Advocacy is the promotion, support, and advancement of ideas pertaining to a specific cause or issue. With relation to psychology, advocacy can apply to promotion of a myriad of issues. Social acceptance, judicial education, and professional awareness are just some of the areas of concern within the psychological field for which advocacy could play a major role. But advocating for psychological causes is far less common than other social and personal issues. The media have never broadcast an Occupy APA before, because it probably has never happened. Undergraduate students pursuing degrees in psychology rarely appear on the evening news holding signs asking for more grant money to advance research on mental health issues. Amy E. Heinowitz, a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, was curious as to why individuals involved in the field of psychology do not engage in advocacy behaviors at rates similar to professionals in other fields.
Heinowitz surveyed a group of psychology students and staff members from a local college and asked them about their attitudes toward advocacy. She found that there were distinct differences between individuals who advocate and those who do not. “Results indicate that those who advocate do so regardless of whether the issue lies within or outside of their specific field,” said Heinowitz. “More simply, those who advocate, advocate.” This could be the result of a personal character trait of the advocate, regardless of their profession. The low number of psychological advocates may be due to the fact that many individuals who pursue a field in psychology are more interested in personal causes than larger social causes.
Upon further examination, Heinowitz discovered that there were three main barriers that prevented people from advocating for mental health issues. They were as follows: a complete lack of interest in advocacy efforts, being uncertain of which topics to advocate for and how to go about doing it, and finally, being unaware of the political or social concerns that warrant advocacy. Taken together, these barriers result in a relatively low rate of advocacy for a field that desperately needs social, financial, and political support. Heinowitz encourages mental health students and professionals to educate themselves on the psychological issues that are most vulnerable to policy change. Advocacy by field members will ensure that clients will continue to be able to receive the most appropriate care available in their time of need.
Heinowitz, A. E., Brown, K. R., Langsam, L. C., Arcidiacono, S. J., Baker, P. L., Badaan, N. H., et al. (2012). Identifying perceived personal barriers to public policy advocacy within psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029161
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