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Rosie's 1999 Division 17 Presidential Address

The following text was published in The Counseling Psychologist, Vol. 28 No. 1, January 2000 143-149.



In 1997, The Division of Counseling Psychology turned 50 years old. My lifeline hit that marker in April of this year, 1999. I contemplated a title for this talk after our program chair, Mark Savickas, called and informed me that a title was needed by the end of January. I puzzled over whether or not I would have some kind of age crisis when I reached that 50-year marker; I began to wonder how the division had changed in 50 years and how I had changed in 50 years. I certainly hoped that each had learned and grown in some positive directions. One friend of mine, Dr. Jerrie Scott, suggested that over the next several weeks and months, that I begin to write down each lesson that I thought I had learned. If I did that, she promised that by August, my speech would essentially be written. I began to take her advice and actually had what I considered to be some great gems. I would write thoughts down in the car as I drove to work; sometimes that would be on the back of a check deposit slip. Other thoughts came to me at various conferences and workshops; those were written on the different notepads provided by the conference hosts. And still others were written on the backs of envelopes, brown paper bags, napkins, and so on. Now, what Jerrie forgot to tell me is to keep all of the notes in one place. So, when I finally settled down to write the speech, I could not find any of the notes. So, my first lesson to each of you is to get organized and keep all of your notes in one place.


Well, in any case, there was only one real lesson that I found to be overriding for me and for the division. All other lessons seem to fall underneath that lesson in some way. The lesson is simple: Although exclusion is easier, inclusion is better. Now, if we were at a Baptist church and the minister were getting ready to preach, he—or, in a small number of cases, she—would take her text about now and would repeat the text one more time, at which point in the service the ushers, who would be standing, could now take their seats. So my text again is, “Exclusion is easier, but inclusion is better.” He drew a circle and left me out; I drew a bigger circle and included him in. So my subtext is, “Draw the circle bigger.” I am an African American, a Black woman. Been one all of my life. I have had many occasions to watch these United States of America struggle with including me—with including women, immigrants, Asians, Latinas/Latinos, gays, lesbians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, people with disabilities, atheists. You get the picture. That our very country struggled with the issue of inclusion is reflected in one of our founding documents, the Constitution. Just ponder the three-fifths-of-a-person category for African Americans and the recent right-to-vote amendment for women. The founders struggled but came to know that we must include. Exclusion was the first impulse, but inclusion was better. The politicians of the time came to know that.


As I have looked at the history of Division 17, it seems that issues of inclusion often came up, especially as counseling psychology has sought to define itself. How would counseling psychology be included in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles? How would counseling psychology be included in the HCFA definition? How would counseling psychology be included so that our graduates could be licensed? Our practitioners reimbursed? We have fought many battles with clinical psychology and APA on how counseling psychologists should be included. In the executive board meetings, we spend time trying to find out how to make sure that counseling psychologists are included on all major boards and committees. Why do we do that? Because we want a piece of the pie. We want to be in the circle. We want to be able to practice, teach, and research what we believe in. We think what we have to say and do is important. We want people to value and recognize that because it is true. We want to belong. We want to be included.


Actually, in 1946, APA recognized that it was better to include than exclude. I won’t go into a long history here because you can read that in the volumes edited by Dewsbury (1998). But, there were a number of organizations cropping up to represent psychologists, and, right after World War II, there was money to be had for the adjustment counseling of returning veterans. Later, after Sputnik, there was money to educate and help our children adjust to a world more in need of students who were good in math and science (Meara & Myers, 1998). APA knew it was more effective to speak with one voice if psychologists were to influence public policy and vie for economic resources. Opportunities evolved for large numbers of psychologists. But to prevail upon those in control, we needed to demonstrate our power through numbers. The organization needed to be big. Yet, there were so many different kinds and breeds of psychologists. How were they to stay together? The brilliant minds of the day thought of “unity through divisions.” One umbrella, under which would come smaller groupings of professionals who could get their specific needs met yet belong to the larger organization which would have more power to influence social policy. “It is through these divisions that the unit of APA was reestablished . . . Not only to advance psychology as a science but also as a practice that could be used in the promotion of human welfare” (Dewsbury, 1998, p. 3). Inclusion was better.


