News

Including statutory regulation, toxic childhood, risk assessment, young researchers and more.

Statutory regulation - united we stand

GOVERNMENT consultation into the future of statutory regulation of psychologists is set to close this month. British Psychological Society members have been generally supportive of the Society’s chosen position – to reject the government’s proposals.
The consultation exercise was launched following the publication in July of the government’s Donaldson Report and Foster Review, which attempt to produce integrated regulations for medical and non-medical professions respectively (see September’s President’s column and news). The two need to be read together – there are some quite radical suggestions in Donaldson that may be applied to the non-medical sector. Deadline for responses is 10 November.
The Society is opposed to proposals that psychologists should be regulated via the Health Professions Council (HPC), arguing that it is not fit for purpose and that public protection will not be increased – in fact people may even be at more risk. The Society instead proposes the establishment of a separate and new regulatory body, but these proposals have so far been rejected.
The Society has now put together a draft response (see www.bps.org.uk/statreg), with a document laying out the detail for a new regulatory body. President Ray Miller wrote to members urging their input into the Society’s response, up to Monday 23 October.
The first week saw 718 visitors to the statutory regulations page on the website – about four times the usual numbers. At the time of going to print, the Society had received 81 individual responses from members, with 79 supportive and two against the Society’s proposals. One member said, ‘I think that it is important to have a regulatory body who will understand the context of work within which the various disciplines work, and the variety of work that we do’.
A meeting has been arranged for late November with the Health Minister, Andy Burnham MP, and the first of a series of adverts has been published in the House Magazine – the publication for MPs, Peers and civil servants – alerting parliamentarians to the concerns the Society has. Further adverts are planned to appear once the final submission has been made to the DoH. A joint media release (with the allied organisations) went out in mid-October. Letters have been written to appropriate Ministers in Westminster and the devolved nations, as well as to other organisations, seeking support.    CB

Firm defends government's  use of psychologists

NEWSPAPER reports have criticised ministers and civil servants for spending taxpayers’ money on psychologists, who are referred to in the articles as ‘life coaches’. The Evening Standard quoted Conservative MP Alan Duncan as saying there’s ‘no reason why taxpayers should be forking out for their shrinks’.
Duncan recently tabled parliamentary questions to find out how much money was being spent by government on two business consultancy firms: Praesta and ER Consultants. According to the Sunday Times, Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Oakeshott was also critical, saying ‘ministers should not need psychological coaching to do their job’.
However, Paolo Moscuzza, professional head of occupational psychology at ER Consultants, said far from being life coaches, the work he and his colleagues did was focused on developing people’s ability to lead in the context of the considerable ambiguity and change currently under way in the public sector.
Using feedback models like the Johari window and personality profiles like Cattell’s 16PF, psychologists at ER Consultants identify ways of developing key competencies in employees that are needed during times of complex organisational change. For example, a ‘360 degree’ evaluation is performed, in which information is gathered from an employee’s manager and peers, and compared with how that employee sees himself. This can reveal ‘blind spots’ – something other people know about a person, but which that person doesn’t know about himself.
Mr Moscuzza, a chartered psychologist, said his firm was providing a valuable service to the public sector: ‘In order to be awarded a contract you have to be able to demonstrate through rigorous processes that you have added value in other organisations.’ Indeed, a recent post-programme evaluation had been extremely encouraging, showing for example, that employees are still using what they’ve learned two years on. The media have likened the role of the organisational psychologist to that of a confidante or psychoanalyst, but Moscuzza said ‘to think that people are sitting there having a nice chat is nonsensical’.
Mark Goodridge, chief executive of ER Consultants, agreed, adding that the focus of his company was on performance in the job, rather than on the person as a whole. ‘This idea that there are these padded couches at the back of ministers’ offices is crazy,’ he said. ‘It’s the individual testament of senior civil servants that counts and we’ve had many individuals who said the work we did with them was very beneficial.’    CJ

BEREAVEMENT SUPPORT
THE DEPARTMENT of Health has published a new guide called ‘Help at Hand’, developed by the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University. It is aimed at people who have been affected by suicide or other sudden, traumatic death. It also provides information for healthcare and other professionals who come into contact with bereaved people, to assist them in providing help and to suggest how they themselves may find support.
- See www.psychiatry.ox.ac.uk/csr/linksbereaved.html.

