Terrence Roberts Speaks on Racism, Resilience

American Psychological Association Annual Conference APA Washington DC

Photo by Lloyd Wolf

In 1957, Terrence James Roberts and eight other teenagers became the first black students to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The nine of us were subjected to a year of sheer hell,” said Roberts at APA’s Committee on Ethnic and Minority Affairs’ breakfast Saturday, where he was awarded a presidential citation by APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD. “Whatever you might possibly consider that one human being could do to another, that happened to us — daily.”

Through resilience and faith, Roberts eventually graduated from Los Angeles High School and went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a PhD in clinical psychology in 1976. In 1999, he and the other members of the Little Rock Nine were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton. Roberts is now retired from the faculty of the Antioch University Los Angeles and is principal of the management consulting firm Terrence Roberts Consulting.

Although things have changed for black Americans in the United States since Roberts’ high school days – and have changed in large part due to his and others’ courage – they haven’t changed enough, he said.

“The law is now on my side, but still I am forced daily to contend daily with the ongoing violence of social and cultural exclusion, demeaning ideological belief systems, invidious institutional practices, implacable psychological barriers, ahistorical and pseudoscientific research designed to support claims of white supremacy and well-meaning others who suggest that I ‘overreact,’” he said.

Roberts challenged the audience to “do all [you] can do to change this pernicious status quo,” he said

“Instead of despair, I offer you the opportunity to learn as much as you can, develop a strategy and intervention, and move forward confidently with the assurance that whatever you do will, in concert with what others do, be sufficient to alter the course of history.”

Integrated Approaches Improve Care, Lower Costs

100614692Fifty years ago, the president of the American Pediatric Society dreamed of employing psychologists in pediatric centers. Today, that dream of integrating physical and mental health care is a reality, thanks in part to 2008’s Mental Health Parity Act and the 2010 Affordable Care Act, said presenters at an APA convention symposium on innovative care strategies for youth.

Research shows integrated care not only reduces health-care costs, but benefits families and children, said Joan Asarnow, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, Geffen School of Medicine, who conducted a meta-analysis looking at integrated care.

“When we go in and provide integrated care, our kids are more likely to get better,” she said.

But challenges remain. For one, mental health parity is not always well enforced and only 4 percent of Americans know that health insurers are required to provide comparable coverage for mental and physical health care, according to an APA survey.

Further, disparities persist in mental health care: Minorities with mental health disorders are much less likely to receive mental health care — and appropriate care — than white populations, said Jeanne Miranda, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. Minorities are also vastly underrepresented in the mental health care workforce.

To overcome such barriers and better integrated mental and physical health care, speaker Marc C. Atkins, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, called for expanding the mental health workforce, realigning mental health resources and developing a natural extension from prevention to intervention.

Tailoring interventions on a smaller scale is important, too, said W. Douglas Tynan, PhD, director of integrated care at APA who offered suggestions for those looking to integrate mental health care into existing primary-care clinics. “After you find out [the clinic’s] greatest need, develop a protocol and then develop a practice team,” he said.

Sharon G. Portwood, JD, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said keeping prevention and wellness “at the forefront” of efforts is also key.

Psychologists have a key role to play in all of this work since many are experts in interventions that improve health outcomes, such as motivational interviewing, self-management training and problem-solving, said Terry Stancin, PhD, of MetroHealth Medical Center. “There’s a very important role we have to play in integrated-care settings,” she said.

How to Spot a Fake Laugh

167229936Greg Bryant, PhD, knows a fake laugh when he hears it. The University of California, Los Angeles, cognitive psychologist often elicits them from study participants by simply telling them to laugh.

But people aren’t skilled at spotting a phony guffaw, be it from a salesman trying to develop rapport with his client or from a student mustering  support for a professor’s lame joke.

In one of Bryant’s studies, for instance, 37 percent of participants thought that a fake laugh – or what Bryant calls a volitional laugh – was real. Participants tended to be better at identifying natural laughs, in part because of a bias toward believing authenticity. Still, he said at an APA convention session on laughter, “there’s a difference in our ability to detect a real laugh versus a volitional laugh that’s not explained by a bias to think that things are real.”

So what’s the secret to spotting a laughing fraud? For one, authentic laughs tend to be higher pitched than forced chortles. “That probably has to do with greater arousal” among more authentic laughers, Bryant said.

Fake laughs also tend to be slower – “ha ha ha” versus “hahaha” – because they rely more our speech system, which isn’t so good at controlling “the opening and closing of the glottis,” Bryant said.

Finally, unnatural laughs tend to be noisier between each “ha” because, again, they’re more like speech. Real laughs are breathier — meaning that the next time you hear a real laugh, you may hear almost nothing at all.

The Psychology of Stop and Frisk

483292865When Johanna Williams, a doctoral student at Howard University, lived in New York City, a police officer stopped and questioned her. She wasn’t frisked, in part because she had a badge indicating that she worked at Child Protective Services, she presumes.

In general, stop-and-frisk policies allow police to question someone whom they reasonably suspect has committed, is committing or is going to commit a crime. If the officer has good reason to think the person is armed and dangerous, he or she can pat them down.

Most discussions and research on stop-and-frisk policies tend to center on racial profiling, highlighting victims and community members who have been affected by them. But Williams’s work focuses on the other faction involved in these situations: the police. “If you don’t also look at the people who are enforcing this and their thought processes behind this, we are missing a huge part of the discussion,” she said at the Thursday APA convention session “We Want You! The Psychology of Stop and Frisk.”

Williams said police officers’ enforcement of stop-and-frisk policies is influenced by multiple factors, including work culture, cultural identity and history of trauma. “These police officers are coming with particular backgrounds that may heighten or lessen their degree of intrusion or use of excessive force,” she said.

Williams suggested that the TSC-2, a trauma-screening test, be used during aspiring police officers’ psychological evaluations. She also endorsed psychological assessments for police officers every six months and integrated psychological services that encompass police officers’ families. “Those are just some starting points,” she said.