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The breadth of psychology - and of our Society activity

12 October 2016 | by Peter Kinderman

Psychology is a discipline and profession that spans the whole range of human experience. 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, 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. That makes it a great choice for university study, especially because this real-world application is combined with scientific, numerate, and literate skills that give our students a fantastic start.   

But the breadth of our discipline – and our Society activity – poses challenges. Challenges for me, personally, and challenges for the excellent and hard-working BPS staff  (many of whom, I’ve learned, have degrees, postgraduate degrees and professional qualifications in psychology, which is wonderful, reassuring and useful).

There is a conceptual and resource-intensive Venn diagram of intersecting interests. The BPS is represented by a large (irregular) curvilinear form (not quite a circle), which encompasses the issues I mentioned above. But, for each issue, there are other professions, disciplines and statutory agencies, each with their own, perfectly legitimate, place on the Venn diagram. We overlap, and with multiple colleagues.

My particular area of practice is mental health, where the work of the Society – particularly our clinical and counselling divisions – overlaps with the interests of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. But of course, this relationship is mirrored in all the other areas of the Society’s work (education and young people, the criminal justice system, healthcare, employment), where other parties also occupy the space.

One consequence is that the President of the British Psychological Society has numerous pressures on her or his time. It also means that our colleagues have many, varied, activities to serve. It also means delegation – and that means a plea to Members.

The colleagues doing the day-to-day business of the Society cannot all be academic professors or members of the BPS Board of Trustees, they have to be women and men with their boots on the ground and their knees under the desks. People working in the NHS or in schools or in prisons.

I’ve also been reminded – this weekend at our congregation of psychologists and human rights experts, meeting under the auspices of the European Federation of Psychology Associations (EFPA), the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), and the EIUC (European Inter-University Centre for human rights and democratisation) at the Monastery of San Nicolò, the EIUC global village in Venice [] – that psychology has also equipped us with skills to help address these challenges.

Ultimately we remain citizens of the world, able to engage with, respect, and empathise with other people, including people in great distress. But we also apply our psychological science – to mental health, and to human rights… and to their intersection.

We have distinctive skills, which complement those of our colleagues in other professions, which allow us to access, understand, apply and evaluate theories and models of human behaviour, thought and interaction. In the Venn diagram of cooperation, these are valuable.

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