KEEPING AN EYE ON YOU
A NEW anti-crime campaign by West Midlands Police has been inspired by a psychology experiment. The study, published by Melissa Bateson and colleagues in the journal Biology Letters, found that in the company of a poster displaying a pair of staring eyes, people put nearly three times as much money in a coffee-room collection box compared with when the poster wasn’t there.
Now West Midlands Police have launched Operation Momentum, which features the use of posters with distinctive eyes and the catch-line ‘We’ve got our eyes on criminals’. Chief Inspector Sue Southern said: ‘We have been inspired by Dr Bateson’s research and liked the idea that eyes peering down at thieves in crime hot spots could intimidate them into moving on rather than committing crime’. Dr Bateson said she was thrilled her research was being used to prevent crime.

FREE ONLINE CBT
THE Mental Health Foundation is providing free access to online cognitive behavioural therapy.
From 1 November to 3 January, visitors will be able to get free access to Depression Relief. Used by PCTs, Depression Relief is suitable for anyone experiencing mild or moderate depression. The confidential programme allows users to go at their own pace, learning self-help techniques to help manage their condition.
- See www.mentalhealth.org.uk.

RESEARCH FUNDING NEWS
Nuffic are offering Huygens Scholarships to provide outstanding foreign students in all disciplines the opportunity to study at a Dutch University or hogeschool (university of professional education). Scholarships are for a period of three to ten months. Applicants should be nearing completion of their studies or have just graduated, be no older than 35 years of age and be in the top 10 per cent of students in their programme. Applications for Scholarships for the 2007/8 academic year must be received by 1 February 2007.
o For further details on eligibility and the application process see the website www.nuffic.nl/hsp/
The Independent European Research Advisory Board (ERAB) are inviting applications for funding of any aspect of biomedical or psychosocial research into beer or alcohol. Applications should be from research institutions or universities. Up to 120,000 euros of funding is available and projects should last for no longer than two years. The closing date for applications is 26 March 2007.
- For further details see the website www.erab.org/pagesuk/grants-howto.asp

The Scottish Cot Death Trust is offering Scientific Research Grants for research into any aspect of sudden infant deaths. The Trust fund research into the causes and prevention of cot death; to improve and extend the support available for bereaved families; and to educate the public and healthcare professionals about cot death. Applications can be from universities and researchers throughout the UK. The closing date for applications is 5 February 2007.
- For further details see www.sidscotland.org.uk/research/research.htm#current

The Alzheimer’s Research Trust is offering Research Fellowships for junior postdoctoral researchers who wish to carry out research and obtain further training in Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Research into early detection, identifying risk factors, progress towards effective treatments and further understanding of the basic disease process are all encouraged. The closing date for applications is 2 February 2007. The Trust offers a variety of funding streams including the Major Programmes Grants which offers funding of up to £1 million and PhD Scholarships for those wishing to follow a career in Alzheimer’s research. Details of all their schemes are available on the website.
- For further details see www.alzheimers-research.org.uk/research/currentresearch/

For a list of current funding opportunities go to www.bps.org.uk/funds
Funding bodies should e-mail news to Elizabeth Beech on [email protected] for possible inclusion.

WEBSITES
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit
Demonstration site for the Implicit Association Test.
www.paulvalent.com
Resource for those interested in trauma and its ramifications.
If you come across a website that you think would be of interest to our readers, let us know on [email protected].

