Letters

Including Freud, voluntary experience, the BPS as a bad parent, and much more.

Freud in perspective

GIVEN that this is the most accessible publication of the British Psychological Society, it is laudable to mark the 150th anniversary of Freud’s birth by a special issue. But was I the only one to notice the glaring incongruity between what appeared in the news section of the September special issue and the series of self-indulgent romanticised eulogies to Sigmund Freud that appeared in the later pages?
The news pages carried the results of a poll asking ‘What is the worst idea on the mind?’. Freud’s notion of hysteria was voted for as ‘probably the most profound medical misunderstanding of the last 150 years’. The chemical imbalance model of mental distress and Egas Moniz for his mutilating leucotomy procedure were also in the running; incidentally, leucotomy got the most votes. Over subsequent pages, seven of our colleagues demonstrated their ability to totally suspend their critical facilities and perpetuate facile Freudian mythology. We had Simon Baron-Cohen comparing Freud’s single case work to Darwin’s observations in the Galapagos. The psychoanalyst and neuropsychologist Mark Solms telling us that Freud was a ‘truth loving researcher’. And no less astonishing, Wendy Hollway stating that ‘Freud identified with women’!
Freud’s theories and his integrity as a reporter of single case work has been thoroughly exploded in numerous carefully researched and scholarly writings; such as, Israels and Schatzman; Powell and Boer; Esterson; Wilcocks; Crews; and in the stimulating intellectual exchanges on the website www.butterfliesandwheels.com.
As a profession, if we are going to put Freud’s contributions into perspective and talk about how his writings continue to influence research and practice, then let’s have a balanced debate, including the damage done to patients by Freudian notions of hysteria and the damage done to families by assiduous therapists unearthing ‘recovered memories’. Let’s include Freud’s backtracking and his circular logic impervious to clinical refutation and the scientific method. Let’s get the history right and realise that Freud did not introduce the idea of unconscious mental operations. Let’s hear more about Freud the inspired writer, but someone who saw mystery where others saw facts. After all, I doubt if we will see our neurosurgery colleagues reflect so sympathetically and dewy-eyed on the good work done by Egas Moniz.
The Psychologist is a key Society publication and accessible to many. The main contribution of the September special issue is to make us look like an immature profession, unable, or as yet unwilling to come to terms with the follies of its past.
Steven Kemp
St James’s University Hospital
Leeds

The right experience

I WAS delighted to see that at least one other person shares my concern about the ethics of the practice of recruiting ‘volunteers’ as ‘honorary assistant psychologists’ (‘Exploitation or opportunity?’, Letters, August 2006).
I know from personal experience that this practice very effectively excludes people who have limited financial means, since when I was seeking ‘clinically relevant experience’ (in 1989–1994) I was also a single parent. I simply could not afford to pay for childcare and travel expenses in order to undertake work which brought no income – and of course taking such work would also have jeopardised my government benefits (since if I could take a voluntary post as an assistant psychologist, the benefits agencies would have argued there was no reason not to take paid employment – however low paid or mismatched to my abilities).
People from all kinds of backgrounds may experience similar financial and practical constraints, even before one adds the issue of student debts which the letter mentioned. It is likely that this concern dissuades many people even from applying for honorary posts. It is also likely that the existence of honorary posts reduces the number of paid posts available – further reducing the opportunities available to those who cannot afford to take an unpaid post.
However, I have another ethical concern: recruitment for an honorary post is unlikely to follow the same stringent human resources and organisational procedures as recruitment for a funded post. Therefore it is possible that (for example) underrepresented groups would be less likely to obtain such posts or that some form of bias will creep into the selection of the successful ‘volunteer’.
Once recruited, the successful candidate is also unlikely to have access to the same supportive framework as a paid employee (e.g. appraisals), and to the best of my knowledge they are not protected by employment legislation. Therefore it seems that the ‘volunteer’ is more likely to be vulnerable to mistreatment (no statutory protection for sick leave, etc.) and yet has little means of resolving any issues which do arise, since most complaint and other processes are intended either for employees or clients, and the ‘volunteer’ is neither. What would happen if the successful candidate had a disability and needed some additional equipment or human support to allow them to take up the post? In paid work, these needs would be addressed by the Access to Work scheme, which is unlikely to be the case for a volunteer.
I believe that it is time that professional psychologists called for an end to such unethical practices: if the health service values the services we can provide and needs junior psychologists to help with that provision, then it should demonstrate their
value by funding for them, rather than playing on the vulnerability of those assumed to have ‘a vocation’. Perhaps, as a start, The Psychologist could refuse to publish the advertisements for unpaid posts?
Deb Viney
School of Oriental and African Studies
University of London

