Dr. Lawrence Gerstein is the president of APA Division 52 (International Psychology) and has been on faculty in the department at Ball State for 30-plus years. For information on Division 52, visit the website.
What first interested you in international psychology?
I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood in Brooklyn in terms of nationality, ethnicity, race, and religion. Also, my family members were in jobs that resulted in them interacting with people from different parts of the world that had immigrated to New York. International psychology, however, was not part of my career until the late 80s when I had a master’s student from St. Vincent Island in the Caribbean. She invited me to come down to do some work with the Ministry of Education, and that was the first international trip I took related to work. It gave me a taste of international psychology, and I began collaborating with other international students such as Dr. Stef who is on faculty here now. Collaborating with students led me down the path of wanting to do more international work.
How did you end up as president of the Division?
I was the cofounder and president of the international section of Division 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) and through that role one of the leaders of Division 52 approached me to get involved. I had won the Division 52 mentoring award for mentoring international folks and became the chair of the mentoring award committee, but I was hesitant to take on a leadership position because I was worried it would detract from my scholarship and work with my students. However, the leaders of Division 52 continued to approach me, and a few years ago I thought, “OK, I am at the point in my career where I can devote time to a leadership position,” so I ran for president. My platform had a focus on cross-cultural methodology and science. I never expected to get elected., but I did!
What are some of your responsibilities as leader of the Division?
In my role as president, it is my responsibility to lead meetings with board members and other leaders (e.g., Committee Chairs; Journal Editor) in the organization, and to be “the face” of the Division. In my meetings with the Division leadership, I facilitate discussions about current and new initiatives, the division’s publications, students and Early Career Psychologists expanded involvement in the Division, strategies to further globalize psychology in ways that respect and promote indigenous theories, methods, and practices, opportunities to collaborate with other APA Divisions and psychology organizations worldwide, and salient societal issues. For example, this past year the Division issued a statement in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, created a global COVID-19 task force, and developed plans to publish a special issue on the effects of COVID-19 worldwide. I also helped to secure full voting rights for students in the Division, and I established a forum for all the presidents of APA’s Divisions to discuss international issues. Additionally, as president, I have used my conflict prevention and resolution skills to address interpersonal challenges that have emerged both within the Division and in APA. Finally, I try my best to support people while also focusing on the vision and strategic plan of the Division.
Do you have any recommendations for alumni who might want to become more involved in international psychology?
I think people interested in international psychology should think critically about their curiosities and what is driving them to get involved in this type of work. A great first step is to get connected with individuals not born in your home country, and also different groups internationally. Over time if you become “true partners” with individuals not from your own country, it will become apparent if there are ways you can collaborate together. The people in your networks, and the skillsets you possess, are important when doing international psychology work. However, you must be very careful to not export your knowledge and skills even if your international partners want you to function this way. We must be extremely mindful and intentional to not colonize psychology in other countries, and by so doing contribute to destroying indigenous knowledge, methods, and practices. More and more psychologists are approaching international work as a full partnership where researchers, educators, and practitioners share and grow with each other. This work should always be collaborative, so it is important to be humble and to not present yourself as “the expert.”
How do you connect with and maintain your relationships with your international colleagues?
Before the pandemic, I would travel outside of the U.S. frequently. Every year, I averaged about three to four trips abroad, sometimes living in another country for months at time. For instance, in 2019, I lived in Hong Kong and China for six months. Now, I Zoom with my colleagues, and also communicate by email, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook.
How have you learned to navigate your positionality in you work?
I enter my international relationships as an active learner and an observer. I let people educate me, and I don’t make assumptions. There is a strong U.S. and Eurocentric bias in psychology and to overcome that we need more people from outside the United States around the table so they can provide their perspectives and question our perspectives. Oftentimes, people in the U.S. export their work without considering the implications, and people outside of the U.S. want to import our work as many still view our work as the gold standard. To confront this reality, I will acknowledge that my international colleagues know a lot more about their cultures and disciplines than I do. Further, if they are willing, I will strive to help them to confront and be critical about what they have learned in psychology, how they have implemented what they have learned, and help them to explore the relevance and validity of what they learned and do as psychologists in relation to their own cultures and countries