Getting down with the kids

MODERN life is responsible for escalating rates of childhood depression according to an open letter sent to The Telegraph in September, signed by more than 100 professionals and academics, including several psychologists. The letter cites junk food and video games as among the causes of children’s woes. ‘Our society rightly takes great pains to protect children from physical harm, but seems to have lost sight of their emotional and social needs’, it says. Days later, the Children’s Society launched what it called the ‘UK’s first independent national inquiry into childhood’ to be headed by psychologist Professor Judith Dunn. The organisation’s chief executive Bob Reitemeier, said ‘There is clearly a mood in the UK that as a society we have got some important things wrong about childhood. We need to turn this into positive action’.
However, the letter and childhood inquiry have not been universally welcomed by psychologists, some of whom question the wisdom of making such sweeping statements without supporting evidence (see box opposite). Chartered clinical psychologist Emma Citron told us that contrary to the claims of the open letter, children have never had it so good. ‘Children are included in discussions more now, from school dinners to booster seats. They feel more important, empowered and respected in a way they never did before. In the past children were like a second-class citizen, merely tolerated.’
She added: ‘I’ve not seen any evidence for depression being on the increase in children and without hard facts these claims aren’t worth anything. If you are looking for a piece of flawed comment, this open letter to The Telegraph is it, because it is just based on strongly-held beliefs, a bit like the topic of abortion, or any other issue people feel strongly about.’ Citron said the letters page of The Psychologist would have been a better forum for psychologists to raise these issues.
Professor Joan Freeman, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, agreed entirely with these criticisms. ‘I can’t understand psychologists saying childhood depression is escalating, when they know perfectly well rates of depression have not been accurately identified over the years. There is so much greater consideration for children’s emotional development than ever there was, so it’s inevitable more depression is discovered today.’
She continued: ‘There’s never been a better time for children. Just look back 50 years, when it was considered acceptable for teachers to hit children in schools. Today children have better education and there’s more consideration for their care in every conceivable respect.’
However, Society member Dr Dorothy Rowe was among the signatories to the Telegraph letter and she defended its claims and objectives. ‘This letter is what psychologists should be involved in and the huge public response to the letter shows that it tapped into a tremendous anxiety amongst readers’.
Rowe also challenged the criticism that there’s no evidence for escalating rates of childhood depression. ‘There’s seems to be a great reluctance to do or say anything that hasn’t been satisfied by those magical words “evidence-based”,’ She explained: ‘There’s this idea that if something hasn’t been shown or replicated then it doesn’t exist, but that kind of attitude ignores the fact that lots of psychologists have an enormous knowledge about people and what people do – if you work as a clinical psychologist you spend a lot of time just listening to one person telling you their story and then another person, so you build up an enormous knowledge about human beings.’
Dr Rowe also disputed the suggestion that children have never had it so good. ‘What do kids today have to look forward to? Before they’re grown up, the climate will have changed very significantly – they’re taught this at school. And what else do they hear about – this “war on terrorism” but where is it? To be a child today facing the future you have to be tremendously courageous.’         CJ

Box: Childhood: Controversial claims
l    According to the letter, ‘Since children’s brains are still developing, they cannot adjust – as full-grown adults can – to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change’. But Professor Freeman told us it was adults who needed to adjust to technological change, not children who she said have never known any different. ‘When you’re five years old, that’s just the way it is’, she said.
l    ‘In a fast-moving hyper-competitive culture, today’s children are expected to cope with an ever-earlier start to formal schoolwork and an overly academic test-driven primary curriculum’. But Emma Citron said these pressures are positive, and that it was a good thing that expectations are higher now: ‘Twenty years ago, kids were written off early – if you didn’t get into grammar school, you were deemed suitable only for woodwork. Now we know kids have talents that emerge at 16, 17 or 18 years’. By contrast, Dr Rowe said the politicians who introduced yearly examinations for children should be ‘more than thoroughly ashamed of themselves’.
l    ‘They are pushed by market forces to act and dress like mini-adults.’ But Professor Freeman pointed out: ‘Children have only dressed and acted differently from adults since Victorian times, when the image of childhood innocence was promoted – though only of course for the leisured classes. The idealised childhood was never universal.’
l    The letter ends: ‘We therefore propose as a matter of urgency that public debate be initiated on child-rearing in the 21st century.’ However, Professor Freeman said: ‘We are already heavily concerned with child care; the TV schedules are burgeoning with nanny programmes.’ Ms Citron agreed there was plenty of public debate about the issue without this letter – she recalled being asked just last year to participate in a radio programme about whether children get enough ‘outdoor mucky play’.

