HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: International Initiatives of the Society of Pediatric Psychology

Michael C. Roberts and Anne Kazak

Society of Pediatric Psychology Co-Historians

 The leadership and members of the Society of Pediatric Psychology (SPP) in recent years have undertaken initiatives to enhance activities and relationships internationally (Simons, 2018). These initiatives both influence and are influenced by developments of pediatric psychology outside of the United States such as the Paediatric Psychology Study Day in the United Kingdom (UK), the European Paediatric Psychology Network (EPPN: Simons, 2018; Young et al., 2018), and the Italian Society of Pediatric Psychology (SIPPed: Perricone et al., 2021).  While the visibility of the North American activities may have affected those in other countries, including research, clinical work, publications, and conferences, some developments outside the United States may have resulted more independently. It is notably difficult to identify sources of historical influence on emerging phenomena from multiple causes.  Indeed, even in the US, the origins of pediatric psychology had multiple sites of creation around the same time as Wright’s 1967 article and the formation of the SPP organization in 1969 (see e.g., Abidin, undated; Erickson, 2010; Kazak, 2022).  Some seeds of pediatric psychology may have sprouted simultaneously—a case of a good idea at the right time.

As we celebrate organizational growth and dissemination of the “good ideas” of the field, this is an opportune moment to investigate SPP history archives regarding international initiatives.  This historical note is to briefly recognize that the current situation is a gratifying fulfillment of earlier aspirations and collaborations, whether causally related or acknowledged.  That is, whether the earlier efforts served as the seeds of the current international development is unclear, the recognition is that American pediatric psychology aspired to collaborate and develop internationally rather early in its history.

A review of the SPP archives, including conference programs, minutes of the SPP board meetings, and past issues of the Progress Notes newsletter found numerous mentions of international initiatives over 35 years ago.  For example, a special section of brief articles in the Progress Notes of 1987 (Volume 11, Nos. 1 & 2) included descriptions of pediatric psychology-related activities from Canada (2 articles), Great Britain (2 articles), South Africa, and Australia.  The psychologists, in both academic and clinical settings, reported conducting research and applications in children’s health and development. Formal organizations of pediatric psychologists did not exist in other countries, although “foreign” psychologists could join SPP and receive the Journal, from very beginning in the formation.

Presenters at the 1988 Florida Conference in Child Health Psychology, held at the University of Florida in Gainesville, included international psychologists from the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Philippines.  Just a few years later, as found in 1991 minutes of the SPP board meetings, the first proposals for a more robust effort at international linkages came from Jan Wallander.  He was then a member of the SPP board (and later President) who was from Sweden and received undergraduate and doctoral education in the United States, a true international psychologist.  The board minutes are succinct in stating his intent for a “greater presence internationally.”  Also noted in the 1991 minutes was a proposal for SPP members to participate in a “China Study Tour.”  Two tours ended up being held, one in 1991 and another in 1992, both co-led by Suzanne Bennett Johnson and Gerald Koocher, organized by a tour company “China Educational Travel” (both were later Presidents of SPP and APA; Koocher was serving as Editor of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology at this time). Although these tours were not financially sponsored by SPP, announcements were made through direct mail solicitations to SPP members and in the newsletter.  The tours included visits to both tourist attractions and such institutions as the Beijing Children’s Hospital and a residential treatment center for children with developmental disabilities. The participants and Chinese hosts are depicted in the photograph from the 1992 study tour.

Minutes of the 1992 Midwinter meeting (MWM) of the SPP Board described multiple suggestions from Annette La Greca, as incoming editor of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, intended to increase “international presence” such as through “a special issue on International Issues, possibly coedited by a professional in a foreign country; eliciting more foreign contributions; and translating abstracts into foreign languages.”  Later in these minutes, “mechanisms” were discussed about “formal affiliation with the International Society of Behavioral Medicine [ISBM], networking with the International Conference on Infant Studies and the International Conference on Mental Retardation. . . contacting foreign SPP members and providing foreign members program time at poster sessions to share information about programs and issues.”

The 1993 MWM minutes presented that Don Wertlieb, who was then a member at large on the SPP Board (and later President), prepared a satisfaction survey of international members and reported that it was “generating goodwill” and that most international members were “not having problems” (likely a reference to receiving the Journal and newsletters in the mail).  Also, in this meeting, Wallander presented a report on the newly formed Task Force on International Activities with the two major objectives: “(a) to increase the number of members from countries other than the US and (b) to foster interactions among International Members within their own geographic regions and between International and U.S. members.” This was unanimously approved.  At the 1993 APA convention, Wallander reported on the task force activities, now including Lynn Walker as cochair.  They proposed that SPP should become an affiliate of ISBM at a fee of $300 (this was approved and renewed in 1994).

The 1995 SPP Board minutes indicated that “recruitment of international members has increased” with several of these members attending the Florida Child Health Psychology Conference.  Wallander reported that he was serving as Pediatric Co-Chair for the International Congress of Behavioral Medicine and encouraged submissions from SPP members.  His participation was partially subsidized by an allocation from the SPP budget.

