After nearly 17 years under the same leadership, the American Psychological Foundation (APF) recently announced that Terence M. Keane, Ph.D, was elected to assume the organization’s top post as of January 1. Keane, who is professor of psychiatry and assistant dean for research at Boston University School of Medicine, stepped in as APF president at the conclusion of a highly successful capital campaign that raised nearly $20 million.
Keane is also director of the National Center for PTSD-Behavioral Sciences Division and associate chief of staff for research and development at VA Boston Healthcare Systems and has been recognized with many honors for his research on psychological trauma. He spoke with New England Psychologist’s Catherine Robertson Souter about his career as well as his goals for his three-year term as APF president.
Q: For people who may not be aware of the American Psychological Foundation, can you explain what it is and how it relates to the American Psychological Association?
A: The Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the APA. It was founded in 1953 by a collection of very prominent psychologists of that era with the idea to do good works and support programs and projects that would reach the goals and objectives of the Foundation. So, it has been around for 70 some odd years and it is a remarkable entity these days.
The thing that APF is most well-known for are the Gold Medal Awards given to psychologists for outstanding science practice. Those kinds of things are very important because they help the visibility of the organization and many famous people have won these awards. We also administer fellowships. For example, congressional fellowships for spending a semester or year working on Capitol Hill, are sponsored with endowments from the APF.
There are many things that APF does but the clear focus these days is on trying to provide support for early career psychologists and graduate students through pilot grants.
We have just completed a capital campaign in 2016 headed by Dorothy Cantor, Psy.D., and David Barlow, Ph.D., to support young psychologists and to provide small grants for projects that the committees feel will lead to much bigger grants in the future. This campaign was remarkable in so many ways – over the course of the five years, we adjusted the goal upwards three different times.
The idea is for this to be a program that will support pilot grants that will lead to submissions to federal or regional agencies or even other foundations.
Q: What are your plans as you take the helm?
A: As we have wrapped up the capital campaign, we are beginning the process of planning next steps for the growth and direction for the Foundation to identify perhaps new goals and objectives as well as new directions for the foundation. So, my first task is to engage the planning process.
Q: How were you involved in the Foundation before being elected president?
A: I was on the capital campaign committee and on the board of directors for several years so I am an experienced hand with the group. I have been involved for about five years since the campaign first started.
The Foundation board is a simply stunning array of successful psychologists that spans academia, practice and science so I am thrilled to be chosen as the next leader. Dorothy Cantor is a visionary who saw what APF could be and brought it to become a remarkable philanthropic agency.
Q: You bring to this role a lengthy resume of awards and honors for your research on trauma. Tell us a little about your professional career.
A: My work in posttraumatic stress disorder began before it was called posttraumatic stress disorder, in the late 1970s. My work has been largely around developing evidence-based approaches to evaluation tools that people use to measure PTSD and to look at risk factors and biological components of the condition in the hope of arriving at models and methods for improving lives of people exposed to traumatic events. I have been doing this work for close to 40 years now.
Q: What are you seeing different in the world around PTSD? Is it getting more recognition as a valid disorder?
A: Over the course of my career, the amount of evidence that has accumulated both psychologically and biologically supporting the existence of this condition is remarkable and the number of people worldwide who are studying PTSD is very encouraging.
What we have learned is that PTSD is not a concoction of the Western world view but rather a psycho-biological condition that is present on every continent and expressed in every language in the world. That we now have a half dozen different psychological treatments is a wonderful tribute to the work of psychologists and psychiatrists. We are working very hard in trying to understand the genetic and physiological underpinnings of the condition in the hope we will be able to soon develop better pharmacological treatments that will improve the lives of people exposed to traumatic events.
Q: What is the current research you are working on?
A: The use of the Internet for delivery of healthcare for PTSD and the development of a registry of 1,650 veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, some of whom had PTSD and some not, in the interest of understanding who has improved and who accesses care and what care they receive and does that care lead to better outcomes.
The study is in conjunction with the VA and their sensational electronic medical record that is the envy of the rest of the country. We are now in our fourth wave of following people so it is a longitudinal cohort to try to understand what happened to people.
Q: Do you have any personal goals for your tenure?
A: One thing I have done over my time with APF is to establish a fund for trauma psychology. We surpassed more than $100,000 and we are preparing to give to our first grant from that money. I am hoping to grow that fund to at least $250,000 and I am going to work hard on that.
Q: How did you first get involved with the Foundation and why?
A: I was invited to be a member of the Capital Campaign and I also gave one of the Spielberger lectures [a yearly lecture hosted by the APF on emotion, motivation and personality] several years ago. It was through this that I came to know what the APF does and the more I learned the more I liked the work of the Foundation. It was immediately a place where I knew that I found a professional home.
That is the “how.” The “why” is that psychology has been the best possible career I could imagine having. I love the many opportunities it has provided me and I think this is an opportunity for me to systemically give back to a profession that I simply love. It is very heartfelt – it is really about wanting to do good things.