International Psychology: An Overview, 2008

Michael J. Stevens and Danny Wedding


In this chapter, we introduce the specialty of international psychology. We begin by defining international psychology and distinguishing it from cross-cultural psychology and ethnic studies. We then examine two sources for the emergence and growth of international psychology: economic and political change and the limited utility of Western psychology as applied to complex and contextual global issues. We also survey five global concerns of contemporary significance that have given impetus to international psychology: intergroup conflict, societal transformation and national development, threats to the natural environment, physical and mental health needs, and the struggles of disempowered groups. Next, we describe the mission and activities of scientific and professional organizations that represent international psychology and the interface between international psychology and policy-making entities, specifically, the United Nations and World Health Organization. We then address the future of international psychology, particularly trends toward greater unity and curriculum development. We conclude by linking our overview of international psychology to the objectives and foci of the Handbook of International Psychology.


International psychology can be defined in terms of its mission and the domain of scientific knowledge and professional practice that it subsumes. The chief aim of international psychology is to promote communication and collaboration among psychologists worldwide in the areas of teaching, research, practice, and public service. More precisely, the goals of international psychology are to promote international understanding and goodwill among people with similar interests from different national and cultural backgrounds, to monitor psychology’s cultural dependence, to capacity-build through transnational research and practice, and to facilitate the development of an international curriculum (Pawlik & d’Ydewalle, 1996; Sabourin, 2001). Mechanisms for enhancing communication and collaboration include organizations that represent the interests of international psychologists, regional and international conferences, journals that publish literature on international psychology, international exchange programs, and Internet resources. One index of the desire of psychologists to communicate and collaborate internationally is the proliferation of international organizations and journals, which we describe later. Clearly, the goals of international psychology are timely, given the complexities of an increasingly interdependent and rapidly changing world.

Beyond its mission of enhancing communication and collaboration, international psychology includes the application of psychology to an array of problems that have no borders. Among the more urgent international problems are terrorism, globalization’s weakening of nation-states, global warming, HIV/AIDS, and traffic in women and children. Innovative conceptual models, investigative methodologies, and intervention strategies are needed to understand, study, and influence these problems. Moreover, because these problems are rooted in a complex matrix of culture, economics, history, politics, psychology, and religion, a comprehensive approach to their explanation and solution requires both a multidisciplinary and transnational framework. International psychology has already added creativity and vitality to the scientific and professional responses to global problems.

In contrast to international psychology, cross-cultural psychology can be defined as the study of culture’s effects on human functioning. It involves comparing different cultural groups whose members share distinct perceptions and experiences that determine identifiable patterns of behavior (Jing, 2000). Cross-cultural psychology is a feature of international psychology (e.g., international psychologists devise models, conduct research, and intervene within a cultural context).

Ethnic studies is another specialty that overlaps with, but does not duplicate, international psychology. It entails investigating ethnic minority issues and applying psychological knowledge and techniques to those issues. Unlike cross-cultural psychology, which compares the impact of different cultures, ethnic studies emphasizes the impact of minority status on an ethnic group within a single culture. Ethnic studies is also essential to international psychology (e.g., international psychologists are interested in intergroup relations). Clearly, the emphasis of international psychology on scientific and professional communication and collaboration gives it a process focus, and its attention to global issues gives it a broader scope than either cross-cultural psychology or ethnic studies.


Dissatisfaction with Western psychology has contributed to the increased prominence of international psychology. Two sources for this dissatisfaction are the emergence of economic and political systems in the developing world that are more person-centered and the limited utility of psychological paradigms imported from the West.

The U.S. has 100,000–150,000 psychologists, approximately 20–25% of the world’s psychologists (Rosenzweig, 1999). These estimates are inexact due to the lack of international agreement on criteria for using the title of psychologist. There is consensus, however, that the proportion of American psychologists will shrink because psychology worldwide is rapidly expanding (Rosenzweig). The expansion of psychology can be attributed to a rise in the number of countries whose economic and political systems depend on the role of the individual within society (Jing, 2000; Rosenzweig). Various forms of free-market democracy that fuel industrialization have also precipitated demands for psychology as a science and profession. For example, the link between economic and human development and the growth of psychology is manifested by the interest shown by governments, business and industry, and the general population in psychology as a means of enhancing national achievement and personal well-being. These trends are shifting the spotlight away from Western psychology to emerging psychologies that mirror the worldviews of developing countries and regions; they are also compelling Western psychologists to engage in dialogue with their psychology colleagues around the world.

Western psychology has proven somewhat useful when applied transnationally. For example, Bandura (2002) illustrated how efficacy expectations are not limited to judgments about personal capabilities, but are complemented by perceptions of collective efficacy. Collective efficacy consists of shared beliefs in a group’s ability to produce desired outcomes through collective action. It reflects more than the sum of individual efficacy expectations; it embodies the interactive dynamics of a group. Collective efficacy is also situationally, historically, and culturally constituted, meaning that the specific, agentic group behavior it mediates reflects the multiple contexts in which it occurs. One contemporary expression of collective efficacy is the extent to which countries affected by globalization make transnational systems work more effectively for them.

Western psychology’s focus on intra- and interpersonal causation has more typically yielded incomplete accounts of phenomena constituted in the non-Western world. The limited transnational usefulness of Western psychology is based on three paradigmatic criticisms (Gergen, 2001; Prilleltensky & Fox, 1997). First, because Western psychology is relatively decontextualized, psychologists often fail to appreciate the significance of the domains in which human functioning is embedded. Second, Western psychology leans toward reductionism; as a result, psychologists frequently dismantle the unity that provides a more accurate, complete, and meaningful view of psychological phenomenon. Finally, Western psychology can be hegemonic and oppressive, increasing the risk of ethnocentric science and practice.

