President's column

New Society President Ray Miller with his first column.
Why psychology? This may seem an odd question to be posing in my first column, but there is nothing like sitting in the hot seat to make you ponder how you got there. Like me, you made the choice to learn about psychology, and I wonder what the attraction was? The cover article by Guy Claxton (see p.212) started me thinking about the sense of mystery I felt when I made my choice. There was something about mental and behavioural processes that was intrinsically fascinating – the urge to understand the world around me better by understanding the people in it. Thirty-five years on and that sense of wonder remains, despite having been moulded by the application of scientific methodology and forged in the heat of 30 years of NHS clinical experience.
Why psychology?
This may seem an odd question to be posing in my first column, but there is nothing like sitting in the hot seat to make you ponder how you got there. Like me, you made the choice to learn about psychology, and I wonder what the attraction was? The cover article by Guy Claxton (see p.212) started me thinking about the sense of mystery I felt when I made my choice. There was something about mental and behavioural processes that was intrinsically fascinating – the urge to understand the world around me better by understanding the people in it. Thirty-five years on and that sense of wonder remains, despite having been moulded by the application of scientific methodology and forged in the heat of 30 years of NHS clinical experience.

It has been suggested that if the 20th century was dominated by the growth of the physical sciences, then the 21st will be the century of the biological and psychological sciences. My daily newspaper is full of references to ‘psychology’, ‘psychological’ and even a few ‘psychologists’. The fascination for psychology has infected the general public, and they are hungry to know more. Like other aspects of diet, there seems to be a fair amount of junk food out there, but increasingly the genuine organic article is getting the attention it deserves. The popularity of psychology at undergraduate level continues to grow, the knowledge and research base of the psychological sciences is valued ever more highly and the applications of psychology in business, health, education, social policy and personal development expand daily.

Should we be complacent? Of course not!

I was intrigued to come across the website of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being (www.centreforconfidence.co.uk). This initiative, backed by the Scottish Executive Health Department, draws on the positive psychology work of Martin Seligman. It highlights what its founder, Carol Craig, calls the ‘Scots Crisis of Confidence’. This is described as a lack of optimism about their best achievements and
a wariness of promoting successes, lest they be seen as getting above themselves, and being brought down to earth by the criticism of their peers. For me, that struck some chords in relation to the way in which we promote psychology.

Despite the growing public profile, we often seem to shun the popular limelight and to be suspicious and critical of our colleagues who find themselves in the wider media beyond the realm of scientific journals. There is a fear that somehow the mundane presentation of psychology will undermine and misrepresent the scholarly basis
of our knowledge. There are exceptions that have been widely applauded, but we still seem somehow surprised that we can come across positively.

A major theme for the next years of the Society will be the development of member services. These will be new and extended ways in which the Society promotes ‘the efficiency and usefulness of members’ (Charter object) through supporting you in your day-to-day work and roles. A key aspect is raising our profile and the awareness of the public of the contribution psychology can make to their day-to-day lives too: ‘the diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied’ (Charter again). Our Press Committee runs excellent one-day courses for psychologists who want, or are required, to work with the media, and I would encourage you to make full use of them (see p.256). Let’s have confidence and spread a little of the wonder that brought us into psychology in the first place.

On that note, I’d like to draw attention to the advert in this edition for Editor of the journal Evidence Based Mental Health (see p.245). I am a keen supporter of this joint venture with the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the BMJ. It provides excellent summaries of and commentaries on recent developments in mental health. Some feel it contains too much medical material, although I have found the balance a good one. It helps me to know what my colleagues in psychiatry are reading, and allows me to update my own psychological knowledge. One way of ensuring the balance remains appropriate will be to have a psychologist as Editor – so please give it some thought.

Lastly, I can’t finish without commenting on the work of my predecessor, Graham Powell. I very much value the strong and effective leadership he has provided during his term in office and his business-like approach to moving the Society forward through interesting times. In terms of promoting psychology and raising our profile he has set a model I hope to emulate. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for the work he has done – and will continue to do as Vice President. Don’t think you are off the hook just yet, Graham!
 

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