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Presidential Blog

Some successes, but complex problems

02 November 2016 | by Peter Kinderman

I became a psychologist more than a quarter of a century ago, so it shouldn't surprise you to learn that there’s been a lot of change in the profession since then.

In particular we have exceeded our own aspirations for the number of psychologists in health and social care (when I was applying for clinical psychology training, we were encouraged to read the ‘Management Advisory Service’ report into workforce planning, which introduced the ‘significant’ recommendation that as many as 300 people a year should be trained as applied psychologists). Then, it seemed that I needed to explain the concept of ‘clinical psychologist’ every time the title was mentioned, and terms like ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ were considered to be abstruse technical jargon.

It seems to me that, today, psychology and psychologists are much more ubiquitous. We hear conversations every day, it seems, about both psychological interventions (I was pleased to see and hear, yesterday, front-page coverage on the BBC of a new approach to caring for children experiencing chronic fatigue, developed in the Netherlands and based on cognitive behavioural principles) and, for that matter, this psychological understanding of human experiences described as “cool and exciting”. 

We’ve also seen some tentative indication that our lobbying, with, of course, colleagues, may have impact. This week the Government announced a (long overdue) review of its benefits policies, including the discredited ‘work capability assessment’.

These kinds of developments illustrate the complexity of policy change. None of these developments occur in a political vacuum.

This was illustrated for me last Wednesday, when I attended a workshop in the House of Commons on computerised CBT (cCBT). As well as representing the BPS as its President, I was interested because we’ve also been involved with on smartphone cCBT initiatives at Liverpool and Manchester universities. The workshop was largely very positive indeed, but it’s perhaps significant that it was organised around a report commissioned from an external research organisation by the Department for Work and Pensions.

I am of course pleased that psychological approaches, in this case delivered via the internet, are being actively considered, and I’m delighted that the conclusions are broadly positive.

And although I am aware of the controversial aspects of the issue, I’m also generally pleased that the Department for Work and Pensions is looking at ways to support people who are out of work and who might benefit from psychosocial therapies. Both I and other people at the workshop made it clear that sanctions and conditionality of benefits are inappropriate and ineffective anyway and should be entirely separated from such therapies which, in turn, should be seen as elements of a package of support developed on an individual basis (and, for psychologists, underpinned by a formulation). And cCBT could be part of the solution.

But the links between research and implementation, and the ways in which Government commission services across different agencies, are complex, and are often conducted in a highly politicised context.  

This week, the complex, varied, world of applied psychology continues for me, with the British Psychological Society’s 5th Military Psychology Conference, and the inaugural meeting of a new All Party Parliamentary Group on Psychology, chaired by Lisa Cameron, MP.


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