Society

A guest column from Robert Roe, President of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations; President’s Award; special educational needs; bipolar disorder; the connected baby; and more

Guest President’s column: Robert Roe

As the Society awaits the results of its Presidential election, we invite the President of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations for a guest spot

 

Good morning, BPS! Just returning from EFPA’s 30th birthday party at the European Congress of Psychology in Istanbul, I congratulate you with on your 110th anniversary. A respectable age indeed, but may I ask why you were born in 1901 and not before or after? You see, I take the opportunity to relate your anniversary to the theme of the presidential lecture I gave at the start the congress. Why did psychology come to life at the end of the 19th century and to what purpose? The answers to these questions are by no means obvious. Was it scientific discovery by pioneers like Wundt and Freud that led to novel theories and subsequently to new applications? Or did 19th-century society with its industrialisation, urbanisation, emancipation and economic growth pose problems that called for answers other than the existing professions could provide?

 

What kinds of problems were there and what did psychologists have to offer? What is the profession’s raison d’être anyway? After pondering different answers, I am inclined to conclude that psychologists fulfil two core functions in society. On the one hand, helping people to make sense of life, reduce suffering and gain mastery over their lives; on the other hand, helping rulers and institutions in the exercise of power and the management of collective action, to their own benefit or that of the larger society. But these functions are neither unique nor new. Priests, physicians, pedagogues, lawyers, counsellors have done the same for centuries, and continue to do similar work, sometimes competing with psychologists. And there are anthropologists, economists, sociologists, social workers and other professions that emerged in the 19th century as well, fulfilling quite related roles.

 

How does the work of psychologists compare to that of other professions? What is its added value? We psychologists tend to assume that our knowledge and know-how are inherently valuable and of obvious relevance for society. We find it hard to understand why politicians and other policy makers pay so little attention to us, and listen to economists, physicians, engineers and lawyers rather than to us, who have so much more to offer. We seem convinced that Europe needs us and that it will discover how much we can offer by just asking us. Things may be different in the United Kingdom, but in Europe at large the need for psychologists cannot be taken for granted. It is not evident at all that Europe should turn to us rather than to other professions, particularly those that have learned to read the European policy agenda and to make sense of topics such as mental health and well-being, lifelong learning, active ageing, adaptation to climate change, industrial competitiveness, traffic safety, gender equality, social inclusion, fight against crime, safe internet, etc. As psychologists, we have difficulty perceiving Europe’s needs and relating this to creativity, attachment, risk perception, procedural fairness, facial recognition, ethical decision making, unconscious social cognition, etc. Moreover, we find it hard to indicate where we are today and where we might be tomorrow in fulfilling Europe’s needs. We lack situational awareness but also indicators, figures, benchmarks, etc.

 

I see two major ways for better meeting the needs of Europe in the future. One is to develop new and comprehensive solutions for societal problems, based on collaboration among psychologists and with other professions. A key example is the case of mental health, where psychotherapy alone will never be able to meet the huge and growing demand for prevention and intervention. The second is to share the knowledge of psychology with others in order for them to create solutions. In a digital world where knowledge can no longer be bounded and protected, and where borders between disciplines become increasingly blurred (e.g. health science, cognitive science), knowledge must be given away (as G. Miller said in 1969) or it will simply be taken away. Both are great challenges for psychologists, who have traditionally preferred to work on smaller rather than larger issues and who have been reluctant to work with non-psychologists, particularly those with less education, fearing that they might run away with the jewels of psychology. But times have changed, as you in BPS know all too well. More than a century of research and development has made psychology a mature profession. Psychologists have therefore little to fear from others (and much to gain from collaborating with them), particularly if they keep innovating and developing the profession.

 

I believe that the greatest challenge for psychologists lies somewhere else, namely in managing their diversity and dividedness. The outside world is confronted with dozens of psychological specialisms and types of psychologies. And psychologists tend to break up into small groups and only reluctantly identify with psychology as a whole. How can the general public and policy makers make sense of this? And how can a profession gain respect from them if its members keep stressing differences?

 

Does Europe need psychologists? It is hard to say. Well, yes, Europe’s more than 300,000 psychologists must be doing something useful, being able to feed their households, but I believe that much more could and should be done to serve Europe. From the perspective of EFPA, which unites psychologists associations from 35 European countries, this is what I see as necessary:

1. Strengthening and advertising the profile of psychology as a unitary science with a differentiated profession.

2. Intensifying the process of professional development, exemplified by EuroPsy.

3. Promoting innovative research and development.

4. Behaving responsibly towards society, among each other and towards other professions – which implies working together in the interest of the common good.