Link to the Telegraph letter: tinyurl.com/n8r85
Link to the Children’s Society inquiry: tinyurl.com/syag8

In brief

Jon Sutton with the latest from BPS journals

Patient benefits associated with the computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CCBT) programme ‘Beating the blues’ are similar to the routine delivery of face-to-face CBT, according to a study by Kate Cavanagh (University of Newcastle) and colleagues. The practice-based evidence suggested a statistical, reliable and clinically significant treatment effect for CCBT in routine care. Intention-to-treat analysis, which estimates the real-life outcome for all patients starting the programme, indicates that three out of ten will benefit significantly. For patients who complete it and at least one post-treatment outcome measure, this figure rises to six out of ten achieving reliable improvement. (BJCP, November)

Traumatic stress in response to intra-psychic events such as delusions can be understood in similar ways to traumatic stress arising from physical traumas such as disasters. That’s the conclusion of a study by Brock Chisholm (St George’s Hospital Medical School) and colleagues, who found that participants who reported being more helpless and in less control during the episode and perceived their social support to be of lower quality had higher traumatic stress responses. Previous experience of traumatic events was also associated with PTSD symptoms. (BJCP, November)

Finding no substantial gender differences in reasoning scores in a nationally representative UK sample of over 320,000 11- to 12-year-olds, Steve Strand (nferNelson) and colleagues suggest that there is no a priori rationale, based on mental ability differences, to expect a large gender gap in subsequent test or examination attainment at age 16. ‘If we wish to look for explanations of the gender gap at GCSE we must look beyond conceptions of ability… The high media attention given to the gender gap should not distract policy makers from attempting to ameliorate other, more sizable gaps’ (such as that caused by socio-economic circumstances). (BJEP, September)

According to a large study of Scottish schoolchildren by Helen Sweeting (MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit), the relationship between victimisation and depression is reciprocal at the age of 13; but two years later the relationship can be almost entirely attributed to a path from depression to victimisation among boys. (BJEP, September)

Dyslexic students in higher education show anxiety levels that are well above what is shown by students without learning difficulties. This anxiety is not limited to academic tasks but extends to many social situations. Julia Carroll (University of Warwick) and Jane Iles (University of Sheffield) propose that emotional well-being should form part of the assessment of need for dyslexic students. (BJEP, Sept)

Perceived control is usually a good thing in coping with illness. But according to a study by Carolyn Fang (Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia), when that illness is ovarian cancer, it can lead to unrealistic attempts to manage the condition and to increasing distress over time. (BJHP, November)

Inequality does not kill and people do not die younger in countries with greater inequalities in income. Instead, general intelligence may be the key to a long healthy life, allowing individuals in contemporary society to recognise evolutionarily novel health risks and deal with them appropriately. That’s the view of Satoshi Kanazawa (Interdisciplinary Institute of Management, London School of Economics), who analyses national and individual data. The author notes that, in keeping with his theory, IQ does not have any significant effect on health and life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa (where, he argues, life in tribal societies is less radically different from the ancestral environment than in the rest of the world). (BJHP, November)

Adults find it harder to remember names than other biographical information about a person, but previous research has suggested that the opposite effect may occur in children. However, a new study by Lesley Calderwood (University of Stirling) and Mike Burton (University of Glasgow) found that for both children and adults, naming was in fact faster than a semantic decision when highly familiar faces were used (e.g. Victoria Beckham, Justin Timberlake, Daniel Radcliffe). The results pose a problem for serial models of face and person recognition, in which semantic information must be retrieved before a name. (BJP, November)

