A two-degree graduate of Florida State University is now the president of the American Psychological Association.
Jennifer Kelly, who earned her master’s degree in psychology from FSU in 1984 and then her doctorate in clinical psychology in 1987, assumed the president’s post at the APA on Jan. 1, after spending a year as the organization’s president–elect.
Kelly said that becoming president during a pandemic presents obvious challenges, but she added it also provides many opportunities to advance the APA’s mission to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.
“We know what works in helping to combat the pandemic — wearing masks, social distancing — and psychology has an important role to play in helping people understand how these behaviors can impact our health and the health of the world,” she said. “And when you talk about the increases in substance abuse and depression that we have seen through the pandemic, people need and are using our services, more than ever before.”
Kelly said her time at FSU helped prepare her for decades of private practice as a clinical health psychologist and now her tenure at the helm of the world’s foremost association of psychologists.
“One of the things I have always been proud of is to have graduated from Florida State; it’s a highly respected institution,” she said, before noting that her interest in behavioral medicine drew her to FSU specifically. “That was what my research interest was and being at FSU afforded me the opportunity to train with experts in that area.
Kelly is the director of the Atlanta Center for Behavioral Medicine and is an expert in disorders that involve the relationship between physical and emotional conditions. Her experience in private practice sets her apart from most previous APA presidents who often represent academic backgrounds.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected minority communities, spotlighting widespread disparities in public health, and Kelly said she intends to address those inequities during her presidency.
“I was originally going to work on health inequities and when the pandemic happened it really highlighted the disparities that have been there,” she said. “That has been my commitment and now I have a platform to focus on it.”
Kelly said that the pandemic has changed how she will work to carry out the daily responsibilities of the APA president, a role that typically requires heavy travel currently halted by COVID-19 restrictions.
“Usually, they’d have me traveling all over the world; just a tremendous amount of travel,” she said. “The APA represents the largest group of psychologists in the world; so, I will miss those face-to-face meetings with people. Those meetings are now occurring virtually.”