Presidential Column

Research with Diverse Groups is Critical for the Future of Clinical Psychology

By Elizabeth A. Yeater, Ph.D.

I hope this moment finds you safe and healthy during this continued unprecedented and difficult time. I plan only to convey a few sentiments for my third entry into The Clinical Psychologist. In this edition of tCP, you will have the pleasure of reading the Diversity Spotlight, which highlights the work conducted by Dr. Tahirah Abdullah. Dr. Abdullah is a clinical psychologist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. As you will see, Dr. Abdullah’s work focuses on the influence of racism on the mental health of Black Americans, broadly defined. She examines also mental health inequities, treatment barriers, and resilience within this population. I suspect this crowd does not need me to highlight how important these issues are or emphasize how much recent events have cast them under a sharp, harsh, and unpleasant light.

I have two colleagues in my department at the University of New Mexico who do work similar to Dr. Abdullah’s but with American Indian populations. I unabashedly make this claim – this work is exceptionally difficult – I believe more onerous than your average research program (which is sufficiently hard!). Imagine, for instance, what it takes to get American Indian populations to trust the motivations of researchers! Think of our country’s history, after all. Yet, despite the exceptionally long time that it takes to conduct this work, these researchers (who are often from marginalized populations themselves), are held to the same standards as others doing work that is, by all appearances, easier to execute. That is, the metrics we use in academia to judge “success” are applied without a contextual understanding or appreciation of the complexities of the work involved – What is the researcher’s h-index? What is the impact factor of the journals they publish in? And so it continues, as do the inequities inherent in academia.

We need to stop this excessive focus on metrics alone. Clearly, our country is hurting. Long-standing pain and inequities stand out against the backdrop of America. We have not moved the needle much on human suffering. Psychology needs to value the type of work that Dr. Abdullah and others do and make room for it. As Skinner said long ago (okay, one of my psychology heroes!) we need a thorough going analysis of human behavior to change and understand behavior, which means that all levels of analysis in psychology – brain, behavior, environmental context, culture – are worthy of investigation and of importance.

Enjoy the article on Dr. Abdullah. I will now step out of the way.