In a study by Mark Brosnan (University of Bath) second- to fourth-digit ratio was found to be significantly different between members of the Science Faculty and members of the Humanities and Social Science/Management Faculty. This was consistent with predictions based on the circulating testosterone literature, and suggested that academic discipline may represent a confound when using an academic sample. (BJP, November)

Difficulties in learning to read, and internalising and externalising problem behaviours are developmentally linked in a cumulative manner (Halonen et al.). Reading difficulties increased the likelihood of internalising problem behaviour, which then predicted subsequent reading difficulties. From the beginning of primary school, slow progress in reading performance also contributed to an increase in externalising problem behaviour. (BJEP, September)

- Society members can subscribe for just £20. See www.bpsjournals.co.uk for more.

Better risk assessment could save lives

A NEW Department of Health report has called on mental health teams to develop a more structured, standardised approach to assessing and communicating risk of violence in mental health patients.In his report (see tinyurl.com/y6yf9x), Anthony Maden, Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Imperial College London, retrospectively applied a risk assessment tool (the HCR20) to every case of murder by a patient under NHS care during the last seven years, where the patient was diagnosed with a major mental disorder with psychosis, and had a history of violence.
Of the 25 murder cases identified, 80 per cent had all, or nearly all, of the historical risk factors on the HCR20 that are known to be associated with an increased risk of violence. However, at the time they committed murder, half of the patients, or less, were recognised as a risk.
Maden said applying the HCR20, or a psychological tool like it, to these cases, would have at least ‘opened [the mental health teams’] eyes to what they were dealing with – there might still have been a bad outcome, but at least they would have been informed’.
The publication of Maden’s report coincided with the government’s launch of its new Risk Management Programme to improve risk assessment.         CJ
- For more on this story, see the ‘News’ section.