Although psychology has a growing global presence, its characteristics remain diverse and are intimately connected to the history and culture of a country or region. Indigenous psychologies, which emerge from enduring social and cultural traditions, offer worldviews that resist imported perspectives. Indigenous psychology is defined as behavioral science and practice rooted in the realities of a particular society and culture (Sinha, 1997). For example, although psychology was introduced to Asia by the West, its contemporary forms reveal elements of Buddhism (e.g., spiritual practices that cultivate serenity and enlightenment) and Confucianism (e.g., the role of education in creating social harmony) (Jing, 2000; Walsh, 2000). Likewise, liberation psychology in Latin America is grounded in the awakening of social consciousness and the realignment of imported theory, research, and practice with the lives of people whom psychology has a responsibility to serve (Comas-Díaz, 2000; Comas-Díaz, Lykes, & Alarcón, 1998). Dissident Argentine psychologists demedicalized psychoanalysis and integrated elements of Marxism to form a socially relevant praxis that melds intrapsychic and class struggles. These examples reveal how psychology has not only resisted, but also challenged the hegemony of Western psychology in order to restore contextual validity to the discipline and profession (Gergen, 2001; Sinha, 1997).

International psychology is an antidote to the uncritical application of Western psychology. By questioning claims of objectivity that supersede culture and a universally applicable investigative methodology, international psychology affirms the necessity of constructing meaningful understanding and applications based on a constitutive view of human functioning (Gergen, 2001; Sinha, 1997). It is sensitive, knowledgeable, and skilled in terms of psychological conceptualizations, methods of acquiring knowledge, and strategies for change. Furthermore, in acknowledging psychology’s history and capacity to unwittingly support institutions that maintain oppressive values, international psychology takes responsibility for being value-laden and identifies itself, in part, as a force for justice and human welfare (Prilleltensky & Fox, 1997; Staub & Green, 1992). By advancing values to the position of figure in the gestalt that is psychology, international psychology promotes less esoteric science and practice. International psychology will continue to respond to calls for solutions to pressing global concerns that include intergroup conflict, national transformation and development, threats to the natural environment, physical and mental health needs, and the struggles of disempowered groups.


Intergroup conflict

Millions suffer under conditions of systemic violence that exist at various levels, including the family, community, society, or region. The late 1990s witnessed an explosion in intergroup violence as evidenced by numerous conflicts, the most extreme of which reached genocidal proportions in Bosnia and Rwanda (Mays, Bullock, Rosenzweig, & Wessells, 1998). A fundamental challenge for psychology is to transform systems of violence into cultures of peace, thus ending psychological, physical, and structural violence and creating conditions and processes that foster individual and collective well-being and growth (Wessells, 2000).

International psychology offers perspectives and tools for understanding and resolving intergroup conflict. International psychology recognizes the need to adopt a multidisciplinary perspective, to consider the interplay between macro-level institutions and micro-level processes, and to generate solutions based on local strengths and resources that are sensitive to diversity (Mays et al., 1998).

The worldviews of groups serve to facilitate or inhibit violent conflict. These worldviews consist of enduring ways of collectively understanding past, present, and anticipated events; such understanding mediates collective emotion and action. Collective worldviews can be dangerous because they are assumed to be true by a significant number of group members and because they are the bedrock of identification and socialization within a culture. Regrettably, collective worldviews contain distortions that are seldom questioned by group members; such biases include the selective recall of a group’s history or the embellishment of historical narratives. Collective worldviews may trigger intergroup conflict when they supersede an objective evaluation of the intentions of others and limit opportunities for cooperation. Eidelson and Eidelson (2003) identify five collective worldviews that either promote or constrain intergroup conflict: superiority, injustice, vulnerability, distrust, and helplessness. Shared beliefs about superiority imply an in-group bias that can justify violent preservation of a group’s social advantage, restoration of its usurped status, and purification of its membership, as well as interfere with intergroup reconciliation. The collective worldview of injustice strengthens a group’s conviction that it has legitimate grievances against another group. Such convictions, real or perceived, heighten allegiance to the group, target an out-group as responsible, and mobilize violence (e.g., the Serbian belief of being unjustly denied respect as defenders of Europe). A group’s belief in its vulnerability rests on perceptions of threat that heighten solidarity and precipitate hostility toward the source of threat.

Ethnic competition theory suggests that the increased mixing of people in contemporary urban societies enflames intergroup competition that may evoke ethnic identification; this contrasts with Allport’s hypothesis that increased contact between groups will lead them to appreciate their similarities. Some groups engage in preemptive violence to preserve their integrity, and extreme threats to group survival can produce intractable conflict (e.g., the Middle East) or genocide (e.g., Rwanda). More subtle threats, such as the diluting of language and tradition through assimilation and globalization, can also prompt violence. Collective distrust occurs when one group believes that another group harbors ominous intentions. Such distrust forms the core of out-group stereotypes and can reach paranoid levels, as in the collective delusion of persecution, justification of hostility toward an alleged persecutory group, and unwillingness to examine evidence for entrenched suspicions. Finally, unlike superiority, injustice, vulnerability, and distrust, a group’s sense of helplessness inhibits expression of intergroup conflict. Such beliefs lead to an attributional style in which a group explains its inferior status as enduring, pervasive, and due to inherent weaknesses. Advantaged groups may exploit helpless groups by further convincing them of their unworthiness to share in society’s rights and privileges.

