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The Society Blog

Growth in Stockholm

Two very different meetings (and venues) mark this week, but both important for the British Psychological Society.

On Thursday and Friday we met in Leicester as a ‘General Assembly’; bringing together the representatives of most of the various subsystems - Branches, Sections, Divisions and Special Groups of the Society. I came away really optimistic and proud of the Society.

We are making real progress in terms of setting policies and priorities (ones that matter for the public as well as for members), streamlining the myriad Society subsystems (which have definitely multiplied since 1906 and need some systematic reorganisation), and updating our reporting and communication for the 21st century.

We discussed how we should engage with members of the public and experts by experience in our work – and that includes not only the clients of some of our practitioner psychologists, but also parents, people caught up in the criminal justice service, athletes, employees, employers… just about everybody, really. Complex, and challenging, but vital if we are to demonstrate our benefit to the general public, which is at the core of our charitable status.

I reported last week about how psychologists across Europe are coordinating the inclusion of fundamental human rights into our psychology curricula. I was particularly taken by the idea that, just as a scientific approach is woven into the fabric of our discipline, so we should ensure that an appreciation of fundamental human rights is embedded in everything we do.

This theme continues this week, as Professor Kate Bullen, Chair of our Ethics Committee, and I are in Stockholm discussing a parallel, values-based issue, in this case the inclusion of critical ethical thinking in higher education. Just as with fundamental human rights (although, on this occasion with a remit to discuss all academic disciplines), the idea is to ensure that students are able to reflect upon and integrate ethical issues into their work.

Psychology cannot claim the ethical moral high-ground. We have seen psychologists complicit in the eugenics movement and in the misuse of IQ testing. We have not been able to prevent unacceptable, inhuman and degrading mental health care and more recently our discipline has faced difficult questions around involvement in torture. We also have our fair share of difficult issues to face around our responsibility for research misconduct.

We need to continue our efforts to support ‘open science’ and to ensure that  psychological evidence is used effectively and ethically to shape public policy. It is important that we are present at these debates, and even more important that an appreciation of, and support for, both fundamental human rights and critical ethical thinking – our values – are at the heart of everything we do.

Wed, 19/10/2016 - 12:12

Psychology is a discipline and profession that spans the whole range of human experience. Members of the Society are experts in things that really matter to people: relationships, education and learning, mental health, health, politics, sport, crime, work, how organisations function, prejudice and intercultural understanding, and more.

Psychology is not only a rigorous academic discipline but also a thriving, values-based profession, able to offer both leadership and practical solutions. That makes it a great choice for university study, especially because this real-world application is combined with scientific, numerate, and literate skills that give our students a fantastic start.   

But the breadth of our discipline – and our Society activity – poses challenges. Challenges for me, personally, and challenges for the excellent and hard-working BPS staff  (many of whom, I’ve learned, have degrees, postgraduate degrees and professional qualifications in psychology, which is wonderful, reassuring and useful).

There is a conceptual and resource-intensive Venn diagram of intersecting interests. The BPS is represented by a large (irregular) curvilinear form (not quite a circle), which encompasses the issues I mentioned above. But, for each issue, there are other professions, disciplines and statutory agencies, each with their own, perfectly legitimate, place on the Venn diagram. We overlap, and with multiple colleagues.

My particular area of practice is mental health, where the work of the Society – particularly our clinical and counselling divisions – overlaps with the interests of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. But of course, this relationship is mirrored in all the other areas of the Society’s work (education and young people, the criminal justice system, healthcare, employment), where other parties also occupy the space.

One consequence is that the President of the British Psychological Society has numerous pressures on her or his time. It also means that our colleagues have many, varied, activities to serve. It also means delegation – and that means a plea to Members.

The colleagues doing the day-to-day business of the Society cannot all be academic professors or members of the BPS Board of Trustees, they have to be women and men with their boots on the ground and their knees under the desks. People working in the NHS or in schools or in prisons.

I’ve also been reminded – this weekend at our congregation of psychologists and human rights experts, meeting under the auspices of the European Federation of Psychology Associations (EFPA), the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), and the EIUC (European Inter-University Centre for human rights and democratisation) at the Monastery of San Nicolò, the EIUC global village in Venice [] – that psychology has also equipped us with skills to help address these challenges.

Ultimately we remain citizens of the world, able to engage with, respect, and empathise with other people, including people in great distress. But we also apply our psychological science – to mental health, and to human rights… and to their intersection.

We have distinctive skills, which complement those of our colleagues in other professions, which allow us to access, understand, apply and evaluate theories and models of human behaviour, thought and interaction. In the Venn diagram of cooperation, these are valuable.

