I Am a Public Psychologist: So What Does That Mean?

I have been trained to be a Public Psychologist, and for over 40 years, that’s what I’ve done.  Most people wonder, “What is a ‘Public Psychologist’?”  Here’s a little background:

Fifty years ago, when I first began studying psychology, the field was mostly focused on psychotherapy and psychopathology.  In the 60’s some professors at Harvard, where the study of psychology began in earnest in the early 1900’s, began to see the potential for psychology to help improve society.  This coincided with Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to build the “Great Society”.

To advance the idea that society could benefit from psychology, they created a program at Harvard called Clinical Psychology and Public Practice.  Participating in the program were the schools of Social Relations, Medicine, Theology, Education, and Business.  I entered this program in 1970, its second year of existence.

Even before I went to graduate school, I was doing public psychology without even realizing it.  During my high school years in Ferndale, Michigan, when tension led to fighting between the students, I organized a group of cross-cultural  and cross-racial students to deal with racial tensions at Ferndale High School. In 1968, after graduating from the University of Michigan, I helped to develop an African-American Heritage program in Harlem.

Since receiving my Ph.D., in 1975, I have continued to practice as a Public Psychologist by creating a number of programs, all designed to improve societal institutions.  These include:

  • Helping the families of children with developmental disabilities to learn appropriate child rearing techniques.
  • Closing down institutions for the mentally ill and creating a network of community mental health centers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
  • Establishing an early intervention program for families with preschoolers at risk for emotional and behavioral problems.
  • Training therapists to move from individual therapy, focused on pathology to family therapy, based on systems theory.
  • Developing programs for men to improve their mental health and to become better fathers and husbands.
  • Creating a program called Leaders Connect which is a leadership development program that brings together leaders from the private, academic, and non-profit sectors to learn together in a positive environment.
  •  Helping companies in New York City who lost employees in the 911 terrorist attacks to recover from the devastation.
  • Creating leadership programs in Rwanda to help foster reconciliation following genocide.
  • Doing team-building workshops with the United Nations Afghanistan Ministry.
  • Working with the University of Michigan football team on leadership development.
  • Teaching at the University of Michigan and conducting workshops on self awareness, emotional intelligence and many other psychologically based concepts.

During these 40+ years, I have made numerous guest appearances on radio and television (including Oprah and the Today Show) to educate the public about psychology and problems in society.  More recently, I have spread the word about public psychology through social media, including Facebook and LinkedIn.  Over my career, I have written eight book about such diverse topics as the psychology of men, the loss of pets, leadership, and self awareness.

During all of these years, I have maintained a clinical practice as a Psychologist and have done executive and career coaching.

To give you a few examples of some of my work, I am including links to two recent guest segments: one on WEMU and NPR about the recent public suicides, and the other on a Detroit radio station WJR about the state of fatherhood.

While I cannot say even today that Public Psychology has become a profession in itself, I am proud of my career and feel very fortunate to have so many opportunities to help numerous people throughout the world to better understand themselves and to get along with one another.   Dr. Rob

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