At the grassroots

Lexie Thorpe reports from a session at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference.

Despite awareness of the wider social forces influencing individual experience, psychologists are often perceived as working almost exclusively with individuals. Yet engaging with communities has its own merits, in terms of a wider reach and collective empowerment.

Ho Law (BPS East of England Branch) reflected on the value of a narrative approach in response to crises affecting whole communities, such as the Grenfell Tower fire. This narrative assumption that the meaning of an individual’s story shapes their life can also be extrapolated to others, the wider community and society when an individual’s tale is retold, with listeners incorporating their reflections into subsequent retellings. This narrative ceremony mirrors the retelling of Grenfell by the media and influential figures such as Stormzy and the Artists for Grenfell, attempting to empower a community who feel unheard.

Empowerment is also on the community agenda in the North East, where local psychologists are supporting initiatives to transform York into an Autism-inclusive city. Lorna Hamilton (York St John University) described how the realisation of the disjointed nature of post-diagnostic services led to the creation of a community practice for local stakeholders, individuals and carers to share knowledge and best practice. Quarterly meetings offer networking and the opportunity for professionals and individuals to disseminate knowledge, and publicise community activities, such as employment initiatives. The community practice is also supporting longitudinal research to identify the needs and experiences of autistic children in adapting to secondary school, with early findings from year eight children indicating a sense of overwhelming loss for some, but a fresh start for others.

Forming sub-communities within psychology can also benefit research and practice. Fiona Butcher, from the Wessex Branch, reported on her experience of establishing a community discourse centred on military psychology in the south. The community was borne out of a recognition of the prevalence of military personnel in the Wessex area, and the lack of a forum for psychologists working directly or indirectly with this group. To gauge interest, a group within the branch organised a conference at Sandhurst in 2012. The branch has now held five successful conferences, each responsive to the current climate, from wellbeing in the transition out of Afghanistan in 2014, to stabilisation and peace-keeping in 2016. The popularity of the conferences led to supplementary workshops being held in between conferences. The group now wishes to communicate the work of military psychologists more broadly, and so voting is currently underway over a Defence and Security Section of the British Psychological Society. 

Alternatively, the popularity of psychology in further education offers an opportunity to communicate the work that psychologists do and its relevance to society. The BPS in Northern Ireland has therefore set up a scheme for universities to advise schools on teaching psychology, presented by Barbara McConnell (Stranmillis College). As there are no psychology-specific teacher training courses in Northern Ireland, the scheme has faced the challenge of supporting teachers who have not studied psychology, as well as negotiating overlap or distance between A-level and degree course content. The project has also supported schools in delivering mental health education, as psychology teachers are often erroneously presumed to be experts in this area. Other aspects of the project include an A-level conference and ‘Flavour of Psychology’ careers event, inspiring young people to pursue psychology and raising awareness of the diversity of careers in psychology. 

You can read more coverage from the Annual Conference online, and in the June and July print editions.

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