Wed, 12/10/2016 - 11:03

It’s been a busy week. I’ve attended meetings of the BPS Research Board, Education and Public Engagement Board, and had to give my apologies to the Membership and Standards Board (due to an unavoidable clash).

As well as other meetings with interesting colleagues, I’ve also chaired an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prescription Drug Dependence and a celebration on the terrace of the House of Commons, celebrating the birthday of clinical psychology in the UK, because it was 50 years ago that the British Psychological Society was awarded its Royal Charter, and the profession of clinical psychology became an established part of British civic society. I’ve previously written about the charitable objects of the British Psychological Society (“to promote the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied”).

And we were celebrating, in part, the fact that psychologists are also at the heart of the Government’s mental health strategy – we helped design and are spearheading the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme, and were key partners in the Mental Health Task Force. We’re part of the NHS Transformation Agenda, brining our skills in multi-professional, co-produced formulation to the heart of the skill set in mental health care.

We’re pioneers in working across health and social care – those of you who know my work will know that this is a passion of mine. And, as experts in the science of human behaviour, we’re leading on the drive to ensure that the NHS has the data it needs to deliver care. We look forward to supporting our colleagues in Government and Parliament as they work to make ‘parity of esteem’ a reality… and holding them to account!

The ‘embededness’ of psychology in public life was reflected not only in the business of our Education and Public Engagement Board (discussing our engagement with, and impact upon, education policy, but also our public out-reach activities such with the Big Bang science festival), in the work of our Research Board (liaising with HEFCE about the REF assessment of research quality, organising an event on ‘replicability’ with the Royal Society and publication of a range of research reports) and the Membership and Standards Board (discussing issues as diverse as our relationship with the statutory regulator, HEFCE, and our quality control on the use of psychometric testing), but also in some of my other meetings – with film-makers, theatre directors and colleagues from other charities.

All of this can be seen to have culminated in the fantastic announcement by Lisa Cameron MP, at our celebration on the terrace of the House of Commons, that we will soon have an All Party Parliamentary ‘Psychology’ Group. I believe that – if we step up to the mark – this will offer us a valuable new opportunity to point out the value that psychology ‘pure and applied’ brings to policy-makers and civic society.

My hero, Albert Camus, wrote in his private notebook for May 1937: “Psychology is action, not thinking about oneself.” I think it’s pretty clear that we’re being active… and it’s worth taking half an hour out of a busy week to stand on the terrace of the House of Commons and raise a glass of prosecco in celebration.

Wed, 11/05/2016 - 16:38

Professor Peter KindermanSucceeding Jamie Hacker Hughes as President of the British Psychological Society will be both a challenge and a privilege. Jamie has done a fantastic job, and I’ve inherited a Society in good shape. We have more members than ever and we’re continuing to have a significant influence on public policy. But, as a recent article in the Psychologist asked: are we yet punching our weight?

Our profession and discipline is based on our science, our professional practice and our values. We must articulate a vision for the Society that matches those principles.

Our mission must be to improve the wellbeing of citizens, in the UK and internationally. To paraphrase the European Commission, psychological wellbeing is a resource that enables citizens to realise their intellectual and emotional potential and to find and fulfil their roles in social, school, and working life. For societies, good psychological health of citizens contributes to prosperity, solidarity and social justice.

At present, this may be only an implicit aim of the British Psychological Society, but we should make it explicit. Just to take two examples, we must campaign for everybody who needs it to have access to the very highest quality psychological care and for all children to be protected from abuse and neglect. We need to turn our implicit aspirations into explicit demands.

We are uniquely placed to assist policymakers, but we need to be prepared to speak out. On 1 September 1967, Martin Luther King Jr delivered a speech to the American Psychological Association entitled ‘The role of the behavioral scientist in the civil rights movement’ in which he argued that psychologists had a duty to support the struggle for civil rights.

His arguments are just as relevant today. We have a duty to explain the social and psychological determinants of human behaviour – how our behaviour is shaped not only by genes and biochemistry but in large part by the events and circumstances of our lives and the way we have learned to make sense of them. We need to speak out about the psychological mechanisms implicated in some of our major social problems: inequality, injustice, abuse, war, terrorism, and climate change. And we need to offer practical solutions. The point of psychology is not merely to observe, but to do something useful.

So what does this mean, in practical terms, for the British Psychological Society in 2016? What are our key strengths, what are the key challenges, what are our central concerns, and what – specifically – do we want to happen? For me personally, what do I hope we’ll achieve during my year as President?

