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Throughout a challenging year marked by public health, racial, political, and mental health crises, the DC Psychological Association (DCPA) has shown itself to be a leader in innovative programing, diversity and social justice, and advancing the profession of psychology through legislative advocacy. Under the leadership of Dr. Suzan Stafford, DCPA has risen to meet the needs of not only the Washington D.C. community, but also DCPA’s positive influence reached nearly 50 states across the country. 

COVID-19 Task Force

By mid-March, as the country was just beginning to understand the seriousness of the COVID- 19 pandemic, DCPA members were already joining forces under the leadership of Dr. Jessica Smedley and Dr. Samira Paul to establish the COVID-19 Task Force. The COVID-19 Task Force aimed to provide a supportive presence and united front for DCPA members and the community. Throughout the year, the Task Force effectively identified the needs of our fellow providers, consumers and local community members and partners. The Task Force provided 14 free virtual support groups, established a Telehealth therapist finder, hosted wellness and educational webinars, interfaced with the local media, compiled an online resource center with educational articles, ran a Town Hall and increased accessibility of all resources by advocating for free membership for students and individuals experiencing financial strain.

The Task Force provided support groups for self-care, parents, adults living alone, first responders, military and veterans, LGBTQ+ community, and clergy members. Educational webinars were presented on the topics of Health and Fitness, Food and Feelings, and Restorative Yoga. They addressed issues of racial disparity in the mental health field and at large with “Can You See Me? Honoring Black Mental Health During a Double Pandemic;” held a support group for Black Psychologists, and partnered with the DCPA Diversity and Social Justice Committee (DSJI) on several workshops including Addressing Racial and Political Issues from a Black Perspective.

The work of the task force and DCPA were featured in televised stories by NBC4, radio interviews through Washington’s Top News (WTOP), virtual chats provided by the DC Attorney General, and print articles through the DCist, a local news organization. Dr. Victoria Sylos- Labini, current President of DCPA, was interviewed for a documentary by the Palisades History Museum about the psychological impact of COVID and the DCPA’s work to serve the community. This coverage allowed DCPA to directly access the greater Washington D.C. community and engage them with DCPA’s free mental health and educational resources.

Diversity, Social Justice & Inclusion Committee

The DSJI has been an integral part of DCPA for the past six years, but over the last year, they have managed to increase their scope and help DCPA prioritize multiple diversity initiatives. Led by Dr. Samira Paul, the DSJI aimed to advance the understanding of the impact of differences in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, language and ability on our daily lived experiences as practitioners, students and community while advocating for social change.

The DSJI calls for promotion of diversity of our membership and association, in addition to implementing strategies to ensure not only recruitment but retention. The DSJI became a committee of 13 psychologists and 20 students with diverse backgrounds (religion, sexuality, race, age, ethnicity, language and culture). DSJI created two innovative positions for student leadership within the committee. These positions allow for students to be seen and their voices to be heard. DSJI addresses equity, diversity and inclusion on campus, and provides externships and internships in addition to students concerns (academic and professional training). The student representative is provided with opportunities to lead student discussion panels and co- host webinars, network with psychologists in the field, access mentorship opportunities by several DSJI committee members and DCPA members with other psychologists, advocate for diversity and social justice issues.

Additionally, DSJI partnered with academic institutions and organizations such as Howard University, Greater Washington Urban League, and Georgetown University. The committee collaborated on statements and a series of educational webinars for educators, psychologists, counselors, students and members of the community. The DSJI team also addressed various media requests ranging from microaggressions to domestic violence. DSJI also created a multimedia resource library to provide DCPA members and the community social justice, LGBTQIA, religion, disabilities, and difficult conversations resources.

Lastly, the DSJI was instrumental in the DCPA Board receiving an anti-racist training that addressed biases, microaggressions, and learning tools to become better allies for the community. DSJI worked closely with the Professional Development Committee (PDC) to ensure the provision of monthly educational webinars to educate on anti-racism and allyship for clinicians and the public, to include racial trauma, microaggressions training, enhancing safety for clinicians and trainees and affirmation of LGBTQIA.