Young psychology researchers shortlisted for prestigious award

THE future of psychology is bright if this year’s shortlist for ‘Young Researcher of the Year’ at the prestigious Times Higher Awards is anything to go by – three of the five nominees are either psychologists, or work in the area of psychology. The award seeks to recognise academics under 40 whose research has made a significant and potentially extraordinary impact in their field.
Society member Dr James Rubin at King’s College, London is recognised for his work on electrosensitivity, showing that the discomfort some people experience when using devices like mobile phones is caused by their anxiety, rather than by any physical effect (see June news). His systematic review published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2005 has directly influenced guidelines on electromagnetic fields published by the EU and the World Health Organisation.
Dr Rubin studied psychology at the University of Bristol before completing a Masters at Exeter and a PhD at King’s College in psychology as applied to medicine. ‘I like having a job where rather than just speculating about a question or topic, you can get hands on and actually find an answer’, he told us. Rubin was recently awarded a £1 million Home Office grant to find out how people perceive and will react to biological or radiological terrorism. ‘It’s a grey area – we just don’t know how people are likely to react if, say, a big dirty bomb went off, or if anthrax was released in this country’, he said.
Together with the Health Protection Agency and the King’s Centre for Risk Management, Rubin is aiming to come up with some best guesses for how people are likely to react in different scenarios. ‘We’re seeing what we can do to support them in making rationale decisions – for example seeking shelter versus evacuating – in what are likely to be extremely stressful circumstances’.
Another nominee is Dr Danielle Turner of the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, who earlier this year won the BPS award for Outstanding Doctoral Research Contributions to Psychology. Among her findings, Dr Turner has shown that the stimulant Modafinil can be used to help people with schizophrenia. ‘Even when their symptoms have been stabilised, people with schizophrenia often struggle to live independently’ Turner explained. ‘We now know this is linked to cognitive function – they have difficulty learning and will often get stuck on one way of doing something. We’ve shown that a single dose of Modafinil – a licensed treatment for narcolepsy – can actually reverse that, so that they get much better at learning new rules and their short term memory is improved’.
Turner says the great thing about research is that you never know what is around the corner. ‘My research has led me in a completely different direction from where I started six years ago’ she said.
Having contributed to the government’s Foresight project that looks at how science can address future challenges, Turner is currently working with philosophers of bioethics and with the Dana Centre, looking at the ethical implications of ‘cognitive enhancers’ like Modafinil. ‘We’re asking lay people if they have particularly strong views on one scenario versus another, and trying to tease apart how society should be reacting to these developments’ she said.
Also shortlisted is Samuel Chamberlain, who is on the University of Cambridge MB/PhD medical course, which allows students to intercalate a research degree (PhD) with their clinical training. Earlier this year, Chamberlain published a paper in the prestigious journal Science on the neurobiological basis of self-control. He and colleagues demonstrated the differential roles played by noradrenaline and serotonin in cognitive processes. Increasing noradrenaline in the brain was found to improve healthy participants’ ability to control their behaviour, but had no effect on their ability to learn from complex feedback. By contrast, increasing levels of serotonin impaired participants’ learning but had no effect on their ability to suppress their behaviour. The findings contribute to our understanding of conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder, in which people have difficulty suppressing aspects of their behaviour.
Chamberlain told us: ‘The most exciting – and challenging – aspect of my research is that it involves combining several neuroscience tools to better understand the human brain. This includes brain imaging, computer testing, genetics, and pharmacology. By using these different techniques it is possible to combine theoretically-driven research to produce clinically relevant findings. It is a privilege to spend time with patients. Psychiatric conditions affect the majority of the population at some point, and it's vital to promote awareness and support networks’.
For his next project, Chamberlain is investigating the genetic and brain basis of obsessive compulsive disorder by looking at brain activation in unaffected relatives of patients with the disorder. Next year, he returns to clinical training and in the long term hopes to train in psychiatry and then combine research with clinical practice.
The 2006 Times Higher Awards will be announced at a ceremony on 15 November at the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, London. The full awards shortlist is at tinyurl.com/z7vrc.    CJ

THE VOICE INSIDE
PSYCHOLOGISTS at the University of Manchester have launched a study into voice hearing in the general population.
The investigation comes after Dutch researchers found that around four per cent of the population regularly hear voices. Researcher Aylish Campbell said: ‘Many describe their voices as being a positive influence in their lives, comforting or inspiring them day-to-day. We’re now investigating why some people respond in this way, while others are distressed and seek outside help.’
Although the voices heard by psychiatric patients and members of the general population seem to be of the same volume and frequency, the former group tend to interpret the voices as more distressing and negative.
The team would like to hear from people aged 16 years and over who have been hearing voices for at least six months, whether they have used mental-health services or not. E-mail: [email protected].

WORLD MENTAL HEALTH
OCTOBER saw the 10th anniversary of World Mental Health Day. This year’s event focused on Building Awareness – Reducing Risks: Mental Illness and Suicide.
- More information and downloads available at tinyurl.com/y3rw3u.

RESITS 60 YEARS ON
RESEARCHERS are following-up more than 70,000 Scottish children who underwent IQ tests in 1947 to understand the effects of the ageing process on intelligence.
The Scottish Mental Survey was carried out on all children born in 1936 by the Scottish Council for Research in Education and is thought to be the only examination of a complete national group’s thinking skills.
Already 500 people have taken part in the follow-up from Aberdeen, and now the research team at the University of Edinburgh is tracing members of the Lothian Birth Cohort to retest them (see tinyurl.com/zdec6).

Safety at work

A project which has made a significant contribution to boosting safety levels in the workplace and preventing serious injures and fatalities has scooped top prize in the first-ever award for Occupational Psychology Practitioner of the Year. The project, carried out by Ronny Lardner and Richard Scaife, of the Keil Centre, was recognised in the inaugural comp

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber