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E.U Blog

Yohohama skyline

I have been travelling a lot over the past week, representing the British Psychological Society at ‘scifoo’ in California and at the International Congress of Psychology (ICP2016) in Yokohama. The lurking plausibility of a Donald Trump Presidency, perplexity over the Brexit result have been common talking points. Our place as psychologists in an international network of scientist and practitioners is hugely important, but needs some nurturing and care… especially now.

Our international colleagues see UK psychology as world leading, especially in fields that require critical or idiosyncratic (or even iconoclastic) thinking. Major worldwide trends in psychology have leading thinkers from UK universities and our admired health and social care system. We need to be continually mindful of our position in major international discussions.

On the one hand, many of our international colleagues are on the cusp of overtaking us in terms of both ideas and delivery. I have liaised closely with Norwegian colleagues over the past few years on conceptual psychosocial models of mental health care.

Now we see an unashamed psychosocial focus in Norway, with a recent ministerial recommendation for universal provision of medication-free services. Norway is approaching a ratio of 1 clinical psychologist for every 500 members of the public; a ratio that would equate to 120,000 clinical psychologists in the UK. While I would proudly suggest that UK psychologists are offering world-leading ideas, some of our international colleagues have leapfrogged us.

On the other hand, some of the ideas that are common currency in the UK are rather unknown elsewhere. My views on psychiatric diagnosis and the nature of ‘disorder’ and psychological distress may not be universally accepted, but these debates are vibrant and active in the UK.

We have a number of BPS documents – on psychotic experiences and on the contested nature of diagnosis – and are having active discussions, not only within the BPS, but in such bodies as the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry, the Critical Psychiatry Network and Mental Health Europe – Sante Mentale Europe.

We’re not at risk of being leapfrogged, but international colleagues seem to be unaware of these discussions, which is just as alarming.

Scifoo is a meeting of leading scientists, largely in the physical sciences. Here, the disputed notion of biomedical psychiatric illness was very positively received, but seemed entirely new and different.

Even at the purely psychological ICP2016, the idea that we need radically different approaches appeared difficult to integrate into colleagues’ views of the core purpose of their profession and discipline. The limitations of traditional psychiatric diagnoses, and the impact of such medicalised language on people’s understanding of the fundamental nature of their problems seemed new to many colleagues.

We need to be nimble and present to maintain our position in international debate. As individual academics and practitioners, we have a responsibility to speak with colleagues across the world. After the Brexit vote, that responsibility is particularly acute.

As President of the BPS, I have a particular responsibility to ensure that our links with the international scientific and professional communities are maintained. Our international profile is good  but it is not guaranteed. The effort involved in maintaining our international links is definitely worth it.

Wed, 27/07/2016 - 11:21


I thought, last week, that the political world could not get any more turbulent. But events in the South of France, in the USA, in Turkey, and even here in the UK, proved me wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the importance of leaders in civic society - including the British Psychological Society - stepping forwards in the confusion and, frankly, vacuum of detailed policy-making post Brexit. We’ve previously spoken out on the dangers of xenophobic and hate-filled speech and on the psychological factors associated with flawed political decision-making.

All these issues seem to grow in importance each week. Of course, psychology as a discipline and a profession overlap with others. Sociologists, anthropologists and ethnographers all study society as much as do psychologists. Historians, especially political and military historians, have perspectives that overlap with, inform and are informed by, psychology.

Psephologists and political geographers analyse the human factors associated with political decision-making and survey the views of the voting public. And, of course, since political decisions impact upon all of us in our professional activity, all professions have legitimate interests.

So it’s important to remember that the psychological perspective should accompany other, equally valid, perspectives. We are, as has been said before, stronger together. And it is important that professions and disciplines act in unity. We aren’t the only professional and academic body active in this area - but we are, as you would expect, active.

I am delighted that the BPS is central to discussions by the Academy of Social Sciences (representing, of course, the social sciences) and Science Council (representing the more physical sciences) in their discussions about UK science and professional activity post Brexit. I’m also delighted to have been a co-signatory to an open letter to the new UK prime minister, asking her to confirm the previous government’s commitment to mental health and to ‘parity of esteem’ in the provision of services.

This reshuffle has not produced the dedicated cabinet minister for mental health that we had been calling for, but the release of the NHS ‘Implementing the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health’ plan just a few days into the new cabinet suggests it is still high on the agenda.

We’ve got a whole new cast of political characters to work with and we will be working hard over the coming months to introduce our Society to them and explain the value that psychology can bring to their policies and to the way they make their decisions.

Wed, 20/07/2016 - 12:05

I attended the EFPA (European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations) Presidents’ Council meeting on 19-20 November whilst the others on the Presidential Team were at the Trustees’ away day and autumn meeting.

As well as opportunities for informal meetings and discussion, we held the formal Council meeting inside a beautiful old Portuguese institution designed to facilitate ‘social and intellectual fellowship’. The photo shows us just getting ready to start the meeting.

It was good to get an update on the progress of the ‘European Semester’ that’s been running in Portugal recently with a whole range of events bringing colleagues from across Europe together for various events and colloquia during the period. It’s also helped the Portuguese Psychology Association raise the profile of Psychology with their own government and agencies given this concentration of activity.

Next year will see a similar semester in Turkey and then Germany.It would be good to propose having such a semester in the UK in the future I think - obviously something that takes a lot of forward planning but it could be an interesting showcase for us.

WHO is holding a European meeting on Mental Health in Copenhagen on 8 December and they have invited psychologists (through EFPA) to take part for the first time, joining other professions including psychiatrists, social workers and mental health nurses.

There was a lot of discussion about the extent of current EU regulation of the profession of psychology and how to feed into the proposals to deregulate across many professions that are being pursued at the moment by the EU. There was, as you might imagine given the different regulations currently in place across the EU, a very wide range of views – many proposed very passionately as ‘the only appropriate way’ for the profession to be managed. The consultations will be ongoing for some time across the various member states.

Finally we were expecting to decide on whether the European Congress of Psychology in 2019 would be held in Moscow or not. There had been concerns over visa and financial arrangements, as well as the need to have assurances about a lack of interference with the academic programming which meant that the decision was not reached as expected at the last General Assembly held in Milan in July and had been postponed til this meeting.

However a proposal to sign a formal memorandum of understanding with the Moscow government to ensure these concerns were addressed appropriately had been put forward and so this will be put together and signed before we finally agree the 2019 arrangements.  In the meantime, the 2017 congress will be held in Amsterdam.

Fri, 04/12/2015 - 11:27