Approaches to studying intergroup conflict include the examination of competing worldviews in a multidisciplinary context, separation of overlapping from independent elements of collective worldviews, identification of variables that harden or soften collective worldviews, and delineation of the relationship between individual and collective worldviews (Eidelson & Eidelson, 2003). Research on the aftermath of intergroup conflict often entails analyses of the testimony of survivors of violence and how adversarial groups maintain or revise interpretations of their relations (Mays et al., 1998); consideration of how individuals and communities come to terms with personal and collective loss and trauma gives a practical focus to this research. Indigenous approaches, such as liberation discourse, permit the rescue of cultural identity from survivors and the creation of a future. Such methods require that psychologists think culturally when working with those affected by intergroup conflict to discover alternative understandings of their suffering (Comas-Díaz et al., 1998).

In general, building cultures of tolerance and peace entails lowering the degree to which groups in conflict perceive each other as threats (Sullivan & Transue, 1999; Wessells, 2000); it also involves applying what can be learned from naturally occurring “outbreaks” of peace, as in the Baltic states where positive intergroup attitudes appear linked to a common history, language, and religion. The Middle East and Northern Ireland offer examples of psychological contributions to the reduction of group tension and violence. Rouhana and Bar-Tal (1998) describe a problem-solving workshop for high-ranking Israelis and Palestinians intended to foster an ethos of peace. The workshop provides a setting and rules for constructive engagement geared toward mutual problem-solving. Though time-consuming, such deep-rooted conflict requires sustained and facilitated interaction in order to build trust and empathy, examine competing beliefs about group relations, and explore joint visions of peace. In Northern Ireland, realistic group-conflict theory has inspired government initiatives to reform an educational system that, unwittingly, has maintained group tensions by segregating Catholic and Protestant children (Cairns & Darby, 1998). Based on the hypothesis that contact between conflicting groups diminishes intergroup misunderstanding, the Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural Heritage program designed a common curriculum that encourages Catholic and Protestant schools to establish contact between their pupils.

Societal transformation and national development

Societal transformation and the struggle for national development unleash tremendous social problems that exact a staggering personal and collective toll. Societal transformation is a massive and complex phenomenon that has cultural, economic, familial, institutional, personal, and religious dimensions. As a society undergoes transformation, virtually all aspects of social living become fluid and have uncertain outcomes. Established routines are interrupted, accustomed ways of thinking and acting are challenged, familiar social hierarchies collapse, and possibilities that could not have been foreseen become realities (e.g., homelessness, self-determination) (Stevens, 2002). Examples of societal transformation and national development can be found in countries that have survived distinct forms of oppression and struggle to realize their chosen economic, political, and social destiny: East European countries that endured communism, Latin American countries that have been oppressed by military dictatorships, and African countries that suffered racial autocracy. The causes, processes, and outcomes of societal transformation are also observable as developing countries encounter globalization.

International psychology can facilitate societal transformation and national development (Stevens, 2002). It supports these phenomena as legitimate domains of inquiry, and it endorses a multidimensional, multidisciplinary, and culturally sensitive framework for understanding, studying, and intervening in such macro-social change. It encourages communication and collaboration among psychologists with different expertise from around the world on societal transformation and national development.

Social reducton theory (Moghaddam & Harré, 1996) examines the flip side of societal transformation and stability, and attempts to explain why political revolutions are often followed by a return to a regime similar to that which the revolution was intended to overthrow. A social reducton is a unit of analysis that subsumes local meaning structures and derivative social interactions that take place in daily life. Social reducton systems include family, village, and culture. Harré (2002) describes a social reducton as follows:

A reducton is a minute social practice, so small, so insignificant that it is far too small for parliaments and committees of peasants and workers to bother about. A reducton is how we shake hands, who sits where at the table, how we pass in the street, and so on which seem to be the highly resistant bits of the social world that keep on keeping on, thereby reproducing the old regime. (p. 21)

Social reducton theory holds that local identity and behavior are resistant to imposed change (e.g., economic policies and legislative initiatives) and, when such change occurs, it is likely to be modest. Stable social orders that withstand top-down change are found wherever social reductons are so entrenched they are taken for granted. Social reducton systems are maintained by carriers (e.g., myths, traditions) that are culturally embedded. Carriers represent valued features of culture and include symbols such as flags. Carriers also include cognitive constructions, such as stereotypes about individuals based on their group membership (e.g., all Americans are seen by some Muslims as infidels). Social reducton theory has been applied to France, Iran, Japan, and Russia with the consistent finding that societal transformation is curtailed by the resilience of elementary normative practices (Moghaddam & Harré, 1996).

Methods for studying societal transformation and national development take many forms, including analog experiments, simulations, surveys, case studies, and field studies. The focus of such research is often on shifting public opinion and values as a country evolves from one economic and political paradigm to another. For example, transnational research indicates that democracies require citizens to tolerate the political participation of those who advocate unpopular views. Such tolerance is influenced by a commitment to democratic values, the degree of threat perceived in others, and personality (Sullivan & Transue, 1999; Wessells, 2000).

Psychologists concerned about the adverse effects of societal transformation and national development are frequently called upon to consult with governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on ways to strengthen public institutions and administrative processes tied to economic and political progress (e.g., ethical government), collaborate in building community-based programs that engage citizens (e.g., volunteerism), and respond to the needs of individuals who are impaired or at risk due to past and present societal conditions (e.g., restoring interpersonal trust) (Sullivan & Transue, 1999; Wessells, 2000). Many strategies for national development derive from research on social capital that underscores the importance of norms of reciprocity, civic virtues, and interpersonal trust in enhancing political involvement. Recently, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement conducted a transnational study of how effectively educational programs have promoted civic attitudes, knowledge, and participation among students in developing democracies. The study’s assumptions were that civic education involves interaction between attitudes and knowledge and requires the use of multiple pedagogical approaches. Students with the most civic knowledge were most likely to participate in civic activities, and schools and youth organizations that modeled democratic practices were most effective in promoting civic knowledge and participation (Torney-Purta, Lehmann, Oswald, & Schulz, 2001). Given these results, coupled with teachers’ support for civic education, it is important that international psychologists design school curricula and activities (e.g., student councils) that deepen the values of responsible citizenship.