Unfortunately, minutes from 1996 are not available. In 1997, the SPP board held the MWM in Mexico City, but the minutes contain no mention of international activities. This omission is curious because this MWM was being held outside of the US for the first and only time in its history. Notably, however, SPP board meetings had been held in Montreal and Toronto Canada associated with APA conventions.  Subsequent minutes of 1997 meetings of the board at the APA convention similarly do not include mention of international developments.  As recorded in the 1998 midwinter meeting of the board, Maureen Black noted her intended initiatives during her upcoming presidential year as including “International Activities” without the minutes providing any details.

Kazak (1998), as the new Editor, announced that JPP had, for the first time, an international Associate Editor (Christine Eiser from the UK), adding that “we hope to expand our borders and include more international reports in the journal” (p. 2). She also appointed editorial board members from The Netherlands and Canada.  Further along the lines of international activities, there was discussion recorded in the 1999 MWM minutes of having a midwinter meeting in London, in combination with a regional meeting in Europe. The concerns expressed by the board focused on whether the membership would view this negatively and the potential negative impact of the SPP Board not meeting jointly with Division 12 for the MWM, as that was the tradition (at that time, SPP was Section 5 within the Division).

This dive into the SPP archive reveals that international connections and initiatives were being envisioned and undertaken within 20 years of the founding of the Society in the US.  The earliest years of US based pediatric psychology were naturally devoted to establishing a solid base for the field, attending to forming SPP as a member organization of scientists and practitioners, maintaining a presence at the APA convention (as well as regional psychological association conventions), and establishing its scientific-professional journal.  Based on journal publications, international research on topics of child health concerns might have predated clinical work and organizational development outside the US.  For example, scientific investigations into children’s health and development conducted internationally by pediatric psychologists based in the US such as Philip Davidson who investigated methyl mercury exposure during the prenatal period and subsequent developmental trajectories in the Seychelles Child Development Study (see Roberts, 2022).  Wallander (2015) detailed his own European research collaborations on topics of quality of life and developmental issues in childhood and adolescence, some resulting from his efforts to increase a “greater presence internationally” for US pediatric psychology.  Black (2015) similarly described some of her international research activities in nutrition and child development interventions over many years.  Although Lynn Walker recently reflected that the Task Force on International Activities never got off the ground and she did not recall what, if anything, was accomplished, she individually presented at numerous conferences of the Interamerican Society of Psychology (Sociedad Interamericana de Psichologia: https://sipsych.org/) on her research.  These are examples of global collaborations that began early in the field. Discussions of international developments in pediatric psychology topics can be found in chapters in two editions of the Handbook of Pediatric Psychology (Black & Krishnakumar, 2003; La Greca, Kazak, & Chan, 2017) and in Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology (Simons, 2018).

International collaborators’ identity or labeling as pediatric psychologists per se may have come after initiating scientific investigations.  That is, clinical service functions in medical/health systems and formation of distinctive organizations may have taken a while longer to develop.  It is not clear that the early SPP initiatives generated the more recent international activities.  Nonetheless, these developments in concepts of pediatric and child health psychology were “good ideas at the right time” in history to improve health and functioning of children and youth with medical/health problems and to promote the creation of a vibrant professional field to serve their needs.  Getting to where the field is now internationally and moving even further fulfills the aspirational goals envisioned by many earlier in history, whether those visionary seeds were the germinators of the growth.




Abidin, R. (undated).  Recollections of the beginning of pediatric psychology.  https://pedpsych.org/recollections-of-the-beginning-of-pediatric-psychology/

Black, M. M. (2015). Pioneers in pediatric psychology: Integrating nutrition and child development interventions. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 40(4), 398-405. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jsu114

Black, M. M., & Krishnakumar, A. (2003). International pediatric psychology. In M. C. Roberts (Ed.), Handbook of pediatric psychology (3rd ed., pp. 747-755). New York: Guilford.

La Greca, A. M., Kazak, A. E., & Chan, S. F. (2017). International developments in pediatric psychology. In M. C. Roberts & R. Steele (Eds.), Handbook of pediatric psychology (5th ed., pp. 608-619). New York: Guilford.

Roberts, M. C. (2022). History spotlight: In Memoriam: Philip W. Davidson, Ph.D. (1941-2022)  Progress Notes, 46(2).  https://pedpsych.org/progress_notes/in-memoriam-copy/

Erickson, M. (2010).  Antecedents and foundations of pediatric psychology: Recollections of the beginning. Progress Notes, 34(3), 2.

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Kazak, A. E. (2022). Ralph M. Gibson, PhD (1923-2001) – A pioneer in pediatric psychology.


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Service—An experience of psychological intervention in maternal and child care during COVID-19. Pediatric Reports, 13, 142-161.

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Wright, L. (1967). The pediatric psychologist: A role model. American Psychologist, 22(4), 323-325. doi:https://doi.org/10.1037/h0037666

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Photograph provided by Gerald Koocher, Ph.D. of 1992 China Study Trip.


Gerry Koocher, Suzanne Bennett Johnson, and Sheila Eyberg in front row; Jessica Daniel, Nate Perry, and Steve Boggs in back.