Division 17 was 1 of the 19 charter divisions in the reorganized APA. And, of 17, it was said, “This story is one of struggle for inclusion for itself and for its ideals of psychological health and development in an increasing milieu for recognition and reimbursement as service professionals” (Meara & Myers, 1998, p. 35). Counseling psychology was born out of the guidance movement and vocational psychology, not the more familiar pathologies. And so, in APA, there has been a continuing struggle over whether counseling psychology really belonged. Counseling psychology did not start in dark rooms, with the mentally ill being warehoused in places that thought bloodletting could cure insanity. Isn’t it interesting that to want to start with the strengths of people could lead to so much trouble with credibility as a legitimate profession? Of course, now counseling psychology struggles with continuing its focus at that starting place of strength since insurance companies and HMOs do not reimburse when a therapist merely begins with a person’s strengths—there is no DSM tag for that. Health Maintenance Organization policies further challenge our right and determination to be in the circle, the right to be included as the people we say we are.


It is interesting, too, that counseling psychology has always focused on special populations. One early focus was on veterans. Counseling psychologists wanted to include all individuals and environments as they worked to help people develop their strengths. It’s hard for me to understand how a group like counseling psychology, which has struggled so hard to be included, can practice exclusion. In reading the division history or APA history, it is difficult to find, for example, the struggle of an African American woman for inclusion, for acceptance, for value, for belonging, within APA and within Division 17. It was in the division’s 50th year that it elected its first person of color as president. That’s a long time. And yet, it exemplifies one of the messages I have absorbed during my 50-year stay. Things do change. Even glaciers move. We just cannot see it with the naked eye. Over time, in the division, we have lost a lot of participation by people of color. The perceptions were that it is just too difficult to find a place in Division 17; it is a cold place. It is a place that does not know its own racism, does not want to know it, and will not fight against it. These perceptions are fueled in part by current realities and past histories. Thirty years ago, the Association of Black Psychologists was formed. In 1968, Black psychologists began to lobby APA to relate more to the needs of the Black community, to fight more to eradicate racism, to educate more Black psychologists. In 1969, the lobbying efforts were expanded to include support for a moratorium on testing Black children with biased and unfair tests. After numerous meetings and even some collaborations, the psychologists finally concluded that it was useless and maybe even nonsensical to keep coming to a Euro American organization asking for support for Africentric needs. So the group decided it must take care of its own. There must be an organization with an African philosophy to train Black people to meet the needs of people of African descent (Williams, 1999). So the group left APA. And it feels as if an arm of APA is missing. This organization does not feel whole. Is exclusion better than inclusion?


Interestingly enough, in my formative years as a psychologist, I was not nurtured into either ABPsi, The Association of Black Psychologists, or APA, the American Psychological Association. I was recruited into and spent my time with APGA, The American Personnel and Guidance Association. I found a warm and supportive environment in something called the Association for Nonwhite Concerns. Now, I did find the name very strange, but I found the people very real. There were outstanding programs and great dances. But isn’t it curious that because APA and ABPsi were no longer together, that so many Black psychologists were not part of either? I venture a hypothesis that both organizations were weaker because of creeping exclusivity.


I received a doctorate in 1977. I attended my first APA convention in 1983. I had been attending APGA—now the American Counseling Association, ACA—for nearly 10 years before I went to my first APA convention. Where were the role models who would suggest that a young, African American woman go to the convention? Where were the mentors who would shepherd her through the maze that leads to inclusion? Where were the sages who knew that integration is better than segregation? Where were the wise men and women who knew that exclusion is easier, but inclusion is better? Where were the politicians who knew that in order to increase representation to the Council of Representatives, more people needed to join the division? Did they not know that it is the votes that count for the increase, not the skin color? If the circle had been drawn to include that colored girl, would council have had to include one more seat for Division 17? Race matters. The question is how shall it matter? What will we do with it? About it? And for it?


We reorganized all of APA so that the academics would not feel left out, so that the scientists would not feel left out, so that the practitioners would not feel left out. How did we let those Black psychologists walk out? How could we become a Euro-American organization when we would not become just a scientist organization? We are supposed to be a psychologist organization. Thoresen said, “Human problems have never conformed to disciplinary divisions” (Meara & Myers, 1998; cf. Thoresen, 1980). The divisions were created for unity and strength. How did we think we would function if part of us walked out? And how did we think we would function if we did not continue to ask people of color to come on in? The inclusion circle must be big, and thus the subtext.


