Maintaining a balance
THE letter in last month’s edition from Cole Davies (‘The BPS – value for money in the public service’) and the comments from the President highlight the dilemma of a professional body that also has the task of regulating the conduct of its members. According to feedback that I receive, many feel that the Society both succeeds and fails in trying to balance its responsibility as a regulator to protect the public with the need to provide support for its members in the areas of ethics and professional conduct. In my experience, those who perceive the lack of support the most are those who actually experience the complaint process.
Something that is provided for members is the guidance and advice given by the Regulatory Affairs Team and others in relation to ethical issues and the application of the Code of Ethics and Conduct. The President is right in his comments that many find it helpful but many also find that their needs are not met when asking for advice in relation to specific issues. As the President points out, ‘there is a clear difference between giving ethical advice in principle and specific legal advice’. That is very true, however, from my dealings with members, both as a former member of the Regulatory Affairs Team and in my current role, it is clear that there is a need for something in between these two extremes. Advice in ‘principle’ is often not enough, whilst legal advice is not what is required either.
Those providing advice from within the Society do the best they can given the constraints and the dangers of committing themselves too far in relation to specific circumstances. Whilst the legal helpline is available to those who pay for it, it is generalist in nature and the advisers do not have specialist knowledge in relation to psychology or the Code. Having said all that, here is a reassuring thought for all those who have accessed these services, whether satisfied or not. In my experience, those who are giving sufficient thought to their action to identify the need to seek advice, rarely go far wrong.
In the same issue, the Chair of the Ethics Committee also writes in answer to those members who are unhappy that the new Code is not sufficiently detailed in its guidance to members. I applaud his defence of the Code and challenge any complainers to look around other professions, even those who have external or statutory regulation, and find anything that does not follow the same model of providing a framework of values and principles that practitioners are asked to apply to their work. A code with the detail that has been called for by some will never be practical to write or to administer.
Although it is there primarily to protect the public, it also provides protection for psychologists. Rather than regard it as a threat, I would advise psychologists to use it as a tool. Learn it, know it, understand it, use it to risk assess your own practice and behaviour. I support the Chair in his defence of the Code, its style, its intention and its purpose.
Brookfields Professional Conduct Services
COMBATING climate change becomes more imperative by the day, and John Raven’s letter (The Psychologist, November 2006) is most welcome in drawing attention to the need to change behaviour. To my knowledge, one of our number, B.F. Skinner, was amongst the very first to address this issue in his 1948 book Walden Two. In the 1976 edition he wrote (p.xvi):
Not only can we not face the rest of the world while consuming and polluting as we do, we cannot for long face ourselves while acknowledging the violence and chaos in which we live.
and suggested that (p.xv):
A way of life in which each person used only a fair share of the resources of the world and yet somehow enjoyed life would be a real step towards world peace.
It is a pity that his message was not taken more seriously.
Skinner, B.F. (1976). Walden Two. New York: Macmillan.
IWAS annoyed by Ray Miller’s response to the criticism levelled at the subscription fees. To justify the £9.4m of assets that the Society has accrued Dr Miller noted that we need to save for a ‘rainy day’. The more appropriate analogy in my mind is closing the gate after the horse has bolted. Many of us now in the profession for the first time are facing the very real threat of redundancy. This threat isn’t arising because we weren’t doing our jobs, but rather because of the invisibility of the work we do. Surely rather than just sitting on all that money the purpose of a professional body is to promote the interests and the visibility of the profession as a whole (and by that I don’t mean attending the Chelsea Flower Show). Clearly that hasn’t been achieved – our contribution as psychologists is not being recognised at the higher levels of government and the NHS.
Dr Miller’s response smacks of complacency.
Name and address supplied
Looking for evidence of blindsight
YURI Ostrovsky and colleagues (News, February 2006) have claimed that the recovery of vision in an Indian woman, SRD, blind from cataracts for the first 12 years of life, suggests ‘that the visual cortex retains its plasticity even across several years of highly compromised visual experience’. However, there is an alternative way of interpreting their findings. Could it be that SRD’s primary visual cortex did in fact deteriorate as might have been expected (or at any rate get reassigned to other functions), but subcortical visual pathways were less severely affected – leaving her with the possibility of developing subcortically mediated vision once the cataracts were removed? Could it even be that she developed a kind of ‘blindsight’ – the unconscious vision that sometimes returns to patients after damage to the visual cortex (Weiskrantz, 1986).
