Exploitation or opportunity?
I READ with disappointment the ‘Information’ letter advertising for an ‘honorary assistant psychologist’ (July 2006), and I now write to create a debate about the practice of unpaid positions more generally. This seems, to a non-clinical psychologist, to be deeply unethical. I thought the age of slavery had passed. There are only three reasons why someone would offer six months unpaid work in one of the most expensive parts of the country in exchange for clinical experience:
- ‘I had to do it when I had just graduated – so it is OK.’
- ‘I can get away with it because so many students are chasing so few clinical placements – so it is OK.’
- ‘Other professions do it – so it is OK.’
None of these explanations holds water to the external world.
As professional, ethical practitioners we should be wary of following the ‘I had to do it’ line. The average student debt is now in the tens of thousands of pounds, and getting worse. We may all remember our student days like they were yesterday but things are simply much tougher now.
‘I can get away with it…’: In the very same edition was a letter (‘Worries for newly qualified’) suggesting the numbers of clinical psychologists is on the wane. Asking a student with, say £15,000 of student debt, to take six months out of work with a reduced expectation of a job at the end of it is untenable.
‘Other professions do it…’: well, actually, they do not. Medical students no longer have to work unpaid, and their hours are starting to become reduced. Accountants and lawyers now pay their articled clerks, sometimes well. The age of the poorly paid apprentice to a guild has mostly passed into history.
Of course one final explanation exists – ‘I thought that they would leap at the chance and that I was doing them a favour…’ Well this is possible of course, and I will be interested to hear how many applications such unpaid posts receive. The most likely outcome is that such placements will be staffed disproportionately with the affluent (who can afford it) and the desperate. I am just not sure these are necessarily the best people to become clinical psychologists.
What I am arguing is that if these trainees are doing a useful job, then they are valuable, and that you should pay them. Dressing such posts up as ‘honorary’ does little to show modern psychology practice in a good light.
Clinical psychology jobs
IN the July issue (Letters) N. Smith expresses his concern about newly qualified clinical psychologists gaining employment after Agenda for Change. He fears that less expensive ‘therapists’ may be seen as cheaper replacements. I think and hope that his fears may be less serious than the picture he paints.
First, there has been this spring a more or less complete block on NHS recruitment across the board, as a consequence of new methods of doing the NHS accounts and the resulting deficits. There has been a more or less complete recruitment freeze (not a pay freeze). This has resulted in problems for about to qualify NHS staff in all professions; this must, by its nature, ease at some point.
Secondly, after a wobbly start, the NHS Careers website is starting to do what it says on the tin and deliver a useful, and free, service. Searching on the word ‘Psychologist’ in July gave 100 hits, although not all are jobs for psychologists. The lower number of jobs in the Appointments Memorandum is partly a function of greater use of this website.
However, his case cannot be completely dismissed. Pay reforms in the NHS (Agenda for Change, new consultant contract, new GP contract), plus the IT investment programme have had a significant upward effect on salaries and anticipated total extra expenditure of £13.2 billion by 2010 (Bosanquet et al., 2005). This will not be matched by extra investment. Therefore, the NHS will be looking at less expensive ways of doing all sorts of things, and abandoning some tasks altogether. Clinical psychologists have a tradition of ‘giving away’ psychological skills and welcome the contributions of other professionals; indeed under New Ways of Working senior professionals such as medical staff and psychologists are encouraged to expand the amount of time they spend in consultation and supervision whilst devoting clinical time to people with more complex disorders.
It is up to the ‘Family of Applied Psychology’ to ensure that we retain all sorts of employment opportunities for psychologists; history suggests we’re not bad at it.
Department of Psychology
Bosanquet, N., de Zoete, H. & Beuhler, E. (2005). The NHS in 2010: Reform or bust. London: Reform.
