Professional identity of psychologists needs greater clarity and unity
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.
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.