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Counselling and psychotherapy

One on one… with Dr Maureen McIntosh

‘Try to be fearless', advises the Chair of the British Psychological Society's Division of Counselling Psychology.

10 October 2016

One timeless quote
Nelson Mandela – ‘Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.’

One TV series
In 1977 I remember the powerful impact on me of a television series called Roots, about an African-American man who was looking for his ancestry. I was born in the UK and my grandmother was born in Costa Rica. Aged 18 she moved to Jamaica, my paternal great-grandmother was born in China and she moved to Jamaica. My parents were born in the Caribbean and they moved to the UK in the 1960s. I didn’t know very much about black history back then, or issues such as slavery. As I watched Roots I felt shocked about the trauma that black people experienced (and still do). The scene with Kunte Kinte being beaten in order to relinquish his name was profoundly disturbing, but also empowering as he remained strong in the face of adversity.

One inspiration
In my late 20s with a young family I decided to go into higher education. My first psychology tutor was a passionate, strong, inspiring and a very knowledgeable black woman. I was always interested in psychology, empathically engaging with who people are and what their concerns were. In one lesson she told the class she would soon be starting her PhD in psychology. The way she spoke about it inspired me to believe that I could become a Doctor of Psychology one day. This self-belief has led me to becoming Chair of the Division of Counselling Psychology.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
Learn, learn, learn, and read, read, read; whilst connecting it to clinical practice or the particular field of psychology you decide to go into. Keep yourself up to date and relevant as a psychologist because the current climate is so changeable (sometimes cruelly so). Fundamentally, if you are delivering psychological therapy, it is important to always keep the client’s subjective experience at the centre of what you do, within a strong, safe trusting therapy relationship throughout your career.

One hope
That all psychologists can aspire to Gandhi’s words and ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.

One choice
To be more accepting and tolerant of others that are different from our own familiar cultural groups. Try to be fearless when confronting discrimination and social injustice as that is how we can bring healing and love to the world we live in.

One thing organised psychology could do better
I believe that genuine cross-divisional working could be a positive way of strengthening the membership of different Divisions in the BPS, and also in the contexts where psychologists work. Barriers such as assumed hierarchies of superiority create inequalities that are not always spoken of openly. The BPS could be more active in celebrating the unique competencies and principles each Division brings to the table. It should above all embrace the many overlapping similarities that contributes rich psychological knowledge for the well-being of others. Many years ago I remember someone describing the different Divisions as a ‘family’. Highlighting the similarities rather than the differences can be influential in how other organisations or institutions choose to treat psychologists, regardless of which Division they are from.

One regret
That the world is less tolerant, less accepting of difference and less willing to share the power. It is reflected within psychology, where ethnic minorities are accessing statutory services in small percentages. Also ethnic minorities are under-represented within psychology training programmes. These issues have been talked about for many years, and nothing much as changed.

One poem
Last year I completed two poetry-for-wellbeing courses. Here’s an acrostic of the word relationships I’d like to share:

Relating well to others.
Encounters can sometimes
be complicated.
Learning to iron out the difficulties and communicate in helpful ways.
Appreciating we won’t always share the same perspectives.
Tuning into the other person’s viewpoint.
Initiating and creating opportunities for new understandings.
Openness through sharing
and supporting each other.
Nurturing and nourishing others where possible.
Shifting to the rhythm of different melodies.
Holistically giving and gifting to each other.
Interacting, influencing and inspiring others.
Personable and person-centred in one’s engagement.
Sorting through ways of relating to find harmony
and peace.