Presidential Blog



As I’m technically on holiday, I’m cheating very slightly this week, with an edited snippet from my book.

I commute to work by car and unfortunately drive for quite long distances on motorways. So my journey to work (like, I suppose, everything else in life) depends on the operation of the laws of physics.

When it rains, we often see collisions and other accidental tragedies; the roads are slippery, it is harder to see. When people have accidents, the police investigate the probable or likely cause of the incident for legal and insurance purposes. Their analysis includes human factors, but also includes complex physics.

To work out why a tragedy has occurred, the investigators will calculate things like the velocity of the vehicles involved, coefficients of friction between rubber and tarmac, reaction times calculated using equations of acceleration and deceleration, the role of centrifugal forces, tyre pressures and ‘footprint’, the role of aquaplaning, lift, etc.

They will measure elements of the physical world; the weight of the vehicles, radius of turns, the slope of ascents or descents, whether the conditions were wet or dry, the temperature, tyre pressures, the condition of brakes and the nature of the road surface.

All these aspects of physics are important; they explain why accidents happen. But road traffic investigators don’t use a special branch of physics called ‘abnormal physics’. We don’t expect scientists to apply one special branch of physics to car crashes and differentiate this from the laws of physics that apply to ‘normal life’.

There is not an ‘abnormal coefficient of friction’ that leads to car crashes and a ‘normal coefficient of friction’ that keeps us safe. Instead, and wisely, we recognise that it is important to understand the universal laws of physics – such as friction – and then use that understanding to help design safer roads and to drive more safely as individuals.

The laws of psychology are similarly universal. Psychological principles apply to health and wellbeing and to distress and problems. There simply isn’t an ‘abnormal psychology’ that applies to distress or explains ‘illnesses’ and a different ‘normal psychology’ that applies to everything else. There is just psychology.

Everybody makes sense of their world, and does so on the basis of the experiences that they have and the learning that occurs over their lifetime. We all use the same basic processes to understand the world, even if we come to very different conclusions.

The patterns and contingencies of reinforcement – rewards and punishments – shape us all: the basic psychology of behavioural learning is universal. We all learn to repeat those things that are reinforcing, and we all withdraw from things that cause us pain.

We all construct more or less useful frameworks for understanding the world, and we all use those frameworks to predict the future and guide our actions. We’re all using the same processes of learning and understanding, and those processes have similar effects on our behaviour and emotions.

However, because no one is exactly the same as anyone else, or has exactly the same experiences, we all make sense of the world in slightly different ways, with different consequences. But that’s entirely different from suggesting that there is some kind of ‘abnormal psychology’.

Instead, because applied psychologists use their understanding of psychology to solve real problems in the world, we could talk about clinical or educational or forensic psychology - if we must. Or about the psychology of psychological wellbeing, or even ‘mental health’ or offending, or parenting… just say what we mean without insulting people.

But not, in my opinion ‘abnormal psychology’. I’m afraid I just don’t think there is such a thing as ‘abnormal psychology’.

Wed, 24/08/2016 - 10:44



We have inherited a great deal from early medieval scholars, including the way we refer to the work of other scientists in our writing. The hegemony of privileged men crediting the work of other privileged men started in the academies and cloisters – “secundum quod Averroes dicit...” or “as Averroes* said…”  – but we can see the echoes today, and not only in standard APA citation systems.

Why does this matter? Well, just possibly, this is both the origins and the visible legacy of our tendency for power and influence within academic and professional circles to bounce between members of friendship circles.

White, Oxbridge-educated, heterosexual, men tend to make reference to the work of their friends – other White, Oxbridge-educated, heterosexual, males. We cite our friends (or, too often, ourselves).

One of the achievements of which I’m most proud, from my time in a leadership position at the University of Liverpool, was helping secure an Athena Swan Silver Award, recognising our commitment to equity and opportunity and specifically in supporting and advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine in higher education and research. Although women frequently lead team science, their contribution is often erased.

As with many areas of academic life, psychology cannot claim to be perfect here. I’m a heterosexual, White, Oxbridge-educated, UK-born male professor, President of a Society with a much more diverse membership.

The statistics – in academia and in practitioner experiences – is that it is hugely more difficult for my female colleagues (constituting the majority of the profession and discipline) to progress. Equally, we are less than perfect in promoting colleagues from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

I don’t think our legacy from medieval scholarship is the only reason for this unfortunate state of affairs… but it’s a useful focus for me to introduce the issues.

