Society

a tribute to Noel Sheehy; performance in psychology; honorary awards; work–life balance; response from Health Secretary; IQ at the Science Museum; and more
Obituary: Noel Sheehy 1955-2011
This was to be Noel Sheehy’s first column as Society President. Professor Antony J. Chapman (Vice-Chancellor, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff) pays tribute.

Noel Sheehy was Professor of Psychology in Liverpool John Moores University when he died tragically early, in May. He had previously occupied chairs in Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin, before which he held academic positions in the University of Leeds, Dublin City University, Cardiff University and Ireland’s Institute of Economic and Social Research Institute.

Noel was a prolific researcher. With colleagues, he won over 50 major grant/contracts; he produced several books and numerous articles; and he edited an international journal and a book series. That said, he was not a careerist in any instrumental fashion. He was erudite and fundamentally interested in people and ideas and in applying psychology.

He addressed practical issues in an applications-oriented, problem-focused fashion. Primarily an applied social psychologist, he became expert in areas of abnormal psychology, child development, forensic psychology, public health and philosophical psychology. He maintained that psychologists can release creativity in philosophers, logicians and metaphysicians. He worked across disciplinary boundaries on a diverse range of topics including attitudes to death and dying; suicide; perceptions of hazard and risk; accidents; social aspects of teleworking; children’s early-years learning, thinking in classrooms, and thinking about systems; and consumer sentiment.

By any standards Noel was gifted and talented, in terms of imagination, theoretical reach and analytical ability, and also in terms of integrating ideas from apparently disparate fields of study and then applying them to people’s lives. He was an intellectual heavyweight. He was a terrific team-player and team-leader, and a magnificent communicator, and he was adept at creating and maintaining successful partnerships across disciplines, across commercial and public health sectors, and across EU member states.  

Noel was a ‘diplomatic idealist’, treating everyone with dignity and with respect for their feelings. Nothing seemed to ruffle or fluster him; he appeared to be calmness personified. He was affable and easy-going, never seen to lose patience or become irritable. Although enormously energetic and productive, he had an outwardly serene demeanour. That was mixed with a can-do attitude and exceptional ability, making Noel an absolute pleasure to work with and to be around.

He had a strong desire to please, and he avoided conflict. He hated interpersonal tension and would bend over backwards so as not to cause the least offence to anyone. He was a peace-maker and a rescuer. Everyone who knew Noel recognised that he was good to the core. He saw the goodness in others, and he was kind and considerate to all. He helped whomever and whenever he could. He had no unkind word for anyone; he saw the best in everyone.

Tributes from former-students on the BPS website (see www.bps.org.uk/news/tributes-paid-professor-noel-sheehy) offer testimony to Noel having been a dedicated and inspirational university teacher. He was approachable and positive, and he improved lives. He would give the fullest possible backing to those in need, he was loyal to the core, and utterly reliable. He would deliver work to a high standard, on time, every time.

An especially endearing feature was his wicked sense of mischief and comedy; but, even so, there were no casualties from Noel’s humour. He had an attractive, harmless sense of fun, drawing mainly from the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities to be found in us all. There was a twinkle in the eye as he constantly identified and promoted the funny side of things. He was never less than great company and easy to be with. Spirits were raised when Noel entered the scene.

Noel was the most grounded, self-effacing, unobtrusive and tolerant of men. People were drawn to his personality, intellect, energy and boundless enthusiasm. He was never one to put himself first. He shared as much as he knew how of himself, without asking for anything in return. He gave generously of his time and ideas for those whom he thought he could help, and he was a great friend and ally to many. With Noel one was safe revealing one’s true self and insecurities. Getting to know Noel himself was more difficult, but he gave all that he could of himself to as many as he could, and he enriched the lives of very many.

Noel loved Psychology, in all its facets. He was truly eclectic in his interests, and his knowledge was encyclopaedic. He had unlimited enthusiasm, and he could work phenomenally long hours. Dating back to his student days, he always had wisdom beyond his years, and he was admired by his contemporaries and colleagues and by the psychology community more generally. It was fitting, then, that he had been elected to be President of the British Psychological Society from June 2011.
 
Notwithstanding his exceptional accomplishments as a psychologist, it was always his family, his friends and his individual students that came first for Noel. He leaves behind his wife Alex, son Daniel, and step-daughters Brittany and Francesca.


Performance in psychology research
The UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), British Psychological Society, the Experimental Psychology Society and the Association of Heads of Psychology Departments agreed in 2009 to work in partnership to benchmark the quality and impact of research in the UK against international standards. In recognition of the breadth of the psychology discipline, the ESRC consulted with other research councils (BBSRC, EPSRC and MRC).

A Steering Group, chaired by Professor Judi Ellis, and comprising prominent UK academics, research users and funders, was appointed to commission and oversee the review. The Group appointed an academically distinguished International Panel, chaired by Professor Max Coltheart (Macquarie University, Australia), to make an independent qualitative assessment of the UK’s performance in psychology research and to report on its findings. The report (available to download from tinyurl.com/esrcpsych) was formally launched by the ESRC Chief Executive, Professor Paul Boyle, at a wine reception during the Society’s Annual Conference in Glasgow on 6 May 2011.