More than 30 years ago my colleagues and I examined a comparable case of a woman, HD, who had been blind for 24 years until cataracts were removed, and we suggested that just this might be the explanation of her partial recovery of sight (Ackroyd et al., 1974). At that time, the phenomenon of blindsight in humans had yet to be described. But, in an extensive study of a monkey whose primary visual cortex had been surgically removed, I had found ample evidence that sophisticated visual capacities can be mediated by areas of the primate brain outside the geniculo-striate pathway (Humphrey, 1974).
SRD’s recovery of vision appears to have been more complete than was HD’s or than is typical of patients with blindsight. If her vision is in fact a form of blindsight, it would seem therefore to be more like the ‘super-blindsight’ shown by my monkey, and which Weiskrantz has suggested might require complete ablation of primary visual cortex (rather than the partial ablation that has always been the case with human patients). But is it a form of blindsight? Certainly there seems to be no evidence as yet that SRD’s vision is in fact unconscious vision, lacking sensation. But then, what would such evidence consist in? If SRD had no conscious visual sensations before the operation to restore her sight, we should hardly expect her to comment on the lack of sensation afterwards, as her sight returned – let alone to make a big deal of it, as typical blindsight patients do.
I have argued recently, partly in relation to HD, that even if a person with blindsight has never experienced normal vision, we should still expect there to be some give-away signs that conscious sensation is missing – for example, in lack of visual imagination and lack of affect (Humphrey, 2006). Given SRD’s remote geographical location, there seems little chance of being able to look for such signs in further work with her. But if future cases of recovery from early blindness come the way of researchers, I would urge that the tantalising possibility of its being blindsight is followed up.
Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science
London School of Economics
Ackroyd, C., Humphrey, N.K. & Warrington, E.K. (1974). Lasting effects of early blindness: A case study. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 26, 114–124.
Humphrey, N.K. (1974). Vision in a monkey without striate cortex: A case study. Perception, 3, 241–255.
Humphrey, N. (2006). Seeing red: A study in consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ostrovsky, Y., Andalman, A. & Sinha, P. (2006). Vision following extended congenital blindness. Psychological Science, 17, 1009–1014.
Weiskrantz, L. (1986). Blindsight: A case study and its implications. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
I am seeking input from psychologists in the United Kingdom regarding aspects of psychology that are unique to their respective countries. As I introduce my question, please consider the following quotes from Sexton and Hogan (1992, p.1). Psychology, as a social science, differs from other sciences. By its very nature, it is more likely to be involved in the context in which it develops. The form that psychology takes in different countries, the manner in which it gives evidence of a national flavour, or fails to, should in itself serve as a kind of instruction. These authors also state (p.2): ‘…the diverse voices of psychology from around the world are available if we wish to listen.’I request that you answer the following questions in terms of the ‘national flavour’, or the ‘distinctives’, of psychology in your country:1. What factors make ‘British’, (also ‘Scottish’, ‘Welsh’, or ‘Irish’) psychology distinct from psychology in other countries? 2. What texts (or articles) would you recommend American psychologists read in order to better understand British psychology?
Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I intend to include it in the undergraduate courses I teach, and to publish an article on unique aspects of psychology in the UK.
As a psychologist and educator, I believe it is important to provide psychology students and American psychologists an opportunity to listen to some of ‘the diverse voices of psychology from around the world’.
Please forward your responses to [email protected]. Thank you.
John W. Cain
Editor’s note: I would be grateful if you could also copy responses to me on [email protected], if you are willing for them to be considered as letters for publication.
Dr Beate (Ati) Hermelin (1919–2007)
ATI Hermelin died a few weeks ago at the age of 87. She was a clever and successful developmental psychologist who had a formidable impact on developmental psychology.