The natural environment

Human behavior has transformed the natural environment on a global scale. Burning fossils fuels, clearing forests, manufacturing and consuming chemical products, farming marginal lands, and overpopulation have all had a deleterious effect on the environment. Sadly, terms such as dead zone and global warming have been added to the transnational vernacular. Environmental change is global because many changes are co-occurring (e.g., in the atmosphere, ocean, and ecosystem), environmental systems connect and interact across the earth, and localized changes can accumulate to the point of having widespread impact (e.g., acid rain, deforestation).

International psychology is relevant to global environmental change because environmental problems are sociobehavioral and because their magnitude and severity threaten human welfare (Vlek, 2000; Winter, 2000). As is true of international psychology, environmental psychology views human action from multiple levels, including individual, communal, and institutional. Global environmental problems have challenged environmental psychologists to supplement theories and practices of traditional specialties (e.g., applied behavioral analysis and experimental social psychology) with the concepts and methods of less familiar subfields (e.g., engineering and organizational psychology). Both natural and social scientists will have to collaborate in the multidisciplinary response to global environmental change. Progress will require integrating psychological concepts of environmental action with economic concepts of decision-making, engineering concepts of energy use, political concepts of policy analysis, and sociological concepts of mobilization (Vlek, 2000; Winter, 2000).

Specific challenges for international psychology include analyzing, understanding, and explaining behavior that produces global environmental change, reducing barriers to the adoption of technologies and practices that mitigate such change, and facilitating support for pro-environmental policies (Vlek, 2000). Behavioral approaches are best represented by applied behavioral analysis; social psychological models center on altruism, attitudes, and dissonance; cognitive models emphasize the application of information processing to such targets as environmental risk assessment. For example, contingent administration of rebates and raffle tickets can increase the frequency of bus-riding, litter clean-up, and the lowering of thermostats (Winter, 2000).

Of course, psychology alone cannot provide comprehensive explanations and solutions for environmental problems. Moreover, some argue that Western psychology itself is at odds with the environment because it legitimizes a worldview that separates the individual from the environment and derives from an exploitative orientation toward the natural world (Vlek, 2000). If so, psychology may be colluding with economic and political systems that degrade the environment vis-à-vis their individualistic versus communal orientation, emphasis on efficiency versus justice, and tendency toward proximal versus distal thinking. International psychologists have sought to balance the polarities of this commons dilemma by developing educational materials and methods that raise consciousness and increase collective self-regulation, by partnering with organizations to invest in conservation, and by consulting with government to regulate and enforce environmentally responsible action.

Physical and mental health

Health psychology emerged in the 1970s partly in response to changing patterns of illness and death in industrialized countries. Cancer, heart disease, stroke, and accidents replaced infectious diseases as leading causes of death. Lifestyle choices such as drinking, overeating, smoking, and under-exercising were linked to these changes. In the developing world, evidence of the adverse impact of globalization on the physical and mental health of individuals, especially in non-Western, collectivist societies, is growing. For example, the claim that eating disorders are culture-bound has been challenged by recent transnational research. Lee and Lee (1996) found that body dissatisfaction and eating disorders among Chinese adolescent females in Hong Kong were predicted by family conflict and the lack of family cohesion. The heightened exposure of these women to Western culture may partially explain these trends; specifically, eating disorders may be mediated by traditional communal structures weakened by globalization. In the underdeveloped world, millions suffer the physical and psychological toll of economic oppression, including child mortality, infectious disease, malnutrition, harsh living and work conditions, and limited access to education and health care as well as political oppression, including fear, social isolation, and trauma.

International psychology is closely tied to the study and treatment of physical and mental illness. First, health and clinical psychology are international because they are specialties within various regional and international psychological organizations. Second, there are many regional and international health and clinical psychology organizations with links to academic and professional psychology in the developed and developing world. Third, the number of international journals in health and clinical psychology is increasing, thereby enhancing the likelihood of international communication and collaboration among psychologists. Fourth, like international psychology itself, health and clinical psychology is multidisciplinary. Illness is multidetermined, and it is embedded in economic, environmental, political, and social contexts. Given their focus on ameliorating and preventing illness and disability and on promoting health, it is clear that health and clinical psychology must incorporate findings from education, medicine, public health, and sociology. Finally, some diseases have reached global proportions, most notably HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS is having devastating effects at various levels, from personal to regional. Historical, political, social, and cultural factors have contributed to this pandemic and reflect the multidetermined character of the illness and the multidisciplinary responses it demands. The case of South Africa illustrates these points. By 2010, approximately 50% of the black population and 6% of the white population of South Africa will be HIV-positive (de lay Rey, 2002). Beyond the adverse health consequences of internecine wars, cross-border migration and transport, and a fragile healthcare infrastructure, indigenous values and traditions unwittingly escalate rates of infection and the difficulties of managing the disease. For example, Africans often attribute illness to the malevolent power of another person or group. Effective treatment can occur only after a cosmological explanation for the malady is identified and a shaman administers sacred rites. In addition to high-risk cultural practices (e.g., sexual initiation rites, evidence of fertility prior to marriage), some Africans do not distinguish life from death. Because death unites people with ancestral spirits, past and present become fused and there is less motivation to avoid contracting a fatal illness.