The review used evidence from a variety of sources, including bibliometric analysis, statistical information on the UK discipline, a survey of non-academic users, submissions from Research Councils and UK psychology departments, as well as a series of meetings with a range of stakeholders from UK psychology.

The main overall finding of the review is that the quality of UK psychology research is very high, bettered only by psychology research from the USA. In a substantial number of areas, UK psychology research is unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Many examples of research excellence have been identified in areas such as: animal learning and cognition, social psychology, clinical psychology and psychopathology, biological psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology. UK psychology research also has a considerable impact on policy and practice. Examples of impact were identified in many psychology subdisciplines.

Psychology in the UK continues to be an extremely popular university subject, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.  Research training is performing strongly, although concern is expressed regarding the lack of funding for postgraduate research training and postdoctoral research positions and the potential impact of this on UK-trained individuals securing academic appointments – with many HEIs showing an increasing trend to appoint non-UK trained academics.

The report outlines a number of recommendations aimed primarily to eliminate threats that may potentially impact on the currently strong research reputation in UK psychology including monitoring awards to psychological research to confirm that no psychology subdiscipline falls between remits of research funders; undertaking further research to determine whether current PhD studentship support is adequate in psychology; the development of discipline-appropriate postgraduate research training for psychology PhD students, and considering an alternative PhD format (thesis written in the format of journal articles); and ensuring availability of postdoctoral training and the competitiveness of early-career psychology researchers in the UK.

The report’s recommendations will be considered fully by ESRC and the other main research councils, with an Action Plan agreed and published later in the year that sets out how the findings will be taken forward.


Honorary awards
The winners of this year’s Division of Clinical Psychology Awards have been announced. The M.B. Shapiro Award – a late-career award, made to a clinical psychologist who has achieved eminence in the profession – goes to Professor Tony Lavender from Canterbury Christ Church University. The May Davidson Award, which is made to a clinical psychologist who has made an outstanding contribution to the development of the profession within the first 10 years of their career, goes to Dr Warren Mansell from the University of Manchester.

Nominating him for the M.B. Shapiro Award, former DCP Chair Tim Cate wrote of Professor Lavender’s ‘eminent academic background’: ‘His contribution towards workforce planning has been of the upmost importance to clinical psychology, most recently as co-chair for the New Ways of Working for Applied Psychologists. He has worked for many years in the area of workforce planning and his impact in develop­ing clinical psychology nationally should not be underestimated.’

Dr Warren Mansell studied at both Oxford and Cambridge before becoming clinically qualified at the Institute of Psychiatry in 2003. Over his relatively short career he has made significant contributions to clinical psychology in a number of areas, exploring psychological processes through the lens of perceptual control theory. He has also co-authored the highly acclaimed Oxford Guide to Metaphors in CBT and made a major contribution in the area of affective disorders, in particular bipolar disorder.

The Division’s Pre-Qualification Award is shared by Dr Jo Daniels from the University of Bath and Dr Anna Adlam from the University of East Anglia.


IQ casino at the Science Museum
A unique café-bar on Queen’s Gate, tucked in behind the Science Museum, was the venue for ‘IQ Casino’, a Society-funded public outreach event organised by Phil Loring, BPS Curator of Psychology at the Museum. The Science Museum’s Dana Centre regularly hosts such ‘adults-only’ evenings, designed to engage the curious not only in science itself but also in the issues behind the science.

Around 50 people gathered in the bar where tables had been set up with a wide variety of intelligence and aptitude tests from the Museum’s collection. Among the many test materials on show were the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (1937), WISC (1949) and WAIS (1955) block design tests, and from the 21st century the current British Ability Scales. Upstairs in the gallery, eight computer terminals allowed people to sample web-based tests developed by Professor Adrian Owen and Cambridge Brain Sciences.

On some tables, tests and instruction books were laid out as exhibits for participants to pick up and examine themselves – definitely not the usual museum ‘do not touch’ displays (gloves were provided). On other tables a well-briefed member of the Museum’s staff was there to explain the tests and answer questions, and even persuade people to be tested on some of the tasks. Phil Loring was on hand too throughout the evening, explaining and demonstrating to guests.

And where did the casino element come in? Three of the tables had been set up with a ‘croupier’ with whom participants could ‘bet’ on their performance on one or other test. When people arrived at the Dana Centre they had been given four strings of beads to bet with. Playing against the clock or against other people, I soon lost all mine. Obviously the Healy No. 2 test (an infuriatingly and deceptively difficult picture completion task) and the Alexander ‘Passalong’ sliding block test (I knew what to do but couldn’t do it quickly enough) measured something other than intelligence!

The expert hosts for the evening were Society member Dr Andy Allen, an educational psychologist, and Stephen Murdoch, author of IQ: How Psychology Hijacked Intelligence.  