Is APA a Euro-American organization? What about Division 17? Some people say that perception is reality. Well, I do believe that certainly we can sometimes make decisions as if that is true. But then again, another message that I have accepted at the half-century mark is that things aren’t always what they seem. If Division 17 is not just a Euro-American organization, can we showcase it so that it remains essentially Division 17—focusing on the strengths of people to help people—and then make it even more inclusive so that those who feel left out can find their way in? Can we paint a bold and bright welcome sign, and can we mean it? I believe we can because there is evidence. Whereas it took us 50 years to elect our first president of color, it only took 2 more years to elect the second one. Sometimes, change happens faster than glaciers move! If we get enough people in the circle, we will see that indeed race does matter because, if I am not a part of the circle, you will see that and step out to find me and bring me back in.


I believe that if we take care of the least of these, then we will take care of all of us. That means that if there is one person with a need, and we address that need, we may all benefit or at least lose nothing. I am richly impressed with the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At the University of Memphis, if we inadvertently schedule a class on the fourth floor of a building, without elevator access to the classroom, if there is a student who uses a wheelchair in that class, we will move the entire class to another floor to accommodate the student in the wheelchair. We move everybody to accommodate one somebody. That’s inclusion, and everyone profits. The student knows he or she is valued, the other students learn from that peer, and the university collects money from all of them. By the way, you do know that many people lobbied against that act just as Strom Thurmond filibustered for 24 hours in 1957 as he tried to deny passage of the Civil Rights Bill. But so what? Just because we decide we want to be inclusive does not mean someone else will want the same thing. We can expect the fight for exclusiveness. Witness Kosovo—a fight for ethnic cleansing. Witness Nazi Germany—a fight for ethnic cleansing. But I sure hope we will fight just as hard for inclusion. Have the courage for the fight. Another message that rings true after 50 years is that courage is nothing more than going on in spite of my fears.


I recently read a book entitled Who Moved My Cheese?  by Dr. Spencer Johnson. In the book, he asks the question, “What would you do if you were not afraid?” That’s my question to each of you. If you weren’t afraid, what would you fight for? Oh, I do not mean a big fight; I mean a little fight. I challenge you to think of the smallest thing you can do to begin to include those on the outside. After you think it up, then go do it. Perhaps it is to have the courage to not laugh in your intimate circle of friends when that race joke is told. Or perhaps it is to endorse the multicultural competencies. Or maybe you will just want to think a good thought about your worst enemy. Whatever it is, just do it. It will make your circle of inclusion larger. When I decided to stop just being a desegregationist and to become an integrationist, my circle got bigger, and I began to believe that relationships make life better and that independence is fine, but a little dependence thrown in sure makes life a lot more fun.


By now, some of you may be wondering whether or not I know that Division 17 has reorganized, has sections so that we can be more inclusive. We have sections on women, gay/lesbian/bisexual, ethnic and racial diversity, independent practice, vocational psychology, health psychology, and we are working on one on prevention. Certainly, that means we are inclusive. Yet, The Section of Counseling Health Psychology is struggling to feel that Division 17 really accepts them. The Special Interest Group on Disabilities has never found life. And we have at least 5,000 counseling psychologists who are a part of APA but cannot find a home within 17. We need to draw a bigger circle.


You may ask why I have not said much about the responsibility of ABPsi to try to find a way back to APA. I have not because APA, Division 17, is my home. I want to get my house in order before I go ask my neighbor if I can help her to change. Division 17 has taken me in. It took a poor Black girl from the segregated streets of Smoky City, a neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee. A neighborhood where gunshots were common and cheap wine was the beverage of the day. A place with four-room, gray, wooden, shotgun houses beaten down by heat, rain, and neglect and serving as shelter for families of 2 or 12 children. A place where every adult in the neighborhood was a parent to every child in the neighborhood. And sometimes everybody went hungry. You took that little Black girl who went on in the face of her fears, and you made that woman your president. It’s been easy to exclude, but you drew your circle bigger and decided to include me. For that, I thank you. Now who else can we draw in?




Dewsbury, D. A. (1998). Unification through divisions: Histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association (Vol. 3). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Johnson, S. (1998). Who moved my cheese? New York: G. P. Putnam. Meara, N. M., & Myers, R. A. (1998). A history of division 17 (counseling psychology): Establishing stability amid change. In D. A. Dewsbury (Ed.), Unification through divisions: Histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association (Vol. 3). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Thoresen, C. E. (1980). Reflections on chronic health, self-control and human ethology. In J.M.

Whitely & B. R. Fretz (Eds.), The present and future of counseling psychology. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Williams, R. L. (1999). Open letter to the president of the American Psychological Association:

The purposes and missions of the ABPsi: A history. Psych Discourse, 30, 4-6.



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