Fall 2020 Presidential Column

19 Oct 2020 1:06 AM | Jessica Hamilton (Administrator)

Presidential Column

Joanne Davila, PhD

Stony Brook University

I will start this Presidential column by saying that this has not been the year I thought it was going to be. Indeed, I never could have predicted what would happen during my SSCP Presidency and how science could be affected. I wrote this column in early September, as I was reflecting on a very difficult six months. And even in the weeks between when I prepared this column and its publication just now, events happened, the timing of which I could not have predicted. 

One of those was the passing of Scott Lilienfeld. 

Though I could not have predicted when we would lose Scott, it was not unexpected. Sadly, when I stepped into the role of President in January, I knew that it was coming. What I didn’t know was coming last January was that Scott would resign and sever his relationship with SSCP later in June. That was completely unexpected. I never would have predicted it, nor the content and intensity of the listserv debate that he initiated.  Regardless of your take on that debate, I suspect that most of us would agree that the debate changed SSCP in some ways. I also believe that we can find another point of agreement.  Whatever your feelings about Scott, I think we can all agree that Scott made extensive, significant contributions to clinical psychological science, and challenged the field to think critically in novel ways. This is why Scott received the SSCP Visionary Award (formerly the Scott Lilienfeld Visionary Award). Though the award no longer bears his name (on his request), that he was the inaugural recipient of it will always be a part of SSCP history. In addition, as you may know from the listserv, the SSCP Board is discussing, in consultation with stakeholders, the best way to honor Scott in the context of his resignation and request.

So, now I will continue on with what I wrote in early September, reflecting on other unexpected events of the year and their effect on science. I’ll start by telling you a non-scientific story that sets the stage for how I have been thinking about what’s happened, and SSCP’s role going forward. Back in September 2019, when I was President-Elect, Tom Olino (our prior APS Convention organizer) told me that I would need to give a Presidential address at APS. Somehow, I hadn’t realized that. I actually like giving talks, but I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about and the idea of a Presidential address felt somewhat daunting. So I said to Tom, “Ugh, do I have to? I really don’t want to... Would I be totally out of line if I didn’t do this?” Tom was quite surprised by this, knowing me, and he was very kind in response (and basically said “yes, you have to”), but I continued to fret (privately) about my talk. Well, then came the COVID pandemic, the cancellation of APS, and, of course, the cancellation of my talk. Fortunately, I’m enough of a scientist to know that I didn’t cause the pandemic with my wish to not give a talk, but it certainly is one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations! Anyway, not to let passive avoidance take over, I wrote my Presidential address and delivered it as an SSCP VCL. And, of course, now I really wish that I had been able to give the talk at APS. 

I’ve had a number of moments this past year when I wished for things, in addition to those related to my Presidential address. I wished the pandemic had never happened. I wished George Floyd (and all the others) had never been murdered. I wished that we could just go back to the time before all of this. But, of course, we can’t. And I quickly came to see that we shouldn’t, even if we could, because these events must be used to teach us about science. The COVID pandemic, and how it has been handled, reinforces the importance of science, the importance of using science to make informed decisions, and the importance of promoting science to everyone. The blatant racist police brutality in the US has drawn our attention to, among other things, the structural and systemic racism that exists, including in science and academia. Although it’s easy to wish this wasn’t true, we would be abandoning our roles as scientists if we did so. 

A key aspect of science is questioning. When I was growing up, I was told not to question things, and particularly not to ask people too many questions. But I had a lot of questions, and, although it was hard for me to ask them (you can only imagine the first time I did therapy!), I wanted to, and I knew I had to. My training reinforced this. So now, I bring this questioning to my own science and to the endeavor of science itself in light of calls to look at structural and systemic racism. If we, as scientists, don’t question our own science – including, how it developed, what we value and why, our assumptions, the theories and methods and samples we use – then we’re not being good scientists.

My Presidential address was all about questioning. Although not focused on issues related to racism, it was focused on other aspects of diversity in relationship science, including sexual and gender orientation, and diversity in relationship types. In the talk, I questioned key assumptions on which the field had been operating, with the hopes of encouraging new ways of thinking about and approaching relationships. Relationship science also needs to pay greater attention to diversity with regard to race/ethnicity as well, though I am heartened by the work that does exist. Indeed, there is a growing body of literature on relationship functioning and interventions with underserved couples (e.g., Doss et al., 2020; Parker & Campbell, 2017; Salivar, Roddy, Nowlan, & Doss, 2018; Wischkaemper et a., 2020), particularly African American couples (e.g., Barton et al., 2018;  Fincham, Ajayi, & Beach, 2011; Lavner, Barton, Bryant, & Beach, 2018; McNeil, Fincham, & Beach, 2014; Mikle & Dorie, 2019), as well as approaches to understanding and working clinically with  diverse couples and families (e.g., Halford & Van De Vijver, 2020; Rastogi & Thomas, 2009). 