We don't have to carry on doing things as they’ve always been done. I love medieval history, but sometimes its good to move forward. We could cite scientific advances in other ways. My Vice Chancellor would probably be pleased if we switched to crediting the institution supporting the research, but we could also cite the funder.

More to the point, in the era of doi’s and digital metadata, we may soon see significant reform of the systems of scientific citation. I love international conferences, but maybe that’s because I enjoy consolidating my (potentially biased) network of collaborators.

We could think about organising conferences differently. The SciFoo conference I recently attended in California was organised on a completely different basis to conventional academic conferences, for example, and we probably benefited from it.

Traditionally, academics have avoided speaking to the mass media and the general public, and I, for one, would welcome more inclusive dissemination of our research.

Perhaps we could do more to reward scientific collaboration as well as individual scientific success. More widely… we need to ensure that we are fully prepared to challenge received practices and make radical changes to enable greater equity and equality of opportunity.

 

* This is a quote from Roger Bacon’s Opus Majus, where he cited the work of Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rushd and Latinised his Islamic Andalusian name to ‘Averroes’.

Wed, 17/08/2016 - 15:04

 

Promoting “the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied” and “the efficiency and usefulness of members” are core to the charitable aims of the Society. Members expect the Society to represent their views and defend their profession. And that means, in part, discussing the distinctive contribution of psychology and psychologists.

This is an undeniably complex topic – we celebrate the values, knowledge and skills that we share, and yet we also celebrate and promote our distinctive contribution. This overlap between generic and distinctive competencies is not unique to psychology (medical practitioners, for example, have much in common but also defend their vital specialist competencies). There is considerable overlap between the Society’s Divisions and that overlap is asymmetrical. There is a complex, asymmetrical mosaic of shared and distinctive competencies and the individual career paths of practitioner psychologists make this even more complex.

In my view, our professional identity – and indeed greater opportunity - is best served with greater clarity of the different domains of specialism within our wonderful and diverse profession. As I suggested in my blog post last week, it has implications for the professional regulation of applied psychologists  as well as for training 

In regulatory terms, it is important to recognise the generic skills and values of all healthcare professionals, of all psychologists, but also those specific standards of proficiency that mean it would put the public at risk if any of us claimed to be competent in areas in which we have no specialist skills. I have been clear that we should not permit colleagues to claim, by implication, skills that they do not possess. 

In my opinion we could do more to recognise the shared competencies of all applied psychologists, and benefit from greater unification of the profession. But of course, the distinctions between the different branches of psychology are meaningful. I do not have all the competencies possessed by colleagues in different branches of psychology (indeed I do not have specialist competencies possessed by some other clinical psychologists, for instance skills in working with children and families), and it would be inappropriate for me to claim that. We need to be judicious in when we emphasise those distinctions, and do so when it benefits the public, but only when justified. 

As I’ve said in other blog posts if you possess the relevant qualifications and offer a service to the public, you should register with HCPC. If you don't possess such qualifications, don't imply that you have. Jobs should be planned, and then advertised and recruited to, on the basis of competencies, from which any use of adjectival title should follow. If psychologists from several Divisions could fulfill the requirements of a particular post, then it's wise to maximize your chances of successful recruitment, and recruit accordingly. baby boy eating cake

We launched a Presidential Task Force to investigate and make recommendations in this area. I encourage members to debate this issue, including with other colleagues in your relevant Division, and to communicate with me directly. We will be looking at examples of best practice - including such things as innovative curricula for the training of psychologists, novel approaches to supervised practice and clinical placements, examples of job descriptions and recruitment advertisements - as well as listening to members’ views on Society policy in the areas of training and regulation. As the Presidential Taskforce begins its work (and we are having our first meeting this week), we will explore how we can encourage greater visibility of the “efficiency and usefulness” of members and promote the competencies of our various branches of psychology. 

Sometimes common sense – rather than ideological polemic – is a good guide to working things out. We value our distinctive competencies, and the public benefit from clarity about what skills we each do or don't possess. These are all matters for the new Presidential Taskforce to address. But we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t both claim distinctive competencies are important on the one hand, and dismiss their relevance on the other.  

 

Wed, 10/08/2016 - 12:10

 

The current edition of Private Eye (publication date 4th August 2016) outlines concerns about the regulation of psychologists. In particular, the journalists comment that; “providing psychologists don’t use one of the … so-called protected titles … any can offer their services without the need to be registered and regulated by the UK’s watchdog the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Even if serious concerns or complaints are raised about them, they remain immune from investigation because they’re not registered”.

