About RCP

Regional Conferences of Psychology – A History

Although psychology has always been a global discipline, with psychology programs, departments, and laboratories on every continent, it has grown enormously in numbers and organizations over the past half century. Much of this growth has been in geographical regions where the higher education, science, and service infrastructures have themselves been developing and where there is a perceived need for scholarly and applied work to address immediate societal needs. For psychology, this has meant educating students to be ready to address issues in health and mental health, family and community interventions, human factors, disaster response, education, and development.

This development of psychology has been supported by international associations of psychology through sponsorship of regional conferences, held every two years, in between the large international congresses that occur in even-numbered years under the sponsorship of the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS—the ICP Congress) and the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP—the ICAP Congress).

Regional conferences of psychology were inaugurated as a joint initiative between IUPsyS and IAAP, following a decision made at the 23rd International Congress of Applied Psychology in Madrid, Spain in 1994. As Knowles (1996) noted, “it had become increasingly felt […] there was a need to organize smaller conferences on a more geographically localized basis so that issues specific to a given region of the world could become the focus of international attention and concentration of effort.” The first regional conference of psychology in this model was held in Guangzhou, China in 1995 (Knowles, 1996; Zhang, 1996), with IUPsyS, IAAP, and the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP) as cosponsors. Subsequent regional conferences were held in Mexico City, Mexico in 1997 (Knowles, 1998); Durban, South Africa in 1999; Mumbai, India (2001; Barnes & Knowles, 2003), Dubai, United Arab Emirates (2003; Sabourin & Knowles, 2004), Bangkok, Thailand (2005; Knowles, 2006), Amman, Jordan (2007; Knowles & Sabourin, 2008), Sofia, Bulgaria (2009; Knowles, 2010) Nassau, Bahamas (2011, Thompson et al., 2013), and Kampala, Uganda (2013). The 2015 RCP will be held in Armenia, Colombia in September 2015.

These ten conferences have been held in areas of the world where psychology was not (at the time) well developed. Many have served as a catalyst for regional development of psychologists, of national psychology associations, and of regional associations of psychology. In the case of the 2011 Caribbean Regional Conference of Psychology, for example, the conference led to the launching of a regional organization – the Caribbean Alliance of National Psychological Associations – that held its first regional conference (i.e., the Second Caribbean Regional Conference of Psychology) in Paramaribo, Suriname, in November 2014. At times, they have also laid the groundwork for subsequent international congresses.  This was the case for China with the 28th International Congress of Psychology in Beijing in 2004 and South Africa with the 30th International Congress of Psychology in Cape Town in 2012.

Attendance at the recent regional conferences has ranged from 135 to over 2000, with relatively broad regional and international representation (Thompson et al., 2013). Information regarding attendance and geographical representation is summarized in Table 1, which also provides the year and the name of each conference.

Table 1.

Attendance and Geographical Representation at Regional Conferences of Psychology.



Year and Name of Regional Conference of Psychology


Attendance and Geographical



1995 – Asian-Pacific Regional Conference of

Psychology (Guanzhou, China)


257 attendees from 27 countries, including 158 from mainland China


1997 – Regional Congress of Psychology for Professionals in the Americas (Mexico City, Mexico)


2666 attendees from 55 countries


1999 – The First African Regional Conference of

Psychology (Durban, South Africa)

600+ attendees (combined with the

Annual South African Psychology



2001 – The Southeast Asia Regional Conference on Scientific and Applied Psychology (Mumbai, India)


300+ attendees


2003 – The First Middle East and North Africa Regional Conference of Psychology (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


135 attendees from 35 countries (17 in the region)


2005 – The Asian Applied Psychology International-Regional Conference (Bangkok, Thailand)


400 attendees from 26 countries (15 in the broader region


2007 – The Second Middle East and North Africa Regional Conference of Psychology (Amman, Jordan)


150 attendees from 28 countries (15 in the region)


2009 – The First South-East Europe Regional

Conference of Psychology (Sofia, Bulgaria)


350 attendees (from 25 countries, 13 in the region)


2011 – The First Caribbean Regional

Conference of Psychology (Nassau, Bahamas)


400+ attendees from 37 countries (20 in the region)


2013 – The First Eastern Africa Regional

Conference of Psychology (Kampala, Uganda)


200+ attendees from 20 countries (7 in the region)


2015 – The First Latin American Regional

Conference of Psychology (Armenia, Colombia)


The goal of the regional conferences is capacity building, with a focus on fostering the development of individual and organizational capacity that is aligned to the needs of the region for knowledge and skills. The conferences provide a forum to review the current state of psychology in a particular region, and help provide a vehicle for increasing communication among scientific researchers, professionals and educators; disseminating psychological knowledge and expertise; developing specific capacity-building activities; and supporting the development and strengthening of organized psychology within the region. Local hosts, in consultation with the sponsoring organizations, develop the specific content and themes.

The lead sponsorship of the regional conferences alternates between IUPsyS and IAAP. In collaboration with each other, and with potential local hosts, a location is selected, usually 2–3 years in advance of a conference. The lead sponsoring organization appoints a liaison, who serves as a conduit between all the sponsoring organizations and the local organizing committee, which may be national or regional in composition. The sponsoring organizations provide modest seed funding to allow the organization and planning of the conference to begin. Conferences are expected to be self-supporting beyond the initial seed funds, and any surplus is designated to be used for further regional development.

The regional conference planning and logistics are carried out by an organizing committee (generally formed under the auspices of a national psychology organization in the region). This committee is encouraged to undertake broad regional outreach in developing its own subcommittees and programs. In collaboration with local organizers, the sponsoring organizations develop capacity-building workshops directed toward strengthening the organization of psychology in the region. The goals of these capacity-building activities are to encourage each country to develop a national psychology association and engage with the community of associations as members of IUPsyS, to strengthen educational systems, and to develop regional engagement and structure.

The development of regional conferences is governed by formal agreements between IAAP, IUPsyS, and IACCP, and seed funds are provided by these organizations. By consensus, the name of each conference since 2003 follows a common format of the “[Region name] Conference of Psychology.” This name is usually followed by the specific theme of the conference, such as “Psychology and Modern Life Challenges,” “Southeastern Europe Looking Ahead: Paradigms, Schools, Needs and Achievements of Psychology in the Region,” “Psychological Science and Well-Being: Building Bridges for Tomorrow,” or “The Role of Psychology in Addressing Societal Changes.”

As this report illustrates, the regional conferences of psychology based on the model adopted by IUPsyS and IAAP in 1994, do more than showcase the content of psychological science and application through a scientific program. They also serve a powerful convening and development function. They gather psychologists from across a region, many of whom have not met previously, to share similarities and differences and to work toward developing common regional resources. They provide the opportunity and the synergy to identify regional needs and gaps and to begin to address them collectively.