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Presidential Blog

The conference programme and a delegate's badge

Last Friday I was with the DCP Prequalification Group (assistant psychologists, research assistants and clinical psychologists in training) for their one-day conference in Birmingham entitled 'Thinking more, Saying more, Doing more'.

Our very own clinical psychologist MP, Dr Lisa Cameron MP, opened the day followed by me, clinical psychologist blogger Dr Masuma Rahim, Nina Browne and Kat Alcock on psychologists and policy and Dr Ste Weatherhead and the Walk the Talk team.

In the afternoon were Playback Theatre, Peter Kinderman, Anne Cooke and Glenn Williams on competences in clinical psychologists, and Psychologists against Austerity.

Exciting things are happening in psychology and it's great to be a part of it.

Tue, 15/03/2016 - 15:17

Tuesday saw me in Cardiff, where I spoke at a BPS Wales round table event in the Welsh Assembly. This was sponsored by David Rees AM, Chair of the Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee, and was attended by a number of Welsh Assembly Members.

The event raised the critical issue of the obesity challenge in Wales and how psychological research and practice can help policymakers, service providers and the population in general to better understand and respond to this major health and wellbeing crisis.

I was joined by fellow psychologists Dr Katie Thirlaway, Dr Lynda Durell and Dr Deborah Lancastle, whose presentations all stressed the key role psychological expertise, both research and practice based, can play in informing obesity prevention and treatment interventions across the age range.

Tue, 01/03/2016 - 10:49

I asked Carolyn Mair to write a guest post on London Fashion Week.

London Fashion Week (LFW) hit the headlines last week. It took place in Brewer Street Car Park from 19-23 February. Even though we’re not even in spring, LFW showcased the autumn/winter 2016 collections from 83 designers.

One of the most beautiful collections was from the house of Alexander McQueen who took his own life six years ago.  There were many other notable brands including Burberry, Christopher Kane, Erdem, Gareth Pugh, J.W. Anderson, Mary Katrantzou, Mulberry, Paul Smith, Sibling, Simone Rocha, Sophia Webster, Topshop Unique and Vivienne Westwood.

What is the fascination with fashion? Why is it so appealing, yet so easily dismissed as frivolous?

What we wear says a great deal about us, and even if we don’t consider ourselves to be fashionable, we all wear clothes. We judge people on their appearance in a matter of milliseconds. In addition to deciding if they are attractive or not and whether we like them or not, we imbue many characteristics as a result of appearance.

Fashion plays an important role in this. What we wear can affect how we feel and our confidence. Recently, what we wear has been found to influence our cognitions when we believe the garment has specific symbolic meaning.

However, fashion is more than what we wear. The fashion industry is an important global industry. It employs millions across the globe and generates £26bn annually in the UK alone. Although it is creative, exciting and dynamic, it suffers from many issues which affect us negatively. These include global environmental, individual and societal problems. Fast fashion is a problem for a sustainable future.

Fashion has multiple outcomes at many levels. Environmentally, overproduction of cotton, the production and disposal of artificial and natural dyes and careless disposal of waste from fashion production and consumption are damaging our planet irreversibly. Many societies are affected by poor wages and poor working conditions in sweatshops.

Of course, everyone is affected by environmental and societal problems indirectly, but at a more direct, individual level, financial problems can result from compulsive shopping leading to psychological stress.

The narrow stereotype of beauty promoted by the fashion industry can affect individuals in multiple ways. The very thin, young, Eurocentric, long-limbed ‘beauty’ is not only unrepresentative of the population, it is also unrealistic as the majority of images are digitally altered.

Because of the ubiquity of fashion and media imagery, this unrealistic beauty ideal becomes the norm and can result in a lifetime of fighting the signs of natural ageing. Psychological outcomes are low confidence, low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction. Increasingly, fashion imagery is being blamed for the rising rate of eating disorders across the lifespan and genders.

The constant promotion of youthfulness equalling beauty is leading to increased demands for cosmetic interventions at younger, and indeed, older ages. Worryingly, in the private sector, cosmetic procedures are not regulated. Vulnerable individuals are at the mercy of potentially unscrupulous practitioners. 