She made an astonishing number of genuine and lasting contributions to developmental research. Together with Neil O’Connor, she pioneered the use of experimental psychology as a tool for studying the cognitive and perceptual difficulties of children with very low IQs. Among other successes, they demonstrated the value of matching these children to comparison groups of younger children with the same mental age. This simple but extremely important insight led others to make much the same move when studying dyslexic children, comparing them to younger children at the same reading level (the reading age match): again this kind of comparison was an extraordinarily successful one.
Ati and Neil then turned their attention to autistic children. Their well-known and highly original programme of research with these children
set the scene for subsequent research on these children.
For example, they found that autistic children
remember randomly arranged words almost as
well as other children do, but are at a huge disadvantage when remembering meaningful sentences. This was a spur for Uta Frith, their student at the time, to develop her well-known hypothesis about fragmentation in autism in which the central idea
is that autistic children often fail to detect patterns which are obvious to other children.
Since Ati and Neil were interested in the possibility
that failures in perceptual input might cause intellectual problems, they also studied deaf and blind children. One of their most important discoveries was that deaf children take more easily to recording events in terms of spatial position than of temporal sequences. This simple but profound observation tells us much about the effects of language on cognition.
Ati’s research on autism led naturally to her justly famous research on ‘savants’. Her subtle and astonishingly interesting book, Bright Splinters of the Mind (Jessica Kingsley, 2001), on the remarkable talents of these people was her last great achievement.
Ati Hermelin was an inspired and also an affectionate supervisor and her students always treated her with a mixture of love and awe. She was a funny and interesting person whose conversations brimmed with brilliant ideas and scandalous anecdotes. She lived a full and successful life herself, and enriched the lives of many of us, who are now very sad to lose her.
Oxford Brookes University
I AM looking to recruit clinical psychologists who have pursued a ‘non-traditional’ route into clinical training. I am hoping to find those individuals who (a) progressed straight on to the clinical doctorate from the final year of their undergraduate degree studies and (b) pursued psychology as their first career. The research is being conducted at Surrey University and is looking at pathways into training. It will involve a one-off telephone interview.Kathryn [email protected]
I’M a 44-year-old with an honours degree in psychology which I obtained 10 years ago. I’ve since done some voluntary work assisting with memory research on and off. I desperately would like some sort of online work or occasional local work (voluntary) with which I can more or less choose my hours if attending a local university or hospital to work (Hull area); the problem being that I have a rare neurological condition which leaves me weak or with muscle spasms. However, there are times when I’m able to manage.
I’m very interested in changes in the female cycle and mobility disorders and associated changes in mobility. I have various theories which I would like to research but can’t attend a university full time because of my condition and don’t have the financial means with which to pay supervision fees.
I would be very grateful for any advice, ideas or offers of voluntary work.
HAVE you experienced a personal bereavement since qualifying? Would you like to share your story to increase understanding in this area? I would like to discuss with you ways in which a personal bereavement affected your practice as a therapist. If you are a therapist who has provided 1:1 or group psychological therapy, with any theoretical approach, during a time of personal bereavement, I would greatly appreciate your time. I would like to meet you for two tape-recorded interviews, both lasting approximately one hour. The interviews will be within three to six months apart at a location convenient to you. Jeremy Rowe
School of Human & Life Sciences
MY clinical psychology doctoral dissertation is an IPA study interviewing children aged 8–16 years who have suffered a single incident or ‘simple’ trauma and who have subsequently completed a course of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy with a qualified EMDR child and adolescent practitioner. I am seeking to recruit participants and would be pleased to hear from any EMDR therapists/clinical psychologists who have clients they would be willing to ask to participate. The study has been cleared by the Eastern Multicentre Research Ethics Committee. Ruth Armstrong
Newham Child and Family Consultation Service
020 7055 8400
I WAS once in correspondence with Leslie Hearnshaw, who told me that when he was President of the BPS (in the mid-1950s) he commissioned a report on British popular psychology magazines but that he no longer had a copy. I wrote to the BPS at the time to ask if they could find a copy, but no luck. A recent enquiry to the BPS History of Psychology Centre reveals there is no record in their catalogue of such a report. Does anyone know anything about this report or where I might find a copy?
Texas A&M University
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