President’s column; Lifetime Achievement Award; understanding psychosis; Society hubs; autism and the criminal justice system; and more

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

We have just published our new plan for the Society’s work until 2020 (available via, and will be ensuring that our Boards, member networks and teams of staff in the Leicester office discuss how to work on the various key areas of the plan in their meetings this autumn. The greater focus on key priorities will require reviews and likely changes in how we operate as a Society and we want to ensure that members are kept informed of these changes as they are planned. Developing the website to ensure our internal communications are improved will therefore be a very important early step.

The new plan has been developed through consultation with our membership and staff and has benefited from their input. Our aim is to make the Society more strategic and focused and its work more visible and effective in benefiting society and supporting our members. Below I’ve summarised the six main goals that have been identified as the priorities for the next phase of the Society’s work. This doesn’t give all the detail, but hopefully gives an overview of what we’ll be doing and more details are available on the webpage.

1. Promote advancements in psychological knowledge and its practice
The Society will promote psychology, building on the success of our conferences, journals and grant schemes. We will give members the opportunity to access wider audiences in the UK and internationally to share their expertise. We will support enhanced access to professional development. We will invest in our grants and bursary schemes to encourage new developments in psychological science, education and practice.

2. Develop the professional skills of our members

We have a made a commitment to ensure that services for our membership are at the heart of what we do. The Society recognises the importance of providing excellent continuing professional development opportunities and will update members on the latest psychological knowledge at every career stage. As well as continuing to provide high-quality CPD courses and events, we will expand our portfolio of professional guidelines and publications.

3. Maximise the impact of psychology on public policy

We will ensure that external audiences, and particularly public policy makers, have better access to the excellent research and insight psychologists can offer. We will strengthen relationships with partner organisations to help achieve our aims of increasing the impact of psychological knowledge and practice on policies that enhance society.

4. Increase the visibility of psychology and raise public awareness
The Society is already recognised by the UK and international media as a key source of information about psychology. We will continue to develop our capacity to give timely and authoritative comment on matters relating to our discipline, and use spokespeople to ensure we present a clear, evidence-based and responsive voice.  We will build on our successful programme of public engagement through lectures, talks, exhibitions and information stands at public science fairs. Growing use of our Public Engagement Grants will help members to reach out to wider audiences to promote the value of psychological research and practice.

5. Attract new members and broaden our membership
Our future rests in the strength of our membership and so we aim to grow this. We have already embarked on partnerships to open up national and international routes to membership. We also need to promote progression through the grades of membership and support our members at every career stage. The new subscriber grades for those with a broad interest in the subject will help us to build a wide audience for our other key objectives.

6. Develop our organisation to support change

We appreciate and welcome the engagement of our members with the Society and want to further harness their collective power. We will continue to ensure there are opportunities for our members to be active within the organisation. To achieve this we will continue to review, simplify and strengthen the Society’s governance structures and provide them with support and training. We will review and improve our ways of working to ensure the Society is flexible, coordinated and an effective communicator to ensure all our efforts are focused on achieving our goals.

I hope that this brief summary gives a flavour of what we’re aiming to achieve over the next five years in and with the Society, and that you’ll be involved in helping the goals to be achieved. 

Lifetime Achievement Award
Peter Venables

A former President of the BPS and world-leading authority on the psychophysiological basis of schizophrenia has been given the Society’s Research Board Lifetime Achievement Award. Peter Venables, now 91, has had a career spanning ‘the entire development of modern psychology’ according to Professors Andy Young and Steven Tipper (University of York) who nominated him.

Professor Venables has formerly been President, not only of the BPS, but also the Society for Psychophysiological Research and the Experimental Psychology Society. He is an Emeritus Professor in Psychology at the University of York and received his BA in the subject from UCL in 1951. He received his PhD from the Institute of Psychiatry (1953) and later became Dean of the Faculty of Science at Birkbeck (1968–1970) during time spent there as a Reader and Personal Chair in its Psychology department. In 1974 he founded the Department of Psychology at the University of York where he was Pro-Vice Chancellor from 1981 to 1985.

He began his research career in 1951 and is still actively publishing papers, Professors Young and Tipper said in their nomination: ‘He is widely acknowledged as a leading figure in establishing the field of experimental psychophysiology, playing a key role in setting up this discipline in Britain throughout the 1950s and 1960s. His work was unusual at the time, emphasising an experimental psychological rather than clinical approach to understanding schizophrenia.’

The Professor’s work with schizophrenia began in 1953 and his first citation classic was 1962’s ‘Level of arousal and the sub-classification of schizophrenia’, published in Archives of General Psychiatry. This illustrated a theme that has been reiterated for several decades, that there are two types of schizophrenic patient: those who show active behaviour on hospital wards and those who are withdrawn. Venables later went on to show that these groups differed in terms of physiological arousal. This contribution became the forerunner of the positive–negative symptomatology distinction in schizophrenia that was influential in the 1980s and 1990s.

His contributions have not only been in the clinical field, but in cognitive, neuroanatomical, psychophysiology and neurodevelopmental areas too. One of his most original, influential and seminal works, according to Professors Young and Tipper, was his paper on input dysfunction in schizophrenia, which built on his earlier work on selective attention, withdrawal and cortical activation, a paper that is recognised as a citation classic. His laboratory was also the first to demonstrate that schizophrenic people fall into distinct subgroups of electrodermal non-responders and electrodermal hyper-responders.

