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‘See the great picture, and don’t get lost in the daily tasks’

Telmo Mourinho Baptista, President of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations

04 December 2017

One important role for the European Semester, which is hosted by the UK from January to June 2018
The European Semester serves as a great opportunity to get together psychologists from all over Europe, and to understand the ways that psychology in a country develops and how the organisation that represents psychologists deals with the different challenges. It is a significant learning opportunity that reinforces the network of knowledge that EFPA wants to be.

One challenge Brexit brings for European psychology
Brexit should allow us to think and to explain how the forces of divisiveness can sometimes win over the need for cohesion, how people perceive these solutions as the best for them, even when historical events could lead us to think otherwise. This understanding should be made with the most respect for the choices of the people. It does not help to be dismissive or patronising. I think that we need to understand this very profoundly and derive consequences for politics and the choices that are now being presented to the different countries.

I can agree with reasons from both sides, but the final decision to leave the EU saddened me. The UK is a critical part of the EU. However, I am glad to have signed a joint statement initiated by the British Psychological Society the day after the referendum, stating ‘The result of the referendum on the UK’s future relationship with the European Union will not drive us apart as psychologists.’

One person who inspired you
My philosophy teacher in high school, Alberto Ferreira, was a model teacher and human being. He taught me the value of open discussions, intellectual pursuit, and the mutual respect as a basis for a relationship with students. Also, he gave me an excellent background in philosophy and showed me how this area can be helpful for science, politics and other subjects.

One moment that changed the course of your career
We were in 1978, two weeks before entering medical school (my choice of studies as I wanted to be a psychiatrist or a surgeon), and I went to the projection of a film in the British Council in Lisbon. The film was Knots, about the anti-psychiatry movement, based on the work of R.D. Laing. The person presenting the film was from a new faculty in Lisbon, the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences. I discovered that day that I could study psychology at the state university. The public studies of psychology were not allowed before the revolution of 1974 in Portugal. The next day I went to change my preferences, and in October of that year, I started.

One book you think all psychologists should read
Principles of Psychology by William James, for its enormous contribution, and for the pleasure of reading about psychology in a writing style that seems to be lost for science. I know it is old stuff, but I like to go back to the beginning of the history (and stories) of psychology.

One thing that you would change about psychology
I would like to have curricula that are more diverse regarding subjects outside psychology and more concerned about allowing people to have different practical experiences. Also, I would like to have more activism on behalf of psychology’s contribution to society.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
Contribute to the wellbeing of the world. See the great picture, and don’t get lost in the daily tasks. We are making the world a better place.

One cultural recommendation
Tchaikovsky Symphony No 6, ‘Pathétique’ conducted by a Russian conductor (Mravinsky, Gergiev or Kirill Petrenko). It is one of my favourite pieces of music. I am a music lover, and most activities in my life have a music track.

One alternative career path you may have chosen
Music, philosophy, medicine, and diplomacy, just to name a few. They will have to wait until my next lives.

One thing that makes me laugh
I laugh easily and I try to see the comic side of life. Rare is the day when I don’t laugh about the small things of life. And I am a big fan of the British humour, my favourite series of all being Monty Python.

One of my greatest achievements
The creation of the Order of Portuguese Psychologists (the national representative body of psychologists). It took seven years, and an enormous effort of many people, but one day in 2008 the law that created OPP became a reality. Then we had to organise all the 20,000 psychologists in Portugal. I’m very proud of what we achieved.

One treasured possession
I know they are not my possessions, but my friends are most important to me, and I am fortunate to have many from all over the world. They are my treasure, for sure. And now with all the different communication apps I am closer to them. I am also a bit of a geek for tech stuff.

One hero from psychology past or present
Jean Piaget.

One problem that psychology should deal with
Psychological knowledge and practice should be more applied to the mediation of peace processes. We need to address with empathy and respect the needs of the conflicting partners. Without addressing the suffering, the hurt continues and becomes a barrier to finding peaceful solutions. We already have outstanding examples of this kind of work, but politicians need to know we can help.

One thing that organised psychology could do better
The sharing of success stories of influencing policy with the knowledge derived from psychology. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and we should share more the successes that we have had so that we can have more influence in general. This is an ongoing project for me.

One great thing that psychology has achieved
Psychology has established itself as a sound science with methods and approaches that can give us knowledge and insight on human behaviour, but also derive many possible applications to better the human condition in many areas. We shouldn’t be modest in our objectives.

One hope for the future of psychology
That psychology gains a significant role in contributing to the wellbeing of humankind. Our influence is still minimal if we consider what we have to offer in so many fields. For that to happen, psychologists should be activists and be trained to have a public presence. It is essential to have a firm scientific ground for a field, and I think that psychology has achieved this. However, our citizens could benefit so much more from our knowledge if we can disseminate more what we can do and our successes.

One final thought
I am optimistic about the future. I usually say, ‘Keep talking’. If we do, we will, in the end, find ways to solve our old and new problems.

- Picture: Telmo Mourinho Baptista, right, pictured at the EFP General Assembly in Amsterdam, with Society member Tony Wainwright.