CRB checks for students
FOR the past few months we – in the School of Psychology at Keele University – have been considering the need for our final-year project students to be checked and cleared by the Criminal Records Bureau. Some of our students conduct research with vulnerable groups, including children in schools and adults with neurological impairments. We understand and appreciate the importance of CRB checks and the need to protect children (and other vulnerable groups) from harm. However, we are concerned about the implications of whichever approach we adopt, in terms of putting many students off conducting this type of research.
Many students gain valuable skills and experience from conducting research with children and vulnerable adults, which they can then use in their subsequent careers, e.g. in clinical psychology, educational psychology, teaching and research. Making CRB checks compulsory poses a real risk that fewer students will have this type of experience; a risk that may have lasting effects on the number of students who pursue postgraduate research in these areas (since this is often where interest in the topic is generated).
We intend to advise students to apply before the summer vacation to avoid possible delays to the start of projects. However, the current fee of £31 for standard disclosure and £36 for enhanced disclosure (£20 in Scotland) may deter students. Departments could cover all or some of the cost, but this may simply be too expensive to maintain.
An e-mail sent by us to the ‘dev-europe’ mailing list highlighted the range of approaches currently adopted by other psychology departments in the UK. The main issue seems to be whether we should advise or require such students to be cleared by the CRB (since it is not yet a legal requirement and is left up to individual schools, LEAs or NHS trusts to stipulate). Many departments do require all of their students (who wish to conduct research with vulnerable groups) to be checked, whereas others only require it if students will have unsupervised access to individual children or patients. Still others only advise all students wishing to conduct research with vulnerable groups to be checked (with no actual requirement); and it seems most such students do apply, since they do not want to risk a possible delay to their project.
We favour the approach which means requiring only those who will have unsupervised access to individuals to be checked and cleared, but advising all students who may need clearance to apply. It does seem to be unnecessary to ask this of students who work with whole classes in the presence of the class teacher, and of students who conduct neuropsychological assessments in the presence of their academic supervisor, or in the presence of a member of hospital staff. It is certainly advisable for students to apply if they might need one, if there is the possibility that other gatekeepers may later require it as a condition of granting access. However, the above approach is flexible enough to allow some students to go ahead without CRB clearance if the research does not involve unsupervised access to individuals, and if the institution is happy to allow access. What we want to avoid is a uniform approach that does not take the risks into account. Such an approach can be unnecessarily burdensome, both for the students and their supervisors.
We would be interested to hear (either directly or through these pages) from anyone else who shares our concerns or from those who are much more knowledgeable about this issue.
School of Psychology
University of Keele
Ethics and research with children
THE publication of the code of ethics and conduct recently circulated by the British Psychological Society to members was a welcomed gesture. Indeed, many researchers and psychologists of various backgrounds, as well as students, would find the document useful and beneficial for their work or practices.
However, it would have been useful had the booklet devoted a specific section to children. That is, a section on how to protect children’s rights and welfare particularly when they are participants in research or treatment. Indeed, a considerable amount of research and investigations are carried out on and about children. Hence, highlighting standards and procedures on such involvement in the newly circulated document would certainly enhance quality practice and future research.
Department of Psychology
London Metropolitan University
Richard Kwiatkowski, Chair of the Society’s Ethics Committee, replies: During the development of the code we had representations suggesting that particular areas of psychology (but not others) should have extra and more specific guidance. We resisted this because the main code is intended to apply to all psychologists, and further because we did not wish to try and anticipate all contexts and all situations. The code assists with, but cannot be a substitute for, professional judgement, particularly in more complex and sometimes unique situations, where bringing values and thinking to bear is singularly important. Colleagues may be interested to know that in the light of the new code we are actively encouraging subsystems to put together more specific guidance for their constituents, which we will be able to examine and disseminate, and that we have already had proactive interest from members of the Developmental Psychology Section committee, amongst others.
It’s good to hear the new code being welcomed, but it is much more than a gesture – our ethical position is absolutely fundamental to how we work as psychologists, and, indeed, essential to who we are.
