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Letter to the Editor
Member Involvement in APA
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 2 page 46-52

At first blush, Dr. Paul Appelbaum’s column in the December 6 issue on the low voting percentages of APA members appears to represent a continuation of an unfortunate recent tradition in our organization. It has seemed that the same column gets written every year or two, with yet another version of the same unhelpful conclusion: "I guess you don’t think the election makes a difference, but you’re wrong." The most puzzling thing about this hadn’t been the trite conclusion, but the lack of any serious effort to find out what the reasons might be. Dr. Appelbaum now breaks from the tradition by adding a plea for input, and we should be most grateful.

I would suggest that the major reason is that most APA members have felt increasingly remote from the organization’s activities and leadership. We have less and less of a feel for the candidates and for what it is that APA does. The lengthy position statements, as Dr. Appelbaum recognizes, don’t help much. (Besides, few people read them.) Very possibly also, APA’s long focus in recent years on its own reorganization was a great turnoff. We were never helped very much to understand what it was really about, or why it took so much time and effort. It seemed mostly a distraction and served to make most of us feel even more left out.

Ordinarily, a publication like Psychiatric News could be a big part of the solution. However, the fact that it is not a timely publication removes much of that potential. The articles tend to cover material that is quite old by the time the publication reaches us, often several months old. And the letters column sacrifices much of its potential for immediacy and interest by rarely having the kinds of interchanges that such columns usually contain. (For example, for a letter that comments on a recent article, how about including, "Psychiatric News responds. . . .") In a time of increasingly instant communication, the lack of timeliness and interactiveness becomes more and more salient and more and more of an additional turnoff.

In a different realm, and more radically, I would suggest that maybe it’s true that it matters relatively little who wins APA’s elections, because of the limitations of what the APA president can accomplish in just one year. Extending the presidential term to two years, which I have suggested before in this forum, is an idea that obviously goes way beyond the concern about voting rate. But I would assert it is true that most APA members have the feeling that the presidents do not have sufficient opportunity to make much impact.

Admittedly the remedies for the "nonvoting" problem are unclear and debatable. Do keep asking us, and also wonder about it thoughtfully, with no taboos. I believe you’ll wind up concluding that you haven’t been using your obvious tools in the best possible ways, and, maybe also, at least as things are currently structured, that the outcomes of our elections really matter less than you would like to think.

P.S. Thanks again for asking.

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