Stephen Murdoch explained to the gathering some of the early history of intelligence testing, going back to Francis Galton’s failed attempts to demonstrate inherited differences in intelligence, and his later proposed use of intelligence testing in eugenics, namely to determine whether someone was suitable to have children. Murdoch claimed, as an American, that though intelligence testing was an idea developed in Europe – by Galton, Binet and others – it was its widespread use with would-be immigrants to the US in the first half of the 20th century that secured a future for it. ‘You can thank America for the 11 plus,’ he concluded. British historians of psychology may not all agree with this sidelining of Spearman, Burt and others, but the perspective was an interesting one.

As a practising educational psychologist for a local authority in south west England, Andy Allen offered a critical view of the limitations of intelligence testing, which he preferred to think of in his practice as aids to guide interventions, or to change perceptions, rather than as absolute measures of defining characteristics. He gave an example of a child with behavioural problems at school who demonstrated high scores when tested – it turned out he was simply bored and found the work too easy and not worth bothering with; the reported high test results challenged the perception and attitudes of school staff, who went on to ‘label’ him gifted and talented.

The questions of what intelligence tests actually test and how should we best make use of them prompted the most discussion in the question and answer session that followed. One questioner asked about whether IQ can change in an individual over time. Stephen Murdoch related the case of Daryl Atkins, a convicted murderer in the USA whose IQ score had been 59 at the time of trial, and this low score would prevent him from being executed because he was ‘mentally retarded’. However, after constant contact with lawyers in the case and various lengthy appeals Atkins’ score had risen to 74, enough to make him executable. Murdoch asked, did this show that intelligence was fluid or just that Atkins learnt to do the tests better?

Here was an audience of non-psychologists being introduced to some psychological concepts and practices, and a bit of history, and asked to think about some of the wider issues raised – exactly what the Dana Centre sets out to do with its public engagement programme.
Peter Dillon-Hooper

Phil Loring would be pleased to hear members’ suggestions for future psychology events at the Dana Centre (see www.danacentre.org.uk/events) for a guide from past events – contact Phil at [email protected]


Response from the Health Secretary
The Society received a response from the Right Honourable Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, to a letters sent regarding the inclusion of mental health issues and disorders in the global agenda for non-communicable diseases.

Dr Carole Allan, Chair of the Society’s Professional Practice Board, wrote to the Secretary last month urging the government to ensure that mental illnesses and disorders are ‘Explicitly included under the rubric of non-communicable diseases in the United Nations Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases that will take place in September’ and to not miss the opportunity to advocate for inclusion at ‘several other international meetings leading up to the summit including the World Health Organisation meeting of health ministers at the end of April in Moscow’.

Dr Allan stressed the arguments against the inclusion of mental illnesses and disorders as being ‘outdated’ and that ‘the causes of mental illnesses are muti-factorial and include biological as well as psychological factors, and they have a huge impact on a large proportion of the population in terms of health, productivity, economic development, and quality of life.’

The letter urged the government to recognise mental illness as a non-communicable disease for which effective treatments and interventions exist and if social justice, human rights and development are the goals along with cost-effectiveness and good health outcomes then ‘mental health must be addressed, not as an afterthought or footnote, but boldly, and with commitment.’

Andrew Lansley’s response agreed that the ‘relationship between mental health and other non-communicable diseases needs recognition’ and that they will ‘continue to work to make sure that mental health issues are high on the global agenda”. He also assured the Society that the ‘UK is doing all it can to ensure a successful outcome from the UN high level meeting in September’.


Work and Mental Health website
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has launched a new online resource offering information and guidance about returning to work after a period of mental ill health.

The Work and Mental Health website is divided into four main parts, and is aimed at workers, carers, employers and clinicians. Each section signposts relevant information and provides useful links to resources from other organisations.

The website explains how work can be good for people’s mental health and well-being – and can play a positive part in people’s recovery. It shows how employers may provide effective support at work for people with a history of mental ill health, and how clinicians can support people returning to work.

The website has been developed by a multiprofessional working group, including input from the British Psychological Society. Emma Donaldson-Feilder, the BPS representative on the working group, said: 'This was a great example of a range of professionals working together to produce a resource that will hopefully be of use to many different people. There is a lot of helpful information and guidance available about mental health and work; this new online resource brings it together in an accessible way. It will hopefully help employers, those with mental health problems and clinicians achieve better work and health outcomes.'

Dr Jed Boardman, the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ lead for social inclusion, said: ‘The development of this website has given us a wonderful opportunity to stress the importance of work for people with mental health problems. Work provides more than a wage; it is a significant part of a person’s identity and provides a means of participation in broader society. This new website not only provides a new information resource for people with mental health problems, clinicians and employers, but also stresses the importance of collaboration between these key groups of people and the potential benefits for all.’

See www.rcpsych.ac.uk/workandmentalhealth


Public Engagement Grants
This is a reminder that the closing date for applications is 1 July 2011. Members of the Society can apply for up to £40,000 for projects that communicate psychology and deliver psychological services to the public. For more information go to: www.bps.org.uk/pepg


BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

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