President's column

Ray Miller writes.
Psychology saves the planet! Perhaps it wasn’t quite like that but the middle of a July heatwave was an appropriate time for the Society to be hosting a parliamentary seminar, jointly organised with the British Ecological Society (BES) and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), on ‘Sustainability: Making Britain Green’. I doubt that the temperature on the day can be specifically attributed to global warming but there is certainly rising concern about the impact of societies and individuals on the environment, in both the short and long term.
Psychology saves the planet! Perhaps it wasn’t quite like that but the middle of a July heatwave was an appropriate time for the Society to be hosting a parliamentary seminar, jointly organised with the British Ecological Society (BES) and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), on ‘Sustainability: Making Britain Green’. I doubt that the temperature on the day can be specifically attributed to global warming but there is certainly rising concern about the impact of societies and individuals on the environment, in both the short and long term.

The seminar was held for members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Three eminent speakers, Professor Richard Eiser, Professor David Uzzell and Dr Daniel Osborn, highlighted the contribution of psychology to the debate. While much attention is given to the technological aspects of sustainability, the human aspect often receives less consideration. Yet the assessment of risk, the recognition and acknowledgement of problems, and changes in political, social and individual behaviour are mediated very much by psychological variables.

The message was clear. Change happens through changing people’s motivation, attitudes and actions. Successful policy will be built on a psychological understanding of how such changes can be achieved most effectively.

The seminar is one example of an ongoing programme of influencing legislators and policy makers. Over the past six years we have developed a productive relationship with POST. Through a fellowship programme we arrange attachments of psychologists to POST, where they contribute to the development of briefing papers on key issues. Linked to these have been a series of seminars on a wide range of topics. Again this
is part of the ‘hidden work’ of the Society in raising the profile of the science and practice of psychology. Congratulations to the parliamentary group on another success.

An area that politicians might also be concerned about is criminality, highlighted in this issue of The Psychologist. In a world that tends to think in terms of punishment and retribution it is encouraging to see psychologists concentrating on prevention.

The Jesuits were reputed to have said ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man’. The articles in this issue emphasise the importance of childhood experiences and the role of parenting. They also identify the difficulties of changing established social behaviour patterns and the power of the ‘common sense’ view. Public money may often be wasted in programmes that have intuitive appeal yet little proven effectiveness. Equally, examples such as the legislative attempts over several years to ban smacking show how controversial and difficult change can be. Perhaps we need more psychologists like Tanya Byron (Psychologist, December 2005) demonstrating in a very pragmatic and public way how tiny tearaways can be turned into little angels using sound psychological principles.

Once again there is a clear need for psychological science to underpin policy and practice.

On the subject of policy, the crystal ball was clearly not working too well last month. We have still, at the time of writing, heard nothing further of the government’s intentions on non-medical regulation, medical revalidation and related topics. We have had a letter from Andy Burnham, Minister of State at the Department of Health, assuring us that ‘We expect to announce our decision shortly’. Our hope is that this means before the parliamentary summer recess. This is an issue that is fundamental to the identity of psychology as both a discipline and practice. Once an announcement is made, matters may move quite rapidly.

Input from members was the key to the clear and strong rejection of the proposals in the last consultation exercise. It is hoped that our concerns will be acknowledged in any new proposals. Briefing materials are being prepared now so that you will have the maximum opportunity to participate in the next stage of the process. It will be essential to ensure that moves to professional regulation are balanced by strong professional representation. The Society will ensure that your views are powerfully communicated.

Lastly, it is always welcome to see psychologists being recognised for the work that they do. This year’s Queen’s Birthday honours list named Julie Stokes, a clinical psychologist, to receive an OBE in recognition of her work with the charity Winston’s Wish (see p462). Winston’s Wish was founded in 1992 following Julie’s visit to the USA and Canada on a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. The aim of the charity is to provide support for bereaved children and young people up to the age of 18, along with their parents or carers. From its initial origins in Gloucestershire it has grown over the last 14 years to a UK wide service, and has helped thousands of children.

When it comes to saving the planet, saving a child is a good start.

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