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Presidential Blog

No more "us and them" please

09 November 2016 | by Peter Kinderman

For me, a scientific, rational, cool examination of human nature leads me to the conclusion that there is no such thing as "abnormal psychology" and that we should drop the language of "disorder". This isn’t just an intellectual game. In my opinion, it has real-world implications.

Everybody makes sense of their world, and does so on the basis of the experiences that they have and the learning that occurs over their lifetime. We all use the same basic processes to understand the world, even if we come to very different conclusions.

Rather than seeing "them" as having illnesses for which we have a moral obligation to show sympathy, I believe that genuine empathy and compassion comes from seeing people’s difficulties as understandable and natural responses to the terrible things that have happened to them. This is about recognising the essential legitimacy of the “anguish and suffering of other human beings”.

But we also need to take practical steps to realise this. This week, I was at the Group of Trainers in Clinical Psychology conference. We discussed practical steps necessary to facilitate the greater involvement of experts by experience and the wider public in our work. We also discussed our own psychological wellbeing, and how the experiences of all other human beings are reflected in the experiences of psychologists and students.

We’ve started this process. Both Jamie Hacker Hughes, the BPS Vice-President, and I have talked – in different ways – about these issues.

Slightly more practically, the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology has commented that it hopes: “to contribute to the move away from a ‘them and us’ position between professionals and experts by experiences – to one where there is ‘only us’…” , and quoted Sally Edwards as saying: “I am a human being that is experiencing and surviving life in my own unique way…just like every other human being on the planet”.

We need to do more. 

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