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Communicating the value of psychology to the public

A great deal of my time is devoted either to asking other people to do things for us or, occasionally, telling other people what they should do. When we lobby, we’re asking politicians to change their plans or make decisions in ways that are important to us and to the people we serve.

But this week I’m shifting emphasis to highlight the things we are doing to directly address problems ourselves. The most effective solutions – both those we deliver and those we demand - are those that combine our science and our practice.

Clearly, as psychologists, we can offer psychological therapies, which are vitally important in the campaign to reduce the use of psychotropic medication and can help design and research medication withdrawal programmes. This is central to BPS policy.

I’ve continued to argue for changes to the way we deliver mental health services. I’ve signed pledges aimed at reducing the use of psychotropic medication for people with learning disabilities (see the picture below), chaired a recent All Party Parliamentary Group meeting on the subject and have supported the wider call for action.

Armed with evidence of the links between social deprivation, psychological issues, mental and physical health problems and social challenges, we can offer leadership and examples of best practice in service delivery. This week we launched a guide for commissioners of specialist services for mothers, explaining not only how psychological expertise can be incorporated, but that evidence shows it’s what new mothers want.

We are launching guidance on the management of disclosure of historic child sexual abuse for psychologists, and those who employ them, who must respond to these complex and challenging situations. Both of these pieces of work are practical examples of how psychologists can help remind us all of the social context and social determinants of our mental and psychological wellbeing.

We have solutions for many of the challenges on which we are asked to comment. Our research evidence and practical experience can provide a framework through which these problems can be understood. And I am confident that our colleagues and those policy makers we advise value our contributions. We’re also in the latter stages of preparing responses to the two government consultations I mentioned last week.

My main concern is that we still struggle to get our message about the value of psychology across to the general public. I’m sure there’s an element of ‘Catch 22’ here; as our work becomes ever more widely appreciated by the general public, and discussed in the media, it’s inevitable that we’ll get better at speaking to those audiences. The onus is on us to showcase what we do and communicate clearly with all our audiences.

Things are improving - when I first set out in this career 25 years ago, people didn't really know what psychologists are or what we do. But now, partly thanks to all those members who regularly engage with the media, psychologists are introduced to viewers and listeners in the confident (and correct) belief that the audience is (now) aware of our work. And that, I think, is good news.

Find out more about my plans for next week.