Psychologists working in the context of fashion can work to support behaviour change in the industry and in those who consume its products. Unfortunately, there are few of us at the moment. We are producing 20 graduates every year from the MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion and MA Psychology for Fashion Professionals at LCF whose aim is to make a positive difference to this exciting, yet potentially damaging industry.

Read more about Carolyn Mair's research in The Psychologist.

Mon, 29/02/2016 - 12:28

Keith Flint, founding chair of Derby University Psychological Society, contacted me almost a year ago to tell me of the establishment of Derby PsychSoc.

A year later, PsychSoc is one of the two largest student societies at the university, just about to overtake Derby LawSoc, and is going from strength to strength. 

So it was great to visit Derby on Tuesday to be shown round the campus and the psychology labs, to meet students and staff, to lecture a packed lecture theatre on what a fantastic discipline psychology is and to make a short video.

Thanks for a great afternoon, Keith, and all the committee and members of Derby PsychSoc, particular good luck to the third years, and keep up the good work!

Fri, 26/02/2016 - 11:17

It's always an occasion to celebrate when a new undergraduate psychology course opens. We now have over 100 UK universities offering psychology at first-degree level and psychology remains a firm favourite when it comes to potential undergraduates choosing which subject to study.

However, it was a particular pleasure to be invited back to King’s College London last week for a small celebration to mark the return of psychology teaching to King's.

King's has a long tradition of teaching psychology. C.S. Myers, the Society's first Secretary and its President in 1926, was a part-time professor of psychology there in 1903.

In 1939 the University of London took the decision to move psychology teaching to another of its colleges, Birkbeck. But this term psychology has returned to King's as a BPS-accredited BSc degree course.

So it was very good to be with Prof Dame Til Wykes, Profs Shitij Kapur, Patrick Leman and Edgar Jones and course leader Dr Mike Aitken Deakin to help them to mark the occasion.

Mon, 22/02/2016 - 13:59

Following the recent New Savoy Conference there has rightly been a lot of press coverage of stress experienced by those working on the front line of psychological health services.

A notable example of this was an article for the Guardian website by Anne Cooke and Jay Watts, both Chartered members of the Society.

In an article that has attracted many comments and considerable attention on social media they write:

"When psychologists and therapists meet nowadays, the talk is often less about work and more about who’s just resigned, the latest edict about time limits and targets, and the pernicious market culture that is eroding what we do …

"The current focus is on producing figures that can win and keep contracts. Staff are often asked to see huge numbers of clients, for ever shorter time periods. What everyone wants from a therapist is someone who listens. But increasingly, listening has to compete with a demand to get to the next person on the list, to fill in outcome measures and assign diagnoses for accounting purposes or to enter in flowcharts that determine the help people get."

What is being done about this?

In addition to the Charter for Staff Wellbeing launched at the conference, the BPS is now leading on a collaborative network to work on promoting staff well-being through maximising self-care, reducing stigma and the barriers to disclosure and care seeking in staff, and working with employers to build psychologically healthy workplaces.

Fri, 19/02/2016 - 12:25

It was really good to be with the West Midlands Branch and their guests  in the Wig and Pen on 9 February in a very full upper room  for your monthly 'Psychology in the Pub' events. These events are such a good way of engaging a public and this evening was no exception. 

Of course, the rather edgy and controversial subject matter this time was a book debunking or, at the very least questioning, the pop star status that mindfulness has achieved recently, a particularly risky venture in the home city of the Oxford University Centre for Mindfulness, founded  by clinical psychology professors Mark Williams and Bill Kuyken.

Anyway, Coventry university psychologist researcher Miguel Farias and former research assistant, now child clinical psychologist, Catherine Wikholm rose to the challenge by talking to the  packed room, and fielding some pretty lively questions - about their amazingly successful recent book, 'The Buddha Pill', already now being translated into four other languages. You can see them holding their book and CD in the photograph.

Does mindfulness work! How does it work? What is it? Could it be harmful? For these and many other questions you'll just have to read the book, turn up to the next event, or both.

Thanks for having me and keep up the good work!

Thu, 11/02/2016 - 15:34

Thursday and Friday of last week saw me attending the ninth New Savoy Conference at the Millennium Hotel and Conference Centre in London. The conference, 'Psychological Therapies in the NHS' was organised by Jeremy Clarke CBE, who was at the forefront of the New Savoy Partnership of psychotherapy organisations, and was supported by the BPS, together with a plethora of other organisations.