I THOUGHT James Bywater’s letter (August 2006) about unpaid positions in psychology services was unnecessarily negative and dramatic. Whilst I agree with his view that we need to be ever conscious of exploiting those people who seek relevant experience to enable them to confidently apply for clinical psychology training, there is another side to the story.
I help to organise volunteer placements in a clinical health psychology service. We receive numerous requests throughout the year from sixth-form college students, undergraduates and postgraduates requesting an opportunity to learn about the practice of clinical psychology. We focus on inviting graduates or postgraduates to participate in specific projects being carried out by one of the psychology team members.
The projects are time-limited and may involve, at most, a half to one day a week of volunteer time. This is negotiated with the volunteer and we never assume we have jurisdiction over the time they are able or willing to give, recognising their control in that aspect. They are also usually in paid work or further study or both and are seeking extra experience.
Last week we invited a dozen volunteer enquirers to a meeting to learn about clinical psychology training and to offer guidance about useful preparatory experiences. We were open and honest and didn’t sanitise what the daily practice of clinical psychology may involve. When I showed James’s letter to some of the volunteers in this service for their views, they said that the project involvement was of mutual benefit – they are
able to spend time with psychologists doing what they feel is worthwhile work (service audit/evaluation, patient focus groups, conference presentations); gain useful skills difficult to attain elsewhere; obtain advice and guidance about useful reading and job and course applications; are offered interview support; have access to a psychology assistant support group; and gain a reference from the project leader, detailing the volunteers’ contribution to the project and to the psychology service. They are able to discover if this is the kind of work they want to do. I’ve invited them to respond to James’s letter and make their contribution to the debate.
I’d like to end with two points: the potential for abuse of volunteer time and skills surely only arises if we treat them disrespectfully and of course we should mindfully monitor this; and also…’twas ever thus – haven’t people aiming for clinical psychology training always viewed volunteer work as one of the experiences open to them in exchange for learning and experience? I did 20 years ago. I was neither affluent nor desperate, simply eager to know.
Marie Stewart
Psychology Service
Royal Preston Hospital
Preston

THE news item entitled ‘Shortcomings highlighted in social science doctoral training’ (August 2006) caught my interest, on an ESRC survey report bemoaning the lack of PhD graduates with project management and leadership capabilities. I continued nodding sagely when I then read James Bywater’s letter discussing whether the practice of retaining ‘honorary assistant psychologists’ in unpaid positions was ‘exploitation or opportunity’. Sadly, both struck a personal dissonant chord.
When I decided to undergo a career change 10 years ago, I left a well-remunerated middle-management position in logistics with a ‘blue chip’ company to embark on a psychology degree, followed by a master’s degree and ultimately a research PhD. There is now light at the end of the academic tunnel, but I am fearful that I will have to succumb to advertising my services for free in the information section of The Psychologist – not unlike a lonely hearts column.
Whilst I concur with the sentiment of James Bywater’s letter, I realise that in order to get a toe on the employment ladder I am going to have to do what it takes, and at whatever financial cost. Will my previous business acumen stand me in good stead, as suggested by the ESRC survey, or will employers shy away from my application due to my lack of experience regardless of 10 years’ training and education?
I believe the latter to be more likely, and therefore am resigned to the fact that I will have to proffer my services for free in order to gain the required experience.
I agree with Mr Bywater that such ‘honorary’ positions are unfair and arguably unethical. It galls me that academically well-qualified individuals don’t even warrant the minimum wage, but as a 38-year-old PhD student preparing to submit my thesis,
I will be competing with many other graduates for the limited number of psychology positions available, so...... yes I’ll do it, and do it for free.
Karen L. Shepherd
Faculty of Health & Social Care
University of the West of England, Bristol

CRB clearance - a useful member service?

