With experience in a number of different areas, Dawn Cisewksi, Psy.D, must have seemed like a perfect fit as the newest president for the Massachusetts Psychological Association. She has worked in academia, at a school of medicine and at a VA hospital. She has done time working in the state prison system and in private practice and currently consults for nursing homes.
As an assistant teaching professor at Northeastern University, Cisewski, who took over leadership of the MPA in July after serving a year as president-elect, will continue in the position for two years. She will then act as past-president for an additional year.
Under Cisewski, the MPA recently wrote a letter to each of the Massachusetts’ US Senators and Representatives about the drive to eliminate the federal ban on the CDC funding gun violence research.
She spoke with New England Psychologist’s Catherine Robertson Souter about her goals for her tenure and the need for the organization to broaden its own scope of focus to better serve the wider population of psychologists in the state and on the organization’s efforts to address public policy around the gun control issue.
Q: How did your background lead you here?
A: I have always been interested in getting involved, to have a voice in public policy. Because my experience is so diverse, I feel like I have a well-rounded picture of many issues that psychologists face.
Q: How would you describe your goals for your term as president?
A: Well, I have been involved with MPA in a number of different areas and I think a lot of time the board has been hyper-focused on private practice issues, which is fine since that is a key aspect of our membership base. But there are other psychologists out there doing other things.
So, my primary goal as president of MPA is to increase the diversity of MPA in terms of the areas of focus and getting more public interest issues in there and increasing the diversity of culture of our members.
Q: What other areas do you plan to focus on?
A: The proposed areas of focus for the MPA are, first, access to care and parity. I talk to people who say they can’t find a psychologist, there is a three month waiting list. People are sitting in emergency rooms because they can’t find beds and it is just not okay.
Also, telehealth services are becoming more prominent so we want to make sure the quality is where it needs to be and our members have knowledge about how to do telehealth. Plus, from a legislative standpoint, we want to make sure telehealth doesn’t have a negative impact and there are quality standards put in place.
Then a third area is with “anti-clawback” legislation where insurance companies take back money they paid providers for various reasons like a patient was not covered during the treatment period. Fine, but there has to be a time limit to when you do that.
Substance abuse issues are another key area we need to get involved in. That is an epidemic and is becoming a major issue in psychiatric facilities and nursing homes and the staffs are not adequately trained.
Q: When you talk about public interest issues, are you referring to the letter that the MPA recently wrote expressing support for lifting the CDC ban on gun violence research?
A: I think the ban of CDC research on gun violence is one of these areas we can start to have a voice. Following the Orlando nightclub shooting, several members asked if we should take a stand because it is an important issue. Psychology is a science and our best response is to focus on the science and data and research to inform policy.
Q: The public does not seem to be aware of the ban on research that dates back to 1997 and was extended last year. Why is that?
A: I don’t know why people don’t know about that. It surprised me when I heard about it. I just don’t understand how you can ban research. It is like telling people you can’t study whether cigarettes cause cancer.
Q: Did your letter get any response from the legislators?
A: With the legislators, we didn’t expect any response since they are already in support of lifting the ban but we did get one letter thanking us for our support and highlighting what he and his colleagues had done in regards to gun violence.
Q: What response have you seen from your membership?
A: I was curious to see but we have seen no response from MPA membership. When we voted on sending the letter, I was curious to see if members would feel same way. No one has contacted us that I know of. I imagine that if there was a negative response, I would have heard about it.
Q: Do you think that there is a lack of public awareness about psychology in general?
A: Absolutely. I do think there is a lack of education about what psychologists do and there is confusion about mental health issues and treatment.
The public is not aware of a lot of things. For instance, the APA asked psychologists to send letters for the presidential debates to say, “What about mental health? Talk about these issues.” Mental health is just not a key issue for a lot of people. They will talk about it when there is a crisis and say that people with mental health issues are dangerous, which is not true as they are more often the victims of crime. That is the only time they talk about mental health, during a tragedy and then it is forgotten again.
In regards to MPA, the public doesn‘t know that we exist sometimes. They don‘t know that we are as much of a resource as we are.
Even within psychology, I find a lot of psychologists, when I ask why they are not members, will ask what does MPA do? When I fill them in, they say, “oh, you should tell us that.”
Q: What is the key thing that you use a selling point?
A: I think there are many. One thing people point out are our advocacy efforts. Our ethics committee is another service people find helpful, being able to call when an ethical dilemma comes up. We also have legal consult who is available to give his perspective on ethical dilemmas. And the Listserv, people find that to be a good resource. Plus, of course, on our Web site you can find referrals for your clients or the public can find a psychologist in their area who will take their insurance.
Q: What do you think will happen next with the letter on lifting the gun violence research ban? There seems to be a groundswell of support/advocacy from other psychological associations.
A: That is great. I had not heard about it until your reporter contacted us about this. That was the first I heard about it.
It has not been picked up by the mainstream press either and I wish it would have been. It is really important to get out there. The Boston Globe has done a remarkable job of starting to address mental health issues but not this piece. But, I don’t know how to get that more in the press.
Q: This is one way…
A: Yes, and I was very glad that you wanted to talk to us about this.
By Catherine Robertson Souter