Welcome Message from President Laura D. Seligman
Dear friends and colleagues,
Welcome back! This year, more than ever, it is a pleasure to welcome you to the 56th Annual Convention of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT). After two years of successful virtual conventions, we are fortunate to be able to come together again in person in New York City. These past two years have brought many challenges and opportunities, and while I have been amazed by ABCT’s ability to pivot to the virtual environment, I have also learned that there is no substitute for being together in the same room.
We have weathered some very dark times since we last came together, and we have lost some of our most cherished colleagues and friends. As we remember those we have lost, we come together in what we hope is the beginning of the end of this pandemic.
Fittingly, this year’s convention theme is “Emergency & Disaster Preparedness and Response: Using Cognitive and Behavioral Science to Make an Impact.” Our fellow scientists brought us to the point where we can gather in relative safety, bringing vaccines from the lab to our communities at an unprecedented pace. Despite their efforts, as I write this message to you, approximately one-third of eligible Americans have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and while some countries, like Canada, are seeing significantly higher rates of vaccine uptake, the U.S. vaccination rate accurately reflects the worldwide data. Before vaccines were available, as the data began rolling out about the efficacy of mask-wearing, so too did resistance. What do these two events have in common? What does this have to do with us as members of ABCT? These are failed (or suboptimal) behavioral change efforts. What is more alarming than these specific failures is that anyone who had looked at historical data would have known that the fastest path to safety for our communities could not be achieved through biomedical interventions alone. Vaccines do not work when they sit on the shelf (or freezer), masks are not effective barriers when they are not worn properly (or at all), and public education on social distancing is futile when the public does not trust the messengers. COVID-19 did not teach us this. These were lessons that we could have learned from our history books; yet one of my first acts as a member of the ABCT Board was to help draft a memo imploring then President-Elect Biden and Mr. Jeffrey Zients, the White House Coordinator for the COVID Response, to add a behavioral scientist to the President-Elect’s COVID-19 Advisory Board. Sadly, our message went unheeded. I view this as a missed opportunity that likely cost many lives.
COVID-19 was not the only public health emergency we struggled with since we last gathered. While perhaps the most visible, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the pandemics, syndemics, and public health emergencies that have been much easier for us to ignore— systemic racism, mental health disparities, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behavior in our youth, gun violence, the effects of climate change, and laws and policies that run counter to psychological science on matters of gender, sex, and identity, to name a few. We must remember the power and potential of cognitive-behavioral interventions to go beyond traditional interventions to treat psychopathology, but are we ready to meet the challenge? Are we proceeding in ways that will produce not just more products, but real impact?
Together we will begin to answer these questions with 138 symposia, 31 panels, 15 clinical round tables, 4 spotlight research, and 1,002 poster presentations. Additionally, our invited addresses and panels will feature some of the world’s leading experts, some of whom will be bringing new voices and perspectives to ABCT. Melissa Brymer, Ph.D., Psy.D., Director of the Terrorism and Disaster Program at the UCLA/Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, will contextualize the youth mental health crisis within an era of mass violence and disasters. Cheryl L. Holder, M.D., Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity and Community Initiatives at Florida International University, will bring light to the impact of climate change on health disparities. Carmen D. Zorrilla, M.D., Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, will present on the COVID-19 Public Health Response in Puerto Rico resulting in the highest vaccination rate in the U.S. Enola Proctor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Washington University in St. Louis, will highlight the crucial role of implementation science in emergency and disaster response moving forward. In addition to our impressive keynote speakers, this year we will have three invited panels with multidisciplinary experts: (1) “Psychological Science’s Role in Addressing Mental, Physical and Social Health Epidemics: A Call to Action”; (2) “Open Science: The Future of Psychology”; and (3) “Funding Mechanisms for Behavioral Science Research.”
I am hopeful that this convention moves us as a community to meet the many challenges our world faces today, where we can come together to discuss how our professional expertise has a significant role to play in creating much-needed behavioral change.
I wish to thank our Program Chair, Dr. Rosaura Orengo Aguayo, and our Associate Program Chair, Dr. Emily Thomas, who, with the assistance of our Convention Manager, Mr. Stephen Crane, have put together a truly extraordinary program to meet the extraordinary times in which we find ourselves. They have done so with unprecedented transparency about a review process that has been revised with a renewed focus on scientific rigor while reducing the biases we all fall prey to. One of my greatest joys of this past year has been working with and learning from this incredible team. I also wish to thank the over 200 volunteer members of this year’s Program Committee. Without the many hours they put into the enormous task of reviewing the over 1,600 submissions we received this year, the convention would not have been possible.
I have been honored to serve as your President during a time in which the potential impact of ABCT and its members seems almost limitless, but most of all, I have missed gathering with each of you in person! I look forward to seeing you in New York for a safe and healthy reunion.
Laura D. Seligman, Ph.D., ABPP