Tucker’s research changed the treatment of addictions

Jalie Tucker, Ph.D., professor and chair of health behavior, received the Presidential Citation for Distinguished Service from the American Psychological Association (APA) for more than a dozen years’ service representing a division she helped create.

Jalie Tucker, professor and chair of health behavior, received the Presidential Citation for Distinguished Service from the American Psychological Association for more than a dozen years’ service representing a division she helped create.
The citation recognizes Tucker’s service of four three-year terms spanning 1998-2012 as the elected division representative to the APA Council of Representatives, the governing body of the APA and its 150,000 doctoral psychologists. She previously received the same award in 1995 for her seminal contributions in starting the Division on Addictions and serving as its first elected president from 1993-94.

“The first time I was recognized was largely because of the role I played in organizing the division during its first full year.” Tucker says. “It was a long time coming to get enough people interested to sign the petition to get the division started at the APA, even though the APA has been around for more than 100 years.”

The division was approved as a candidate division in early 1993, and Tucker became the president that August. “The division had to be quickly organized,” Tucker says. “We needed to set up a governance structure, standing committees and bylaws — everything you have to do with a new organization. That was actually a lot of fun. There was tremendous talent out there, people were eager to step up and participate and to have a home within psychology’s major professional association.”

At the same, the division had to function immediately within the larger association to help set up a credible proficiency examination for doctoral psychologists engaged in the treatment of alcohol and other psychoactive substances. Reimbursement of psychological services was undergoing severe cuts by managed care organizations. The exam provided doctoral psychologists with a nationally recognized proficiency credential for addiction services, the first of many such credentials now offered by the APA.

The Division on Addictions helped determine the original exam content, which is based on research, and it continues to oversee exam updates every seven years.

“We wanted to be sure the exam was founded on the best evidence to guide practice,” Tucker says. “Historically, treatment in the addictions field has been based on the personal experiences of recovering alcohol and drug misusers, more so than on research.

“Although there is now much good research to serve as the empirical foundation for treatment, there has been a real disconnect for decades between the research findings and what was happening in the trenches of practice. The national proficiency exam helped put them together, at least within psychology.”

Tucker stayed involved after her term as division president as the elected division representative to the APA Council of Representatives — the association’s governing body. She has also been a member and chair of the Board of Professional Affairs, a major APA board that oversees a number of initiatives, including evidence-based guidelines for psychological practice and psychologists’ role in health-care settings, including primary care.

As board chair in 2004, Tucker testified as a provider panel member representing the APA to the Institute of Medicine Committee on “Crossing the Quality Chasm: Adaptations to Mental Health & Addictive Disorder.”

“I’ve stayed involved in the APA in a number of roles, but I also got out of the way of the immediate leadership of the Division on Addictions,” Tucker says. “It’s important to do that in a new organization because you need to let other new people come in and have their time at the steering wheel. Our group’s enthusiasm has remained high, and our effectiveness continues to grow both within and outside of the APA.

Tucker’s contributions to Division 50 are based on a longstanding commitment to advance practice and policy through guidance from basic and applied research on alcohol, drug problems and other addictive behaviors. With funding from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Drug Abuse, she has been researching addictive behavior change processes and patterns for 30 years and championing the need for change in the way insurance companies, health professionals and businesses view mental health and substance-use disorders.

“These are stigmatized disorders, and lay people and professionals alike often view addictive disorders as being very difficult to change without a long course of intensive treatment,” Tucker says. “That is true in a minority of cases, but there are several good treatments available now, and many people change with brief problem-focused interventions or on their own.
Tucker laments the way our laws and funding priorities tend to emphasize solutions to the drug problem through the criminal justice system and by police and border interdiction aimed at reducing the drug supply. She says prevention and treatment, which help reduce the demand for drugs, should be among the embraced solutions.

“There is a lot of need out there — even in prison — for these types of services,” Tucker says. “That’s one of the reasons why it was important for us to find a home in the APA through the division. Addictions have been such an academic backwater and on the margins of practice; it was not something that was initially a high attractor of young psychologists. But the problem is so big, and it’s not going away.”

Once the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism got involved and started funding research and training in the early 1970s, the quality of the science improved very quickly. Now, the addiction field has become a leader in the science of behavior change, she says.