5. Developing our lobbying capacity and effectiveness.

 

For now, I would like to leave the question open and defer answering it until a time in the future, when we have sufficient evidence to show that what we say is true. At the end of my lecture, I called upon all of Europe’s psychologists’ associations to join in making psychology stronger and serving Europe better. I hope that BPS, with its 110 years of experience and its continuing support to EFPA over the past three decades, will help us in realising this.

 

President’s Award 2011

Usha Goswami, Professor of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, has won the Presidents’ Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychological Knowledge for 2011. The award is made each year by the Society to provide mid-career recognition of the achievements of someone currently engaged in research of outstanding quality.

 

Professor Goswami, who is also Director of the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Neuroscience in Education and a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, is best known for her contribution to our understanding of childhood cognitive and intellectual development, of reading development and dyslexia, and of childhood learning difficulties. She has recently made major theoretical and experimental advances in our understanding of literacy acquisition and phonological development, both among atypical populations, such as dyslexic and deaf children, and among those developing normally.

 

Nominating her for the award, Professor Trevor Robbins from the University of Cambridge said: ‘Her cross-language research on basic auditory processing in dyslexia, published in the last decade, is changing the field. Her work in child development and analogy has had a major impact on UK primary education, as has her work on the acquisition of literacy and the role of phonics.’

 

Professor Goswami has a national profile and is an excellent communicator of complex science. She makes regular appearances on the BBC and in national newspapers, and was a keynote lecturer at the 2008 Cheltenham Science Festival.

 

Her research had made contributions in five distinct areas. In reading development and phonological development, Professor Goswami won the Society’s Spearman Medal for her research on reading by analogy, which is now used by both the national curriculum and national reading strategy.  Her critiques of the role of synthetic phonics in reading acquisition have had a major impact in education, with a review paper she jointly authored being the most downloaded paper in the British Journal of Educational Research.

 

In her work on dyslexia and auditory sensory processing, Professor Goswami had developed a theory to explain the ‘phonological deficit’ in dyslexia, which is based upon how the brain processes different frequencies in human speech. Using this theory she predicted and then demonstrated previously unsuspected difficulties in dyslexia with syllable perception, rhythm awareness and metrical perception.

 

Professor Goswami is recognised as one of the internationally outstanding psychologists in cognitive development of her generation. Her 2008 book Cognitive Development: The Learning Brain, which summarises her contribution to the field, is already regarded as a classic. She has been recorded for the Piaget Archive and has acted as an adviser to educational charities and official bodies in Britain and abroad.

 

In educational neuroscience, Professor Goswami established the world’s first centre for the subdiscipline at Cambridge in 2005. It is now recognised as being a world leader, and Professor Goswami herself is one of the key figures in this developing field. She has contributed invited theoretical papers to leading journals, such as Nature Reviews Neuroscience, and was scientific coordinator for the learning difficulties strand for the British government 2008 Foresight report on Mental Capacity and Well-Being.

 

Finally, Professor Goswami has worked in the field of reading and phonology in deaf and specific language impairment (SLI) populations. Here she has demonstrated that deaf children follow the same developmental sequence as hearing children and that phonological awareness is key to reading acquisition by deaf people. In SLI she showed that the children affected show many similarities with dyslexic children, which has important implications for remediation.

 

In her Broadbent Lecture, given at the Society’s 2003 Annual Conference, Professor Goswami said: ‘Problems of the classroom and the world of the scientific laboratory need to be bridged by well-developed theories and rigorous methods.’ There could be no better example of success at this task than her own career.

 

The Professional Practice Board’s Social Inclusion Group

The Society’s Social Inclusion Group was set up under the auspices of the Professional Practice Board (PPB) late in 2007, tasked with working across the Society’s Divisions to address issues of social exclusion and develop an understanding of socially inclusive practice (using inclusive approaches to its own work wherever possible). Here we set out a brief history of the work of the Group, and return to our roots to define our future work in much changed circumstances with a call for abstracts of work in progress for a conference in late 2011.

 

The Group began meeting on a quarterly basis following an inaugural event in October 2007. A number of colleagues joined us from the Occupational, Forensic and Educational Divisions, Community Psychology and from various Faculties within the Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP). We heard work from a variety of fields including adult mental health, children’s services, services for refugees and prisoners and mental health promotion, along with policy from the National Social Inclusion Programme Director and European issues from the DCP Chair.