Professional Development Committee

Led by Dr. Stephen Stein, the Professional Development component of DCPA is designed to meet the educational and professional needs of the membership. In addition to providing continuing education for licensure, a crucial objective of professional development is to provide training programs that address the emerging needs and challenges of the mental health profession and the community. The PDC worked closely with the DSJI to provide empathic attunement, awareness and clinical training, skill acquisition and capabilities designed to meet the challenges we collectively face. They also provided continuing education training on ethics and legality of telehealth, health and fitness, and nutrition and eating disorders. Some of the 14 workshops provided in collaboration with the DSJI committee include anti-racism and allyship trainings for our clinicians and the public, such as Anti-Black Racism; Race, Racism and Racial Trauma; De- Colonization of Mental Health: Nurturing Student Activism (with Howard University); Enhancing Safety for Psychology Trainees; and Racial Microaggressions.

Government Relations Committee

The Government Relations Committee (GRC) was expanded in 2020 from a single individual to a diverse collection of seven psychologists and two students. Led by Dr. Jeremy Kozne, the goal of GRC is to encourage training and engagement of psychologists interested in learning how to participate in advocacy while actively pushing for legislative change supported by psychological principles and research. The GRC advocated within the D.C. city government for the passage of the interjurisdictional psychology compact “PSYPACT” and emergency police reform legislation during the Black Lives Matter protests. Despite facing significant opposition in both of these efforts towards change, the GRC was able to mobilize DCPA membership to interface with their Councilmembers. This mobilization resulted in the unanimous passage of the PSYPACT bill and the emergency police reform. Information provided by the GRC was directly referenced as influential in convincing local legislators of necessary addendums to the police reform bill. In addition, the GRC has informed membership about federal advocacy efforts spearheaded by APA, contributed to multiple DCPA statements and public comments on issues including police reform, anti-racism, and federal executive orders. The GRC also began collecting data from students, early career psychologists, and postdoctoral training programs to begin legislative advocacy on licensure laws within the city. Finally, the GRC members authored a paper that was accepted with edits to the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy focused on trauma in the “double pandemic”. They were assisted in this article by graduate students from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Internal Reorganization

While providing necessary support to the community, focusing on diversity, and engaging in challenging legislative advocacy, DCPA also turned to address issues within the organization. Efforts made in this area are crucial for establishing financial integrity that will last into the future. First, Board members led by Dr. Victoria Sylos-Labini initiated a review of the Executive Director of the Association. After review and a period of evaluation, the leadership decided to transition towards new options. Board members began a search for a new executive director with the goals of finding an individual that could provide expertise on membership growth, engagement, fiscal responsibility, and diversity. The search ended successfully with the hiring of Mrs. Angela Richardson from Association Management Resources.

In 2021, DCPA has established a new strategic plan, a new board orientation, and new policy and procedures to keep up with DCPA’s growth and mission. New committees were created and they focus on Membership, Early Career Psychologists, and Student. DCPA acquired seven new board members and increased the diversity of the board by 200%. DCPA has been successful in increasing representation of diverse groups in the Association's board and leadership as well as providing mentoring for psychologists and students of diverse backgrounds. Additionally, introspective examination of DCPA Board values have enabled the Association to address implicit biases and embrace diversification of identities and experiences through a three-part diversity training. The Board plans to continue participating in anti-racist trainings annually and they also attend the monthly anti-racism trainings provided by DSJI.

In conclusion, DCPA has shown not only sustainable growth, but the ability to be a leader in the field despite the significant challenges of the year. The efforts of our COVID-19 Task Force and multiple committees display DCPA’s exceptional leadership and membership involvement. The efforts in prioritizing diversity have resulted in legitimate cultural change within DCPA while advocacy efforts have made an impact in the community. DCPA’s internal reorganization is indicative of the Association’s desire to not simply be satisfied with where it is, but to hold growth and change as actionable plans. 

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The D.C. Psychological Association (DCPA) works to advance psychology as a source for the promotion of public welfare and human dignity.

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