The PsyUSA network is the oldest and largest independent online network of clinical psychologists. But like many large social networks, it is a part of the “hidden Internet” because it is conducted exclusively through electronic mailing lists (or “listservs,” after a type of popular software that runs them). Online mailing lists have been around online since the 1980s, and yet still many people are unfamiliar with them and how they work.
An electronic mailing list is a simple device that allows you to send an email to a large group of people transparently, and without having to type in everyone’s email address each time you want to email them. It’s sort of like a global email alias. Mailing lists tend to be topic-based, and you can choose to receive the emails from the list just like normal emails, or as a daily digest where everyone’s email is put into one large email (which helps for some lists where there’s a lot of emailing back and forth).
We had the opportunity recently to chat with psychologist Dennis Elias, Ph.D., who is the current owner and overseer of the PsyUSA network of mailing lists.
Q. How long have you been overseeing the network and what are your
biggest challenges as the owner?
Dennis Elias, Ph.D.: The network was founded and headed by John Roraback, PhD until his death in 1999. I was the moderator of the PsyChat channel from 1997 and took over ownership upon his death. The biggest challenge is keeping the material fresh and relevant. Dealing with psychologists is much akin to hearding cats, but the cats who volunteer and put in the time for PsyUSA are the best!
Q. How does the network screen new subscribers? Describe the process a little.
DE: The PsyUSA Network is a closed listserv which means we have specific requirements for subscription. New subscribers answer an series of questions which include their basic identification information and supply a statement of interest. Only licensed clinical and counseling psychologist are allowed to be subscribers and new subscribers provide us with proof of licensure.
We do invite doctoral level grad students in clinical and counseling to join, too. They must provide proof of their graduate student status via a letter from their department on department letterhead. It’s a straight forward process and quite easy.
Q. Have you seen the network grow a lot over the years, or pretty much
stay similar in number of subscribers/posts?
DE: PsyUSA is the “silver back” of psychology listservs. It’s been around for over a decade and PsyUSA membership is stable at about 600 subscribers. Of the four ‘channels’ PsyCHAT has the highest subscription rate of something over 1,000. The number of posts on PsyUSA is about the same, though the number of queries and requests for information seems to have lessened over the years as psychologists now have many, many other sources online. Back in the day, we were the only game in town. PsyCHAT is almost always lively and PsyPOV and PsyTECH vary from hopping to slow depending upon the issue du jour.
Q. What is the network’s most popular “channel” (list), and why do you
think that is?
DE: Well, the most “popular” channel is and always have been PsyCHAT, the collegial channel. This group is funny, engaging, social and some members have actually developed long lasting friendships through the listserv. For years we would get together at APA (the American Psychological Association’s annual convention) to meet and greet. Recently, this has become a more individual endeavor. PsyCHAT has some amazing folks with great wit and wonderful writing skills that amaze and amuse us all. The core group could be described as the raconteur troubadours of psychology.
PsyTECH is perhaps the most practically useful as it is inhabited with geeks and wonks who are first adopters and experts on the technology that makes our practices and lives so much more exasperating but fun. You can ask for help with software, hardware and even get good info on using your iPod!
Why, after all these years and so many new technologies available, are mailing lists still widely used and popular? I believe it’s because of email’s inherent simplicity and lack of bells and whistles. An email boils online communication down to its most basic form — the written word. And emails come to you automatically — no need to remember to constantly visit and revisit a certain website, login, check your messages, then check a dozen different forums of interest. They just show up in your email inbox everyday like clockwork. With a little management (e.g., creating a ruleset or filter to move such messages into their own email folder), the discussions are just as easy to organize and enjoy.
A mailing list online works simply by subscribing to it via a special email address. In PsyUSA’s case, it would be by emailing [email protected] a simple email that says:
You will then be emailed instruction on how to confirm your subscription, since PsyUSA is a closed network, for psychologists only.