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American Psychological Association, Aug. 6-9, 2009

Last Updated: August 12, 2009.

American Psychological Association 117th Annual Convention

The American Psychological Association's 117th Annual Convention took place from Aug. 6 to 9 in Toronto, and attracted about 10,000 attendees, mostly from the United States and Canada, but also from a number of other countries. Key topics included health care reform in the United States, two new APA task force reports, and research addressing issues ranging from the use of dogs in psychotherapy to increases in smoking and binge drinking among adolescents.

"One of the most important threads running through the meeting was health care reform," said Kim Mills, the APA's associate executive director of public and member communications. "There was a lot of discussion about integrating psychological care into primary care and ensuring access to services. Our members are concerned about developing a diverse work force, eliminating disparities among socioeconomic groups, increasing research funding, and ensuring the privacy of medical records."

Keynote speaker Brian Baird, Ph.D., a U.S. representative from Washington state and a clinical psychologist, said that psychologists are key players in health care reform and should use their expertise to defend the field and its relevance. "The science that we do is important, research-demonstrated and cost-effective," Baird said in a statement. "We know all of these things, but the general public and people in Congress do not."

Two new task force reports -- one on climate change and the other on sexual orientation change efforts -- "garnered quite a bit of interest," Mills said.

The first report, "The Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change," summarized research on environmental and conservation psychology, natural and technological disasters, and two major behavioral determinants of climate change: population growth and energy consumption. "What is unique about current global climate change is the role of human behavior," task force chair, Janet Swim, Ph.D., of Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement. "We must look at the reasons people are not acting in order to understand how to get people to act."

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The second report, "Resolution on Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts," which updated a 1997 resolution and reviewed 83 peer-reviewed studies published between 1960 and 2007, advised psychologists against telling clients that sexual orientation can be changed by therapy or other treatments, to warn clients against seeking treatments that characterize homosexuality as a mental illness, and recommend services that "provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth."

"Contrary to the claims of sexual orientation change effort practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions," task force chair, Judith M. Glassgold, Psy.D., of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., said in a statement. "At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions."

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Other highlights included two sessions showing how service dogs can play an important role in psychotherapy. Led by volunteers from Therapeutic Paws of Canada, which is based in Toronto, the sessions featured more than a dozen dogs and their handlers in demonstrations of how dogs can be useful in helping children, cancer patients, and nursing home residents.

"The practical application is that using dogs in therapy can help clients relax, become more comfortable, and open up," Mills said.

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A recurring theme at the meeting, Mills said, was problems faced by adolescents, including obesity and substance abuse. In one study, Brian P. Daly, Ph.D., of Temple University in Philadelphia, and colleagues studied 2,450 high school students and identified trends in tobacco and alcohol use.

Although they observed that 90 percent of the students were non-smokers and that 87 percent were non-binge drinkers, they found that light or heavy smokers were eight times more likely to be light or heavy binge-drinkers. They also found that males were more likely than females to engage in both behaviors, that Caucasians were more likely than African-Americans or Hispanics to be heavy smokers or binge drinkers, and that Caucasians and African-Americans were equally likely to engage in both smoking and binge drinking.

"These findings are important because they emphasize the need for prevention and intervention programs that target the co-occurrence of two health-risk substances," Daly and colleagues conclude.


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