Many BPS members have raised this issue with me and my predecessors. So what’s the solution?

One option might be to press for regulation of the title 'psychologist'. That may well close the loophole to an extent, but it’s far from perfect. Protection of the public from charlatans is vital, but it may be seen as disproportionate to require all who call themselves psychologists to pay to register with HCPC. Our academic colleagues, who do not offer services to the public in that sense, may find that onerous. That solution would require legislative change and wouldn’t do anything to bring people legitimately using titles such as ‘psychotherapist’ or ‘cognitive therapist’ into the regulatory fold (and thereby help protect the public). The unscrupulous would merely avoid that new regulated title and would continue to mislead the public with new variations on the theme.

But we probably don't need that solution, as I believe the HCPC already has more power to act.

Under Article 39(1) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, it is a criminal offence for a person, with intent to deceive (whether clearly or by implication), to: – claim that they are on the HCPC Register; – use a title protected by the Order to which they are not entitled; or – claim falsely that they have qualifications in a relevant profession. It is clear to me that a person who uses a title such as 'consultant psychologist' is by implication claiming qualifications or professional status that they do not possess. 

In other words, we do seem to have the legal powers to act, but seldom do. Perhaps a better question, then, would be to ask why HCPC don’t avail themselves more often of this route. It’s at least possible that we, as psychologists, are complicit  assuming that there’s a legal loophole and not complaining. 

At the same time, we need to get our house in order. Those of us who are legitimately qualified and experienced professionals who provide a service to the public but feel it is acceptable not to be registered because they don’t use a protected title should consider this as a call to action to reflect on their own accountability. The Society is improving its professional practice guidelines and could use them in collaboration with HCPC to outline more clearly the standards of professional behaviour that we value.

It’s possible that we also need more explicit legislation to clarify the language and allow prosecution more easily. This could also bring professions such as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapists under the regulatory remit. The Government is beginning the process of consultation to consider major reforms that would unify the regulatory Councils. The aim is to improve the legislative approach to address these ‘regulated functions’ rather than merely ‘regulated title’ issues. We have quite a lot to benefit from such changes. We need to close loopholes, and we can learn from the other regulatory Councils. For example, the title ‘doctor’ is not a protected title (that is, instead, ‘registered medical practitioner’) and yet the public is relatively well protected from charlatans pretending “by implication” to be doctors in the lay-person’s meaning of the word. Having a PhD obviously wouldn’t protect me, for instance.

We should engage closely in the imminent consultation, and press for both a more intelligent approach to the regulation of our profession and sister professions, as well as for a closure of the ‘implied competence’ loophole, if necessary. It would be timely to look to improving investigatory processes, and to look at a more mature relationship between the BPS (which has a duty to promote the profession) and HCPC (with a more specific remit to protect the public) as they work together in the public interest. There is a lot to be gained from a unified approach to regulation in health and social care, and I believe that it would be valuable to extend statutory regulation to all the psychotherapeutic professions. However, in the meantime I think that there is a lot that the BPS and its members can do to ensure that those legitimately offering a service to the public ensure that they are registered, regulated and accountable, that they report cases where people appear to be committing offences by implied possession of qualifications they do not possess, and pressing HCPC to pursue prosecution using means that appear to be available by seldom used. 

 

 

Wed, 03/08/2016 - 14:53

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

The British Psychological Society is actively engaged in several important policy issues, but two are particularly contentious. They are technically complex and they are personally challenging.

A recent government consultation asked how to implement the replacement of bursaries for nursing and other healthcare students with an expanded system of loans. This change raises complex issues for our discipline.

Our response stressed that “the proposed reform to healthcare education funding falls short of the long-term holistic workforce strategy necessary to achieve the government’s goal of delivering high quality integrated physical and mental health care.”

Given that clinical psychology trainees receive both fees and salaries from Health Education England, any move towards loans as opposed to bursaries would constitute a major threat to our profession. Thus we stated clearly that this support “is vital and must continue”. But this support does not cover all applied psychology, and, as we said in our response “is not sufficient to deliver the progress needed to achieve the government’s goal of significantly improving the psychological health and wellbeing of the population.”

We need to enter into substantive discussions with the Department of Health and Health Education England about the future shape of our professional training. We know that our profession is under review. There are many options – from the discussions held under the New Ways of Working programme, suggestions I have previously made and the opportunities offered by the existing Clinical Scientists route.