One thing that stands out for me are data showing that associations between satisfaction in romantic relationships and mental and physical health are consistent across a range of racial/ethnic groups in the US (McShall & Johnson, 2015a; 2015b). Although, we must be very cautious in generalizing from romantic relationships to other relationships, if we look at the literature on interpersonal factors more generally, meta-analytic data support the association between social support broadly defined and health (e.g., Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010). Broadening further, and pertinent to us, meta-analytic data also support the association between perceived workplace racial discrimination and (poorer) health (e.g., del Carmen Triana, Jayasinghe, & Pieper, 2015). The point I want to make here is that data generally support the notion that the quality of the relationships we have with people, and the extent to which we feel supported and not discriminated against (including in our workplace), is related to our well-being, and this appears to be true across racial/ethnic groups. 

My reflections on what has happened in our world since March 2020 and on the state of relationship science (broadly speaking) reinforced two key things that I believe we, as individuals, as an
organization, and as a field, need to do. One is to examine ourselves and our science because, as I noted earlier, questioning is a foundation of science. The other is to build supportive relationships with others, because science tells us how critical relationships are to healthy functioning, across diverse individuals. Importantly, both of these are central to developing cultural humility and to creating an inclusive environment. At the core of doing so is self-examination and awareness, the examination and awareness of structures in our life that we have taken for granted, and being other-oriented in a way that conveys understanding, value, and respect, and allows for the building of collaborative relationships (e.g., Duan, 2020; Hook, Davis, Owen, & DeBleare, 2017). 

In the context of this, let me reflect on my SSCP Presidency thus far. In my February 2020 column, I outlined three goals that I intended to pursue. 

The first was for SSCP to uphold our focus on science. There are some who believe that I have not done so. SSCP has continued this year to promote science in all the ways it has always done. But there is one way in which we have deviated from what SSCP has always done. And this has been by opening the door to the explicit promotion of a more inclusive science, and to the questioning of ourselves and our science in ways that we typically have not done before as an organization. Furthermore, in doing so, the organization has supported the building of relationships that are more inclusive as well. The SSCP board believes this is an important step for the organization.

Among our organizational achievements in these regards are: 

  • Including resources on racism and anti- racism on our website
  • Providing reflection questions that may assist SSCP members in developing strategies to become anti-racist
  • Creating a blog, hosted by our Diversity Committee, that will provide a forum for discussing issues relevant to clinical psychological science 
  • Launching an initiative to utilize our Virtual Clinical Lunch (VCL) mechanism as a shared and centralized venue to compile talks by BIPOC scholars and/or about diversity related issues
  • Creating an additional set of awards dedicated specifically for BIPOC scholars and/or about diversity related issues. As you know, we recently launched a successful fundraising campaign with the aim of consistently funding a fourth Varda Shoham Clinical Science Training Initiative award focusing on Diversity and Inclusion. We will be creating additional awards, within our existing award mechanisms, going forward. 

As another aspect of my Presidential goal to uphold science, I encouraged all of us to do so at the individual level as well as the organization level. In particular, here is a quote from my February column:

“There are things I think we all need to do as individuals as well to continue to promote a scientific approach. One is to think about how we conduct and disseminate science. I have been thinking about something that was discussed at the CAAPS (Coalition for the Advancement and Application of Psychological Science) meeting at ABCT this past November, which was also clearly articulated by Bethany Teachman in a November posting to the SSCP listserv. It’s not surprising, but it highlights one of the ways in which we are failing. Specifically, if we want to truly make an impact and reduce the burden of mental illness, we need to better engage with the people and communities we want to serve and understand their needs in context. Sounds obvious, but we are not successfully doing this. I encourage all of you to think about how you, personally, can conduct research, engage in prevention and intervention efforts, and generally promote science in a way that connects with and reaches those we most need to reach.” 

At the time I wrote this, I had no idea we’d be where we are in the US with regard to the anti-racism movement. Indeed, I myself did not fully recognize how negligent we had been as a field despite my personally being actively engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts since graduate school. As I reflect back on my own words, they resonate even more strongly for me now. In addition, although I framed this as an individual endeavor, this is now, clearly, a necessary organizational and field level endeavor. 

The second goal that I intended to pursue this year was to promote collaborative relationships with others to reach shared goals. SSCP was able to accomplish this goal in a very specific way that I had intended. We created an alliance between our External Boards and Awards Committee (EBA) and the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science’s Collaboration and Partnerships Committee (CPC) to work together to increase clinical science representation in the major organizations and leadership roles in psychology. The joint mission of these committees will be to publicize and help elect clinical scientists to leadership positions (and the EBA will retain its other functions as well). Our thanks go to the Chair of EBA, Eugene Botanov, and the Executive Committee of the Academy, led by President Cindy Yee-Bradbury, for facilitating this. 

