Creative Maladjustment and Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 Speech to the APA

This morning, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a truly unique conference session. The topic was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech to the APA, at the 1967 convention. In addition to a riveting session, this topic was an extraordinary lens to view psychology’s struggle and promise of unification.

496664943It began with Dr. Nathaniel Granger, a psychologist and Martin Luther King scholar (here he is re-enacting the I Have a Dream speech), giving a re-enactment of a shortened version of the speech. I began to try to tweet it, but quickly rested my fingers to listen and appreciate as Dr. Granger was able to perfectly capture the cadence of Dr. King. It was so uncanny I half expected to hear crackles of an old recording. You can read the speech yourself here at the King Center or here on the APA website.

Here are two paragraphs, right at the beginning of the speech that drive home to me both the genius and the tragic prescience of Dr. King, in elucidating issues that social scientists still struggle with:

For social scientists, the opportunity to serve in a life-giving purpose is a humanist challenge of rare distinction. Negroes too are eager for a rendezvous with truth and discovery. We are aware that social scientists, unlike some of their colleagues in the physical sciences, have been spared the grim feelings of guilt that attended the invention of nuclear weapons of destruction. Social scientists, in the main, are fortunate to be able to extirpate evil, not to invent it.


If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject. The present crisis arises because although it is historically imperative that our society take the next step to equality, we find ourselves psychologically and socially imprisoned. All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions — the Negro himself.

This is still painfully true — especially with respect to the thinking of white America. Dr. King goes on to assert that black Americans want social scientists to “tell it like it is” — to expose the psychological and social reality of a people long oppressed. But yet, he argues convincingly,

It was the Negro who educated the nation by dramatizing the evils through nonviolent protest. The social scientist played little or no role in disclosing truth.

This surely has changed, but has it changed enough? Dr. King’s speech, and Dr. Granger’s re-enactment, as well as the compelling presentations by Dr. Joseph White and Dr. Jennifer Selig immediately following, left me with a new framing for the science of psychology. To address social justice, we first must carefully document injustice. Social science need not lead the way in changing an unequal world, but at the very least, we can tell it like it is, documenting that we still have a long way to go to fulfill Dr. King’s admonition nearly 50 years ago.

King left psychologists at the end of that speech, urging us to apply what he called a great psychological word — “maladjustment” — into a hopeful, productive use. He (rightly) notes that some things we should never “adjust” to, like segregation, bigotry, systemic discrimination. I carry that with me even today. Since injustice persists, we should not become “adjusted” to injustice, but should instead use our discomfort to address injustice, or at least document it in our role as social scientists.

Resilience Among Black Gay and Bisexual Men

photoAPA convention is a great way to obtain continuing education. As an early career psychologist, I find one of the most beneficial things about attending convention is being able to improve my knowledge in areas in which I’ve had limited training during my graduate career. Earlier today, I attended a session sponsored by APA Div. 44 on Resilience in the Face of Minority Stress Among Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals (LGB). The presenters highlighted the importance of resilience in coping with the stigmatizing experiences of LGB individuals.

Highlights from the session:

Patrick Wilson, PhD, of Columbia University, emphasized how young gay black men have significant poor outcomes (e.g., mental health, physical health, substance use, risky sexual behaviors). Dr. Wilson also noted that resilience is a “multideminsonal construct and is context dependent.”

Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, noted that resilience involves both individual and community-level variables. These variables include things such as community resources, having a sense of belonging, staying connected and living with authenticity.

Nadav Antebi, MA, also from Columbia, identified four important themes related to resilience among young black gay youth based on qualitative research. These themes included:

  • moving forward (e.g., not worrying about the past and focusing on the future)
  • indifference about others’ opinions (e.g., having self-confidence in one’s own actions and beliefs despite others’ stigmatizing views)
  • developing a thick skin
  • stress-related growth, or psychological growth that results from confronting minority stress.

Given the impact of intersecting identities and help-seeking behaviors of men, it is important as a clinical psychologist to be aware of these factors that affect resilience in black gay youth. This session provided a starting point for increasing my awareness of working with this population.

Please contact the researchers for more information about their research.

Pauley: Wipe Out ‘Stigma,’ Don’t Fight Among Yourselves

The word “stigma” needs to be banished from any discussion of mental health, according to longtime newswoman Jane Pauley – who as someone with bipolar disorder knows how detrimental that word can be to people who need help.

“I’m all for fighting stigma,” she said. “Just stop talking about it. … Speaking as a mental patient, the word makes me feel awful.”

Janey Pauley at the 2014 APA Annual ConventionIn a free-wheeling conversation with APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, at the convention’s opening session, Pauley wondered why the public is so obsessed with taking advice from celebrities. But she lauded the efforts of actor Michael J. Fox, former first lady Betty Ford and even cyclist Lance Armstrong for using their fame to raise public awareness of, respectively, Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer and testicular cancer.

But who knew that Pauley could be so self-deprecating and so candid about being bipolar? When she was diagnosed at age 50 (13 years ago, she said – making a point of revealing her age), her doctor said she should tell NBC, her then-employer, that she had a thyroid problem – which was true, she said, but wasn’t the whole story.

“I was supposed to feel shame, but I didn’t,” she said. “I knew that telling my story had the potential to make a difference, and it has.”

Despite Pauley’s being a career interrogator, Kaslow brought her up short with the question, “What recommendations do you have for us for improving the mental health system in this country?”

Pausing, Pauley said, “Recruit as many smart people to your field as possible.”

Another beat. “Don’t fight amongst yourselves.” Audible titters in the audience.

“You’ve stumped me.” Pause again. “Don’t over-promise. … Be gentle with your patients when they fail you or let you down or leave you. … Let them go. We’re not always the right fit for you.”

She closed by talking about her return to journalism after a hiatus, including hospitalization, to deal with her bipolar diagnosis. She returned to “Dateline” on Sept. 10, 2001. And the next day, she said, “Everyone had what I had. We were all depressed, we were all scared. … To be a journalist that week made sense. To be bipolar that week was universal.”