Winning ways

From multi-talented technicians and undergraduate students placed at the heart of restorative justice to academics with decades of experience – the British Psychological Society’s award-winners have some fascinating stories. Our journalist Ella Rhodes spoke to them.

Dr Gill Allen, who leads the Criminological and Forensic Psychology BSc (Hons) Programme at the University of Bolton, was inspired by her own practical experience with the prison service, youth offending teams and mental health services in giving students truly hands-on experience. The course, which has been given the Society’s Education and Public Engagement Board’s 2017 Award for Innovation in Psychology Programmes, sees students working on restorative justice panels and teaching young children about crime.

‘It’s brilliant to learn the theories and to understand what’s happening in the literature and how research informs that. But I think there needs to be an extra layer to really get students ready so their expectations are clear when they go into their eventual careers. I thought that wasn’t something I’d ever had during my education and thought it was a good idea to bring the course to life, make it more contemporary and reflect what’s happening in criminal justice services,’ Allen said.

In 2015 Allen and her colleagues signed a memorandum of understanding with Greater Manchester Police, which has led to students forming a restorative justice panel to help both victims and offenders work together following minor crimes. The students, who are fully trained, carry out risk assessments and set up conferences between both parties – a project that has piqued the interest of local schools. 

Allen said the students had worked on a range of offences including violence and the inappropriate use of mobile phones. ‘These are issues happening among young people that really weren’t a decade or so ago. Recently we’ve also diversified our referral system and we’re not just taking referrals from the police – a number of schools across the Bolton area know about our service and are putting referrals in. It can be bullying or more minor aggression, but the school may not want to deal with it though exclusion and it’s more about supporting individuals to make positive changes.’

Course students are also involved with Project Chameleon – a 10-week course in which the BSc students teach 10-year-old school pupils about crime, alcohol, self-defence, drugs and their effects, as well as the ‘ladder of aggression’ and how situations may escalate. Allen explained that as 10 is the age of criminal responsibility the course aimed to educate children about the many facets of crime and help them take responsibility for their actions.

‘We’re in the middle of an evaluation at the moment, but the feedback from the children has been really positive. They were saying they wanted it to be part of the school week every week and wanted more sessions. They thought it was really important because they were learning things they wouldn’t usually at school. They were telling their siblings about what they’d learned and had been spreading the word.’

Allen said it was fantastic to receive the award and to receive recognition from a prestigious panel: ‘In July last year we had the best outcomes ever for a cohort on the course with the most first class and 2:1 degrees we’ve seen. There was something really special on their graduation day as it was the first cohort I’d seen through all three years and hearing their feedback on the course and the wide range of job opportunities which opened up to them thanks to the placements and their experiences was a real highlight.’

Speaking to me from his pleasantly cluttered lab, surrounded by every imaginable piece of psychological testing equipment, the winner of this year’s Technical Support in Psychology Research Award, Barrie Usherwood, said he was humbled by the honour of this joint BPS/Association of Technicians in Psychology (ATSiP) award. An electronic engineer, Usherwood has previously worked in the automotive and food-processing sectors, as well as developing telemetry technology before moving to Lancaster University 10 years ago.

Usherwood’s day-to-day work is exceptionally varied and involves helping psychologists use lab equipment, advising on the appropriate equipment for particular research aims and developing specialist software and hardware solutions. He also has a special interest in developing hardware for EEG and wearable biometrics. ‘I found out that I’d been nominated for the award a while ago and forgot all about it. When I got the email I was humbled, shocked, proud, a whole mixture of things. Working in this department I’ve been given so much scope to work on a huge variety of projects, the lab has become an extension of me really.’

Sam Royle, a Psychology Technician at the University of Salford, won this year’s BPS/ATSiP Technical Support in Psychological Teaching Award. As well as having a full-time job, Royle is also in the midst of completing a PhD and is currently Secretary for ATSiP.

