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Presidential Blog

The cliché is that we should fix our own oxygen masks before helping others. Working in a therapeutic profession is a privilege, but there are good, even self-serving, reasons to ensure that those professionals changed with helping others are properly protected.

Many of us have been concerned by apparent pressures on junior doctors and proposals to require young people entering nursing and other professions to take out loans to fund their training. And there are pressures on the ‘psych’ professions, too.

A short time ago, we reported on the findings from the joint British Psychological Society and New Savoy Partnership staff wellbeing survey. This revealed worrying apparent increases in staff stress since a similar survey in 2014, with 46 per cent of psychological professionals surveyed reporting depressed mood and 49 per cent reporting feeling they are a failure. Seventy per cent of the 1348 people surveyed said they were finding their job stressful. More details of the survey, and the results, can be found in a detailed paper.

I’m delighted that the BPS, in collaboration with the New Savoy Partnership and with the support of Public Health England, launched a Charter for Psychological Staff Wellbeing and Resilience. But we also have a responsibility to act.

So, on 21 June, at the BPS London Offices, we’ll see the next stage in this process, when Jamie Hacker Hughes (Vice-President of the BPS) and Jeremy Clarke (Chair of the New Savoy Conference) will launch a Collaborative Learning Network to share best practice on practical measures to improve staff wellbeing.

We have an obligation to our colleagues and to those who use our services to ensure that our workplaces are compassionate and safe. We need to use our skills to facilitate accountable autonomy, reflective practice, participation in decision-making, staff engagement and creation of a non-discriminatory ethos, where difference and diversity are meaningfully sought alongside work-life balance. These are valuable for us as employees, but they are also vital if we are to have compassionate and empathic services.

Find out more about my plans for next week.

Wed, 25/05/2016 - 11:13

I had the great pleasure to be in York on Saturday, marching in support of colleagues calling for proper investment in mental health services in the city. It is ridiculous, in one of the wealthiest nations on earth, to be fighting for the most basic of social services. But the march and rally were great, and I am heartened by several elements of the day. 

The local people, and media, were welcoming and positive and there was strong support from local and national politicians. I was delighted to be shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues from Psychologists Against Austerity and sharing the speakers’ platform with the local MP Rachel Maskell and Len McClusky from Unite.

Having been a clinical psychologist for 25 years, I was delighted to hear the message that psychological health is a matter for everyone -  one-in-one, not ‘one-in-four’ - and that our psychological health (and therefore mental health services) is intimately linked to social circumstances and the economic, political and material health of civic society. That message needs to be repeated and clarified - hence my visit to Channel 4 on Tuesday, to attend a meeting discussing media portrayals of mental health problems – but I think it’s getting across. I was delighted, for example, that Alistair Campbell has started talking about mental health as an issue that touches ‘one in one’, not just ‘one in four’ of us. For me, this is a welcome recognition of our shared humanity and common psychology.

Otherwise, issues around work and psychology have dominated my email inbox and Twitter account this week. We’ve seen reports of psychologists themselves issuing ‘zero-hours contracts’, and unpaid intern posts for people wanting to enter professional psychology careers. Is this a growing trend that BPS Members and other readers of the blog would like to share their views on?

We’ve also seen increasing discussion of the impact of Work Capability Assessments, the DWP’s in-work progression trial and sanctions in our benefits system. We’ve seen sexism in the workplace and we’ve seen further discussion of the importance of maintaining the psychological health of workers in the NHS.

So… two questions (for the comments section below, perhaps):

  1. What are readers’ views on psychologists issuing zero-hours contracts or contracts for unpaid interns?
  2. Is the time right for a British Psychological Society Presidential Taskforce on ‘Work and Psychology’?

Find out more about my plans for next week.

Wed, 18/05/2016 - 11:21

It’s been a busy week. I’ve attended meetings of the BPS Research Board, Education and Public Engagement Board, and had to give my apologies to the Membership and Standards Board (due to an unavoidable clash).