 

Child and family well-being was identified as one of three work streams that the Society would pursue, along with work on prisoner well-being and return to employment. An e-group was set up after the conference, offering access to events and publications in the area. At a second Society Social Inclusion annual conference in 2008, workshops were held on socially excluded children and families, unemployed people and prisoners. The workshops were well attended by a range of clinical, occupational and educational psychologists, as well as applied psychologists working in related fields of community development and the youth criminal justice system. The workshops presented their findings to Dr Naomi Eisenstadt CB, then Director of the Social Exclusion Unit, and these were well received.

 

In 2008 a paper written by three members of the Social Inclusion Group was published by the Society as a discussion paper: Socially Inclusive Practice (see www.bps.org.uk/pracguide). This paper included principles for socially inclusive practice, current practice examples and a service user commentary throughout. The paper has been widely disseminated, and a number of presentations have been given by the authors at conferences around the UK. During the same year the Society, via the DOP, DCP and PPB, supported the secondment of the group’s chair to the UK National Social Inclusion Programme to explore the potential role of Governors and Lay Members of NHS Foundation Trusts in promoting and sustaining the social inclusion of people with mental health difficulties. This work included a day conference at the Society’s headquarters in London for applied psychologists as part of a larger co-productive process spanning 13 NHS trusts. The work was published as ‘Communities of Influence’ in the November 2009 issue of Life in the Day Journal which can be found at www.socialinclusion.org.uk.

 

Based in part on work conducted at the Society’s annual social inclusion events, in January 2010 a peer-reviewed special issue of The Psychologist (see tinyurl.com/3v43oxx) focused on social inclusion with contributions from applied psychologists from the Occupational and Clinical Divisions, service users from the DCP’s Service User and Carer Liaison Committee and policy maker Dr Naomi Eisenstadt CB at the Cabinet Office.

 

In February 2010, a PPB-funded ‘Discovery Conference’ designed by the Children and Families work stream looked at the effectiveness of bringing parent-strengthening programmes to marginalised and excluded families and was attended by a wide range of applied and academic participants. The day included family presentations and full family participation in a range of workshops, and a number of recommendations were agreed from the day. It was agreed that a further Society discussion paper be prepared to set out the case and present the evidence for taking a socially inclusive approach to implementing family-strengthening programmes. This work is ongoing: it includes examples from an international survey of United Nations recognised evidence-based programmes, and it puts forward a set of principles for socially inclusive practice. The Society hopes to publish this paper before the end of the year.

 

During 2010 the Group participated in drawing up the Inclusion Institute’s Inter-professional Pledge on Socially Inclusive Practice which will be published by the Institute and the main five mental health professional societies later this year. The Group also contributed to the DCP’s participation in the across professional response to the New Horizons paper and provided a representative on the Child Wellbeing agenda for a Society meeting with the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Interventions Team run by Dr David Halpern. The Group has submitted examples of socially inclusive practice to Mental Health Europe. The Group is also involved in the new Expanding Psychological Therapies work stream on serious mental illness and is represented at the National Mental Health Research Network’s Personalisation Research Development Group.

 

If your work has been and is being affected by the many recent and ongoing changes in social policy, we want to hear from you. We hope to organise, with your full participation, a scoping event in late 2011, to determine new priorities for the Group’s work around the social inclusion agenda post the economic downturn. Please let us have 250-word abstracts of your social inclusion work in progress and how the changes in the last year are affecting it by the end of August – send them in Microsoft Word format to [email protected]. We are also looking for committee members!

Dr Fabian Davis

Chair of the Social Inclusion Group

Nigel Atter

Secretary of the Social Inclusion Group

 

Understanding bipolar disorder

Mood swings are not always best understood as an illness called ‘bipolar disorder’, and medication is not the only way to cope with them, says a new Society report, Understanding Bipolar Disorder. This in-depth review of recent research was authored by Professor Steven Jones of Lancaster University and a team of leading clinical psychologists, working in partnership with service users. It suggests that a tendency to extreme moods can have significant benefits as well as sometimes leading to problems.

 

The report also suggests that these mood swings are more extreme forms of the variations we all experience and can result from life events rather than just brain chemistry. It is not always helpful to think of this as an ‘illness’, and doctors and other health workers may sometimes give unhelpfully negative messages about what the diagnosis means, for example encouraging people to lower their expectations of what they can achieve in life. The report also suggests that although medication can be helpful for some people, it does not help everyone. Some people prefer instead to think of themselves simply as someone who tends to experience more extreme lows and highs than others, and to manage this by adapting their lifestyle or using psychological therapy.