The charitable objects of the British Psychological Society are: “to promote the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied”. Members of the Society are experts in things that really matter to people: relationships, education and learning, mental health, health, politics, sport, crime, work, how organisations function, prejudice and intercultural understanding, designing and working with emerging technologies, and more. Psychology is not only a rigorous academic discipline but also a thriving, values-based profession, able to offer both leadership and practical solutions.

In mental health, I have promoted a psychological and social perspective. I look forward to the day – very soon – when the UK Government is prepared to issue a letter similar to one we’ve seen in Norway, practically cementing a commitment to social alternatives to traditional mental health care.

I have also studied the personal impact of austerity policies and the wider wellbeing agenda, having been part of the Office for National Statistics Technical Advisory Group for the Measurement of National Wellbeing and now leading a major study of community wellbeing.

I also have a long-standing interest in human rights, not least in my role chairing the Advisory Panel of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in Vienna.

I have campaigned for better recognition of the fundamental rights of people with mental health problems, and I am currently researching the impact of specialised training in human rights on the care received by people in residential dementia care units.

I am also a Trustee of the Joanna Simpson Foundation, which is dedicated to the care of children affected by domestic abuse and homicide.

Finally, I led the Society’s repudiation of the involvement of psychologists (and other professionals) in the abuse of detainees and in torture. This is clearly a difficult and contentious issue. But it’s an issue where I believe our professional body can show genuine leadership for professionals in other nations.

I feel extremely privileged that you have elected me as your new President. I am now really looking forward to working with you, with the Trustees, and with my colleagues on the Presidential Team. I’m delighted that Jamie will still be around to support me and equally delighted to have Nicola Gale joining the team as President-elect.

I have outlined some of the areas where I have particular personal interest and expertise. But my role as President is to highlight and promote the work of all the members of the Society. We need to ensure that all our systems (Boards, Divisions, Sections, Special Groups, working parties, etc) are effective.

To contact me with ideas, comments, contributions, or suggestions please e-mail me or find me on Twitter. I will regularly keep in touch with all members and shall be writing a weekly blog here.

I’m not sure if psychology is yet punching our weight. There is much more potential for us to persuade policy makers, the media and the public of the potential that values-based, scientific, professional psychology has to offer. But, as Jamie would say… “Together, we can.”

Wed, 27/04/2016 - 17:05

Professor Hacker Hughes with the Society staff

One of the most enjoyable parts of this past year as President has been the opportunity to meet the Society's nearly 100 staff working in Leicester, London, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Society's main office is in Leicester where teams look after our infrastructure (our buildings and IT) and finance and support membership and member networks, Society qualifications and training, conferences and events, public engagement and the development and promotion of policy.

We also have an extremely active press team who put out press releases, news briefings and organise media opportunities. Another team produces our monthly magazine The Psychologist,On top of all this, the Society has its own preparation for publication teams, print department and dispatch organisation.

Seeing 'under the hood' of the Society, as I have been able to do on my bi-monthly visits, and being able to meet and greet all the staff, has been a real pleasure. I have also met Society staff and contracted facility management staff, and seen them at work not only in Leicester but in Scotland, London and Northern Ireland, where the Society also have offices.

Without the support of our loyal and expert staff we would be totally lost and only able to do a fraction of the things that it is so easy to take for granted.

Thank you to each and everyone of them.

Wed, 20/04/2016 - 15:51

Members of the Presidential Taskforce on Refugees and Asylum Seekers

On Monday I attended the second full meeting of the Presidential Taskforce on Refugees and Asylum Seekers. It is a task-focused, cross-Society grouping, administratively under the Society's Professional Practice Board, which represents a new form of organisation for the Society. I hope further such groupings may develop in the future.

Experts have been drawn from the Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Section, the Community Psychology Section and the Social Psychology Section, as well as practitioners from the Divisions with developed experience in the field.

In the short term, the Taskforce is working on preparing guidance to members on working with refugees and asylum seekers and a first draft is anticipated at the end of the summer.

Wed, 06/04/2016 - 14:21

Today, Peter Kinderman, President Elect,  Roxane Gervais, DOP Chair, and I met with David Halpern of The Behavioural Insights Team.

In addition to receiving a briefing on the current work of the BIT, a useful discussion was had about building on the work we have been carrying out this year raising the Society's profile to national and devolved government to increase the impact of the Society and psychology on policy.

You can find one example of this, the Society's behaviour change briefings, on this website.

Mon, 21/03/2016 - 16:53

It was good to get a sneak preview of the next BPS annual conference venue, the East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham, when I took part in the Division of Occupational Psychology's well attended (with around 450 delegates) annual conference this week.

I was pleased to sit on a panel with Gudela Grote, President of the European Association for Work and Organisational Psychology, and Steve Kozlowski, President of the US Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology on the international influence of psychology, and on a panel on our domestic influence with my colleagues Dee Anand, Helen Nicolas and Richard Pemberton, Chairs of our Forensic, Counselling and Clinical Divisions respectively.