One thing that psychologists are good at – trained in – is grappling with difficult issues and forging coherent consensus. In this response we expressed a clear message on behalf of the whole profession that takes us forward with authority. But on a personal level, this was a difficult issue. It was challenging to balance the well-argued concerns of colleagues over the commissioning of clinical psychology training with the opportunity for other applied Divisions to boost the psychological workforce and begin to address structural inequity if they were at least able to access loans to meet their training costs.

One of the reasons I love my profession is that we didn’t just put our head in the sands. We took the bull by the horns, and developed a coherent and authoritative position, which we will develop further in the coming months. Armed with this, we are ready to sit down at the table and try to influence the course of events.

I had to confront a second personal and professional dilemma this past week as on Friday I met with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. Many of my friends have aired grave concerns about DWP policies, arguing that they inappropriately ‘psychologise’ unemployment and locate the problem within the unemployed person.

The BPS and other organisations have also raised concerns that the DWP considers employment as a clinical outcome, and that the underpinning rationale for these policies was not improving health, but for ideological purposes. We are concerned that people would be coerced into therapy or face sanctions on their unemployment benefit payments if they refused consent.

We continue to scrutinise these policies and insist on the appropriate, ethical, use of psychological theory at all times. The British Psychological Society has argued that staff must not be involved in coercion and must maintain their professional independence as therapists. Claimants’ rights to autonomy and freely-given consent (to, for instance, participation in research trials or therapy) are non-negotiable.

Moreover, employment is not a universally positive outcome for everybody. There must be a clear commitment to appropriate work that includes long-term tailored support or there is a real risk of jeopardising recovery or worsening of mental health problems. Personally I’d go further and argue that employment should only be an outcome if that’s what the client wants.

I have my own opinions, which are guided by my understanding of psychological science, by my professional training and by my values, and which I know I share with my colleagues. Last year, I spoke out about the misuse of such policies but a principled stance is not necessarily the same as simple opposition.

The most important discussions are not easy. They aren't conceptually easy and they aren’t emotionally easy. But they are necessary - we have an obligation to engage and discuss such contentious and difficult issues, not avoid them.

Wed, 13/07/2016 - 13:51


The Chilcot Report into the decision to go to war in Iraq has highlighted the irrationality and psychological vulnerability of our leaders, and how disastrous the consequences can be.

As the fall-out from the EU Referendum left us painfully aware, there are dangers in making decisions under conditions of high emotion, poor quality information and great uncertainty. Coming so soon after Brexit, we are even more acutely aware of the limitations of our politicians.

Sadly, we have become to expect that politicians will act in their own best interests, avoid direct answers and backtrack on their promises. But I had hoped senior civil servants, military commanders and, crucially, the shadowy chiefs of our intelligence services would take the most rational approach to the process of decision-making.

But the Chilcot Report shows that decisions – life-and–death, world-changing decisions – fell prey the same disastrous cognitive biases to which we are all prone. Psychologists have always known that human beings are irrational. The philosopher and proto-scientist, Roger Bacon suggested in 1266 that a principal source of error was our “false conceit of our own wisdom”.

We find it difficult to retain more than a few relevant facts so use rules of thumb - heuristic reasoning - rather than cool logic. Our decisions are distorted by emotions, by the most memorable information, by irrelevancies and by other people. We seek out information that confirms rather than challenges our assumptions. And we seek the company of people who agree with us.

Once a decision has been made, we naturally feel terrible at the thought that we may have made mistakes. The phenomenon of ‘cognitive dissonance’ – and the psychological discomfort it causes - means that we sometimes try to change the facts to make ourselves feel better. Chilcot said Tony Blair had presented intelligence about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction “with a certainty that was not justified”.

We are cooperative animals. Cooperation has been and remains crucial for our survival. But the nature of human groups means that we form alliances and support our friends in ways that are not always in the best interests of anyone. Political alliances may be of short-term benefit of politicians, but may not always serve the interests of citizens.

But what of irrationality, what of an understanding of flawed human psychology, in this mess? These flaws in human reasoning and in our human relationships all applied in the run-up to the fatal decision on Iraq. Individuals will be blamed, but it’s important that we also understand that psychological biases were at play and to make the necessary changes to legal, constitutional and political processes to improve the quality of decision making and prevent future mistakes.

As with the EU referendum, we should let the lawyers, politicians and civil servants do their jobs. We should actively inform and advise leaders of civil society as they sort out the mess in which we find ourselves. We can offer advice as to how we choose our leaders, form our groups and make our decisions. Above all, we need to choose and select people free, as much as possible, from the conceit of false wisdom.