As well as other meetings with interesting colleagues, I’ve also chaired an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prescription Drug Dependence and a celebration on the terrace of the House of Commons, celebrating the birthday of clinical psychology in the UK, because it was 50 years ago that the British Psychological Society was awarded its Royal Charter, and the profession of clinical psychology became an established part of British civic society. I’ve previously written about the charitable objects of the British Psychological Society (“to promote the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied”).

And we were celebrating, in part, the fact that psychologists are also at the heart of the Government’s mental health strategy – we helped design and are spearheading the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme, and were key partners in the Mental Health Task Force. We’re part of the NHS Transformation Agenda, brining our skills in multi-professional, co-produced formulation to the heart of the skill set in mental health care.

We’re pioneers in working across health and social care – those of you who know my work will know that this is a passion of mine. And, as experts in the science of human behaviour, we’re leading on the drive to ensure that the NHS has the data it needs to deliver care. We look forward to supporting our colleagues in Government and Parliament as they work to make ‘parity of esteem’ a reality… and holding them to account!

The ‘embededness’ of psychology in public life was reflected not only in the business of our Education and Public Engagement Board (discussing our engagement with, and impact upon, education policy, but also our public out-reach activities such with the Big Bang science festival), in the work of our Research Board (liaising with HEFCE about the REF assessment of research quality, organising an event on ‘replicability’ with the Royal Society and publication of a range of research reports) and the Membership and Standards Board (discussing issues as diverse as our relationship with the statutory regulator, HEFCE, and our quality control on the use of psychometric testing), but also in some of my other meetings – with film-makers, theatre directors and colleagues from other charities.

All of this can be seen to have culminated in the fantastic announcement by Lisa Cameron MP, at our celebration on the terrace of the House of Commons, that we will soon have an All Party Parliamentary ‘Psychology’ Group. I believe that – if we step up to the mark – this will offer us a valuable new opportunity to point out the value that psychology ‘pure and applied’ brings to policy-makers and civic society.

My hero, Albert Camus, wrote in his private notebook for May 1937: “Psychology is action, not thinking about oneself.” I think it’s pretty clear that we’re being active… and it’s worth taking half an hour out of a busy week to stand on the terrace of the House of Commons and raise a glass of prosecco in celebration.

Wed, 11/05/2016 - 16:38

Thank you for all your many positive comments on my first presidential blog… and thank you, too, for the (many fewer) negative comments. It’s always good to learn from constructive criticism.

I’ll be addressing many issues over the next 51 weeks, inviting comment and seeking the views of members on issues such as psychologists’ engagement with some contentious national policies

One of the issues raised from last week’s blog was the issue of the robustness and replicability of our science. I said; “…our profession and discipline is based on our science, our professional practice and our values….” It is worrying, then, that a recent paper in the journal Science found that only a third of 100 key psychology experiments published in top journals appeared to be robustly replicable.Replication and Reproducibility in Psychologyday

The British Psychological Society’s Research Board is addressing this issue head-on. Under the auspices of the Joint Committee for Psychology in Higher Education which includes, the British Psychological Society, Experimental Psychology Society and the Association of Heads of Psychology Departments, we are hosting a symposium on Replication and Reproducibility in Psychology at the Royal Society in London on May 26th 2016. The aim of the event is to have a positive, upbeat and collegiate debate prompted by the paper in Science (followed by a wine reception sponsored by Wiley). In addition, it’s worth noting that Research Board is working to secure the best outcome for the discipline in the lead up to next iteration of the Research Excellence Framework in 2020.

Psychological science can’t stand still. If there are lessons to be learned, we’ll learn them. Professor Daryl O’Connor, Chair of our Research Board, has said that the replicability project: “… represents an important step forward for psychological science specifically, and science more generally. Other areas of science have encountered problems with reproducibility in the past, for example, clinical medicine and genetics, therefore, psychology is not alone. Publication of this report in Science can propel psychological researchers forward, improve scientific practice and trigger new ways of working”.

I’d also like to let members know of two important events I attended last week. On Thursday morning, members of the BPS, experts by experience and colleagues from the Royal Colleges of Psychiatry and Nursing met under the auspices of Health Education England (although on the initiative of the BPS) to establish ‘formulation’ as a core, cross-professional, element of the Skills for Health ‘Mental Health Core Skills Education and Training Framework’. It is hugely valuable for the discipline and profession to see this core skill formally adopted in this way. The meeting represented a very positive, collegiate, cross-professional discussion.