Western psychology has been ethnocentric in its attempt to establish universal dimensions of mental illness. Widespread problems in one part of the world may occur infrequently elsewhere (e.g., competitive achievement striving) and myths that one culture deems valid may be considered superstitions in others (e.g., imperfect parenting causes psychopathology). Western psychology has also overlooked contextual factors that cause and maintain mental illness. International psychology is becoming more sensitive and knowledgeable about the constitutive dimensions of people’s lives. These changes in perspective are due partly to demands that scientific and professional psychology be accountable (Rosenzweig, 1999; Staub & Green, 1992). In the U.S., for example, demands for accountability have led to the identification of empirically supported treatments. However, few investigations outside of the Western world have confirmed the transnational relevance of these treatments.

Non-Western demands for accountability are more radical, often entailing the overhaul of imported theories of, and therapies for, psychopathology. Radical transformations typically presume a connection between mental health, human rights, and the struggle against injustice. Rather than seeking organic causes for mental illness and prescribing medications or hypothesizing about faulty learning and applying corrective therapies (e.g., behavior modification), international psychologists most often support a view of mental illness as the product of a confluence of oppressive sociocultural forces (e.g., discrimination, poverty, trauma). Rather than pathologize, international psychologists typically reframe disordered functioning as adaptive accommodation to pathological conditions (Comas-Díaz, 2000). An example of the medicalization of a sociopolitical problem is the diagnosis of symptoms produced by the machinery of oppression (e.g., torture) as posttraumatic stress disorder. Such diagnoses reflect the inappropriate application of an individualistic, decontextualized, and ethnocentric taxonomy.

International psychologists also hold that remediation and prevention are possible when therapeutic goals include social justice and equality, and treatment incorporates activism and advocacy. They employ conventional, innovative, and indigenous methods (e.g., bearing witness, attitudinal healing programs) to raise individual and collective awareness of how oppression affects mental health. Furthermore, they work to transform alienation into affirmation, empowerment, solidarity, and commitment to social action. International psychologists have formed organizations such as Psychologists for Social Responsibility to educate the public on policies and practices that adversely affect their lives and to lobby their professions to address human rights and social justice.

Disempowered groups

Due to an increasingly sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure, most of the industrial and developing world is aware of the suffering of disempowered groups. Two such groups, women and children, have been important foci for international psychology.

Daily broadcasts report news about traffic in women, female genital mutilation, and honor killings in which young women who have been raped or seen in the company of men other than family members are killed to avenge the dishonor to the family. Other reports describe the trauma of entire communities of women who were raped in the course of ethnic conflict. This occurred in Bosnia and Rwanda, where rape was used as a way to inflict personal and collective shame for generations. There also are frequent reports of trafficking in children, who are also exploited for labor and sex. Shocking, too, is news about children conscripted to serve as combatants in ethnic civil wars. For example, in Sierra Leone, boys and girls have been threatened with execution unless they take up arms and participate in atrocities against civilian opponents.

International psychology has long been involved in women’s issues, including domestic violence. Globally, one third of women in intimate relationships have been beaten, forced into sex, and/or abused emotionally (Walker, 1999). In addition to causing physical injury, domestic violence increases women’s risk of chronic disability, unintended pregnancy, adverse pregnancy outcomes, sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse, depression, and suicide. Notwithstanding transnational variability, women’s susceptibility to violence appears related to a complex interaction among unequal gender norms, conservative religious values, attitudes that tolerate violence, poverty, weak political and civil institutions, state-sponsored violence, and migration. In Russia, for example, the rising incidence of domestic violence covaries with national economic and political deterioration. Although recent laws protecting women have been enacted in Latin American countries, the actual implementation of legal safeguards has been slow. In Israel, the challenges of integrating immigrants during an economic downturn, along with regional hostilities, has increased both domestic violence and teenage prostitution. As with other significant global concerns, the multidimensional and multidisciplinary nature of domestic violence calls for the sustained involvement of international psychology. International psychologists have designed ecological programs to heal and empower battered women recovering from violence as well as programs for batterers wanting to stop perpetrating violence against women. In 1994, an action program emerged from the U.N.sponsored International Conference on Population and Development, which demanded rights-based, integrative interventions to combat domestic violence worldwide, in addition to rape, trafficking in women, harmful indigenous practices, and gender inequality in economic, legal, political, and social spheres. International psychologists have also collaborated on campaigns to educate the public about the link between violence against women and other health and social concerns and to resocialize men and women whose attitudes support domestic violence.

It is especially tragic that 300,000 children in over 80 countries have participated in armed conflicts (Smith, 2001). They serve as cooks, porters, prostitutes, spies, and soldiers. Many more children witness violence, including lethal violence against their families, friends, and communities. In a war-ravaged country, no aspect of a child’s life is untouched by war (Hussain, 2002). Among the more devastating effects are chronic malnutrition, infectious disease, and psychological trauma; other consequences include hopelessness and desensitization to violence. In addition, children associated with armies are often discriminated against because of their participation in war (e.g., prevented from returning to school); marginalizing these children only sows the seeds of future violence. International psychologists are ideally situated to share their knowledge about different cultural values and cosmologies with governments and NGOs and to cooperate with other relief professionals and indigenous healers. International psychologists have recommended holistic interventions for children of war that integrate psychological, economic, political, and spiritual elements. Specific interventions include reconstructing families, integrating child-soldiers into society through education and vocational training, providing support for adults and caregivers, and building the capacities of communities to heal and create a better future.

