Northern Ireland Branch

Northern Ireland Branch

Welcome to the Northern Ireland Branch of the British Psychological Society.

You will able to find all the latest information for Northern Ireland. Our Northern Ireland Branch, although based in Northern Ireland, supports Society members throughout the whole of Ireland.

We hold regular events and contact members with updates and news all year round. Becoming a part of a branch automatically comes with your membership if you live in the UK. Branches exist for you to meet up and exchange ideas with others in your local geographic area.

When you join the British Psychological Society, you automatically become a regional member.

The Branch has a membership announcement email list to inform members of activities and initiatives that are relevant and specific to our members as well as requests for engagement on topical issues.

For more information on joining, please click here


 *** 2015 AGM details are now available here***


Latest Update from the Chair:

Dear Members

This quarter saw the launch of the North West Hub along with a very successful event symposia on Trauma by the Division of Forensic Psychology.

The Society also held a conference for A-Level students during which young people were offered the opportunity to showcase their hard work.

Meanwhile, we are already preparing for our Annual Conference which this year will take place 20-22 May.

The Branch is excited to share information on activities and events that are planned for this quarter and also to give you a snap-shot of what goes on across all of the Divisions. In this update:

We wish all our members a very Happy New Year!

Best wishes

Prof. Carol McGuinness

Branch Chair

FOCUS on the Division of Forensic Psychology

This quarter we’ve decided to take a sneak peek into what the Division of Forensic Psychology has been getting up to. The Committee Chair was honoured with a very special award and the Division held a very successful event at Queens University, Belfast.

Professor Jackie Bates-Gaston has been honoured by the Division of Forensic Psychology for her contribution to the Professional Practice of Forensic Psychology at a special awards ceremony at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow on 25 June. Jackie is currently Chief Psychologist and Head of Psychology in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, a position she has held for 22 years. She is also the current Chair of the NI Division of Forensic Psychology.

Jackie has achieved much success throughout her career which has spanned through the Conflict and has continued in the transition to peace, under the creation of the NI Assembly and the devolution of justice powers. Career highlights include developing and pioneering the development of a post-incident care service to both prisoners, staff and families and introducing assessment centres for the recruitment and selection of new officers and governors, ensuring equality of opportunity.

Deepak Anand, Chair of the National Division of Forensic Psychology said:
“Jackie’s humility and integrity has won her strong professional support and allies in the UK and Ireland where she has been pivotal in the development and recognition of the importance of Forensic Psychology within criminal justice.”


Aggression Research and Forensic Psychological Practice Lecture. (Written by Clare Byrne) 

Professor Jane Ireland came to Belfast to share her experience in the field of aggression research and forensic psychological practice, with a packed-room of practitioners from a range of disciplines and backgrounds.

She highlighted some concepts, approaches and terminology that had become well established during the development of this field, but are no longer supported by research evidence. For example, did you know that terms like “instrumental aggression” and “instinctive violence” come from animal research and their use is not supported by evidence from human aggression research?

Prof Ireland argued that interventions for aggression often have a limited focus on cognitions, are not gender neutral, and are often based on delinquency research without referring to aggression literature. She also suggested that focusing on typologies of aggression (e.g. verbal aggression, sexual violence, burglary with intent, domestic abuse, instrumental violence etc.) is unhelpful because they detract from the key issue: the motivation for aggression, which is what needs to be addressed in treatment.

The focus of her talk, however, was not about criticising existing approaches, but on highlighting developments in aggression theory that we can put into practice. For example, did you know that the key age for direct aggression is 3-4 years old? From that point on, it has been asserted, we don’t learn how to be aggressive, we simply don’t learn how to be non-aggressive. Biological and environmental factors such as pain, hunger, heat and sleep deprivation also have an important part to play.

Prof Ireland described why it was helpful for any work that aims to address aggression to understand and work with:

  • The motivation for aggression
  • A range of emotions (not just anger)
  • A range of cognitions (scripts, schemas, normative beliefs, hostile attributions) Environmental factors
  • Developmental factors
  • Developing non-aggression

Aggression theory, she advised, suggests that we can develop generic interventions for aggression that can be widely applied to diverse groups, by building on gender-neutral aggression research and incorporating developmental and environmental perspectives. The key is in focussing on the motivation for aggression (what function it serves for the individual) rather than the aggressive act. In practice, then, such an intervention could be employed in different settings, with groups being selected in a way that is sensitive to the finer details of the problem behaviours or populations in question. She gave some examples of how her “Life Minus Violence” programme had been applied in these ways.


