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Trauma Blog

The world is still in shock after the horrific events in Orlando last weekend, which left many people grieving for their loved ones and many more experiencing loss, distress, confusion and fear. In our statement this week, the British Psychological Society said it was vital to recognise that the attack had targeted the LGBT community.

While any hate attack is an attack on us all, it is important to acknowledge and give voice to the experience, so that we can more effectively support LGBT people who already experience high levels of discrimination and abuse, and, consequently high levels of psychological distress and mental health problems.

After a tragedy like this, society and the media tend to look for simple explanations. And as psychologists, we are often asked to explain why people commit such crimes, and what can be done to prevent them happening again.

It may be superficially attractive to examine the minds (or even brains) of the perpetrators to explain individual events. But our experience and the evidence we produce as psychologists means we have a responsibility to offer a wider picture.

It’s perhaps uncomfortable to accept that we are all, even those of us who commit terrorist hate crimes, products of the events and circumstances that shape our lives. We need to acknowledge that. And we also need to acknowledge that our response to such tragedies must look beyond individuals.

We will never know with any degree of certainty the details of the motivations and thought processes of perpetrators of crimes like these. Indeed we should avoid an undue focus on individual psychology.

But that doesn’t mean we as a society or as a discipline are impotent. It doesn’t mean we’re forced to face the impossible and unwieldy task of ‘changing society’. Excessive focus on individual psychological issues can draw our attention away from more effective solutions.

The Germanwings airline tragedy in 2015 was another disaster ultimately caused by the actions of one individual. It is right that we provide the highest standards of screening, preparation and support for pilots, and we are working with the Civil Aviation Authority and the airline industry to do so. But practical measures, such as enforcing a policy of always having two people in aircraft cockpits, are needed too.

In Orlando, the perpetrator of this crime was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. As psychologists, we know that strong emotions of anger, fear and hatred are unfortunately commonplace. But this tragedy is a reminder that the combination of these strong emotions and access to deadly weapons is a highly dangerous one.

We should and must play our role in understanding these emotions and supporting the many people who were affected psychologically by this tragedy, but the fact that it was easy for someone to get their hands on deadly weapons is a result of political decisions.

President Barack Obama has called on Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban as well as pass legislation to make it harder for suspected terrorists to obtain firearms. To quote President Obama: “to actively do nothing is a decision as well”.

Find out more about my plans for this week.

Wed, 15/06/2016 - 16:19

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

A Declaration of Intention to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding between the British Psychological Society and the Russian Psychological Society was signed in St Petersburg on Thursday 28 May 2015.

We were represented by our President, Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, and the Russian society by its President Professor Yuri Zinchenko.

The signing took place in the 18th-century Peter’s Hall of St Petersburg State University at in the presence of the UK Consul General Keith Allan and a group of the university’s professors.

The ceremony was followed by a lecture on the British history of military psychology, delivered to the university’s professorial and teaching staff by Jamie Hacker Hughes.

The following day Jamie Hacker Hughes, who is also a visiting professor of military psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, was joined by the medical director and consultant psychiatrist for the UK’s largest nationwide veterans’ rehabilitation charity Combat Stress, Dr Walter Busuttil (RAF Wing Commander retired), and a co-founder of the AF&V Launchpad veterans’ charity, David Shaw CBE (Army Major General retired), for an introductory conference with their Russian counterparts on practices and methods used in rehabilitation of the veterans of recent conflicts.

This took place in the PetroCongress Congress Centre in St Petersburg.

Russia was represented by such leading specialists as:

  • Dr Alexander Karayani (Moscow) - Head of Psychology for the MoD Military University; Academician for the Russian Academy of Security, Defence and Law; Honorary Scientist of Russia; Laureate of the Marshal Zhukov State award; Recipient of the Order ‘For Service to Motherland in the USSR Armed Forces’; Afghanistan War veteran
  • Dr Yulia Karayani (Moscow) - Associate professor of psychology, MoD Military University
  • Alexander Kovalev, Colonel retired (Moscow) - Chairman of the Soldiers Internationalists Committee at the Council of Heads of Governments of CIS member states; Afghanistan War Veteran
  • Elena Pfau - The Health Committee’s leading specialist for the department of relations with domestic and foreign medical institutions
  • Dr Vladislav Yusupov, Colonel retired (St Petersburg) - Head of the medical and psychological support in the Research Centre of the Military Medical Academy; Afghanistan War veteran
  • Dr Maxim Kabanov (St Petersburg) - Head of St Petersburg Hospital for War Veterans; Colonel of medical service reserve;
  • Zafar Adylov, Colonel retired (St Petersburg) - Chairman of the St Petersburg Centre of Rehabilitation and Integration of Disabled War Veterans; veteran of the Tajikistan conflict and the counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya;
  • Said Tulakov (St Petersburg) - President of a veterans’ support organisation AFGHANVET; Afghanistan War veteran.

The visit and event organiser Eugene Kasevin of The Russia House (UK) said: “We have successfully achieved our goals in bringing together the leading academics and practitioners in the field of rehabilitation for the veterans of recent conflicts. British and Russian experts agreed that they face similar problems that require joint efforts. This pioneering meeting will serve as a steppingstone for further joint explorations on the ways of bringing the veterans back to their lives.”

This visit was made possible through direct support of The Russia House, AFGHANVET (Russia) and GlavTourOperator (Russia), with administrative support from the Committee of Foreign Relations of St Petersburg and the PetroCongress Centre.

Wed, 03/06/2015 - 15:42
“I thought that mental health and mental health care were a load of **** until I needed help and went and got treatment and/or saw others who needed help go and get treatment.”

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes has collaborated with the internationally renowned artist Mark Neville on the book The Battle Against Stigma.

Between them they aim to challenge the stigma of mental health problems in the military and to encourage attitude change so that people seek help at an early stage without being stigmatised.

Read more about The Battle Against Stigma on the website of its publisher Mark Neville.

Mon, 01/06/2015 - 16:18