Continuing in the same vein, on Friday, I attended the launch of the new National Guideline Development Centre led by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, with the BPS as a key partner. It brings together clinical leadership, technical experts, project managers and administrative support to produce guidelines on behalf of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Again, I believe it is hugely valuable for the Society that we are increasingly seen as central to these kinds of developments.


Wed, 04/05/2016 - 15:18

Professor Peter KindermanSucceeding Jamie Hacker Hughes as President of the British Psychological Society will be both a challenge and a privilege. Jamie has done a fantastic job, and I’ve inherited a Society in good shape. We have more members than ever and we’re continuing to have a significant influence on public policy. But, as a recent article in the Psychologist asked: are we yet punching our weight?

Our profession and discipline is based on our science, our professional practice and our values. We must articulate a vision for the Society that matches those principles.

Our mission must be to improve the wellbeing of citizens, in the UK and internationally. To paraphrase the European Commission, psychological wellbeing is a resource that enables citizens to realise their intellectual and emotional potential and to find and fulfil their roles in social, school, and working life. For societies, good psychological health of citizens contributes to prosperity, solidarity and social justice.

At present, this may be only an implicit aim of the British Psychological Society, but we should make it explicit. Just to take two examples, we must campaign for everybody who needs it to have access to the very highest quality psychological care and for all children to be protected from abuse and neglect. We need to turn our implicit aspirations into explicit demands.

We are uniquely placed to assist policymakers, but we need to be prepared to speak out. On 1 September 1967, Martin Luther King Jr delivered a speech to the American Psychological Association entitled ‘The role of the behavioral scientist in the civil rights movement’ in which he argued that psychologists had a duty to support the struggle for civil rights.

His arguments are just as relevant today. We have a duty to explain the social and psychological determinants of human behaviour – how our behaviour is shaped not only by genes and biochemistry but in large part by the events and circumstances of our lives and the way we have learned to make sense of them. We need to speak out about the psychological mechanisms implicated in some of our major social problems: inequality, injustice, abuse, war, terrorism, and climate change. And we need to offer practical solutions. The point of psychology is not merely to observe, but to do something useful.

So what does this mean, in practical terms, for the British Psychological Society in 2016? What are our key strengths, what are the key challenges, what are our central concerns, and what – specifically – do we want to happen? For me personally, what do I hope we’ll achieve during my year as President?

The charitable objects of the British Psychological Society are: “to promote the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied”. Members of the Society are experts in things that really matter to people: relationships, education and learning, mental health, health, politics, sport, crime, work, how organisations function, prejudice and intercultural understanding, designing and working with emerging technologies, and more. Psychology is not only a rigorous academic discipline but also a thriving, values-based profession, able to offer both leadership and practical solutions.

In mental health, I have promoted a psychological and social perspective. I look forward to the day – very soon – when the UK Government is prepared to issue a letter similar to one we’ve seen in Norway, practically cementing a commitment to social alternatives to traditional mental health care.

I have also studied the personal impact of austerity policies and the wider wellbeing agenda, having been part of the Office for National Statistics Technical Advisory Group for the Measurement of National Wellbeing and now leading a major study of community wellbeing.

I also have a long-standing interest in human rights, not least in my role chairing the Advisory Panel of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in Vienna.

I have campaigned for better recognition of the fundamental rights of people with mental health problems, and I am currently researching the impact of specialised training in human rights on the care received by people in residential dementia care units.

I am also a Trustee of the Joanna Simpson Foundation, which is dedicated to the care of children affected by domestic abuse and homicide.

Finally, I led the Society’s repudiation of the involvement of psychologists (and other professionals) in the abuse of detainees and in torture. This is clearly a difficult and contentious issue. But it’s an issue where I believe our professional body can show genuine leadership for professionals in other nations.

