This is my first column, and I have tried to heed the Editor’s advice to avoid being too ‘presidential’, and to include non-Society business. I’m afraid I probably haven’t succeeded in the latter as I have mainly referred to three Society priorities for the coming year: member services, public engagement and statutory regulation.
Statutory regulation offers one of the biggest challenges the Society has faced. On p.196 of this issue there is a brief report of the government White Paper Trust, Assurance and Safety: The Regulation of Health Professionals in the 21st Century. The White Paper is unsatisfactory. The government’s review and assessment of the system for the regulation of psychologists has not been objective; bureaucratic convenience seems to have been put above effective regulation. Proposals are largely based on the regulation of those employed in the NHS, and the concerns of psychologists working in other areas – as well as researchers and academics – have largely been ignored.
We have written to the Department of Health requesting a response to those concerns. This and other media releases, including advertisements in Health Director, will have appeared by the time you read this column. These comments are not self-serving. We are seeking better regulation; the primary concern is that people who receive psychological support are properly and fully protected from charlatans who may not be qualified and from individuals who might behave unethically. We would be letting the general public down if this was not our main argument.
I will be leading negotiations on statutory regulation via the President’s Negotiating Group, set up by Graham Powell in 2005 when he was President and led last year by Ray Miller. Ray’s ability to come up with a relevant quote for almost any occasion would be impossible for me to replicate. Yet I could sum up my personal view on statutory regulation via a quote from one of Ray’s main interests, science fiction: ‘A robot [read psychologist] may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm’ (Isaac Asimov). As far as I can see the only rationale for regulation is public protection; inaction is therefore not an option.
What of the other two priorities – public engagement and member services? On p.224 of this issue, Carolyn Kagan writes about her collaborative research in the community. Clear communication, increased public engagement and wider involvement in Westminster and the devolved Parliament and Assemblies are crucial to both statutory regulation and to psychology in general. This chimes with my own interests – public engagement and application are central to my own research. Psychology is one of the most popular subjects in schools and universities and is underpinned by a solid body of scientific research. Put simply, people are interested in psychology, they can see its use, and they are interested in ‘what makes people tick’. We need to become more focused in our transmission of user-friendly information about psychological knowledge and practice at all levels, including the general public.
The Psychologist effectively transmits information to its readers and is seen as an important forum for members to express their views. It also includes examples from a wide range of psychological practice and research. This month you can sample from Keith Oatley writing about the role of life events in depression; an article on psychology in Bosnia; and Liz Pellicano writing about autism as a developmental disorder.
Like The Psychologist, the bulk of member support comes via the Leicester office, where over a 100 staff support the Society. In order to reflect changing priorities and to better support members, Tim Cornford (the Chief Executive), is leading on a reorganisation of the staffing structure in the office – the first for many years. In brief, the Chief Executive’s office will encompass responsibility for advice and support to the policy Boards and to the Trustees and Representative Council, via a Science, Practice and Education Advice team, as well as for finance and personnel functions. There will be three other departments: Membership Support, Communications, and Corporate Services. Information about these changes will be available on the website www.bps.org.uk or through your subsystems.
So do I have a grand plan for my coming year? Well, by this time next year we should be clearer about statutory regulation. Member services will continue to be important: the BPS is the only professional body that represents all of British psychology, and it isn’t just a person in Leicester at the end of a phone – it is also you, the members. Both of these priorities will be underpinned by public engagement. Our Royal Charter object is to disseminate psychology. This may mean changing how we do things. If one person misunderstands, it might be their ‘fault’; if lots don’t ‘get it’, it must be down to the messengers. I spend a lot of time driving on motorways on which signs have moved from single messages like ‘Fog’ to more complex ones such as ‘Don’t hog the middle lane’. Maybe we need to move into the outside lane, especially in terms of how we interact with the public.
Pam Maras is Professor in Social and Educational Psychology and Head of the Department of Psychology and Counselling at the University of Greenwich, where she teaches, researches and publishes in the areas of social and educational psychology. Pam is an applied psychologist: her research is in social inclusion, children and young people’s motivation, self-concept and personal and social identity, mainly in applied settings such as schools, where the aims are to raise achievement, increase access to higher education and reduce pupils’ disaffection and antisocial behaviour. She is committed to public engagement and the effective dissemination of findings from psychological research to applied contexts.
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