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Presidential Blog

Pushing for change today and encouraging the psychologists of tomorrow

21 December 2017 | by Nicola Gale

The work of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Psychology, chaired by Lisa Cameron MP, continues apace with our Policy Unit (supported by our professional policy consultants WA Communications) providing the secretariat.

On 14 November at Westminster, the APPG hosted the launch of our new report Psychology at Work: Improving Wellbeing and Productivity in the Workplace. The event was well attended, including by those with lived experience of some of the issues covered in the report.

On the panel were the report's authors, Nancy Doyle and Ashley Weinberg, who talked through the motivations behind the content of the report, and some of the key themes.

John Levell from The British Dyslexia Association also offered a first-hand account of the difficulties faced by people with hidden disabilities in the workplace and spoke of his work setting up a dyslexia network in a global professional services firm.

Most of us spend a very significant amount of our lives at work, and work often plays a major part in how we see ourselves, how we are seen, our values and our social engagement and activities.

The report recognises this, and makes the central point that while good work is by and large beneficial to us, work that is poorly designed, that is not well organised, and challenging work environments, can create or exacerbate mental health conditions.

For some people with physical or mental health conditions or disabilities, a lack of the right support from employers can make finding and keeping a meaningful job difficult, while for many people who are unemployed, navigating the current welfare system to find work, claim benefits, or seek suitable support can be an extremely negative experience.  

This central theme resonated for me with my experiences running an occupational health psychology service supporting staff through the challenges that the workplace can present. The report makes recommendations in each of the core areas it covers. In relation to psychologically healthy workplaces, the recommendations range from incentives and guidance through to the board level sponsorship and engagement that in my experience is critical for such initiatives to get beyond nice to have ‘add ons’ for when times are good. 

To support neurodiverse people (people whose cognitive functions such as thinking, attention, memory, and impulse control are affected) in the workplace, the report champions early access to services, use of psychological evidence and further research, and most importantly encouraging employers to actively create a culture of disclosure and encourage employees to seek the right support when they need it, making it easier for staff to disclose neurodiverse conditions, and following this with a workplace needs assessment and implementation of any strategies and provision of equipment that are recommended.

I would emphasise also the need to tackle stigma and misunderstandings that so often adversely affect people in the workplace. 

There is something in the report for pretty much all of our membership, I think. It sets a standard for what we are all entitled to expect in the workplace. It paints a picture of what good management or employment can look like. It provides some important guidance on the main considerations for how to deal well with issues that arise in the workplace. It also campaigns for policy makers to address the concerns that the Society, led by our Lead Policy Adviser/Acting Director of Policy Lisa Morrison Coulthard, has been raising with the Government in relation to work as an outcome. 

The report calls for ‘meaningful activity’ rather than ‘work’ as an outcome measure, for the Government’s approach to welfare should be based upon encouragement and incentives rather than punitive measures and coercion to encourage job uptake, and in particular for the Government to suspend the use of sanctions in the welfare system and commission an independent review of the link between the sanctions regime and the mental health and wellbeing of individuals.

Successive UK governments have attempted to address issues around work, health, and disability, but this has yet to achieve real traction.

This new BPS report brings together evidence from across the discipline to demonstrate how policy makers can better tackle these interconnected challenges. Our call for the suspension of sanctions for people with mental health conditions was quoted on The Andrew Marr Show in an interview with the Rt Hon David Gauke MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. 

Another group of members has been working on a Consensus statement relating to people with complex mental health difficulties who are diagnosed with a ‘personality disorder’ (an enduring pattern of emotional and cognitive difficulties which affect the way in which the person relates to others or understands themselves), addressing the exclusion and poor provision of services for those given this diagnostic label. 

One important area is barriers to employment, so these two pieces of work can be connected.

Again, from my experience working in occupational health, this is an area where there is a need for the tackling of stigma, greater openness and understanding especially of the context of individuals’ lives, and provision of adjustments and support to facilitate access to and maintenance of employment. The Society will publicise this work shortly. 

Finally, November and December saw the Society’s annual investment in the many students and graduates of psychology across the UK, who are preparing for their entry to the workplace.

Psychology4Students took place this year in Nottingham in the Grade II* listed buildings of the Nottingham Trent University Conference Centre and in London, with Psychology4Graduates also held in London. Both London events were at The Kia Oval, home of Surrey County Cricket Club, which presented many photo and selfie opportunities for the delegates (and the speakers and organisers seemed quite keen too!). 

Around 1,000 students, graduates, teachers, and some parents attended the events. They were very well organised by our conferences and events team led by Kerry Wood and Lianne Goddard, and choreographed on the days by new staff member James Sarson.

Our membership team including Liam Gallagher and Sunarika Sahota were on hand with plenty of careers and study advice. Our standing conference committee of members provided the member input and people for the students and graduates to chat to on the day and role model the range of opportunities our discipline presents, led by Chair Michael Smith. 

Psychology4Students focused on offering tasters of psychology as a discipline. In Nottingham, students heard from Alison Torn about her ‘quiltmaker’ career, about critical psychology from Thomas Muskett, Phil Banyard on techniques to explore questions and phenomena, and Stephen Gibson reassessing common (mis)understanding of Milgram’s obedience experiments. 

In London, the programme included analysis of conversation from Elizabeth Stokoe, ‘what Donald Trump and ISIS have in common’ from Steven Reicher, the psychology of politicians from Ashley Weinberg, a very entertaining demonstration of why magic works from Gustav Kuhn, before ending with ‘lost in music’ telling us how music works by Catherine Loveday. 

Psychology4Graduates focused on careers, and graduates heard about the importance of psychological research for policing and crime from Paul Dawson, from our very own staff journalist Ella Rhodes about the synergies between journalism and psychology, from Vincent Deary with a case example showing how health psychology helps people, from a team from the clinical psychology pre-qualification group, Elise Marriott and Alice McNamara supported by David Murphy on clinical training, and finally were inspired by Paralympian Sophie Carrigill on how psychology helped her. 

There have been other milestone events in the last two months too.

For example a breakfast roundtable meeting to bring together an expert group of parliamentarians, clinicians and policy influencers interested in helping people to live well with dementia to discuss the BPS report ‘Psychological dimensions of dementia: Putting the person at the centre of care’.  And our Practice Guidelines are now available in Welsh, an important step for the Society to have taken. 

All of this work continues to advance our aims as set out in our impact statement:

‘People are equipped with the everyday psychological skills and knowledge to navigate a complex world, knowing themselves and others better. Everyone can access evidence-based psychology to enhance their lives, communities and wider society.’  

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