I feel extremely privileged that you have elected me as your new President. I am now really looking forward to working with you, with the Trustees, and with my colleagues on the Presidential Team. I’m delighted that Jamie will still be around to support me and equally delighted to have Nicola Gale joining the team as President-elect.

I have outlined some of the areas where I have particular personal interest and expertise. But my role as President is to highlight and promote the work of all the members of the Society. We need to ensure that all our systems (Boards, Divisions, Sections, Special Groups, working parties, etc) are effective.

To contact me with ideas, comments, contributions, or suggestions please e-mail me or find me on Twitter. I will regularly keep in touch with all members and shall be writing a weekly blog here.

I’m not sure if psychology is yet punching our weight. There is much more potential for us to persuade policy makers, the media and the public of the potential that values-based, scientific, professional psychology has to offer. But, as Jamie would say… “Together, we can.”

Wed, 27/04/2016 - 17:05

Professor Hacker Hughes with the Society staff

One of the most enjoyable parts of this past year as President has been the opportunity to meet the Society's nearly 100 staff working in Leicester, London, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Society's main office is in Leicester where teams look after our infrastructure (our buildings and IT) and finance and support membership and member networks, Society qualifications and training, conferences and events, public engagement and the development and promotion of policy.

We also have an extremely active press team who put out press releases, news briefings and organise media opportunities. Another team produces our monthly magazine The Psychologist,On top of all this, the Society has its own preparation for publication teams, print department and dispatch organisation.

Seeing 'under the hood' of the Society, as I have been able to do on my bi-monthly visits, and being able to meet and greet all the staff, has been a real pleasure. I have also met Society staff and contracted facility management staff, and seen them at work not only in Leicester but in Scotland, London and Northern Ireland, where the Society also have offices.

Without the support of our loyal and expert staff we would be totally lost and only able to do a fraction of the things that it is so easy to take for granted.

Thank you to each and everyone of them.

Wed, 20/04/2016 - 15:51

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

The Indonesian flagAt the start of the month the Society denounced the reported proposal by the Indonesian Psychiatric Association to classify lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sexual and gender identities (LGBT) as mental illnesses.

Professor Elizabeth Peel, who is chair of our Psychology of Sexualities Section, said:

“People of same-sex sexual orientations including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and non-normative gender identities and all other non-heterosexual sexual orientations should be regarded as equal members of society.

"This includes freedom from harassment or discrimination in any sphere, and a right to protection from therapies that purport to change or ‘convert’ sexual orientation or gender identity."

The Society has a strong record of recent action on LGBT issues.

In 2013 we published a position statement which clearly opposes any psychological psychotherapeutic or counselling treatment or interventions and in 2014 a group of UK psychological professions, including the Society, and the charity Stonewall, published a consensus statement denouncing conversion therapy.

Wed, 23/03/2016 - 17:05

Lisa Cameron MP and Norman Lamb MP at the launch event


On 15 March  I was delighted, both as BPS President and a new Fellow of the Academy for Social Sciences, to introduce an event sponsored by the BPS in conjunction with the British Society of Gerontology, Age UK, Alzheimer's Society and the University of Bradford to launch a new booklet on Dementia in the Academy for Social Sciences' series Making the Case for the Social Sciences .

The event was introduced by Professor Bob Woods FBPsS FAcSS and the keynote speech was given by former Health Minister Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP. Other speakers and panellists were the clinical psychologist MP, Dr Lisa Cameron, Colin Capper of the Alzheimer's Society, Baroness Sally Greengross, Dr Jo Moriarty of Kings College London, Professor Murna Downs of the University of Bradford and Professor Jane Fossey of the  British Society of Gerontology.

"There is insufficient recognition of the critical importance of the social sciences" - Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP.

Tue, 22/03/2016 - 11:13

Today, Peter Kinderman, President Elect,  Roxane Gervais, DOP Chair, and I met with David Halpern of The Behavioural Insights Team.

In addition to receiving a briefing on the current work of the BIT, a useful discussion was had about building on the work we have been carrying out this year raising the Society's profile to national and devolved government to increase the impact of the Society and psychology on policy.

You can find one example of this, the Society's behaviour change briefings, on this website.

Mon, 21/03/2016 - 16:53