John Beloff 1920–2006
LAST month’s Psychologist contained an article about the Koestler Parapsychology Unit (KPU) at the University of Edinburgh. That article arose from the untimely death of the Koestler Professor, Robert Morris, and was written in tribute to his achievements during his 20 years at Edinburgh. Sadly, another great colleague and leader in parapsychology has recently died.
Dr John Beloff, former Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Edinburgh, died on 1 June, aged 86. I first met John when I joined the KPU almost exactly 20 years ago. He had just retired from his position at the university, though until very recently he continued to be a regular and active contributor to the KPU research meetings, and also to parapsychology journals and conferences in the UK and worldwide.
What should be put on record about John Beloff is the fact that without his efforts there may never have been a parapsychology Chair at Edinburgh University. John became a member of staff at Edinburgh in 1963. As well as being a respected and influential dualist philosopher, for many years John quietly conducted parapsychological research, supervising undergraduate projects and seeing the successful graduation of a number of PhD students whose theses were on parapsychological topics. John’s scholarly and responsible approach to the study of what was at that time a controversial topic earned him the respect of his colleagues. John thus demonstrated to the academic community that scholarly excellence and parapsychology could go hand-in-hand.
John Beloff’s role in bringing the Koestler Chair of Parapsychology to Edinburgh went further than that. On the death of Arthur and Cynthia Koestler in 1983, John was appointed as one of the executors, the only one with any knowledge of parapsychology. When the Koestler Bequest was awarded to Edinburgh University in 1984, John became part of the selection committee, and fought hard to ensure that the Koestler Chair of Parapsychology was awarded to an internationally recognised research-active parapsychologist, Robert Morris.
On a personal note, I will remember fondly John’s straightforward and no-nonsense approach. He liked to dispense with small-talk and get down to business immediately. He was an extremely modest man, despite his many achievements, and always took care to encourage and support those more junior to him. He is survived by his wife Halla, their daughter Zoe, and son Bruno.
University of Edinburgh
Psychological study - more than science
IN the June issue the President, Ray Miller, described the province of the Society as ‘the discipline and practice of psychology’ (my italics). I read that with pleasure. Too often ‘the science of psychology’ is used in such contexts. It is not that a scientific approach is illegitimate in our field but that this phrase is frequently used in a way that suggests it is the only legitimate approach.
In text where a general characterisation is being given of what, on the teaching and research side, we are doing, some neutral term like ‘discipline’, ‘subject’ or ‘field’ should always be used.
That draws in, for example, the very welcome recent series of articles in The Psychologist about psychology in literature – as well as, I would hope, similar use of history and philosophy. To speak of psychology in general as a science is to assert that those fields are irrelevant. Narrow-minded as it does seem, people who really believe something so preposterous have a right to state it – but they should not get away doing it without argument, not using mere repetition (whether intentionally or not) to grate away at the reader or listener. For that is precisely the use of rhetoric that the science they say they are doing is supposed to do without. It is hypocrisy as well as bluster, and really infuriating to me and many others. It is responsible for many good natural psychologists turning their backs on psychology completely after no more than a brief taster.
We have to have parity of esteem of non-scientific approaches, and we have to allocate resources in such a way as to reflect that shared esteem.
Clubs for the confused
I READ with fascination about Michael Hogg’s ‘uncertainty reduction theory’ as part of the Annual Conference reports (June 2006). The theory is that people who are less certain about their identity are more likely to be drawn towards things like extremism and fanaticism. The decision to have students as participants in this study was a good choice as numerous university students are adolescents. Young people, as both Erikson and Freud noted, can experience identity crises or role confusions. These are stages in which an adolescent tries to work out who they really are. Therefore, students are possibly more likely to be involved in zealotry. No wonder there are so many wacky and wild societies set up by students at universities!
Name and address supplied
Graduates at risk in the workplace
FOLLOWING the death in May of Ashleigh Ewing, the psychology graduate working for a mental health charity in Newcastle, and the referral of the case by Northumbria Police to the Health and Safety Executive, the lack of practitioner training for psychology graduates working with client groups is sure to reappear.
