On September 19, 2023, the Center for Ethics in Society, in partnership with the Psychology Department, hosted Dr. Thema Bryant, the current president of the American Psychological Association (APA) for a noontime discussion about mental health in our communities. Beyond her work as APA president, Dr. Thema, her chosen moniker, is a professor, podcast host, author, artist, poet, and minister. 

With an unconventional flair, Dr. Thema opened her keynote address with a song and infused her work as a minister into the academic discussion. She invited the audience to participate with “call and response” exercises, which involved humor and set the tone for an engaging hour of conversation. With a background in trauma research, Dr. Thema focused her remarks on the power of hope in the wake of trauma and despair.

Dr. Thema speaking with Professor Loretta Brady

“Dr. Thema was unafraid to speak about how true seeds of hope for our communities must begin with recognition of those around us who have been marginalized, excluded, or even forgotten,” said Professor Max Latona, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Ethics in Society. “And seeds of hope must also include recognition of the important role of faith and spirituality in healing, something that has frequently been dismissed in therapy.” 

Additionally, Dr. Thema explored the intersection of religion and science and concluded that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Much of her research revolves around the power of faith in the realm of mental health.

With an audience comprised of students, faculty, community member,s and mental health professionals from around the New England area, it was a full house in Melucci Theater for the lecture. Several psychology students utilized this powerful learning opportunity, as entire classes attended together. 

Dr. Thema Bryant

“Dr. Thema Bryant’s lecture was an excellent campus event,” said Lauren Menenello ’26. “As a psychology major hearing the president of the APA speak was a truly incredible and rare experience.” 

After the keynote presentation ended, a lunch discussion was facilitated by Professor Loretta Brady ’99, Ph.D., of the Psychology Department and director of the Community Resilience & Social Equity (CRSE) Lab. Professor Brady created a comfortable atmosphere to engage in small-group conversations, by sharing poetry and personal reflections in her opening remarks and offering discussion prompts at each table.

“In the CRSE Lab we developed a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) implementation tool that we call ‘pick a prompt.’ Having the chance to teach this to my Liberation Psychology students and to use it to develop their DEI facilitation skills during the luncheon was an honor,” said Brady. “Dr. Thema has been actively infusing the American Psychological Association with cultural and trauma informed liberation principles since her election. This was a rare opportunity for students to meet an APA president in person and to realize they are learning the cutting-edge approaches of the field.” 

Olivia MGuire ’25, a criminal justice major, remarked that, “Dr. Thema Bryant was equally as attentive, genuine, and understanding in a one-on-one conversation, as she was when she spoke in front of the whole school. It was a privilege to be able to talk to her at the luncheon, especially as an aspiring psychologist and as a person of faith.” 

Professor Latona, concluded, “The Center was really happy to see so many students, faculty, staff, administrators, mental health industry leaders, and community members attend this event on mental health in our communities. We plan to continue to address this critically important topic in the coming months, and hope that we can bring other dynamic speakers to the Center and College.”

This special event was made possible by the generous support of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Delta Dental, Cambridge Trust, Riverbend Community Mental Health, the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, and Jeffery T. Burke '69 and Irene P. Burke.