Enacting lofty visions

Zoe Sanderson reports from the Annual Conference symposium on reducing stigma and challenging health, educational and employment inequalities.

Tackling the psychological effects of inequality involves more than good intentions: we must actually do good. Published guidelines articulate a shared vision of what ‘good’ looks like in practice, in this context, or in that service, or with these people. Guidelines help us to enact our lofty visions on a daily basis as we do the work that slowly reifies them into reality. In the non-linear and mistake-ridden process of learning, guidelines can help us to improve quicker, with obvious benefits to clients. Here, Professor Rachel Tribe (University of East London) chaired a symposium in which several sets of British Psychological Society-endorsed guidelines were profiled, all of which are available for free from the BPS website. 

Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Anne Douglas OBE has led the development of guidelines for psychologists who work with refugees and asylum seekers. Recognising that the label ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’ can be reductionist and identity-sapping for individuals, Douglas centralised the question of ‘how can we support or restore the client’s identity as they journey through our service?’ and the core principle of respect. These guidelines are rich in detailed suggestions for how to do this in practice: use pictorial maps to help clients find your premises if they don’t speak much English, don’t squeeze everything into a trauma narrative, attend to the details of how clients prefer to be addressed, and so on. The take-home messages include the importance of cultural sensitivity, the need for clear professional boundaries and regular supervision, and the value of partnerships with third sector agencies. 

In this vein, Dr Kate Thompson (North East London NHS Foundation Trust) and Dr Sally Zlotowitz (Community Psychology Section, MAC-UK, and Nesta) presented guidelines for psychologists on working with community organisations. Importantly, these were developed from a collaborative process that included both psychologists and community organisations over a number of years. Instead of asking what community organisations could do for us, the authors asked: ‘How can we use our resources as psychologists to stand in solidarity and work in partnerships with community organisations to support them?’ As a result, these guidelines foreground issues of power and privilege, especially in decision-making, and address each stage of joint-working from initial intent to sustaining long-term partnerships. They try not to be prescriptive, instead offering case studies, a checklist, and general principles that can be adapted to local idiosyncrasies. 

Almost anyone working with asylum seekers and refugees will benefit from the website developed by chartered counselling psychologist Dr Farkhondeh Farsimadan (www.uel.ac.uk/research/refugee-mental-health-and-wellbeing-portal/resource-centre). This portal offers a one-stop-shop for refugees and asylum seekers anywhere in the world as well as professionals in the UK. It contains ten categories of resources – from information about individual rights to teaching materials – in a variety of languages. Also, a specific set of guidelines for psychologists who work with asylum seekers and refugees in educational and work settings, and guidelines on working with interpreters, are available from the BPS website.  

All these tools and resources will be useful both in honing the skills of the experienced psychologist and avoiding pitfalls for the novice practitioner. They aim to enable us to work with marginalised and community groups more effectively, which ultimately helps us jointly address the psychological impact of inequality better. 

- The BPS Community Psychology Section is a natural home for psychologists who see the value of joint-working with the third sector, as demonstrated by the conference-like Festival which is developed each year in partnership with local community groups (see www.bps.org.uk/member-microsites/community-psychology-sectionor attend the Festival on 13/14 September in Brighton).

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