Speakers included the Health and Communities Minister, Alistair Burt, MP, Shadow Mental Health Minister, Luciana Berger, MP, the Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Norman Lamb MP and the Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, with the BBC's Home Editor, Mark Easton, chairing some of the sessions.

Other speakers included a 'bench' of Professors: David Clark, Kevin Fenton, Peter Fonagy, Clare Gerada, David Haslam, Simon Wessely and yours truly, Paul Farmer and Jacqui Dyer from the Mental Health Taskforce, together with Karen Turner of NHS England, Dr Matthew Patrick from SLAM, Kathryn Pugh from the CYP mental health programme and Paul Burstow, formerly an MP and now Chair of the Tavistock and Portman Trust.

In addition, however, the Conference saw the launch of the BPS / New Savoy Charter for Psychological Wellbeing and Resilience , following on from work on psychological wellbeing in staff working in psychological therapies by a project team from the BPS DCP Leadership and Management Faculty: Amra Rao, Esther Cohen-Rovee, Gita Bhutani, Neelam Dosanjh and Sanjivan Parhar.

You can find slides, audio and photographs from the two days on the conference website.

Tue, 09/02/2016 - 14:19

The phtograph shows (left to right) Dr Nicola Doherty, Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, Ms Fiona McClements, Dr Lucia Valmaggia, Prof Martin Knapp, Dr Rachel Handley, Dr May McCann, Prof Eugene Mullan, Dr Michele Kavanagh, Prof Chris McCusker, Dr Richard Pemberton, Dr Michele Kavanagh, Dr Ciaran Shannon, Dr Jenny Maguire, Dr Adrian Boyd, Dr Gillian Mullan, Dr Siobhan Keating (missing from photo Dr Carolyn Mitchell)  

I was delighted to return to Northern Ireland so soon after the Northern Ireland Branch Policy Event in Stormont in November, this time for DCP (Division of Clinical Psychology) Northern Ireland's 50th anniversary conference.

The conference, held in the luxurious surroundings of Belfast's La Mon Hotel and Country Club, was attended by 180 of the nation's 250 psychologists, a fantastic attendance. 

Morning speakers included Professor Chris McCusker, BPS Northern Ireland Branch Chair on the history of clinical psychology in Northern Ireland, Drs Jenny Maguire, Nicola Doherty, Geraldine Scorr-Heyas, Carolyn Mitchell and Siobhan Keating, all on innovations in Northern Ireland, and Professor Eugene Mullan and Dr Rachel Handley from Exeter University on 'industrialisation or modernisation. 

Afternoon speakers included Professor Martin Knapp from the LSE, a presentation on user involvement by Drs Michele Kavanagh and May McCann and a number of further talks on innovation by Drs Adrian Boyd, Gillian Mullan and Ms Fiona Clements, ending with an engaging talk on the use of virtual reality by Dr Lucia Valmaggia from the IPPN in London.

After the formal evening dress awards dinner(something I've been trying to encourage across the Society throughout my Presidency) I was privileged and honoured to present lifetime achievement awards to Professor Robin Davidson and Professor Nichola Rooney, an outstanding achievement award to Professor Chris McCusker, a team award to the Queen's University Belfast clinical psychology training course team, and an early career award to Dr Alex Bailie.

And then, after the awards, the Northern Ireland clinical psychologists danced the night away to wedding band Platinum, together with a few guest vocal spots and an appearance by a mystery bassist ...

A fantastic day and night, hard to beat for content, attendance, atmosphere and enjoyment, which has definitely set the bar for the rest of this year's conferences.

Tue, 26/01/2016 - 11:30

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes giving a lectureI was pleased to take up an invitation from Professor Philip Murphy, Head of Psychology at Edge Hill University (of which child clinical psychologist Professor Tanya Byron is Chancellor) to visit the university and psychology department this week.

I met the staff and answered their questions, heard about the department's impressive research record and recorded a video interview. If was then my honour to give what proved to be a really well attended public lecture on 'The role and relevance of psychology in today's world' before returning home after a very welcome buffet supper.

A really worthwhile visit and the future of psychology is in safe hands. Thank you, Edge Hill.

Fri, 22/01/2016 - 11:19