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.