International psychological organizations

We now describe the mission and activities of scientific and professional organizations that represent international psychology and the interface between these organizations and international policy-making entities, specifically the U.N. and World Health Organization (WHO). Separately and together, international psychological organizations promote the aims of international psychology: communication and collaboration among psychologists worldwide and the application of psychology to significant global concerns.

There are at least 250 regional and international psychological associations; some are small and specialized, whereas others are large and encompass many specialties (Pawlik & d’Ydewalle, 1996; Sabourin, 2001). For example, the International Test Commission (ITC; is an association of national psychological associations, test commissions, test publishers, and other organizations committed to effective testing and assessment policies and to the development, evaluation, and proper use of psychometric instruments. The proliferation of these organizations reflects the desire of psychologists to communicate and collaborate on issues of global import. Four psychological organizations are especially important: the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), the International Council of Psychologists (ICP), the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS), and the Division of International Psychology of the American Psychological Association (APA52).

The IAAP ( was founded in 1920 as the Association International de Psychotechnique and is the oldest international psychological association. The IAAP has more than 2,000 members from over 70 countries. Its goals are worldwide dialogue between psychologists who teach, conduct research, and practice the various fields of applied psychology. The IAAP has 13 divisions, some in specialties that often are absent from North American psychology (e.g., the psychology of national development, traffic and transportation psychology), as well as standing committees and task forces that respond to ongoing, recurrent, and situational matters of importance to the association. Since 1974, congresses have been convened every 4 years at venues across the globe. The IAAP also hosts regional conferences to benefit younger psychologists and colleagues from developing countries who may not be able to attend world congresses. The IAAP has cooperative ties to the ICP and IUPsyS, and has NGO status at the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the WHO. The IAAP also publishes Applied Psychology: An International Review.

The ICP ( was founded in 1941 in the U.S. as the National Council of Women Psychologists to assist in the war effort. The current mission of the ICP is to advance scientific psychology and its global application. To this end, the ICP serves to strengthen international bonds between psychologists. Psychologists from over 80 countries are members. The ICP has several standing committees (e.g., long-range planning), professional concerns committees (e.g., peace), interest groups (e.g., cross-cultural issues and research), liaisons to national and international psychological organizations (e.g., International Organization for the Study of Group Tensions), and area chairs (i.e., country representatives who further the aims of the ICP in specified geographical areas). The ICP has NGO status at the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The ICP hosts thematic annual conventions and publishes the International Psychologist.

The IUPsyS ( was founded in 1951 as the International Union of Scientific Psychology, having evolved from international congresses that began in 1889. The IUPsyS is recognized as the international voice of psychology because it is an umbrella organization and because it encompasses all specialties of the discipline and profession. The IUPsyS has no individual members; rather, it is composed of national psychological organizations. At present, the IUPsyS has members from 68 countries, representing over 500,000 psychologists. Membership includes most industrial nations, many developing nations, and countries classified by the U.N. as least developed (e.g., Bangladesh, Uganda). The IUPsyS fosters the global development and exchange of psychological science, whether biological or social, normal or abnormal, pure or applied. It contributes to the exchange of ideas and data and scholars and students, and to networking international and national organizations on matters of shared interest. The IUPsyS belongs to two major international scientific organizations: the International Social Science Council and International Council of Science. Through membership in these multidisciplinary organizations, the IUPsyS participates in research of global significance. The IUPsyS also has NGO status with the U.N. ECOSOC, UNESCO, and WHO. Finally, the IUPsyS has affiliations with 12 regional and international psychological organizations (e.g., the IAAP) and ties to psychological associations with narrow foci (e.g., the ITC). These ties permit the IUPsyS to lend its expertise to various global concerns, such as immunization and prenatal care, adult literacy, and capacity-building. The IUPsyS hosts the International Congress of Psychology quadrennially and publishes both the International Journal of Psychology andPsychology: IUPsyS Global Resource, a CD-ROM devoted to the concerns and needs of international psychologists.

The APA’s Division of International Psychology (APA52; was founded in 1997 in response to the complex needs of an increasingly interdependent and rapidly changing world and the urgency of understanding the multicultural and multidisciplinary dimensions of that world. APA52 serves psychologists interested in collaborating with colleagues from around the world in the teaching, research, and practice of psychology. Its activities include facilitating transnational research, informing psychologists about assessment and treatment practices worldwide, and encouraging psychologists to visit their counterparts in other countries in order to attend conferences, give lectures and workshops, and pursue advanced training or employment. APA52 has seven standing committees and 14 ad hoc committees that have specific charges related to the goals of the division. For example, the Committee for International Liaisons maintains a list and listserv of psychologists who represent 74 countries for the purpose of facilitating international communication. This committee also maintains the Web-based International Psychology Information Clearinghouse, a compendium of information intended to stimulate international collaboration in teaching, research, practice, and public service. This resource contains over 200 entries on careers in international psychology, opportunities in academic and research settings, opportunities in clinical and service agencies, funding for research, support for conferences, travel support, awards, resources for American psychology students, and resources for foreign psychologists and psychology students. Recently, a Web technology was introduced to enhance communication and collaboration among psychologists worldwide. permits the conversion of text to and from languages, and is now linked to the APA52 web site. E-mail messages, short documents, and web sites can be converted into any of the available languages. The site also features real-time online chat in which one can write text in one language and send it in another. APA52 also contributes an annual program of international scholarship and discourse to APA’s annual meetings and publishes the International Psychology Reporter.

