Including President's column, penile plethysmography and more

President’s column
Liz Campbell

Why is summer always so busy? I prefer a European model where we could all shut down for a month. But the work of the Society proceeds throughout the year. The last few weeks have been very busy and fast moving on the statutory regulation front. We have had a very constructive meeting with the Health Professions Council (HPC); we have received two revised drafts of the Section 60 Order (the draft legislation); and we have had a joint meeting with the Department of Health, Scottish Executive, Health Professions Council and the Association of Educational Psychologists to undertake a line-by-line discussion of the revised draft legislation. These drafts have been seen by our lawyers, our Division Chairs, Representative Council and the Trustees. Our discussions have led to a number of significant amendments being incorporated into the most recent version of the proposed legislation. A Special Meeting of Representative Council will take place on 4 September to move this forward.

It is expected that the legislation will be tabled in Westminster and Edinburgh in early October, that it will become law before Christmas and that the HPC will open the register in the late spring of 2009.

Our members contribute in many ways through research and practice to the benefit of society. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the impact of social science research on government in Britain has been patchy at best, non-existent at worst. Whilst individual academics, and some disciplines, have developed good links with policy-makers, there is a growing awareness we often do not do enough to disseminate research findings outside of the academic world. There may be many reasons for this collective failure, but there is also an awareness within government that sometimes they also don’t do enough to reach out to the external research community, and that it’s not easy for advice to reach the ears of those who need to hear it. The result has been a worrying separation of social science research and policy advice.   

This was the rationale for the funding of an ESRC-placement in the Government Social Research Unit, based in HM Treasury. The GSRU coordinates the work of the Government Social Research professionals – around 1000 social scientists – across government. The post has just been filled by Philip Cowley, currently Professor of Parliamentary Government at the University of Nottingham. He will be spending the next nine months working in the Treasury, helping social science feed into policy-making.  

The priority is to develop work flowing from the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit’s February 2008 report Realising Britain’s Potential. That report identified nine strategic challenges for the British government, from climate change to life chances, and from economic prosperity to democratic renewal. What is striking about Realising Britain’s Potential is that nearly all of the challenges are ones where social science – especially psychology – should have a key role to play.  

Professor Cowley, whom I met at a recent government-sponsored lunch for learned societies, will be working on developing routes for academics to influence government policy. He describes his task as ‘pimping for academics’. As he has put it: ‘One of the principal challenges of this project will be to turn around the ways in which academia communicates with government, which are not always successful.’ Academics often don’t know to whom they should communicate their work, or in what format it should be sent. His advice is for researchers is to send a summary of their research findings (one side of A4) stating why their research might be useful to government. He can be contacted [email protected]. This is an important development and I would urge colleagues to take advantage of this opportunity.

And finally, a big welcome to our new Director of Membership Support Services, Simon Bowen. A special thanks to Mike Laffan, who has done a great job looking after that Directorate during the interregnum.

 Penile plethysmography guidelines

The Society’s Professional Practice Board has published a Working Party Report, Penile Plethysmography: Guidance for Psychologists(see
The Penile Plethysmograph (PPG), also known as phallometric assessment, is a procedure used to help ascertain a man’s sexual interests. In forensic contexts, the PPG assessment has particular value in assisting with the assessment and treatment of men who have committed sexual or sexually motivated offences. Typically, this involves using stimuli relevant to sexual arousal to either inappropriate persons (e.g. a child) or inappropriate acts (e.g. rape) and, for comparison, appropriate consenting adult sexual behaviour.

The assessment has a number of purposes, which include informing case formulation, treatment planning, enhancing engagement, assessing treatment change, and informing risk management decisions. There is an extensive clinical and research evidence base underpinning its use (see Lalumiere & Harris, 1998, for responses to common questions about the assessment, and Marshall & Fernandez, 2003, for a comprehensive review of the evidence base underpinning its use).

Due to the nature of the procedure and its outcome, various ethical, clinical, legal and professional issues have emerged over the years that are associated with the assessment. For example there are ethical issues arising from the type of stimuli used; clinical limits to the assessment findings; and issues about how such information should feature in legal proceedings. Such issues have demanded that rigorous professional standards are in place to ensure that those implementing the assessment do so confidently, competently and in a defensible manner. 

A set of standards to guide professional practice was produced in 1994. These were the BPS Professional Guidelines for Penile Plethysmography (PPG) Usage. Since the introduction of these guidelines, PPG research, practice and technology have evolved. The Penile Plethysmography: Guidance for Psychologists (2008) has been produced to revise and develop previous guidelines in response to advances in the field over the last decade.

The guidance includes standards about PPG assessment procedures, equipment, stimuli, interpretation and reporting. In addition to previous guidance, specific advice is also provided about appropriate clinical purposes for using PPG; the selection and production of assessment stimuli; reporting findings and pre-assessment briefing.

The guidance was developed by the multi-agency Forensic Assessment of Sexual Arousal Forum (formerly the PPG User Forum), a professional support group for psychologists using the PPG in forensic/clinical contexts.
The guidance was informed by professional experience, associated professional guidelines, the relevant research literature and national and international experts.

The Chair, Christopher Dean, said: ‘This guidance is an important enhancement to previous guidelinesThe guidance recognises that standards of practice are necessary not only in the administration of the PPG, but also in its interpretation and reporting. The guidance
is intended to provide psychologists with a clear understanding of the procedures required to administer, interpret and report the PPG appropriately, commensurate with recent developments in the field. Most importantly, this guidance is intended to give psychologists confidence to administer this complex assessment in a manner that is defensible, ethical and responsive to the diversity of individuals being assessed.’

If you use, or are interested in using, the PPG as part of your forensic clinical practice you may wish to contact the Forensic Assessment of Sexual Arousal Forum for further information. Please contact Professor Todd Hogue at [email protected] or ring 01522 837391.

Lalumiere, M.L., & Harris, G.T. (1998). Common questions regarding the use of phallometric testing with sexual offenders.  Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research & Treatment, 10, 227–237.

Marshall, W.L., & Fernandez, Y.M. (2003). Phallometric testing with sexual offenders: Theory, research and practice. Brandon, VT: Safer Society Press.



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