Both discussions made me even more aware that there is a lot more work that we in the BPS need to do in order to increase significantly our policy and communications footprint and get the psychological message out to as many as possible.

The other take-home message is that we should increasingly be trying to work much more collaboratively with each other for the good of psychology as a whole. This, I hope, will be made much easier once we embark on the Society restructuring later this year

As a firm believer in taking regular breaks from email myself, I was particularly interested in a paper by Dr Richard MacKinnon from the Future Work Centre. His research looked at the psychological toll on people who feel they must be constantly available for work via email.

A press release about this paper was sent out over the holiday period by the Society’s Press Centre and received wide coverage.

The Telegraph, for instance, quoted Richard at follows: 

"Our research shows that email is a double-edged sword. Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it's clear that it's a source of stress of frustration for many of us.

"The people who reported it being most useful to them also reported the highest levels of email pressure. But the habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages and the unwritten organisational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and wellbeing."

Thu, 07/01/2016 - 12:26

The year ahead is going to be very exciting indeed and, following on from our General Assembly in Leicester, I’m now looking ahead to:

  • even greater collaboration and cooperation between the Sections and between Sections and other member networks;
  • a new democratic governance structure and executive function with, I hope, a proportionally representative, decision making, policy making Senate;
  • greater autonomy for the three existing national Branches and, hopefully, a new English Branch; and greater, possibly collegiate, cooperation and collaboration between and across Divisions and Special Groups.

As I have said before, never has there been a more exciting time, in recent years at least, to be a psychologist.

Also in the diary are the DOP Conference in Nottingham and the DECP Conference in London, both this month, the Inclusivity Event in Birmingham in February, the Scottish Branch event in Edinburgh in January, the Welsh Branch event in Cardiff, Open Community Psychology Conference in Birmingham and the NIBPS 50th Anniversary Conference in March and, of course, a DCP 50th Anniversary in Westminster and, of course, our very own BPS Annual Conference in April.

We are also hoping to sign new International agreements with the Icelandic, New Zealand and Swedish Psychology Associations and shall be working much more closely with a number of UK Associations including the BACP, BPC and UKCP, along with building on our associations with BABCP, Mind, Rethink, MHF, CMH and the RCPsych.

So – exciting times for the Society and, I hope exciting times for all of us as we continue to grow and develop as psychologists, both individually and collectively.

May I wish each and every one of you a really happy, fulfilling and satisfying 2016.

Mon, 04/01/2016 - 10:40

Before we all stop for Christmas I just wanted to send you a personal note to thank you all for all that you have been doing for the BPS  over the past year.

Over the past year, I have managed to visit most of you, so thank you very much for the invitations to do so. If you would like me to attend any of your events between now and the end of my presidency at the end of April, when I hand over to Peter Kinderman, just let me know and I'll try my very best to come, or phone or Skype in.

I have managed to visit all of our Branches with the exception of one (and I shall be putting that wrong right in February when I come to Psychology in the Pub in Oxford) and so I have witnessed at first hand the wonderful and exciting work that is going on in the local branches and the national branches.

I have also attended excellent conferences in the North East and South West, as well as in Wessex, Northern Ireland and Scotland, a very good AGM in the North-West, a brilliant public engagement event in London and Home Counties and a teleconference with the Welsh Branch.

The Health, Neuro, Clinical and Coaching conferences that I attended, all in London, were excellent, the DCP, DECP and DFP strategy days in Oxford, Cockfosters, Manchester and London that I attended were all really worthwhile and I also had an excellent visit to Leeds to be with the DSEP  Conference.

In the four nations, the Northern Ireland branch has already led the way with a fantastic national event at Stormont in November paving the way for its 50th anniversary conference in Ballymascanlon in March, and plans are already really well advanced for a BPS Scotland event in Edinburgh in January, a BPS Welsh Branch in March and a national event in April at Westminster.

Finally,  I managed to visit all of our Divisions with the exception of DCoP, who I shall be visiting on 25 January and 4 March, and DART-P, who I shall be visiting, just in the nick of time before I hand over to Peter Kinderman the following week, on 20 April.

The only Special  Groups I have yet to visit are the Special Groups for Psychologists in Health and Social Care and and the Special Group for Independent Practitioners, so just let me know if and when you’d like me to visit.

But in the mean time, my renewed thanks go to all of our members for all that you have achieved this year and my very best wishes to you all for a very happy Christmas and a superb '16!

Together we can! Happy Christmas.

Tue, 22/12/2015 - 14:25