Psychotherapy Bulletin

Psychotherapy Bulletin

Clinical Impact Statement: This article discusses a variety of ways graduate students and early career psychologists can become involved in professional organizations and service, and the benefits afforded by participation. Specific examples related to pursuing graduate awards and grants, professional organization membership, and opportunities for committee participation are discussed. Recommendations and conclusions for graduate students, early career psychologists, and their mentors are provided.

Oftentimes, guidance around professional development can be circumscribed to a particular domain of psychology (e.g., clinical practice, research, teaching) or area of focus (e.g., internship opportunities, considerations in telehealth). We would like to broaden this guidance to talk about professional development in the context of becoming involved in professional organizations. The two authors of this article are both active members of Division 29 (Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy) of the American Psychological Association (APA) and were members of the same clinical psychology doctoral program.

As early career psychologists, we would like to reflect upon how we have contributed to professional organizations and how we have benefitted in return; we will use our experiences within Division 29 to identify concrete examples. Although we anticipate engaging in professional service throughout our careers, we would like to reflect on our joint experiences to impress upon graduate students and early career psychologists the tangible benefits of professional service and membership in professional organizations.

Getting Involved Early

As early career psychologists, it is still quite clear which aspects of our clinical and academic training contributed to the successes that led us to where we are today. Any graduate student can readily describe these various facets of training, including didactics, practica, clinical supervision, and research mentorship. However, one of the under-recognized (and under-utilized) components of graduate education is professional development in the form of experience with professional organizations.

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to become exposed to professional organizations during graduate school is through the award process. Unless the graduate program and/or the student’s mentor bring awareness of the various awards and grants offered by professional organizations, students may not consider these opportunities. We would encourage students to look broadly at professional organizations that are consistent with their interests. For example, students might consider reviewing the various Divisions of APA and see what piques their interest. We would also encourage students to recognize that professional organizations offer all sorts of award opportunities. For example, in addition to the four student research paper awards offered by Division 29, it also offers a Student Excellence in Practice Award and Student Excellence in Teaching-Mentorship Award. Each author of this article was fortunate enough to have been awarded a student research paper award, which laid the groundwork for our involvement in Division 29. These awards are on top of the grant opportunities available to students. It does not matter whether your interests are in teaching, research, or practice, professional organizations offer awards as an excellent first step to become acquainted with institutions outside of the graduate program.

Once a student has found a professional organization that maintains values and priorities consistent with the student’s, the student might consider becoming involved with committee work. For example, Division 29 offers a particularly salient opportunity for students through the Student Development Committee. This committee is what gave this author (NRM) his start in professional service! However, we would encourage students to remain open to other committees they may not have previously considered. Committees are regularly looking for the fresh perspectives that students bring to the mix, and student participation on the Membership Committee, Education and Training Committee, or any of the other Division committees is a win-win for both the student and the Division.

So why would a student want to consider participation in one of these committees on top of their graduate school responsibilities? In addition to the new line on the curriculum vitae, a number of benefits present themselves. First, the student develops a host of new network connections. This author (NRM) was a former Student Representative and Chair of the Student Development Committee, and in this role was able to interact with psychologists involved in primarily practice-oriented careers or teaching-oriented careers. As someone who was grappling with what to do with my career upon graduation, the ability to speak with psychologists outside of my program who were engaged in the day-to-day tasks of roles I was interested in pursuing was invaluable. Additionally, participation in committee work afforded me the opportunity to develop leadership abilities in the context of professional service. It cannot be overstated how helpful it can be to hear perspectives from those at diverse programs and/or stages of life, and to brainstorm creative solutions as part of a team. This work has been foundational as I (NRM) consider the role of service in my current position as a tenure-track assistant professor.

