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Shoulder to shoulder: collaborative working in psychology

28 June 2018 | by Nicola Gale

Collaborative working is generally something psychologists aspire to, and yet it can be hard to achieve in practice. Workplaces, education institutions, and professional organisations like our Society, still tend to be arranged on single disciplinary lines.

Yet the issues our work deals with are, for the most part, held in common, the complexity of the problems we face, necessitates a breadth as well as a depth of knowledge, to begin to make a difference. Whilst the range of our discipline makes psychologists ideal contributors to meeting wider societal needs, these efforts will be most fruitful when harnessed together with the endeavours of others.

BPS in the South West recently made strides with precisely this sort of approach. A one day event entitled 'Public Health and Social Justice: Stronger Together', organised by branch chair Iain MacLeod and Plymouth University Clinical Psychologist Annie Mitchell, was held on 13 April in a community building in Taunton.

It was my pleasure to introduce the event and make the links to our policy framework and core policy objectives (about which I have written before) on prevention, and psychologically informed policy across the board.

Social justice and public health are areas many psychologists are passionate about so the good attendance was perhaps not surprising. What was surprising, however, was the real sense of common purpose across the range of psychology disciplines and different career stages (from trainess to career practitioners to retired professionals) represented in the room, as well as the presence of many non-psychologists too.

An exercise run by former trainees from the University of Plymouth, and adapted from broader multidisciplinary working to more specific domains of psychology, encouraged attendees to reflect on misconceptions and broaden itheir deas about other aspects of the discipline. A diverse range of stimulating topics for discussion were presented by the speakers, including austerity, education, brain injury, and benefits. Finally, Playback, a theatre Company based in the South West who had observed the day, picked up and amplified, through drama, the feelings, reflections and thoughts from the day as a whole.

Another example of collaboration was the meeting hosted in the U.K. on 11 May on Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Psychology, hosted as part of the European Semester of the EFPA Standing Committee. This was led by the EFPA Convenor, Magda Rooze from the Netherlands, and included a pre-meeting symposium on 'Working Together for a Safer World', organised by the UK representative on the Standing Committee, Noreen Tehrani.

This brought together psychologists with other organisations who are leaders in the field including Save the Children, the Jill Dando Institute for Security and Crime Science, Surrey and Sussex Police, the British Red Cross, Public Health England, and the College for Policing. Topics discussed included safeguarding, employer duty of care, dealing with disasters, and early intervention.

The importance of collaboration, both academically and by practitioners in the field, was clear in informing crisis and disaster responses. Crisis and disaster are shared phenomena and deserve a shared response. Ensuring that this is an evidence based approach and, where necessary, changing perceptions, also came across as clear themes from the event.

The BPS will meet shortly with one of the organisations represented to consider how we might be able mutually to support our joint endeavours. The fact that this meeting was an EFPA meeting also opens doors to appropriate Europe-wide sharing of expertise and development, as well as political influencing which would not be possible for any one organisation.

Our Annual Conference too provided many examples of collaboration in action, from papers and symposia, to workshops and posters, etc. I'd like to specifically highlight two rather different ones though.

One was the Fringe Event on 'Moving Psychological Science Forward', where felegates from across psychology and at all career stages, together with our international guests, talked openly and challenged the issues around scientific integrity and the implications for research practice, led by a panel which included Daryl O'Connor (chair of the BPS Research Board and Convenor for the EFPA Board of Scientific Affairs), Lisa Morrison Coulthard (Lead Policy Advisor), and Brian Nosek, the day's very well received keynote speaker.

Another was the birthday celebration for 30 years of The Psychologist and 15 years of The Research Digest, hosted by Psychologist Managing Editor Jon Sutton along with Christian Jarrett (Editor of the Research Digest), and Staff Journalist Ella Rhodes. These publications showcase the range of developments in our discipline (both in print and online), and share them not only with fellow psychologists but make them available to the wider public too, to facilitate psychologists collaborating with each other across the discipline, and journalists collaborating with psychologists in turn.

How we organise ourselves can either facilitate or get in the way of collaboration. The Structural Review picked up pace again at the beginning of May, with a meeting on the 30th of April of a reconstituted review group, with representatives from across all our member networks and geographical organisations.

It was a very promising start, with presentations from senior staff on each of the facets of the review to date, as well as discussions and decisions on what needed to be the next steps, and it quickly became evident to those present much welcome change can be achieved.

The review has recently appointed an external consultant, Judith Toiland, to work alongside our Chief Executive Sarb Bajwa, Director of Member Services Annjanette Wells, and Project Officer Liam Gallagher, on ways in which the process can be facilitated and driven forward.

Substantive plans are being prepared across 10 key work streams and members will be consulted extensively and kept informed, so please keep an eye out for this as well as Liam’s forthcoming regular blog too.

For more information about the review, including our latest updates, please click here to visit our Structural Review page.

What strikes me as I reflect on these examples of collaboration is that we have to change our thinking. Silo working is deeply ingrained and often a consequence of training but we need to reach out across the discipline. We are the single, unified voice of psychology and, perhaps more importantly, the issues we address are complex and involve key stakeholders from a broad range of disciplines. We need to forge partnerships and dialogue not just within but also outside the profession.

Collaboration can drive us to think anew about the role of psychology and its role in addressing these problems, and it is clear that there is enormous goodwill and a desire to collaborate which needs to be translated into action. The structural review and the work on crisis and disaster responses are good examples of how we are putting that appetite for change into operation.

It is evident from the above examples that the type of cross-discipline working and collaboration that will help us achieve our objectives is something our members are already exploring and making a success of.

The Interim Senate will be the next major Society opportunity for members to take this further.

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