He told me that there had been a drive in recent years by the Science Council to increase the recognition, visibility, career development and sustainability of technicians. Royle has been part of this drive thanks to his role in ATSiP, he explained: ‘We will need another 70,000 technicians per year for the next decade, that’s a huge number and none of those people are yet being trained. The technical community also tends to be a bit older, many current technicians are retiring and taking their institutional knowledge with them. Technicians’ roles also tend to be quite flat in terms of management structure so we’d like to see more routes for progression. The initiative is about making sure technicians are appreciated for what they do and are given the opportunity to develop in the same way our academics and students develop.’ As part of this aim for sustainability Royle is also hoping to set up a role for a technician apprentice in his lab at Salford.

Dr Trevor Powell, a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist with 35 years’ experience, has won the Professional Practice Board’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Powell has spent most of his career working in adult mental health and neuropsychology and is the clinical lead and manager of the Berkshire-wide Neuropsychology service. Powell has also been Chair of the brain injury charity Headway Thames Valley for 30 years.

After a degree in psychology and sociology Powell considered going into teaching, but upon arriving for his interview for teacher training college was told he’d arrived at the wrong college. Following a period working as a nursing assistant on an adolescent unit in Macclesfield he eventually went into a clinical psychology doctorate course at Surrey University. He became interested in helping people with brain injuries after being accosted by a patient’s mother: ‘One of my patients was a young man who’d had a head injury, and I met him and his mother when I was a schoolboy psychologist. His mother was a very charismatic New Zealander, and she told me they were having a meeting about services with people with brain injury and asked if I’d come. I had to leave halfway through and whispered in her ear to let me know if there was anything I could do to help. She gave me a call the next morning asking me to be Chairman of the charity they were founding, Headway – I asked what a chairman did and she assured me we’d make it up as we went along! That was 30 years ago, when people with head injuries were a neglected population who fell through the cracks between mental health, physical disability and learning disability; there wasn’t much for them in those days but there’s a lot more now.’

Thanks to his work in Neuropsychology Powell has also been involved in medico-legal cases involving brain injuries. He told me about one involving mercury poisoning: ‘I went to South Africa and interviewed Zulu people who had worked in a mercury processing plant  The company had employed Zulu people and just gave them a pair of wellies and overalls to work around mercury which is highly neurotoxic, ignoring health and safety rules. Some of them had died and a number had significant brain injury resulting in the company being taken to court.  

Powell has also written six books, including The Mental Health Handbook – a collection of photocopy free handouts for use in psychological therapy and Head Injury, A Practical Guide which gives advice on coping after head injury and was adopted by Headway. More recently Powell has helped expand the Berkshire Neuropsychology service to include diagnostic assessment and support for adults with neurodevelopmental difficulties such as Autism/Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD. As a result of this work he has carried out some research and written a book entitled: Recognising Asperger’s Syndrome: a practical guide to adult diagnosis and beyond

Colleagues and friends Dr Claire Hallas and Sasha Cain have been jointly named the winners of the Professional Practice Board’s Practitioner of the Year Award 2017.

Both work as applied health practitioner psychologists and after working in the NHS for more than 10 years each, set up their business SCCH Consulting in 2012 which provides specialist training for practitioner health psychologists and other health professionals working in applied areas. Their work also involves the development of psychological interventions for organisations, evaluating services, advising organisations on integrating evidence-based assessment, formulation and interventions into their services and they also established the annual Applied Practitioner Health Psychology conference.

Hallas and Cain met while working on the BPS Division of Health Psychology (DHP) Committee where they were instrumental in leading the DHP response to the NHS Agenda for Change and negotiating with the NHS Workforce Planning team, who plan the configuration of the future NHS workforce. As the only NHS practitioners on the DHP committee at that time, Cain and Hallas also acted as a voice for applied health psychologists and helped to develop health psychology stage 2 training to include writing specific competencies for individual psychological intervention work. This is a theme which has continued into the work of SCCH – as they pointed out universities can only include so much intervention content within their stage 2 training and now they deliver this specific training to those still studying and to qualified health psychologists. 

‘We've always been interested in developing the work of individualised therapeutic work in the profession and using skills and knowledge from our research colleagues to apply to more individual, client-based and health services work. We could see there was a big gap in the training of our health psychologists and a big gap in how health psychologists learn to apply psychological interventions into healthcare and into individual client work,’ Hallas said.

