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Going to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the community organizer Saul Alinsky changed my life forever. Their words shook me awake, wouldn't let go.
By the time I graduated from college, their words had convinced me to delay a fellowship to study literature so that I could learn community organizing and try to make a difference. I worked in an inner-city area of severe poverty during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For the first time in my life, I lived where there were no neighbors of my own race.
Those years showed me how poverty, unmet basic needs, and injustice can assault individual lives. I also witnessed the power of people working together to bring about profound change.
A crucial lesson began one day in a cafe where the community gathered. A deacon in a church whose roots reached back to the days before the Civil War invited me to visit the church that Sunday.
I entered the church that weekend and found a seat at the back, looking forward to the minister's sermon. When the time came for the sermon, the minister walked up to the pulpit, looked out at us, and began, "We are most pleased that our neighbor, Mr. Ken Pope, agreed to visit us today, and we look forward to his sermon." This taught me not to assume that my understandings are always shared by others--and that life often calls us to do more than just show up.
After my years living in that community, I began the delayed fellowship to study literature at Harvard. But the years between college and graduate school had changed me. When I received an M.A. at the end of the year, I did not want to continue studies in that field. I explained my change of heart, expecting to be shown the door. But they surprised me. They told me I could continue to study, taking whatever courses I found interesting in any fields. Some courses I took the next year were in psychology and they felt like my home. I'll always be thankful to the university for their kindness in allowing me to delay my fellowship, in letting me take courses in diverse fields, and in the professors' generosity with their time and support. Because Harvard lacked a clinical psychology program, I transferred to Yale for my clinical psychology doctorate.
What happened in these early years has kept happening throughout my life: Fellow students, colleagues, patients, and others have made me realize that whatever beliefs I held at any given time could be rethought, that I needed to consider new perspectives, new possibilities, new ways of finding, creating, and using resources.
One example: Our faculty-intern discussions followed a predictable pattern: Asked to present a case, each of us interns would choose to describe that week's version of "my toughest case," making clear what tough challenges we faced and how brilliant our insights and interventions. Midyear, an intern broke the pattern: "I feel awful this week. The situation was not that difficult but I made some bad mistakes, and ended up having to hospitalize the patient. I need help figuring out what's going on with this patient, why I did what I did, and how I can do things differently." Her honesty, courage, integrity, and clear concern for the person she wanted to help woke us from our complacent habits of thinking and feeling. We confronted how we approached learning and how we treated each other. We talked about how fear, envy, and competitiveness affected who we were, how we thought, what we did. One person had changed our community.
In my early years as a licensed psychologist, I served as clinical director of a nonprofit hospital and community mental health center. My prior experiences led me to focus on the ability of the staff, the Board of Directors, and the surrounding community to work together identifying needs and creating ways to meet those needs. Working together, the diverse individuals in that array of groups created home-bound psychological services, a 24-hour crisis service, legal services for people who are poor or homeless, a program for people whose primary language is Spanish, and group homes allowing people who are mentally disabled to live independently. What the people in these groups accomplished showed again and again the decisive role that each can play in the lives of others, the ways we can awaken each other to new perspectives and possibilities, and how people working together can bring about change.
Teaching the occasional undergraduate course in the UCLA psychology department, supervising therapy in the UCLA Psychology Clinic, chairing the ethics committees of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), becoming a charter member and later Fellow of what is now the Association of Psychological Science, and other experiences in those early years kept reminding me of the need to keep rethinking what I think I know and my ways of working, to ask "What if I'm wrong about this?", "Is there a better way to understand this?", "What else could I do that might be more effective?"
Since leaving institutional work in the mid-1980s, I've been an independent clinical and forensic psychologist, but the themes of my work, touched on above, continue, even as they continue to take on new forms.
One question I've struggled with is: How can psychologists have better access to relevant information without it adding to their time-restraints and financial burden?
Almost two decades ago, I started a Psychology News List via email, free and open to all. I wanted to make it a little easier--especially for those in isolated areas or those who lack easy access to the relevant materials--to keep up with the new research, changing legal standards, controversial topics, and other trends that affect our work. Each day I send out 6-10 items, most of them excerpts from new and in-press articles from psychology and other scientific and professional journals, psychology-related articles from that day's newspapers, new court decisions affecting psychology, job announcements, and referral requests sent to me by list members. Although not a discussion list and now quite large, it has become a supportive community. From time to time members ask me to circulate a request for information or suggestions for dealing with an aging parent, a family emergency, a clinical or forensic issue, or a business-related problem with their practice--almost all write me later to tell me how supported they felt to receive so many personal responses.
Every year I've sent 2 questions to the list: Early in spring I ask what sources of joy, meaning, or hope they have that particular year that sustains them in hard times; and between the Canadian and U.S. Thanksgivings, I ask what they are especially thankful for that year. When I circulate a compilation of all the responses, members tell me how much the process makes them feel less alone and more connected to others.
Another way we can make information more accessible is through web sites that provide articles and other resources without making access contingent on subscriptions, memberships, fees, or other restrictions. Two of mine are "Articles, Research, & Resources in Psychology" at http://kspope.com and "Accessibility & Disability Information & Resources in Psychology Training & Practice" at http://kpope.com.
For 29 years APA was my professional home. As chair of the APA Ethics Committee and a Fellow of 9 APA Divisions, I worked with many people who became close friends and gave so much to my professional and personal life. I was honored to receive the APA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Service "for rigorous empirical research, landmark articles and books, courageous leadership, fostering the careers of others, and making services available to those with no means to pay"; the Division 12 Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Clinical Psychology; the Division 42 Award for Mentoring; and other forms of recognition.
In 2008, with great regret and sadness I resigned from the APA. My respect and affection for the members made this a hard and reluctant step. I respectfully disagreed with decisive changes that APA made in its ethical stance after 9-11. In my view, those changes moved APA far from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values, and beyond what I could in good conscience support with my membership. 9-11 cast all of us into a tangle of complex issues, dangerous realities, and hard choices . My decision to resign from APA reflected my effort to judge what was right for me. I respect those who saw things differently, held other beliefs, took other paths.
We can each give so much to each other and to our communities. Sometimes just a word or gesture helps someone to keep going, overcome a baffling obstacle, or see new vistas. An example: During that second year at Harvard I signed up for an advanced course in the med school. The first day I was already lost. The professor kept asking if we saw various structures in our microscopes. Everyone nodded yes, but I had no idea what he was talking about. I was too embarrassed to admit I couldn't see any of them. Finally I raised my hand and confessed. He looked at me a long time, then came down the aisle, put his hand on my back, leaned down to the floor, and plugged in my electronic microscope. Sometimes that's all it takes.