THE issue of CRB clearance (see Letters, August 2006) is complicated for graduate psychology students and could be simplified by the BPS offering this service to student and graduate members of the Society. The CRB website states that the obtaining of
a CRB check can only be obtained through employers and recognised professional bodies and not to an individual person. As a psychology graduate I contacted the BPS office for help and was informed that the Society had discussed the issue of CRB clearance but does not intend to offer this service to its members at the present time.
A reason given was that most members are LEA employees!
Graduates of psychology are in an increasingly competitive job market and whilst some may have obtained CRB clearance through voluntary or paid positions prior to graduation the majority of students have not. This raises the issue of whether candidates selected for interview who already have CRB clearance are at an advantage over candidates who have not. The current delay in processing CRB checks of up to three months also adds fuel to this potential discrimination. This may not
be overt or even intentional discrimination but may exert an influence during the selection process. I would willingly pay the BPS the £31 fee (plus a small administration fee) to overcome this hurdle, thus placing me on an equal footing with other prospective job candidates who already have CRB clearance. I would ask the BPS to reconsider offering this service to student and graduate members of the Society. Additionally, I would ask for clarification as to why the BPS, as the professional body for psychologists in the UK, does not view CRB clearance as a facility that should be made available to all its members?
Dawn Adshead
5 Free School Lane, Halifax

Tim Cornford, the Society’s Chief Executive, replies: Thank you for your suggestion. We are always keen to hear members’ views on new or improved services. We have been considering providing CRB checks and the administrative requirements that would bring. We were concerned that potential members might not be very happy about the level of fee. However, we have decided not to pursue this for the time being until we are clearer how any arrangements for statutory regulation of psychologists work out. It would be unhelpful to set up a mechanism only for a new regulator to take over.

Frederick Viggers Smith - 1912-2006

Frederick Viggers (Fred) Smith died in July at the age of 94. He was a former Professor of Psychology at the University of Durham, a Fellow of the Society and President from 1959 to 1960. Fred came relatively late into academic psychology, having first trained and practised as a teacher. He subsequently took a degree course, graduating with first class honours in psychology from Sydney University in 1938. Following a period of professional work in Australia, he moved to the UK, obtained a PhD from the University of London in 1948 and held lectureship appointments at Birkbeck College and at Aberdeen. In 1950 he moved to Durham University as Professor of Educational Psychology in the Department of Education. In 1952 the university’s Academic Board constituted psychology as a separate department and his post became the Chair of Psychology.
He had found a role to suit his talents, and, although the ride was rarely smooth when he was in the driving seat, he built up the department into a leading centre for teaching and research.
A particular highlight was the occupation of fine new dedicated premises in 1970, of which he was obsessively proud. On more than one occasion, visiting academic speakers were forcefully reminded, during the course of a seminar presentation in the lecture theatre, to avoid scratching the wall with the long wooden pointer. He became a legend at Durham, with countless stories circulating about his golf and squash prowess, his motoring skills and speed, his unshakeable optimism.
Fred’s range of interests within the subject was extensive and eclectic. His book Explanations of Human Behaviour was published in 1951, with a second edition appearing in 1960. He published a large number of scientific papers on topics varying from imprinting between lambs and ewes to personality in long-term imprisonment. Two further books Attachment of the Young: Imprinting and Other Developments and Purpose in Animal Behaviour were published in 1969 and 1971 respectively. 
His idiosyncrasies did not make him an easy colleague or companion but his drive and integrity always commanded respect, and he would on occasion show surprising sensitivity to students or others with problems. He was always a dynamic individual and retirement to Australia allowed him to pursue an ambition for deep-sea fishing. However, his dedication to his subject and the development of the department at Durham were unquestionably the strongest driving forces in his career and his far-sighted planning left a legacy that many have appreciated. A former colleague summarises nicely: ‘They don’t make academics like him now I am sorry to say.’
John Findlay
University of Durham

The BPS - a bad parent?

