Letters

NEETs, street triage and transpersonal psychology, from our September issue.

A need in NEETs
Young people who are ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ (NEET) are at high risk of developing longer-term mental health and/or behavioural problems, and this is a hot political issue in Europe (see 2012 European Foundation report at tinyurl.com/phll4fa). Most people know that unemployment is linked to anxiety and depression, but it is often assumed that this is a fairly transient condition (Weich & Lewis, 1998). A longer lasting impact has been shown to occur in the children of unemployed parents (Office for National Statistics 2004), but so far this has not been connected with becoming NEET.

Schoon et al. (2012) reviewed the literature on the intergenerational transmission of unemployment and concluded that although the academic prospects of the child are largely dependent upon a family’s socio-economic circumstances, these factors cannot on their own explain why adolescents become NEET. Anger (2012) has suggested that the intergenerational transmission of personality could also impact on the child’s economic prospects, and recent data I have looked at seem to confirm this is the case for NEETs.

A post-hoc analysis of Rentfrow et al.’s (2015) self-selected online sample (N = 386,375) showed that on average all the big five personality traits of 18- to 24-year-old NEETs (N = 2426) in England were significantly different from the norms for their age. Furthermore, there were significant differences in their personality traits across seven self-reported income brackets. In the lowest income bracket (< £10k) Neuroticism was higher and Extraversion and Conscientiousness were lower than in all the other income levels. This is of interest because Neuroticism predicts later mental illness, substance misuse, and poor job performance (Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006), whereas Extraversion and Conscientiousness are considered to be protective factors (Cambell-Sillsa et al., 2006).

Thus, there is good reason to believe that intergenerational transmission of personality and socio-economic prospects coalesce in the context of parental unemployment to create the longer-lasting mental health problems that are seen in the NEET populations (e.g. Serbin & Karp, 2004). While it is hoped that these findings will inspire local governments to take action on this most pernicious of public health problems, it is concerning to think that national governments will lose interest once the youth employment figures start to improve.

Stephen Adshead RNMH
University of Essex

References
Anger, S. (2012). Intergenerational transmission of cognitive and noncognitive skills. In J. Ermisch, M. Jäntti & T. Smeeding (Eds.) From parents to children (pp.393–421). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Campbell-Sillsa, L., Cohana, S.L. & Steina, M.B. (2006). Relationship of resilience to personality, coping, and psychiatric symptoms in young adults. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 585–599.
Office for National Statistics (2004). Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain, 2004: A summary report. Available at tinyurl.com/l4dg5q5 (05/2015)
Ozer, D.J. & Benet-Martínez, V. (2006). Personality and the prediction of consequential outcomes. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 401–421.
Rentfrow, P.J., Jokela, M. & Lamb, M.E. (2015). Regional personality differences in Great Britain. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0122245.
Schoon, I., Barnes, M., Brown, V. et al. (2012). Intergenerational transmission of worklessness. Institute of Education & National Centre for Social Research.
Serbin, L.A. & Karp, J. (2004). The intergenerational transfer of psychosocial risk. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 333–363.
Weich, S. & Lewis, G. (1998). Poverty, unemployment, and common mental disorders. British Medical Journal, 317(7151), 115–119.

 

Psychological support – bridging the gap

I am writing in response to Fiona Sweeney’s article, on her role in a street triage team (Careers, August 2015).

The innovative efforts of the street triage scheme are addressing a need that was previously overlooked: a lack of trained psychological support for those must vulnerable and distressed. I believe, that over the next few years, this scheme will become a substantial area of care for individuals suffering from poor mental health.

My concern, and the reasoning behind this letter, is that there appears to be a lack of psychological support in areas much more relevant to the care of service users. This conclusion stems from my experiences during several occupational placements. I have previously worked in a number of different healthcare settings, with multidisciplinary teams in both in- and out-patient services, where I have found trained clinical psychologists are few and far between. This absence suggests that psychological support is not a priority in terms of managing the care of each service user.

However, whilst working recently in an outpatient service, I was surprised by the amount of time that was spent, during clinics, discussing service user anxiety. Other healthcare professionals are having to address these concerns, and, as with police officers, these individuals have only basic psychological training. This is not to say that they cannot deal successfully with emotional and psychological difficulties; I was impressed by how many adopted a person-centred approach during appointments with service users.

However, one must wonder whether the attention given to any psychological issues, in turn, takes away the focus from the medical or physical difficulties the patient originally came to clinic to address? It is of general knowledge that care staff within the NHS are under significant time constraints. Therefore, their areas of expertise should take priority, but this is not always the case. Service users will take the time during clinic to address their primary concerns, and in some cases these are psychological, therefore the professional must meet this need. It is asking too much of professionals to address their own concerns with service users, and cover the psychological and emotional difficulties they may be experiencing, within a half-hour clinic appointment.

Therefore, I argue that each team, in each department of the NHS, needs a dedicated psychologist. It is not the case that every service user seen will require ongoing psychological support, however, what should be in place is the option to meet with a professional who is trained and equipped to deal with any concerns, should the service user and family need it.

This then brings us back to a question that has been asked numerous times: why, when there are so many individuals eager to become clinical psychologists, are there not enough job positions to offer? There is a torrent of prospective psychology students that universities are churning out each year who are excellent candidates for clinical training, but there seems to be some discrepancy between this supply of individuals and the demand for psychological support. The current state of affairs seems to be that graduates, like Fiona, are having to become much more creative with their career choices if they want to succeed in the field of clinical psychology.

