Barbara Ward-Zimmerman, PhD
Society for Health Psychology President
First, a Brief Update on the Present-Day ‘Health of Health Psychology:’
(Term coined by SfHP 1985-1986 President George Stone.)
I am pleased to report that as a Society we have much to celebrate! We are in a position of strength on numerous measures, including the growing diversity of our membership, expansion of freely available member resources (e.g., webinars offering CE credit and Office Hours dialogues supporting career development), a wide range of activities hosted by Councils, Committees, and Interest Groups, increasing internal cross-pollination amongst Society groups as well as external collaborations with APA and organizations outside of APA, virtual member networking events, timely responses to requests for expertise, soon to come improvements to our website, a well-crafted long-range plan, and rising journal readership. In sum, because of the contributions of our leaders and members, bolstered by the outstanding work of our administrative staff (i.e., Barbara Keeton’s ever-present guidance and assistance combined with the support of Steff Brown), I am proud to say that the Society continues to be in excellent shape; impactful, responsive, proactive, and trail blazing.
The Society’s current state of health and prosperity did not just happen. It is important to acknowledge that today’s robust state of affairs has its roots in our past.
In the Footsteps of our Founding Leaders
Understanding the lessons taught by past leaders in an organization is crucial for several reasons. Knowledge of a professional organization’s history provides context for its current state – its structure, practices, and culture. A professional organization’s history offers valuable lessons learned from past successes and failures and contributes to its identity and sense of purpose. Past leaders model successful approaches to overcoming challenges and inspire innovation and creativity to address new demands. The current success of the SfHP as an organization is in large part a tribute to those who laid our foundation.
In 2028, the SfHP will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of its founding. At that time, we will reflect on the evolution and growth of health psychology while looking ahead at predictions for advancements. In preparation for this milestone anniversary, we have begun to look back at our history by conducting what we are calling ‘Legacy Interviews’ with the early leaders in the field of health psychology and our Society. We are asking all interviewees to share memories of their roles in the Society and the profession, to identify some of the most pressing issues for health psychology in the past, and to make projections into the future. Like the Jewish tradition of passing teachings and responsibilities down from generation to generation (known as L’dor V’dor), we are amassing knowledge and experiences from our teachers to preserve and cherish their wisdom and values so that we may pass them down to future generations of health psychologists.
Our early leaders are diverse visionaries who set the stage for the work health psychologists participate in today in the areas of science, education, practice, system development, and advocacy. They built bridges with other organizations (both in the United States and abroad) and made significant impacts on healthcare systems large and small, population health, and individual lives. The legacy interview recordings will form a video library that shines light on these exceptional leaders whose innovations to improve health outcomes shaped health psychology and made the world ever better.
The three legacy interviews conducted to date reveal the talents, varied yet complementary areas of expertise, as well as inspiring achievements and profound humility of our early leaders. Throughout the course of their productive careers, all three leaders wore multiple professional hats, simultaneously juggling wide-ranging roles and responsibilities, while contributing to and shaping the growth of health psychology. Joseph Matarazzo, PhD, ABPP, our 1978-1979 inaugural SfHP President, made two of his innumerable marks by defining health psychology as a field and demonstrating the value added by integrating health psychology into the larger health care system. Neil Schneiderman, PhD, 1991-1992 SfHP President, the second as well as groundbreaking editor of Health Psychology and promoter of multidisciplinary science teams, continues to be a force in the science and research domains with a longstanding focus on the health of minoritized populations, and Cynthia Belar, PhD, ABPP, 1995-1996 SfHP President, left her signature on the education and training of health psychologists, setting standards for professional competence and board certification as well as serving as the executive director of APA’s Education Directorate for well over a decade.
For a sneak peek into the content of the legacy interviews I offer our initial interviewee’s thoughts related to the historical importance of our Society, aka, Division 38:
Dr. Belar: “We didn’t really have a home within psychology and … (Division 38) brought us together; We were drawn together to focus on the ‘other than’ mental health issues in health; In the beginning we were fighting to be seen as a legitimate area of research and practice; And I always predicted – and I think we are getting close to – a figure/ground reversal, whereby health is really the overarching concept for those who enter into the (health psychology) arena.”
Dr. Schneiderman: “I set the goal of developing an archival and internationally recognized journal that would be accepted by the biological and biomedical scientific community. I am happy to say that the journal, Health Psychology, is doing well and has fulfilled what were beyond my wildest dreams.”
Dr. Matarazzo: Prior to the establishment of Division 38, “…psychologists working in medical centers were frustrated, as most psychologists worked in private practice and therefore, the unique needs of medical psychologists were not addressed; Like others (who established and joined Division 38), I was interested in the nonpsychiatric aspects of illness; I defined Health Psychology for myself and penned guidelines for Division 38; The Division helped graduate students secure the education needed (to work in health care) and to remain strong.” Dr. Matarazzo’s advice to Society members – “So many people need your help…(carry on, and)…be proud of your profession.”
The enormity of the combined contributions of these three passionate leaders is awe-inspiring, particularly once the ripple effects of their decades of impactful work and countless acts of mentorship are grasped. While their legacies have touched every one of us, they extend well beyond the Society. Dr. Matarazzo unassumingly shared, “The day I was born I was blessed.” It is my contention that when he, Dr. Schneiderman, and Dr. Belar were born, we, as members of the SfHP, were the ones who were blessed.
Honoring Our Past
We will continue to pay homage to and highlight the achievements of the leaders in our history as a Society and in 2028 celebrate our founding as well as the collaborations made across the generations of health psychologists. A 50th Anniversary Celebration Task Force will be established this August (2023) to plan the events. Consideration will be given to the timeline, investment needed, content, and range of activities (e.g., an updated historical accounting, outline of milestones, organization of recorded legacy interviews, ‘family trees’ for academic/ research/training/mentoring, the potential creation of a documentary, a special issue of the Health Psychologist, a Health Psychology Conference or Education & Training Summit, etc.). Lots of decisions to be made and work to be done to ensure a proper marking of this important milestone that simultaneously incorporates a look forward to growth and future innovations. Please consider volunteering to participate in celebration planning. Watch for further information.
In closing, as this is my final presidential column, I want to say that it has been an honor to serve as the 2022-2023 President of the Society. I am deeply grateful to our members for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the leadership team for this remarkable organization and to contribute to our Society’s ongoing development. Working with your talented elected and appointed volunteer Board, teams of dedicated members, and awesome staff was truly a pleasure. I will move into the immediate past president role after Convention with appreciation and look forward to a long association with the Society.
I hope to see many of you at Convention in DC this August (3-5). Please attend our ‘not to miss’ programming, participate in activities in our suite, and come say hello at the social to be held on Friday evening.
Barbara Ward-Zimmerman, PhD
Society for Health Psychology President