IN the recent special issue focusing on criminality (August 2006), I was
struck by a very helpful conceptualisation of parenting styles referred to in one of the articles (Sutton et al.), which itself drew upon earlier work by Baumrind and by Maccoby and Martin. According to this scheme, there are two primary dimensions of parenting (affection and control) and therefore four possible basic parenting styles: high control– high affection (authoritative), high control–low affection (authoritarian), low control– high affection (indulgent/ permissive), low control–low affection (neglecting/ uninvolved). The authors remark that the ‘authoritarian style seems to lead to the poorest outcomes for children’.
In a subsequent talk that I gave at this year’s BPS Statement of Equivalence (SoE) Summer School for Clinical Psychology practitioners, I used this scheme to conduct a simple experiment. I explained the four different parenting styles and then asked the audience (about 20–30 people) to use this to rate or categorise the Society in terms of its parenting style. Without exception, everyone in the audience immediately raised their hand and called out ‘high-control–low affection’ (i.e. authoritarian)! The complete spontaneity and unity of this group response was very powerful and very striking. There was no hesitation in the minds of all these people and their response could not have been manipulated or manufactured. Moreover, being able to express this collectively (accompanied by a lot of humour and relief as each individual recognised that all other members of the group felt the same) seemed to have a morale-boosting effect.
The outcome of this simple social experiment is troubling. The BPS ‘parental style’ as universally experienced by a representative sample of SoE applicants, is the very same as that which is most likely to damage children and incline them towards criminality! This finding fits with other evidence pointing to an authoritarian culture within the Society, especially in relation to those who are most vulnerable to its authority (i.e. those looking for accreditation). With new CPD procedures even our most senior members are now in this position and subject to an attitude of ‘you will lose your accreditation unless you continually prove to us why you should keep it’. This culture is even more evident in relation to disciplinary matters where complaints are dealt with in an atmosphere of ‘guilty until you prove yourself innocent’ and where the ‘guilty’ are ‘named and shamed’ in disciplinary notices rather than dealt with confidentially and respectfully.
Good parenting requires a mixture of discipline and love. The evidence suggests that the BPS has an organisational culture with too much of the former and too little of the latter. Members do not so much feel supported as under constant surveillance in case they ‘slip up’. This cannot be good for any of us. We need to feel like part of a supportively regulated professional family. What do others think? Send your views to the Letters pages, or alternatively e-mail [email protected].
Martin Seager
20 Ongar Road
Writtle, Chelmsford

Universal suffrage

AS one of the various BPS non-voting members, in view of living outside the UK, I would like to ask why we cannot have a say in what goes on in our Society – a most discriminative state of affairs. And why does voting have to be done by the old extremely expensive mail system? I am a member of other professional and scientific societies, and we vote by electronic means.
Jorge Alvoeiro
Rua 15 de Marco, 15A
2000-119 Santarem
Portugal

Society President Ray Miller replies: It has been custom and practice within the Society since the 1920s to send voting papers only to those members based in the UK and Republic of Ireland. It seems timely to review that approach and I will be speaking to our Chief Executive about it.
Being able to implement electronic voting for our members would be an excellent step forward – particularly for those based outside of the UK – but I think we are still some way from being able to achieve that. Certainly in the UK there have been well publicised problems with electronic voting systems and we would need to be convinced that any system the Society used was appropriately robust. But I would like to thank you for raising this issue – it is certainly an option that we will keep under review.

Deliberate stressing of the trivial?

