Julie Tietz attends SWPA

student smilingThe future holds plenty of obstacles to conquer and problems to solve. How can the discipline and practice of psychology help? This theme — expressed as “Tomorrow’s Challenges. Psychology’s Solutions” — guided the focus of this year’s annual conference of the Southwestern Psychological Association. The conference took place April 12-15 in Houston, Texas.

Dr. Julie Tietz, professor of psychology, represented Cottey College in her attendance at SWPA. At the conference, she attended sessions on the latest research on topics such as public perceptions of emotional support animals, book clubs as educational tools on human sexuality, and the therapeutic role of video games.

In support of SWPA’s goal of promoting and strengthening psychology as a discipline, the conference offers opportunities for professionals, educators, and students to participate in workshops, symposia, and paper and poster sessions, as well as to hear from prominent keynote speakers. 

One of this year’s keynote speakers was Dr. Conor Seyle, who discussed ways to advance psychology in the work place. For example, psychologists could be included in project teams to offer an alternate perspective that would aid in problem-solving. Another keynote speaker was Dr. Ed Maibach, who discussed a research project in which TV weathercasters helped educate their audience about climate change, appealing to listener psychology as they expanded the focus from weather to climate.

Dr. Tony Biglan also delivered a keynote speech, in which he talked about his book The Nurture Effect. Dr. Tietz said, “He cites research about how making the environment more nurturing, whether it is in childhood or just more generally, has measurable, positive effects on physical health, mental health, crime, learning, drug abuse, etc. In other words, it is worthwhile to invest in children and families to reduce societal costs (financial and otherwise) of dealing with problems due to poverty and abuse.”

A number of this year’s SWPA symposia focused on emotional support animals. Emotional support animals have been in the news as more institutions, workplaces, and public venues establish ESA-related policies. Cottey is one of those institutions; the college approved ESAs in 2016, bringing a few more friendly canine faces to campus. (Big shout out to Fischer, service animal and honorary member of the biology department. His research focus: Who is a very good boy? 12/10 Fischer, it’s you.)

Of course, the topic of emotional support animals can also be controversial and emotionally charged. In sessions such as “It’s a Ruff Life: Attitudes and Issues Surrounding Emotional Support Animals” and “The Controversy Surrounding Emotional Support Animals: Are You Kitten Me?” students from Abilene Christian University presented their research on integration of emotional support animals on college campuses.

“As the session I attended highlighted, there are very few regulations about qualifications for support animals, unlike the system in place for service animals,” said Dr. Tietz. “Companies and therapists alike are struggling to figure out how to be supportive of people with mental health issues but also be mindful of the rights of others.  The research presented by the authors suggested that college students, particularly first-year students, had very positive attitudes toward emotional support animals, compared to administrators, faculty, and staff, who were less favorably inclined.”

Another interesting session explored “Video Games and Mental Health: Current Literature, Future Research and Practice,” a topic of particular relevance to Dr. Tietz, who focused her sabbatical research on the use of gaming in the classroom. Speakers from the University of Central Arkansas and Baridon Residential College presented a review of the current video game literature, studies on therapeutic utilization, methods for using video games in a clinical setting, and long-term mental health trends for video gamers.

Dr. Tietz said, “The authors cited research showing that videogames have been shown to have positive effects on mood and anxiety.  They also discussed a few games that have actually been designed to have therapeutic effects.”

With forward-thinking and socially responsible approaches, the discipline of psychology can point the way to a more welcoming, accommodating society and healthier, happier people. That’s an important message for psychology educators and students alike.

“All in all,” says Dr. Tietz, “I would say that psychology has a lot to offer as we try to solve the challenges of today and tomorrow.  Perhaps we just need better P.R.!”

Learn more about Cottey's BA in Psychology at cottey.edu/academics/explore-programs/psychology/


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