In an article for The Psychologist (Students, October 2005) I wrote of the extensive evidence of increasing levels of violence towards practitioners in health and social care, and the lack of even basic practitioner training provided for psychology graduates prior to working with client groups. Psychology graduates are often placed in positions of responsibility, fulfilling semi-professional duties, yet they lack even the most basic practitioner training that their colleagues in social work, probation and nursing take for granted. Whilst a degree in psychology is, of course, not intended as practitioner training, I think it is important that this issue is recognised.
I would like to suggest two possible solutions. Firstly, psychology departments could offer an element of basic practitioner skills (risk assessment, communication skills, managing aggression, health and safety, etc.) in their BSc courses, perhaps as an optional module. Secondly the BPS could investigate the possibility of developing, perhaps in conjunction with one of the national occupational health and safety organisations, a basic certificate syllabus in practitioner skills. This course could be provided by colleges, employers, or other institutions to equip psychology graduates with basic practitioner skills prior to working with client groups.
School of Psychology
University of Leicester
Developing critical awareness
PETER Rhodes’ letter in response to Owusu-Bempah’s ‘despairing comments’ (‘The isms – Psychology’s collective unconscious’, Letters, June 2006) did strike a chord with me. I would however like to offer some reassurance to his fear that ‘there actually does appear to be an almost universal absence of any “critical” perspectives on occupational psychology’ (Letters, July 2006).
I studied for my MSc in occupational psychology at Birkbeck where I undertook a specific focus (as part of my dissertation) on the ethical role played by practitioner occupational psychologists operating in the world of work. I drew substantially on critical theory – particularly critical management theory (Alvesson & Deetz) and used a discursive approach to examine the discourse of occupational psychology. Having interviewed a sample of approximately 20 practising occupational psychologists, I found particular tensions in the discourse, i.e. a conflict between the role of meeting the needs of management and the needs of the individual. Occupational psychologists positioned themselves very much as the interplay between this particular tension/dialogue – they acted as the interpreter or ‘mediator’ and were very much aware of the ethical conflicts this could bring.
In light of this, I would argue along with Peter Rhodes that such critical awareness may be lacking in some of the formally taught master’s courses in occupational psychology. It is an awareness that has always kept me focused on the ethical framing of any interventions I make, particular the potential interplay of ‘perceived’ power as part of my role. I am very grateful to Birkbeck for developing this awareness and would argue that this must form an essential component of any formally taught MSc in occupational or organisational psychology.
- I AM a psychology graduate with 2:1 honours degree. I am searching for work experience in a clinical setting, particularly in the West Midlands. I have full CRB clearance and have been working as a residential support worker with adults with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour. I also have voluntary work experience in a special school. Louise Eccleston
22 Jackson Crescent
Stourport-on-Severn, DY13 OEW
E-mail [email protected]
- WE would like to invite all clinical psychologists to take part in a research project entitled ‘Factors that determine clinical psychologists’ choice of speciality: Perceptions and attitudes towards the learning disability speciality’.
Emma Coates and Paul Mason
Ridgeway Partnership (Oxfordshire Learning Disability NHS Trust)
Oxford OX3 7JH
E-mail: [email protected];
- SECOND-year psychology student looking for work experience in clinical psychology and / or counselling in either the York or Hull area.
21 Wharfedale Crescent
Tadcaster LS24 9JH
- I WORK in financial services and am looking for some help in preparing for the BPS registration exams and am looking for a London-based professor or PhD student to help out.I am willing to pay competitive rates for guidance and tutoring.
E-mail: [email protected]
- I am due to complete my MSc in forensic psychology and am looking for voluntary part-time or full-time work for three months in the London or home counties area. I am keen to build my experience in all types of work. I have worked on a treatment programme for autistic children.
E-mail: [email protected]
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