Early Career Opportunities

When transitioning from graduate student to early career psychologist (ECP), the opportunities for involvement in professional organizations expand further. For example, as an ECP member of Division 29, one has the chance to become involved in Division leadership through serving as a Domain Representative (an elected position) or being appointed as a Committee Chair. It is valuable to note, being involved in the Division early in training, as described previously in this article, can help facilitate moving into these leadership roles later. Opportunities often breed opportunities, which may be especially relevant in a somewhat small Division in which members are often familiar with one another and their respective work. I (RMA) was an active graduate student member of the Division. Once I completed my postdoctoral fellowship, I was asked to run for an open position on the Executive Board by a mentor who was also serving in a leadership role. I was subsequently elected to the position, and I feel confident that if I had not been an active student member, this opportunity would not have presented itself so early in my career (or possibly not at all). Following my service on the Executive Board, I had the chance to run for a Domain Representative position, which has allowed me to continue my involvement in Division work.

There are many benefits to becoming involved in professional organizations as an ECP. One of the key incentives is the ability to be involved in making policy changes at various levels of an organization. In Division 29, for example, serving in a leadership role allows for voting on Division issues like who should receive awards and grant funding each year or whether membership should be expanded to undergraduate students (an initiative that author NRM spearheaded). Further, being part of Division leadership also allows for input into higher level APA decision-making and policy changes, such as by providing feedback about the organization’s strategic plan, through endorsing APA presidential candidates, and assisting with yearly convention planning, to name a few.

Another benefit that comes from participation in professional organizations as an ECP is the potential for professional advancement. Being involved in committee work and/or being elected to leadership roles can help bolster tenure packages for those in academia and may lead to financial incentives for those working in medical centers or the private sector (both of which are true for the writers of this article). For those in private practice, the diverse network of professionals on the Board can help to increase referrals through networking.

As was discussed in the context of student involvement in organizations, professional networking is also a fundamental benefit of being involved as an ECP. Connecting with individuals across settings, institutions, and geographic locations can have wonderful professional benefits (e.g., help to identify mentors or mentees, learn new skills, partner together on projects, increase access to job opportunities, gain new ideas/perspectives, etc.). When I (RMA) served on the Executive Board of the Division, I acquired many new leadership skills that contributed to my later advancement into a Training Director role at my current institution. Further, if one is in a leadership position within Division 29, there is often the chance to attend an in-person board meeting at least once per year. This affords the opportunity to connect face-to-face and work strategically over the course of several days on Division tasks as well as other professional projects, which can be invaluable for professional development. For example, I (NRM) am in the beginning stages of starting a private practice; given the networks I was able to establish through my committee work, I was able to reach out directly to multiple middle- and senior-career psychologists I had collaborated with on projects for recommendations regarding the start-up of my business and recommendations for resources and best practices.

Recommendations and Conclusions

In light of our experiences, we have several recommendations for those interested in professional service and those who mentor them. First, for mentors, we would encourage you to serve as a role model for your mentee. If you are mentoring a graduate student, consider setting aside time to explicitly discuss professional service opportunities. If you direct a lab or practice in a niche clinical area, consider generating a spreadsheet with awards and professional opportunities former students have pursued over the years. These mentorship opportunities can continue beyond graduate school as well. We would encourage senior colleagues to involve junior colleagues in their professional organizations. This may be especially helpful for ECPs who have transitioned into a job or role that includes skill sets they may not have developed in the past (e.g., assistant professors new to teaching/advising, clinicians new to practice in a primary care setting). Help them to consider the resources and benefits that come from involvement in professional organizations they may not have previously considered.

Lastly, for all individuals in the field, across all levels of training and career stages, we encourage you to get involved. We did not expect to take the professional trajectories that we did but have been grateful not only for the benefits of professional membership in organizations like Division 29, but also for the privilege of what we have been able to give back. We encourage openness to new experiences within professional organizations and participation throughout one’s career. We hope you will consider this tradition of service in our field!

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Cite This Article

Morrison, N., & Ametrano, R. (2022). Membership in professional organizations: Benefits and recommendations. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 57(3), 12-15.

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