President’s column
Gerry Mulhern
Contact Gerry Mulhern via the Society’s Leicester office,
or e-mail: [email protected]

First an apology to those who tried to e-mail me following last month’s column. The President’s e-mail address was undergoing development at the time. Please do not be put off – I am delighted to hear from any member who wishes to contact me personally – see the new address above.

Recently, I have been trying unsuccessfully to identify an antonym for ‘alchemy’. It would appear that there is no term for the practice of turning gold into brittle pig iron. The search was prompted by pictures of a subdued, though probably still unchastened, England team slinking through an indifferent Heathrow terminal. Fans have been at a loss to explain the abject failure of their glittering idols, as the former cry all the way to the bank while the latter can afford to laugh all the way.

It is clear that psychology has much to contribute to this perplexing problem of underperformance (see also p.???). Indeed, since their loss to Germany, I have been struck by the almost exclusively psychological focus of commentators (notwithstanding the twin technical concerns of 4-4-2 and playing Gerrard on the left). Why the absence of ‘team spirit’? Why the lack of pride when players pull on an England shirt? Were the players badly managed? Is the FA as an organisation fit for purpose? Why was morale so low in the training camp? Is there too much of an ‘alpha male’ culture? Should the WAGs have had more of a presence? And, to top it all, BBC Radio 5’s Nicky Campbell asking whether low emotional intelligence might explain players’ lack of empathy with fans who had spent small fortunes travelling to South Africa.

Step forward sports psychologists, social identity theorists, organisational psychologists, psychometricians, coaching psychologists, counselling psychologists and psychotherapists. Your country needs you (if you are English, that is)!

Of course, the malign influence of greed and excess is not confined to the gilded base metal of English football. As we are all too painfully aware, the dark art of alchemy has been alive and well in the financial services sector, turning toxic base material and into highly sought-after stock. Finance and banking is undoubtedly another area to which psychology is well placed to contribute. How often do we hear terms like ‘nervousness’, or ‘optimism’, or ‘bullishness’ to explain the ‘mood’ in the stock market?

Recently, along with several Society colleagues, I attended a symposium in the Palace of Westminster on behavioural economics, sponsored by Vince Cable no less. It is clear that, following the collapse of banks and the ensuing global recession, there has been a growth in interest in behavioural aspects of financial matters, ranging from personal finance and debt to investment banking. Perhaps wisely, the speakers focused on the first two. However it did start me thinking about the behaviour and attitudes of bankers and financiers in the wake of recent public anger at their apparent lack of remorse and at their continuing bonus culture.

How did such a glib, excessive and reckless culture develop? Apart from the obvious profit motive, what else drove these people to use their undoubted talents to behave so irresponsibly and dishonestly? Poor behavioural control? Need for stimulation? Impulsivity? Grandiosity? Perhaps more perplexing was the reaction of bankers when the balloon finally did go up. In spite of the blame having been placed squarely at their door, one is struck by their callous refusal to accept responsibility and by their continuing sense of entitlement.
Incidentally, I recently happened to be browsing through a copy of ‘Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist’, which lists, among others, the following characteristics: grandiosity; need for stimulation; lying, conning and manipulating; lack of remorse; callousness; poor behavioural controls; impulsivity; irresponsibility; and failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions.

‘Lacking conscience and empathy,’ writes Hare, ‘[psychopaths] take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse’. Elsewhere, he refers to ‘snakes in suits’ who can blend in, undetected, in a variety of surroundings, including corporate environments. Psychopaths are considered by many to be untreatable and have been found to use traditional talking therapies to hone their skills, becoming even more adept. Step forward psychologists, your economy needs you!

But I digress. Back to my search for an alchemy antonym… 

Assessing mental capacity

The British Psychological Society has published a new audit tool for Mental Capacity Act assessments of capacity.

The Mental Capacity Act came into force in 2007 and applies to England and Wales. It provides a statutory framework to empower and protect vulnerable people who are not able to make their own decisions. It covers people with dementia, learning disabilities, acquired brain injury and some mental health problems. The Act sets out clear principles and steps for assessing whether a person lacks capacity to take a particular decision at a particular time. No one can be labelled ‘incapable’ as a result of a particular medical condition or diagnosis.

Guidance on the Act has been provided in a statutory Code of Practice (2007) ( and the BPS has produced Guidance for Psychologists on the Assessment of Capacity.

In 2009 the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) requested bids for the development of tools for monitoring the implementation of the Act; the British Psychological Society, through the Professional Practice Board’s Mental Capacity Working Group, was successful in gaining funding. This tool has now been published and is available to download via Other commissioned measures can be found at

Dr Catherine Dooley, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and project manager, said: ‘The Society’s audit tool is designed primarily for evaluating formal assessments of capacity likely to be carried out by applied psychologists, and other professional groups. It is explicit that this might represent the ‘gold standard’ to guide developing expertise, linking the standards to core references within the Act and Code of Conduct, providing some examples of good practice and ways of utilising the audit approach to enhance services generally.’

The audit tool has been endorsed by the Royal College of Psychiatry and College of Occupational Therapy. In her introduction to the document, Susan Elsmore, SCIE Mental Capacity Act Co-ordinator, wrote: ‘In use, the tool will assess compliance against the Act, but also provide benchmarks to test future provision. It builds on the earlier guidance published by the Society to promote awareness and good practice in the assessment of capacity in adults.’

Tests used in multiple contexts

The Society, through the Psychological Testing Centre (PTC) is currently reviewing tests that are used in multiple contexts (such as the Wechsler tests). The review system uses EFPA Guidelines and for each test two independent reviewers, a consultant editor and a senior editor contribute towards the review, which when complete is published on the website The reviews provide users with an independent professional review based on criteria that meet European standards.

In reviewing tests that are used in more than one professional setting the test review team propose to use one reviewer from each of the main settings and to seek additional comments from those who are using the tests in other settings. For example with the WAIS-IV, currently under review, we looked for reviews from practitioners and academics from a clinical or neuropsychology setting and from an educational setting and we are also seeking additional comment from those who use the test in other settings.

Each review is given an ISSN number so that reviewers can claim a joint author publication and in addition there is an honorarium when the review is published. From experience and feedback this is very good CPD for anyone who is using tests. We have appointed a team to review the WAIS-IV but we need to recruit more clinical psychologists and clinical neuropsychologists who are Chartered Members or Registered Psychologists to review other tests used in a clinical and clinical neuro setting.

If you would like to know more or if you would like to apply to be a reviewer please contact [email protected] in the first instance.
Pat Lindley
Senior Editor for Test Reviews 

Launch of online news service partnership

The British Psychological Society is pleased to announce the launch of an online news service, working with Adfero-Newsreach to promote psychology to a wider audience.

Adfero journalists will be writing brief news stories, where possible with comments from our experts. This service will make it possible for the Society to provide good, evidence-based psychology comment on the day’s news. The usual rules apply in terms of ethics and client confidentiality, and experts speaking as individuals. It will be made clear if a comment is on behalf of the Society.

The Adfero provision will be part of a wider news stream, including content from The Psychologist, the Research Digest and BPS Journals.
We welcome members’ comments on the service, and ideas for stories to cover. Please e-mail [email protected].

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