Dr. Lawler Continues Lifelong Commitment to Children as Chair of American Psychological Association's Committee on Children, Youth and Families
As a former practitioner in mental health and child welfare services, Dr. Michael Lawler often receives questions from concerned parents looking for advice on the best ways to raise their children. Despite all of complex scientific information at his disposal, and often much to their surprise, his answer is always the same: Does your child know that you love them?
“Most people will grin when I ask that and say, ‘yes.’ And I say, ‘good, you can take a breather.’”
“Of course that doesn’t solve all things,” he continued, “but it is the foundation and fundamental element for everything. Our kids' capacity to form a relationship with us forms their ability to do that with others, which means they’ll have a community, which means they’ll have a better shot at a healthy life.”
Although that answer was undoubtedly informed by his work, the foundation of it was established long before he was President Lawler, or even Dr. Lawler. Instead, the heart of his advice comes from his days as a recent-college graduate working with runaways and homeless youths. Lawler took time to speak with those young men and women about their journeys and, time and time again, discovered that they were very similar to him despite the formidably complicated situations that had brought them to him.
“I was only about 21-years-old, and they were about the same age,” Dr. Lawler explained, “and the differences between us seemed marginal. Many of them, however, had experienced difficult childhood situations which seemed to contribute to mental health concerns that shaped their lives.”
It was clear to him, even then, that the experiences we have as children are capable of permanently altering us. Now, even after 35 years of work in health and human services, he still relies on those early lessons to inform and inspire his work. In fact, when he signed on to become the new president of Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, he did so under one agreement.
“When I took this job, I said, ‘I’m going to devote myself entirely to this job, outside of this one thing.’” That one thing was a recent election to serve as the Chair of the American Psychological Associations Committee on Children, Youth and Families (CYF) — a role that encapsulates a lifetime of dedication to the health and wellness of children, youth and families everywhere.
“My role as Chair, and as President of PNWU, is an extension of who I’ve always been,” said Dr. Lawler, speaking from his Presidents Office in Yakima, WA. “Whether I’m out serving one person — like those young men and women I met when I was 21 — serving one family, or working with millions of people across our five-state region, it’s not all that different. The values are the same; the focus on health and healing is the same.”
As the 2019 Chair of the CYF, Dr. Lawler aims to foster national conversations about the childhood psychological experiences that have shaped his life’s work, and the lives of so many of the people he has worked with throughout his storied career.
The CYF, which was established in August of 1985, aims to ensure that children, youth and families receive the full attention of APA by functioning as a catalyst, interacting with and making recommendations to the various parts of the APA's governing structure, to the APA's membership and to relevant divisions and other groups.
“Our job is to ensure that our work is reaching all populations, and that we’re responding to the needs of people from all walks of life” said Dr. Lawler. “By making sure that the public is aware of the science relative to psychology, we can help people to make good decisions for their families and their communities.”
In the constant shifting world of science and psychology, the committee works as a sort of clearing house for the country on psychological issues relating to children, youth and families. Although the term of a Chair is only one year, Dr. Lawler sees the role as one of the most important things he’s been a part of.
“My shared ideas serve as a representation of the expertise of our committee, which is a representation of the entire APA,” he explained. “As a practitioner I was able to work with individuals and families. As I leveled my career I saw the capacity to do that as an administrator, and further, what benefit I could bring to these groups through research. This role has allowed me to broaden that so that we can continue working to help people become healthy. The investment we make in children, families and youth has an immense impact on everything, and I am so proud to be a part of this important work.”