We were also able to accomplish this goal in a way that I could not have predicted when my term began. Specifically, I assisted in initiating and maintaining a collaboration among the leaders of SSCP, the Academy, CAAPS, CUDCP (Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology), and CCTC (Council of Chairs of Training Councils) to stay informed and, where sensible, to work jointly on anti-racism efforts in the field. At a time where so many organizations are engaging in self- assessment, organizing committees and task-forces to make anti-racism action plans, and calling on BIPOC colleagues to assist, it is important that our leading organizations share resources, work together, distribute workload, and engage in novel activities – and support one another in doing so. I thank Bethany Teachman, Mitch Prinstein, Mandy Jensen-Doss, Cindy Yee-Bradbury, Jason Washburn, and Debi Bell for their engagement in this collaborative and supportive process. 

This leads to the third goal that I intended to pursue, which was to encourage service so that our shared goals can be reached. Service is needed now more than ever with the field’s emphasis on anti-racism. This emphasis involves many new and expanded service activities – activities that should be done by everyone. Not just BIPOC individuals, and not just organization leaders, but all of us. And with that, I am thrilled to say that we have a number of new SSCP Board members joining us as we continue to support and promote clinical science, and as we work to support greater inclusivity in our field. Please welcome:

President-Elect: Marisol Perez, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University

Member-at-Large: Sarah Hope Lincoln, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University

Division 12 Representative: Shari Steinman, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, West Virginia University

Student Representative: Rachel Walsh, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology, Temple University

I also want to take this opportunity to thank our out-going Board members: 

Ana Rabasco (Student Representative)

Bob Klepac (Division 12 Representative)

Katie Baucom (Member-at-Large)

Carolyn Becker (Past-President

Their dedication to SSCP was tremendous and unfailing, and their contributions were significant. Indeed, the entire SSCP Board this past year worked extremely hard and was the epitome of collaborative, committed teamwork. The organization has benefitted greatly from, and I thank them deeply for, their service. I particularly want to thank our out-going Past- President, Carolyn, for her strong leadership and wise guidance. 

I look forward to continuing my Presidential initiatives in the remaining months of my Presidency, and I thank you all for your support. Although not the year I thought it was going to be, it was an honor to serve as President of SSCP. 


Barton, A.W., Beach, S.R.H., Wells, A.C., Ingels, J. B., Corso, P. S., Sperr, M. C., Anderson, T. N., & Brody, G. H. (2018). The Protecting Strong African American Families Program: A Randomized Controlled Trial with Rural African American Couples. Prevention Science, 19, 904–913.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-018-0895-4 

del Carmen Triana, M., Jayasinghe, M., & Pieper, J. R. (2015). Perceived workplace racial discrimination and its correlates: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36, 491-513.

Doss, B. D., Knopp, K., Roddy, M. K., Rothman, K., Hatch, S. G., & Rhoades, G. K. (2020). Online programs improve relationship functioning for distressed low-income couples: Results from a nationwide randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 88(4), 283–294. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000479

Duan, C. (2020). Serving the underserved: Delivering culturally appropriate psychotherapy to racial and ethnic minorities. In J. Zimmerman, J. E. Barnett, & L. F. Campbell (Eds.), Bringing Psychotherapy to the Underserved (pp. 69-07). NY: Oxford.

Fincham, F. D., Ajayi, C., & Beach, S. R. H. (2011). Spirituality and marital satisfaction in African American couples. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 3(4), 259–268. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023909

Georgia Salivar, E. J., Roddy, M. K., Nowlan, K. M., & Doss, B. D. (2018). Effectiveness of the online OurRelationship program for underserved couples. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 7(3-4), 212–226. https://doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000110

Halford, W. K. & Van De Vijver. F. (2020). Cross-Cultural Family Research and Practice. Academic Press. 

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLoS Medicine, 7, e1000316. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

Hook, J. N., Davis, D., Owen, J., & DeBleare, C. (2017). Cultural Humility: Engaging Diverse Identities in Therapy. Washington DC: APA.

Lavner, J. A., Barton, A. W., Bryant, C. M., & Beach, S. R. H. (2018). Racial discrimination and relationship functioning among African American couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(5), 686–691. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000415

McNeil, S. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (2014). Does spousal support moderate the association between perceived racial discrimination and depressive symptoms among African American couples? Family Process, 53(1), 109–119. https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12054

McShall, J. R. & Johnson, M. D. (2015). The Association Between Relationship Distress and Psychopathology Is Consistent Across Racial and Ethnic Groups. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 124, 226–231. 

McShall, J. R. & Johnson, M. D. (2015). The Association Between Relationship Quality and Physical

Health Across Racial and Ethnic Groups. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 46, 789–804. 

Mikle, K. S &. Gilbert, D. J. (2019). A systematic review of culturally relevant marriage and couple relationship education programs for African-American couples. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work: Innovation in Theory, Research & Practice, 28, 50-75.

Parker, M. L., & Campbell, K. (2017). Infidelity and attachment: The moderating role of race/ethnicity. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 39(3), 172–183. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-017-9415-0

Rastogi, M., & Volker, K. T. (2018). Multicultural Couple Therapy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 

Wischkaemper, K. C., Fleming, C. J. E., Lenger, K. A., Roberson, P. N. E., Gray, T. D., Cordova, J. V., & Gordon, K. C. (2020). Attitudes toward relationship treatment among underserved couples. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 9(3), 156–166.