Wed, 06/07/2016 - 14:00

Last night I attended the Gala Dinner of the Royal College of Psychiatrists held in the magnificent Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. It followed the college’s annual congress in the huge ExCeL centre, with an estimated 3000 delegates. It offers an ambitious goal for what the BPS should aim for.

As someone who has occasionally annoyed our psychiatry colleagues through the things they think I may be implying in what they think I’ve written (but which I may not have said or they may not have read), it was interesting - and occasionally challenging - to be a guest at their celebration dinner. But it’s important, especially today.

It’s important because the world shifted under our feet this week. We’ve written a lot about Brexit this week – a joint BPS/EFPA statement, a letter to members and in The Psychologist - and there will be more to come.

We’re responding to the consequences of a decision taken by 33,551,983 UK citizens in conditions of high emotion, poor quality information and great uncertainty. Psychological science tells us that decisions made under such circumstances are dangerous things.

In situations of chaos, complexity and anxiety we use ‘heuristic reasoning’ rather than logic. We are swayed by our initial assumptions and by the most recent, most available and eye-catching information, irrespective of its truth or relevance.

We seek out information that confirms – rather than challenges – our assumptions and the company of people who agree with us. Once we’ve made our decisions, psychological science tells us that we tend to justify our actions with ‘hindsight bias’ and minimise any ‘cognitive dissonance’ with selective recall and attributing blame anywhere but to ourselves.

I’m struck by the fact that everybody that I follow on Twitter seemed to be of one mind. And now, after the decision, all my friends seem to agree with me. We are shocked by apparently perverse decisions, partly because we surround ourselves with people with whom we agree and whom we try to ensure agree with us.

I wrote last week about divisive and even xenophobic rhetoric.

If we are to understand the referendum decision, if we are to understand the psychology of social divisions, and if we are to have any basis for advising society about these important issues of psychology – as I think we must – we should also challenge ourselves.

It’s easy to speak to a mirror, and it’s easy to present your thesis to friends. It’s more challenging to listen to people with different experiences and attempt to engage those of different perspectives. But it’s vital that we are part of that debate. I hope I shall be able to remember that in the weeks to come, and remember to keep my ears open and my prejudices closed.

So last night, I had dinner with my friends in the Royal College of Psychiatrists. And… there was much more on which we agreed than on which we disagreed. As the next steps in this complicated political process become clearer, we will find common ground on which to stand together when action is needed.

Thu, 30/06/2016 - 14:42

Once again, in the horrific killing of MP Jo Cox, we’ve seen violent tragedy strike at honourable and charitable people. Our hearts go out to Jo’s husband Brendan and their children.

As Brendan has said, we should “work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.”

We all share, I’m sure, Brendan’s views: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous”. As citizens as much as psychologists, we need to review and consider how we work together to combat such hate.

Once again, we do not know the complex motives and reasons for the attack on Jo, just as we do not fully understand the background – political and psychological – of the homophobic attack in Orlando, the Germanwings tragedy or the neo-Nazi violence of Anders Breivik.

But in each case we see considerations of psychological issues – in each case there is a fierce debate as to whether we should locate responsibility within the individual or, alternatively, look to wider, societal, causes.

We need to understand the full background to such tragedies, and that includes the psychological of the perpetrators. But, in that examination, we must ensure that we cast our investigation appropriately broadly; looking not only at the psychology of the individual, and the experiences and motivation of someone who can convince themselves that to do such an act is acceptable and justified, but also the psychology of wider society - the hate and prejudice, misunderstanding and warped political ideology that also must be recognised as contributors to this, and similar, atrocities.

As I have read and watched coverage of this issue, I have been slightly concerned to detect a binary distinction – between ‘mentally ill’ on the one hand and, alternatively and in contrast, ‘politically motivated’ on the other. I do not recognise such a clear distinction.

Sad and vulnerable, lonely and confused, angry and alienated people are swayed by hate-filled rhetoric that blames their difficulties on other, different, people and offers them a distorted picture of society. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that sad, lonely, confused individuals are more, not less, susceptible to such messages.

This might make the picture more complex than a typical tabloid leader column, but it does, nevertheless lead to clear conclusions. It is vital and urgent that we put a stop to xenophobic, hate-fuelled, divisive and violent rhetoric in political and public life.

Find out more about my plans for this week.

Wed, 22/06/2016 - 10:47

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