Clinical Formulation & Attachment Lecture. (Written by Michael McCracken)

Despite the fact Belfast was enjoying what was possibly the hottest day of the year a packed lecture theatre of eager attendees welcomed Dr Mark Conachy on to the podium for his lecture on clinical formulation and attachment theory.  The event was organised by the local division of forensic psychology though it attracted interest from clinical, forensic, and educational psychologists as well as students and allied health professionals.

It was immediately evident that Mark has a great deal of knowledge and experience in this area but was equally striking about his presentation was his enthusiasm and passion for the work his team do for the children and young people in Northern Ireland through the Therapeutic Support Services team.

Mark discussed his team’s approach, went on to describe clinical formulation as a shared meaningful narrative of a person’s experiences, and outlined attachment theory before finishing his lecture with a poignant case study.  He also made some challenging observations about how young people experience the care system(s).  Mark observed how young people are passed between and within systems, that the same client experiences different “treatment” in these various systems, and that there is a tension and lack of attunement between systems.  He also considered that there is a dearth of underpinning therapeutic rationale and psychologically driven formulation and intervention for these young people who have a rather complex mix of symptoms.

When I reflected on Mark’s lecture and my own practice the one thing that has really stuck in my mind was what Mark quoted from Lucy Johnstone (The Observer, Sunday 12th May 2013)

In essence, instead of asking ‘What is wrong with you?’ we need to ask ‘What has happened to you?’”

Thank you to Mark and the DFPNI organisers for arranging this event.  It was stimulating, informative, challenging, and I’m looking forward to the next one.  


Upcoming Events: 

8 January 2015
Advances in Aggression Research and Application to Forensic Practice
The Pavillion, Stormont Estate, Belfast.

20 February 2015
A Flavour of Psychology
Whitla Hall, Queen’s University Belfast.

21 February 2015
Annual All-Ireland Psychology Undergraduate Careers Event
Whitla Hall, Queen’s University Belfast.

25 February
Forensic Psychology Research Symposia
The Open University Belfast. 

1 April 2015
12th Annual Psychology, Health & Medicine Conference
Stranmillis University College, Belfast. 


Policy Corner

Do you want influence and shape future policy which will have a bearing on our profession and society in Northern Ireland? Have you thought about contributing to a consultation response? We have detailed some the latest we’ve been working on below:

Use of Expert Witnesses in Courts in NI (DoJ): The purpose of this consultation is to consider the deployment and remuneration arrangements for those expert witnesses in the justice system in Northern Ireland who are funded from the legal aid budget. It is part of a wider legal aid reform programme and flows from a specific recommendation in the Access to Justice Review. This consultation invites comments on how the current arrangements might be strengthened to ensure that expert testimony can make the most useful and appropriate contribution and is cost effective. Closes 20 February. You can find more here.

A Strategy to Improve the Lives of People with Disabilities 2012-2015 (OFMdFM):To monitor the success of the ‘A Strategy to improve the lives of people with disabilities 2012 - 2015’, OFMDFM, in conjunction with advisory groups, has developed an interim set of draft indicators. There are also some gaps in these draft indicators where suitable data could not be found. OFMdFM are interested to hear any suggestions on how to fill these gaps with robust and relevant data. Closes 27 February. You can find more here.

Legislation Tracker:

Draft Mental Capacity Bill: The Consultation on the Bill closed on 2 September. Officials are in the process of analysing the 121 responses received and will publish an analysis report in due course. DHSSPS aims to seek Executive approval in March 2015 to introduce the Bill into the Assembly.


The BPS Thematic Priorities:

What do you know about the BPS Thematic Priorities?

The BPS Board of Trustees have considered areas where they feel the BPS should focus on influencing policy and legislation. The priorities that they have chosen provide overarching direction for the development of BPS policy, with a focus on access to psychological therapies and behavioural change.

The NIBPS in collaboration with NI Divisions have been considering how best to engage with these priorities. Moving forward we are likely to engage more meaningfully with BPS Working Groups by increasing Northern Ireland representation. We will also increase our engagement with politicians in line with upcoming legislation that is in line with the above themes and we plan to introduce a policy event at the 2015 NIPBS Annual Conference.


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