SCCH has also been commissioned to carry out some interesting projects, including the development of an online intervention to help people who have asthma and are experiencing problems in taking their preventer medication. ‘Asthma UK were looking for health psychologists with a unique ability to take the research evidence base and models in health psychology and design personalised interventions for the people with asthma coming onto their programme to improve their adherence and general quality of life and functionality around their asthma. One of the key things about our role which we think is unique to the way we work at SCCH is we design what we call unique personalised algorithms for services and intervention programmes which allow us to assess an individual and their psychological needs against evidence based models and then to prioritise which interventions they get allocated to and how the process, order and type of intervention they receive maximises their outcome.’

During their time working on the DHP committee Cain and Hallas realised there were many applied practitioner health psychologists around the UK, often working in isolation from colleagues and in areas of healthcare not necessarily linked to psychology departments. They set up a LinkedIn network for these colleagues and later ran 2 annual half-day networking events to bring them together, this eventually evolved into an annual one-day conference held in 2017 and 2018.

Cain told me many health psychologists in these roles felt lacking in support and supervision, and many do not have a clear pathway for career progression and have to seek out  placements themselves and self-fund their training. She added: ‘People told us that they really wanted to hear what other health psychologists were doing in practice, because in our profession more often than not we are working out in all sorts of applied settings often not within psychology departments and are quite isolated from other Health Psychologists.’ The conference, which covers a varied range of applied psychologist work, key competencies and best practice as well as discussions of the experiences of the practitioners, has proven very popular and has now sold out for two years running. 

The Professional Practice Board’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in Practice 2017 winner is Dr Emmanuelle Peters. Peters co-founded the Psychological Interventions Clinic for Outpatients with Psychosis (PICuP) Clinic with Professor Elizabeth Kuipers.

The clinic, based at the Maudsley Hospital in London, is one of the few entirely psychology-led services for psychosis in the UK. It provides cognitive behavioural therapy for psychosis (CBTp), including comorbid PTSD and bipolar disorder, and family interventions. It is also involved in the training and dissemination of specialist skills in CBTp, CBT for PTSD and psychosis, family interventions and research.

Peters is a clinical academic and is Clinical Director of PICuP, which started its life as a research trial. She fought hard for PICuP to become fully funded as a specialist NHS service following the success of the trial. Prior to starting PICuP, Peters was the first psychologist to be employed on the National Psychosis Inpatient Unit (South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust) and during her 10 years there was responsible for transforming it into a ‘CBT-informed’ unit, quadrupling the psychology provision.

In a time of savage austerity cuts, Peters said, keeping financially afloat was a huge challenge. However, she added, after 15 years with PICuP there had been some enormous highlights she pointed to hearing the good news stories of service users who had particularly good outcomes. 

‘Some service users have actually published deeply moving articles about their experience of therapy, for example Dolly Sen’s article What stays unsaid in therapeutic relationships published in Psychosis last year. Setting up our Peer-Support service a few years ago with the late Angela Morford was another highlight. This is a service within PICuP, run by service-users for service-users to facilitate access to therapy for those who find it difficult to make it to sessions or are anxious about what therapy entails… One of my ex-clients told me he thought PICuP was the “Ferrari of mental health services”.’ 

Peters told me she and her colleagues are planning to extend their Skype therapy sessions to access clients across the UK and beyond.  Recently they have also applied for a grant for virtual reality equipment for use in therapeutic procedures such as behavioural experiments. 

She added: ‘I am also leading a £2 million grant application to the National Institute for Health Research to evaluate a trauma-focused, integrated therapy for people who have experienced a trauma and present with distressing PTSD and psychosis symptoms which was developed and piloted in PICuP. We have been trying to get this work funded since 2011, and it’s our seventh attempt! But when you come face to face on a daily basis with the horrendous trauma histories our clients present with it makes you realise this work is too important to give up on.’ 

Peters said she felt running PICuP was the most important and meaningful thing she did in her working life: 'I am extraordinarily proud of the work we do and of all the people who work there, many of whom worked with me as trainees and came back to stay. They are the most talented, devoted group of clinical psychologists you could ever hope for – it is a privilege to lead a team with such deep commitment to helping people with psychosis and a sense of shared values.’

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