The American Psychological Association (APA; has a long commitment to international psychology. In 1929, the APA dedicated its annual convention to hosting the Ninth International Congress of Psychology. In 1944, the APA established the Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP; Committee on International Relations in Psychology). Operating out of the APA’s Office of International Affairs, CIRP disseminates psychological information, supports exchange programs, promotes attendance at international meetings (e.g., the International Scientific Meetings Support Fund), and seeks ties to international organizations (e.g., the WHO). CIRP has facilitated the APA’s global agenda by assisting psychologists from abroad to acquire scholarly and professional materials (e.g., the Journal Donations Program), advising them on how to publish in American journals (e.g., the Editorial Mentoring Program), and coordinating national conferences with meetings of international psychological associations. CIRP also encourages efforts to internationalize the psychology curriculum (e.g., the Disaster Management, Humanitarian Relations, and International Peacekeeping programs at the University of Hawaii). CIRP also monitors international cases that involve the abuse of psychological knowledge and methods, and the infringement of psychologists’ rights. CIRP publishes Psychology International.

Psychological associations also play an important role at the United Nations (U.N.; as NGOs. As we have shown, psychological knowledge and skills are essential to understanding and solving contemporary global problems. NGOs fulfill the charter of the U.N. by working for peace and security, economic and social advancement, and the promotion of human rights. With the assistance of the U.N.’s Department of Public Information, NGOs have drawn attention to global concerns, disseminated information, suggested interventions, monitored international agreements, and mobilized public support for U.N. initiatives. The shared goals of the U.N. and psychological NGOs include raising global consciousness and nurturing cooperative networks. Representatives from psychological NGOs attend U.N. briefings and consult with committees, units, and divisions that might benefit from their expertise. For example, the ICP plays an important role in the U.N. Children’s Fund’s Committee on the Girl Child, formed in response to the plight of females worldwide, and established the U.N. Committee on the Family. IUPsyS members participate on the Committee on Health and Mental Health and have worked on several UNESCO-sponsored projects (e.g., identifying the psychological dimensions of global change). The APA became an accredited NGO at the U.N. in 2001, and brings a psychological perspective to many U.N. policies and programs, including aging, child welfare, education, gender equality, human rights, racism, social justice, and violence. It has initiated, coordinated, or contributed to several U.N. caucuses (e.g., Child Rights Caucus), committees (e.g., aging, family), forums (e.g., indigenous issues), and task forces (e.g., children and HIV/AIDS), and has started to examine the impact the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights on economic development, environmental protection, and human rights. The International Working Group on Traumatic Stress, a multidisciplinary task force that has consultative status with the U.N. ECOSOC, has constructed guidelines for responding to humanitarian crises. The guidelines emphasize trauma intervention with various populations (e.g., child combatants, refugees, victims of natural disasters) in developing countries without a strong mental health infrastructure. The guidelines identify programs that can be implemented at different levels (e.g., societal, community, individual) and those that vary in scope (e.g., social policy, public education, coordination of services, capacity-building, counseling, self-help).

Like the U.N., many international psychological organizations have NGO status or less formal ties with the World Health Organization (WHO; The mission of the WHO is to assist all peoples to attain the highest possible level of health. To fulfill its mission, the WHO directs and coordinates work in international health in concert with the U.N., specialized agencies, governmental heath administrations, and professional organizations. It encourages collaboration among scientific and professional groups on research related to illness and health and on training healthcare providers. The WHO also focuses on global mental health. In 2001, the WHO reported that 450 million people worldwide suffer from psychological and neurological disorders (World Health Organization, 2001). Major depression is the leading cause of disability and ranks fourth among the 10 leading contributors to the global disease burden; 70 million suffer from alcoholism and 24 million from schizophrenia. The WHO stressed that mental health is crucial to the well-being of individuals, societies, and countries, and should not be neglected. To this end, the WHO made 10 mental health recommendations that could be adapted to the needs and resources of each country; many are relevant for psychologists, including educating the public, conducting research, and involving families and community. Sensitive to the vast differences in resources among countries, the WHO has delineated three levels within which to enact its recommendations: (a) underdeveloped countries (e.g., transferring the mentally ill out of prisons), (b) developing countries (e.g., integrating custodial patients into the general health care system), and (c) developed countries (e.g., establishing community facilities that offer comprehensive mental health coverage). The WHO also sponsors collaborative centers in which national institutions form an international network to direct activities that support the WHO’s international mental health agenda. Collaborative centers collect and disseminate information, educate and train healthcare workers, and design, deliver, and evaluate services. Finally, the WHO partners with civil society organizations and NGOs with overlapping health-related goals and programs.


International psychology works to increase communication and collaboration among psychologists worldwide and respond to significant global concerns. To date, international psychology has made impressive strides toward fulfilling its mission, yet much remains to be accomplished. What is the agenda for international psychology as the 21st century unfolds?

First, the time is ripe for greater unity within international psychology. The integration of international psychological organizations has already begun (Pawlik & d’Ydewalle, 1996; Sabourin, 2001). For example, officers of the IAAP and IUPsyS meet yearly to coordinate existing relationships and identify new areas of cooperation, and the IAAP and ICP coordinate advanced research training seminars for psychologists in developing countries. Some have suggested a more complete merger of these complementary organizations. The benefits of a more unified international psychology include a stronger voice, pooled resources, and greater efficiency in carrying out projects that address various global problems. Increased coordination might also lead to development of a mechanism for data archiving and sharing that would advance psychological science and bring greater coherence to transnational research.