 

 

The report argues that clinical services need to recognise the expertise of service users and work with them towards their own individual goals. One of the authors, Joanne Hemmingfield, said: ‘As a service user myself, I believe that this report provides a message of hope for people with bipolar disorder which is in stark contrast to the messages most people have received in the past.’

 

Clare Dolman, Chair of MDF the Bipolar Organisation, said: ‘As the national bipolar charity, we welcome this report by some of the UK's most distinguished psychologists, led by Professor Steve Jones of the Spectrum Centre. It is very encouraging that Understanding Bipolar Disorder highlights the potential positive aspects of living with the condition as well as the negative, and paints a more hopeful picture of the path to recovery by combining psychological approaches with medication where necessary.’

 

Understanding Bipolar Disorder is available for download from the BPS Shop – www.bpsshop.org.uk/Understanding-Bipolar-Disorder-P1280.aspx. It is free to download until 12 August.

 

Special educational needs

The Society has responded to a Green Paper on special educational needs (SEN) and disability.

 

Welcoming the Paper, the Society response agrees that the change to the system for children with SEN and disability is long overdue. The emphasis on the age range from birth to 25 years is seen as a strength, as is the clear intention to promote much greater continuity between child, adolescent and adult services. The Society also welcomes the intention to build upon good practice in partnership working, especially with parents, and to reduce bureaucracy in SEN processes.

 

However, the Society response felt that the Green Paper could go further in representing the complex interactions that constitute the SEN system. Suggestions for improving the system require careful trialling in different local authorities to ensure that in attempting to solve one set of perceived problems, a fresh set of problems are avoided. The response highlights the importance of the high levels of expertise required to undertake complex, holistic psychological assessment of individual children’s needs over time and that takes account of the child’s contexts for living and learning. In addition, the need for all systems of assessment, identification and intervention to support collaboration and clear succinct communication is emphasised.

 

Sandra Dunsmuir, who led the response, particularly welcomed the associated review of educational psychology initial professional training. ‘It has been clear for some time that the current system of funding three-year postgraduate doctoral programmes is unsustainable and in need of change. The prioritisation of this issue by the government, the allocation of resources to address the issues identified and involvement of the profession and others in the process has been valued.

 

In other recent news, Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove has announced that the Department for Education (DfE) is launching a new Teaching Agency from April 2012. This agency will be an executive agency of the DfE, and subject to parliamentary approval will take on some of Children’s Workforce Development Council’s current responsibilities, including the educational psychology workforce.

 

More details  at tinyurl.com/3vz2pqo

 

The connected baby

Bringing infants’ remarkable abilities to life is the aim of a new film, The Connected Baby, premiered on 25 June at Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee. A DVD of the film will be released later this year, with a limited number of copies available free to the public.

 

The film demonstrates, using insights from scientific studies of infant psychology, how babies come in to the world already communicating, already social, already able to engage actively in relationships with the people around them.

 

The film was produced jointly by Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk (Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, University of Dundee) and Jonathan Robertson (independent filmmaker based in Fife). It was funded by a Public Engagement Grant from the Society, and the soundtrack was specially recorded by renowned Scottish folk singer Sheena Wellington.

 

Dr Suzanne Zeedyk explained: ‘At one time, we believed that babies were born into a mass of blooming, buzzing confusion. Science has come a long way since then. We now have a mass of findings, from both psychology and neuroscience, which show that babies come into the world already emotionally aware of and connected to other people. And we’ve realised that the emotional responses they receive back from other people actually mould the pathways developing in their young brains. This knowledge is fascinating, and it’s also important. It means that the way we engage with our babies, from the moment they are born, has an impact on their long-term development.’

 

 One of the parents participating in the film said: ‘When I saw the footage, I could not believe how attentive my baby was. I could see every little nuance – the way his eyes never left my face, how his movements actually coordinated with my own, how synchronised our facial expressions could be. I think I hadn’t noticed this so much before, because it happens so fast in real time. It’s like a new world now! Just watching the film has helped me understand him better, and made me more confident.’

 

The film contains commentary from some of the leading infant researchers in the UK, along with extensive footage of mothers, fathers and grandmothers engaged in playful interaction with their youngsters.

 

 Dr Zeedyk concluded: ‘Interest in the early years is now huge, in a number of countries across the world. We’ve come to realise that we can better tackle many of our current societal challenges by giving closer attention to babies’ emotional needs. We produced this film in the hope that it would be useful to – and enjoyed by – anyone engaging with young children, either as parents or professionals.’

 

Copies of the DVD can be requested by registering on www.theconnectedbaby.org

 

 

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