I NOTE with interest the recent comments by the Society reported by BBC
News regarding psychologists’ involvement in the show Big Brother. An unnamed representative stated that the Society had a meeting with the producers of Big Brother to highlight areas of concern, such as the show’s deliberate creation of tension and conflict amongst participants. The representative noted that psychologists may have been involved in the ‘deliberate stressing’ of participants, and added that if specific complaints are made against psychologists involved in the series, they may be subject to censure by the Society.
I congratulate the Society for taking such a firm stand in a relatively trivial matter, although it occurs to me that the participants have consented fully and are free to leave at any time. I wonder if this means we can also expect the Society to take a position regarding those psychologists involved in ‘deliberate stressing’ in more controversial environments, where there is neither consent nor a freedom to leave.
For example, does the Society know of any members consulting to the Ministry of Defence or the security services in designing and implementing stressful interrogation procedures? Can we expect a position statement regarding such involvement by Society members? Indeed, can we expect a comment regarding
the recent statements by the American Psychological Society, effectively endorsing psychologists’ involvement in US military interrogations, some of which have been reported to include ‘deliberate stressing’? [See News, p.580.]
Alternatively, are we to expect a similar level of indifference as the Society has shown towards comparable issues in the past, such as regarding the effects of indefinite detention on prisoners’ mental health? Will we instead have to rely on our medical colleagues to take a firm stand against such practices?
Sharif El-Leithy
Traumatic Stress Service
South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust

Douglas Brown, the Society’s Public Relations Manager, replies: The comment referred to arose from a call taken by the Society’s media centre from Broadcast, a magazine for the television industry. They wanted to know what, if anything, the Society was doing to address the concerns so widely raised in the media. I confirmed that the Society had seen media coverage critical of Big Brother and the selection and treatment of participants, and that it would see such treatment as a potential area of concern.
In our reactive role, the media centre can only respond to the questions put to us –
no matter how trivial. On a proactive level, however, we can assure you that the Society’s work on human rights has featured in the past and I am sure will again in the future.

Taking waste paper seriously

I AM saddened by the paper that is wasted every month when hundreds, if not thousands, of people receive copies of The Psychologist in the post and do not read them.
I have worked in departments where colleagues never opened the packaging. Certainly copies of the Appointments Memorandum go straight into the bin, and often The Psychologist does too, as colleagues have no time to read it. I also know that my husband and I are not the only couple receiving two copies.
Please could the Society avoid the paper wastage and printing and postal costs by allowing a reduced subscription fee for members choosing not to receive this publication by post (perhaps making it available online)? I am saddened by the environmental cost of all the wasted paper, and also the financial cost. As neither my husband or I are now in paid employment, the subscription fee is very hard to afford and a reduced fee for not receiving the papers would be much appreciated.
We do value the material printed in The Psychologist, but urge the Society to take seriously the paper wastage and to consider making it optional.
Debbie Hawker
20 Turner Road
Long Eaton
Nottingham

Jon Sutton, editor of The Psychologist, replies: Our recent survey of members found that 1.5 per cent of the sample didn’t read The Psychologist at all – that translates to 635 copies of the September issue. However, 78.5 per cent said it was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important that it is delivered in printed form, even though it is in fact available at www.thepsychologist.org.uk.
A system to allow members to opt out of receiving the Appointments Memo is due to go online in the next six months, so we can look at something similar. However, it could perhaps be argued that The Psychologist is the main vehicle of communication from the Society to its members and that channel should be kept open in all cases, even if there are some where people aren’t always listening.
Although the Society has various reductions for those not in paid employment, there is currently no reduction for not receiving The Psychologist. It actually only costs a few pence to produce each physical copy of The Psychologist. To remove individuals from an automated mailing could actually cost more than it does to send it!
Perhaps the best I can say for now is that our paper comes from sustainable sources, and I would encourage you to recycle (use the online archive), or to pass unwanted copies on to non-members you think might be interested.

Information

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[email protected], 020 8596 7037

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Sarah Straughan
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[email protected]

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