefing with Chief of Practice, Dr. Jared Skillings, who will give our keynote at the OPA Convention in April; and a session on the master’s accreditation issue. Both of these discussed how APA is changing to meet current challenges. Dr. Skillings addressed the need to think more creatively about what we have to offer that is different from our market competitors, and the master’s issue program reviewed both opportunity and challenge as APA seeks to provide accreditation criteria for master’s programs in Psychology. I also attended sessions on the Opioid Crisis and Applied Psychology (thinking about what we have to offer in industry, government and other sectors).
Dr. Sandra Shullman, APA President-Elect moderated a panel of leaders and asked them to share a challenge they faced and what they learned from it. This was perhaps my favorite content from the entire conference. The insights shared rang true for me: “when you take on a leadership role, you never know what you are signing up for.” They discussed challenges that were unexpected and that they could not prepare for but which they somehow met well enough. Dr. Arthur Evans, APA’s CEO, described the day he was recruited for a position when the current leader was suddenly fired, and he walked over to see all his new employees walking out in protest about the change in leadership. He went on to succeed in that role and then get hired as APA’s CEO!
On Sunday night, I had the privilege to attend the black tie dinner with Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana. I am grateful to all the members of OPA who helped contribute to the price of my seat there! It is perhaps one of the few times I will attend an event with a $1000 price tag. At my table were some of the heavy-hitters for APA Advocacy (a professional lobbyist, Dr. Skillings, Dr. Jennifer Kelly who is running for APA President, and others). So I let them talk when Senator Cassidy was present, and they made a good pitch for increased access to healthcare through House Bill HR 884, “Medicare Mental Health Access Act.” Once he moved on to the next table, his aide, Mary Moody, sat with us, and I took the opportunity to talk with her about an issue close to my heart: suicide prevention on university campuses. When I mentioned that suicide prevention does not receive as much funding as it should, given the death rates by suicide, she was already aware and had done some research on this. When I mentioned how veterans are disproportionately affected, she agreed and talked about what she was learning about suicide among women veterans. Overall, I hope I made a small impact, but it was a wonderful opportunity to have relaxed time with Senator Cassidy and Mary Moody.
On Monday, I got to participate in a “pure democracy” experience. I put my name in the hat to run for Committee of State Leaders (the group that plans Practice Leadership Conference each year). I had one minute to talk about why I should be elected, and then those present could vote. It was nerve-wracking to talk in front of so many experienced leaders, but I won! Thanks to Jim Broyles and Michael Ranney for helping me with my speech on the walk there!
Finally, the capstone of the experience is always the day on Capitol Hill. I got to advocate with Jim Broyles and Adrienne Jett at two Republican Representatives’ offices. As we got warmed up, we engaged more personally with the aides, and it was good to get to know them a bit. We will be following up with them to continue our advocacy and relationship-building. The three asks from APA were: support the Medicare Mental Health Access Act, support the Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act, and generally preserve mental health and substance use disorder coverage in Medicate and private health insurance plans. We also provided some information about Argosy (Dr. Evans had sent a letter to Betsy DeVos to advocate for their students), and we mentioned that we will follow up with the appropriate aide to discuss OPA’s concerns about the separation of immigrant families. It sounded like the representatives were aware of the increased need for mental health care, partly due to awareness of the opioid crisis. Whether or not they will support these bills is uncertain, but it was good to just begin the relationships.
If there was a take-home for me, it was the importance of relationships. I had some lovely conversations in between things with Adrienne Jett, our ECP Committee Chair, and learned more about her work in the prison. I shared a cab and lunch at the airport with Kathy Ashton and got to get her advice for the rest of my presidential year in OPA, and I had time to talk with Michael Mobley who served with me on the Board of Division 17 (Society for Counseling Psychology). He was present at PLC as a Public Interest delegate, and we talked about the stresses of our leadership roles at work (he’s on faculty at Salem State during a transition time) and play (he’s chair of APA’s Board on the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest). I also stole as much time as possible with Sandy Shullman who has been a mentor for me. It was great to watch her relationship with current APA President Rosie Bingham. I can see how Rosie and Sandy will each do what is best for APA in their year and then hand the baton to the next one to lead the organization forward. They’ve committed to this strategy of collaboration and organization-first over personal priorities. I left the conference warmed by these relationships and inspired for the year ahead!