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Presidential Blog

Eight months of success in making psychology relevant to citizens and the real world

21 December 2016 | by Peter Kinderman

Christmas is a time for good news. And we definitely need good news right now. I can’t bring you tidings of social justice and the defence of human rights becoming guiding principles of governments worldwide, but I can bring you Presidential good tidings from the British Psychological Society.

When I took up the role of President I called upon the Society to live up to its charitable obligation to make psychology relevant to citizens and the real world.

Over the last eight months we have supported and been a driving force behind:

We’ve led discussions in the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh parliaments and assemblies on issues such as acquired brain injury and offending, dementia and refugees and asylum seekers.

We’ve been active and influential on the joint Department of Health and Department of Work and Pensions expert advisory group on work and health and influenced the content of the green paper Improving Lives on benefits reform – guided by our principled and active lobbying on the issues of benefits conditionality - and the failings of the Work Capability Assessment.

We’ve issued assertive press releases (and supplied spokespeople) on issues as broad as human rights, child abuse, funding of health and social care, social justice and Brexit.

And we're leading on peer-to-peer discussions, including at party conferences, on future funded training models for applied psychology (exploring the benefits of a higher level apprentice model), the development of national clinical guidelines, the so-called ‘replicability’ or ‘reproducibility crisis’ in psychology, the status of psychology as a science subject and the impact of our research in the real world.

There's more, but it's Christmas, and too many good things can be overwhelming.

I think there’s plenty to be proud of. It takes work to influence and we need to make sure we can take the time to listen. So I would like, in particular, to thank both the professional staff of the Society and the experts – both members of the Society and members of the public -– who have been prepared to be upfront and centre stage.

But we’re speaking out in complex and occasionally contentious areas.

So, for example, our position on Work Capability Assessment, sanctions and benefits, is clear: while people with disabilities and mental health conditions deserve to receive benefits commensurate with their needs, this should be based on their individual needs, not their ‘capacity for work’, that therefore, welfare conditionality is an inappropriate approach, that the Work Capability Assessments are invalid, not fit for purpose and carried out in the absence of necessary expertise in understanding complex conditions, that benefits sanctions are ineffective and harmful, and illogical from the perspective of psychological science, and that linking healthcare to the benefits system is unethical, ineffective and could have severely detrimental consequences for vulnerable groups.

Work can be good for health, but only if it’s undertaken voluntarily, and is appropriate, supportive and sustainable.  But merely shouting at politicians (from the letters page of the Guardian) isn't enough. We need to sit down with them. That isn't 'collaboration'; it's mature professionalism. 

Influencing policy also means prioritisation, which sometimes involves saying "no". The BPS has finite resources so we need to focus our efforts on where we know we can make the most impact. But... pleasingly for this message of goodwill... sometimes saying "no" maturely and professionally, brings success...

Formulation is central to our identity as psychologists and vital for the kind of multi-professional, integrated, health and social care we all want. This year has seen two interesting developments here – quite apart from the obvious fact that major policy developments such as the continuing emphasis on wellbeing as a goal for government and the NHS mental health Five Year Forward View implicitly place such formulation at the heart of policy.

Following joint working with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Nursing and Health Education England, we were successful in ensuring that formulation was included as a core element of the mental health core skills framework (due to be launched imminently). But we were recently faced with a minor dilemma.

We had been asked to endorse a set of recommendations for record-keeping and reporting within mental health and social care. Nearly all of them were good, but we were disappointed to find that, while ‘diagnosis’ (in the context of mental health care) was listed as a mandatory element, there was little attention paid to alternative approaches.

Our position isn’t of course, to reject or oppose diagnosis as an element of care, but to ensure that alternative and complementary approaches are given attention commensurate with their importance. So we declined to ‘endorse’ these recommendations, while explaining our logic and expressing our support for the work.

The response has been positive, as we are now in discussions about how formulation – and other key elements of multidisciplinary care and social perspectives on the delivery of services – can also be incorporated in mandatory record-keeping and reporting. So I welcome this, again, as an example of effective professional lobbying.

Very little in this field is dramatic - except perhaps Brexit and a Trump presidency. But I think it is abundantly clear that the Society, its members and staff, are making progress.

I can look back at what seem to me to be eight eventful but successful months (and apologies if your most cherished issues haven’t been reported: there is, inevitably, much more left unspoken).

I also need to look back at eight months that couldn’t have been as successful as they have been without the skilled work of the employees of the Society… so thank you! … and Happy Christmas.

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