Second, curricula that are relevant to the preparation of competent international psychologists are being developed (Marsella, 1998). Most international psychologists are not trained in the specialty and embrace it from virtually every corner of the discipline and profession. Their talents and enthusiasm notwithstanding, there is a need for international psychologists who have been academically prepared and clinically trained with conceptual models, investigative methodologies, and practical interventions based on multidisciplinary and transnational foundations that are global in scope, relevant, applicable, and culturally appropriate. Recently, the APA began to address the pedagogical needs of 21st century psychology through one of its Partnerships Programs. One project, “Teaching a World Psychology: International Dialogues,” assembles world leaders in secondary and tertiary education in psychology in order to internationalize the curriculum. In 2001, the APA convened representatives of its divisions, national credentialing organizations, and national education and training organizations for an educational leadership conference. The conference identified several issues relevant to the preparation of international psychologists that the APA’s Board of Educational Affairs will review. Of overarching importance is a multidisciplinary approach to understanding, investigating, and intervening in global concerns, and the necessity of developing interprofessional knowledge, skills, and attitudes to ensure effective collaboration. Recommendations for internationalizing the psychology curriculum included expanding exchange programs, reinstituting a language requirement, evaluating the applicability of theories and research methods to global phenomena, and training in nontraditional approaches and settings (Belar, Nelson, & Wasik, 2003). These recommendations echo Marsella’s (1998) earlier call for a curriculum that raises awareness of the ethnocentric bias of current training, emphasizes nonlinear, systems models of human functioning, and employs naturalistic and qualitative methods of inquiry and data analysis.

Other approaches to internationalizing the curriculum, still awaiting implementation, involve intensive, postgraduate preparation in specific target areas, such as intergroup conflict. Recently, a task force designed a yearlong curriculum in response to the 1997 Initiative on Ethnopolitical Warfare, proposed jointly by the American and Canadian Psychological Associations. This curriculum includes eight didactic areas: cross-cultural knowledge and perspectives, conflict analysis, violence prevention, conflict resolution, traumatic stress, psychosocial programs, intervention design, and peace-building and reconciliation. An internship follows to provide supervised international field experiences.

Finally, for international psychology to advance as a specialty, it must continue to demonstrate its relevance (Rosenzweig, 1999; Staub & Green, 1992). International psychologists and psychological organizations must show why their science and practice merit financial and public support. Specifically, international psychologists must test their conceptual models, evaluate their technical applications, and disseminate evidence that their theories and practices address significant global concerns. The development of international psychology also requires a renewed commitment to the value of social responsibility in teaching, research, practice, and public service. Social responsibility “is not simply about caring for the other outside of oneself; it means to be concerned for one’s self in the other” (Staub & Green, 1992, p. 12).


We conclude our overview of international psychology by identifying links between this specialty and the chapters on national psychologies that follow. As stated in the Preface, our rationale for the Handbook of International Psychology is to inform readers about the discipline and profession of psychology as constituted and evolving in distinct countries and regions of the world. Each chapter describes the general background, education and training, scope of psychological practice, and future of psychology in 27 countries. Although our list of countries may seem incomplete and idiosyncratic, we believed that an in-depth presentation of each country was required. This decision necessarily limited the number and range of countries we included in the book.

If the mission of international psychology is to enhance communication and collaboration, then it is essential that psychologists and psychology students become familiar with theory, research, and practice in many lands. We believe that readers of the Handbook will become better equipped to engage their counterparts abroad in informed discourse and establish collegial relationships that will address significant global concerns. Information about the multidisciplinary and organizational links of national psychological organizations will also stimulate international communication and collaboration.

International psychology is a disciplinary and professional specialty that targets a variety of phenomena that have no borders. We reviewed several pressing global concerns, including intergroup conflict, societal transformation and national development, threats to the natural environment, physical and mental health needs, and the struggles of disempowered groups. These problems and their solutions require appreciation of the complex interplay of culture, economics, history, politics, and religion; in other words, a multidisciplinary and transnational perspective. Contributors to the Handbook have been conscientious about articulating the contextual dimensions of their country’s psychology. For example, readers will become acquainted with controversial issues that psychologists are debating across the globe, particularly those related to politics and culture. They will discover how well the psychologies of other countries balance imported, Western features with indigenous elements that reflect circumstances that are relevant to those countries. They will learn about alternative paradigms for constructing theory, conducting research, and applying interventions. As a result, readers will better understand the multifactorial causes of and diverse possibilities for addressing global concerns as manifested in specific countries.

The future of international psychology will surely include greater unity among scientists and practitioners worldwide, and more specialized didactic and applied preparation of international psychologists. We hope that readers of theHandbook will become more involved internationally through their national psychological associations as well as through regional and international psychological organizations. In addition, we hope they will become better informed about opportunities for international partnership and mechanisms for global interface. Their increased involvement will reflect an expanding vista that invites psychologists to fulfill the goals of a socially responsible psychology. A new generation of leaders within international psychology will strengthen ties among psychological associations that have an international agenda and embolden psychology’s role in addressing global issues through international policy-making entities. These leaders will support the refinement of educational and training materials to ensure the preparation of international psychologists who will have greater competencies than their predecessors. Readers of theHandbook will become familiar with psychology curricula that may be less specialized, but more externally valid. They will learn about relatively unknown specialties, such as transportation psychology and disaster mental health. They will learn about alternative forms of treatment, different modalities of service delivery, and diverse ethics codes. Finally, they will learn about an influential literature that is often not available through conventional databases.

In our concluding chapter, we offer a synthesis of the 27 national psychologies presented in the Handbook. In our synthesis, we examine three distinct and significant trends in psychology worldwide: some were identified in previous handbooks (see Gilgen & Gilgen, 1987; Sexton & Hogan, 1992), some have changed since the publication of those books, and some are more recent. These trends include the growth of psychology as a discipline and profession, the feminization of psychology, and the emergence of new paradigms. We conclude our synthesis by reflecting on what American psychologists can learn about theory, research, practice, and training in psychology from their international colleagues.



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© 2004 Brunner-Routledge

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