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Dalmas A. Taylor Memorial Fellowship Report

   by Rachel Casas, 2008 Dalmas Taylor Fellow

There was never any doubt that the Dalmas A. Taylor Memorial Fellowship Program was exactly the opportunity I’d been searching for over the past four years ? at least in my mind. But SPSSI certainly may have had cause to question my interest in the program! Why was a student in clinical neuropsychology applying for this fellowship, and how did she learn about SPSSI?

On the surface, the link between neuropsychology, social issues, and public policy might seem tenuous. I struggled myself initially to bridge the connections, and then to create opportunities throughout my graduate training that would allow me to blend all three components into my work. The reality is that I will likely have to continue to create these opportunities throughout my career, but not because the distinctions among neuropsychology, social issues, and public policy are so far removed from each other. No, it seems that the greater challenge is common to many subfields in psychological science ? how can we encourage our disciplines to truly value scientist advocacy and activism? Indeed, clinical neuropsychologists may be particularly well-suited to help create empirically supported public policies that consider the biopsychosocial contributions to important social issues and critical societal problems.

As this year’s Dalmas A. Taylor Fellow, I had the privilege of experiencing first-hand how exactly a clinical neuropsychologist might carve a career within the realm of science-policy. To be sure, there was no shortage of work to be done! One of my first tasks was to create an “Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia” fact sheet to help educate Members of Congress and their staffs about the importance of developing resources for individuals and families who have been affected by these devastating neurodegenerative disorders. I also developed fact sheets on “Traumatic Brain Injuries,” which have been called the “signature wounds” of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, I attended a number of congressional hearings on important scientific and social issues, including the potential suicide-inducing effects of a smoking cessation drug and the problem of sexual assault in the military.

During my time on Capitol Hill, I also worked on a number of issues that stretched even my own conception of exactly how much a neuropsychologist might contribute. For example, I had the opportunity to meet leaders from the Coalition for the Homeless, a grassroots organization dedicated to advocacy for homeless men, women, and children. The meeting focused on the large and growing number of hate crimes committed against the homeless. But throughout the meeting I could not help but think about how so many homeless individuals suffer from chronic alcohol and substance use problems ? problems associated with long-term cognitive deficits, including dementia. Clearly, one of the best ways to eliminate hate crimes against the homeless is to solve the homelessness crisis itself. But it seems so clear to me that any policies and programs designed to tackle homelessness must also consider strategies for working with individuals with brain-damage. This, of course, is a clinical neuropsychologist’s forte!

Throughout the summer, I also tackled issues for which my clinical training was complemented by scientific strengths. For example, I created fact sheets on “Limited English Proficiency and Mental Health Services” to advocate for increased funding for linguistically and culturally competent mental health services. I also drafted a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to articulate APA’s concern regarding the practice of shackling pregnant women in ICE detention centers during labor and delivery. A second letter to ICE encouraged them to consider the unique mental health needs of women detainees, who frequently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, have a history of trauma, and are at increased risk for additional abuse while in detention.

The summer has now ended, but my time in Washington, DC is far from over. I guess one could say I’ve caught “Potomac fever,” and I’m hoping to spread it like wildfire to colleagues in clinical neuropsychology and all subfields of psychology. I’ve found a home in SPSSI, and a family of scientists who share my determination to use research to inform and implement policy and improve society. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime as the Dalmas A. Taylor Fellow this summer. I’ll meet you back on the Hill!

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