I myself am a recent psychology graduate and I commend Fiona for her move into street triage. Fiona has managed to overcome the obstacles associated with a career in the NHS, by working in a profession that diverts the attention back to patient care.

For the service user looking for psychological support, it seems the responsibility will have to fall to healthcare professionals, like low-intensity support, until the NHS can bridge the gap between supply and demand.

Hope Brennan
Glasgow

 

A new scholasticism with an old soul

In January of last year I graduated with a master’s in transpersonal psychology (hereafter TP) only to have become thoroughly disillusioned with the field as a result. For the heights TP professes to investigate are merely secular theoretical constructs in place of the hitherto religious (predominantly Christian) pronouncements on matters spiritual. Friedman (2009) has noted the xenophilia within TP, or, the privileging of exotic traditions over those more closer to home. Indeed, in our crippled culture, TP naturally looks to the East for stable, embedded spiritualities, and, even worse, believes they can be easily transposed into our midst. Carl Jung, who studied comparative religion extensively, cautioned that he did not think Westerners could fully appropriate Eastern religious endeavours because of the inherent cultural differences. In fact, Friedman (2005) relays a relevant insightful personal anecdote of how he once expressed his interest in Zen meditation to a Japanese colleague who then promptly laughed in his face at the Western drive towards solitary spirituality – a concept unthinkable in the actual Japanese context. Many have subsequently written on the cult of self-possession within contemporary religious alternatives and TP’s harshest criticism is that it has fallen into the trap of psychology as religion (Vitz, 1994). Combine our cultural moment of rampant individualism with Eastern practices of self-deification and we see why Friedman (2009) went on to develop a concern for the field’s tendency towards proliferating narcissism.

The alternatives to our culture’s national theism, particularly emphasised within TP – as found in the likes of Ferrer (2009), etc. – furthermore propagate a philosophia perennis, which is to say one of relativism. This is so taken for granted that I thought I would look deeper into how we got to such a place whereby the once perceived spark of divine intelligence within us was so undervalued in its ability to render real truths in the search for the sacred that one accepts a postmodern uncertainty over the history of our land. After all, this has led to rather embarrassing encouragements of fideism, of the New Age romanticised kind, whereupon one has the uneasy sense that imagination is inseparable from assent; or, as Faber (1996) explains in the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, ‘New Age thinking is a regression to primary narcissism in which the adult is returned to an infantile state of omnipotence, magical wish fulfilment and merger with the mother[/Gaia]’ (p.608).

I subsequently hunted in the opposite direction and struck upon how Catholicism has a particularly rich tradition of faith combined with reason even in the area of psychology. Going right back to the days of psychology’s designation as within philosophy’s remit, Catholicism carved out a school of thought based on traditional philosophy under the banner of ‘Neoscholasticism’. The goal of the Neoscholastics was to integrate the conviction of the soul with the scientific study of the human mind. In fact Kugelmann (2005) lays out how in the same year Wundt opened his psychological institute – 1879 – Pope Leo XIII issued a mandate for all Catholics to study Thomistic philosophy of being. It is St Thomas’s equation of the soul with the intelligence that inspired my coining of the phrase ‘desouling’ for our breakdown in penetrative thinking in the above areas. Neoscholasticism, for many myriad reasons lost its soul (cf. Kugelmann, 2005 for full details) around about the 1960s when TP precisely took off.

While I have the privilege of seeing retrospectively that Neoscholastic philosophy simultaneously underappreciated the role of culture (because it was more overtly Christian then anyway) and the individual (or rather personality), I found its grounding in a workable philosophy of being the cornerstone of my proposal that scholastic spiritual elaborations of our intelligence cannot go far wrong. Those who search for the ghost in the machine must encourage the division of labour between ontology and science as TP adopted doing; whereas the Thomistic rational soul is at least both empirical and preservative in the face of those such as Dennett (1991), who delight in exposing possible material causes for key but suspect fixtures in transpersonal theory – like consciousness, for example. Our wisdom tradition, however, has a reasoned argument for assent to the once great province of psychology itself – the soul. Perhaps if we recover this one element we can prevent the slipping into uncertainty that categorises a lot of the confusion modern seekers after the truth encounter in our day?

David Bench MSc
University of Northampton Alumnus

References
Dennett, D.C. (1991). Consciousness explained. London: Back Bay Books.
Faber, M.D. (1996). Narcissism. In D.A. Leeming, K. Madden & S. Marlan (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion (pp.607–609). New York: Springer.
Ferrer, J.N. (2009). The plurality of religions and the spirit of pluralism. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 28(1), 139–151.
Friedman, H.L. (2005). Problems of romanticism in transpersonal psychology: A case study of aikido. The Humanistic Psychologist, 33(1), 3–24.
Friedman, H.L. (2009). Xenophilia as a cultural trap. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 28(1), 107–111.
Kugelmann, R. (2005). Neoscholastic psychology revisited. History of Psychology, 8(2), 131–175.
Vitz, P. (1994). Psychology as religion: The cult of self-worship (2nd edn). Carlisle: Paternoster Press.

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