In the early 1970s he also set up the Mauritius Joint Child Health Project along with colleagues Sarnoff Mednick and Fini Schulsinger, a prospective longitudinal study that involved the collection of psychophysiological, psychological, social and medical data on 1795 three-year-old children. The project continues to collect data today under the direction of Adrian Raine, with whom Peter Venables publishes current research.

Professor Venables worked as a telephone engineer before the start of WWII and subsequently in radar in the Navy, he told The Psychologist: ‘I thought that going to university after the war to do the obvious thing and to study physics or electronics might be difficult with so many in the same position as myself. One of the aspects of being in telephones or radar was that it involved trying to find faults in circuits by sending a signal into a virtual “black box” and finding out what was happening inside by measuring the response.

‘I had read something of psychology while I was in the Navy and had indeed joined the BPS as an “attached member”. I also had the British Journal of Psychology sent to me and I thought, on the basis of rather scanty knowledge, that there was an analogy between “stimulus” and “response” in the human brain as a black box and what I had been doing before. So when after the war as a veteran I went to UCL it was with the idea of eventually doing research in psychology.’

After graduating, Professor Venables got a job with the MRC Social Psychiatry Research Unit to look first into stress in bus conductors. He added: ‘What more obvious way (to me) to tackle the topic than to use psychophysiological methods? I built my own apparatus with the help of knowledge from telephones and radar and surplus stores in Tottenham Court Road. The formidable Aubrey Lewis, my boss, backed me and from then there was no holding me.’

Professor Venables said some of his happiest times, among many others, included working with postgraduates, starting the Child Health Project in Mauritius, and helping to bridge the two legs of the field together by being President of both the EPS and BPS. He added to his list of most worthwhile achievements: ‘Publishing a chapter entitled “Input dysfunction in schizophrenia” in 1964, which made something of a hit and which took me on a lecture tour in the US making so many friends with whom I have collaborated over many years and resulting in awards by the Society of Psychophysiological Research and the Society for Research in Psychopathology.

‘And of course founding one of the best (“the best”) psychology departments in the country, and then perhaps living to the age of 91, luckily with my marbles relatively intact!’

He added: ‘I was of course very honoured and delighted that the Society of which I was once President had decided to give me this award. I was particularly delighted to receive an award that had also previously been given to colleagues in my Department at York, Alan Baddeley and Andy Young. The award, of course, honours also all those colleagues in the MRC Social Psychiatry unit in the 50s and 60s. Birkbeck College in the 60s and 70s and York in the 80s to the present, without whom I could not be in this happy position.’
Ella Rhodes

Branching out with ‘Hubs’ 

Most of the nine active Society Branches have developed ‘Hub’ networks to connect with members across their geographical areas: some are well established, some are in the process of being set up. Here we consider how this initiative has been bringing psychology to society in new places and new ways.

London & Home Counties
The London & Home Counties Branch does not have any hubs at present. We have looked at setting them up but did not have enough committee members to take such a project forward. We think it would be possible to have hubs in Kent, a hub to the north covering Luton and High Wycombe and west towards Slough. We would actively welcome suggestions from members about possible venues. We could run talks in one area as a pilot and expand the hubs with the help of members in the area. Please contact us at [email protected]

The Welsh Branch has recently developed five regional hubs – Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth, Bangor and Wrexham – each run by a team of volunteers. The hubs are still establishing themselves but are hoping to hold a variety of events including scientific meetings and joint talks with university psychology societies. It is hoped that the events will allow psychologists in the regions to network, provide peer support and socialise. In the past year, the Cardiff Hub has held ‘Psychology in the pub’ talks, and the Swansea hub organised the 2014 Welsh Branch Conference in September.

The Scottish Branch has been developing hubs over the last 18 months, and plans to support three hub events each year. The first hub was held in Tayside, followed by Highland Region (May 2014), with a third planned for Grampian region in November. Each event is coordinated and hosted by a small team of local psychologists, in collaboration with our Scottish Branch Hubs Working Group. This has enabled us to develop a standardised process for setting up and evaluating our hubs. Topics covered to date have been well received and have included health psychology and adolescent mental health in remote and rural areas.

North West of England
Traditionally the majority of our activities have been focused in the Manchester area. Following our recent members’ survey and aligning with one of our key priorities for future growth, we are aiming to expand our offering of events and activities around the North West. Our members have shown an interest in events in both Liverpool and Chester and this will form part of our strategy moving forward. Get in touch ff you’d like to participate, promote or help in any way: [email protected].

South West of England
The South West Branch committee has spent the last three years developing local hubs and we now have five well-established hubs (Bristol/Bath, Exeter, Plymouth, Truro and Jersey). Each hub is run by a team of local psychologists, who organise and host all the local events. Each month we hold our ‘Psychology in the pub’ talks – these have become an excellent source of networking in our region. We also organise up to four CPD events across our hubs each year.

The Wessex Branch has five hubs in Sussex, Thames Valley, Dorset, Surrey, and Solent. Each hub hosts a series of varied activities throughout the year. A highlight is the quarterly Solent Seminars at the University of Portsmouth. Recent events include ‘Risk & Restoration in Nature: Is Nature Scary and Dangerous or Relaxing and Healing?’ at our Surrey hub, ‘All is Not Lost! Unlocking the Potential for Cognitive Rehabilitation’ at the Sussex hub, and the Prosopagnosia Public Engagement Grant launch event hosted by our Dorset hub. We welcome suggestions from our members for topics for events.

North East of England
The North East of England Branch currently has one hub situated in Sheffield, which holds a series of events throughout the year. The NEEB does not focus its activities to a particular area, and committee meetings and events are located throughout the North East. We would actively support a group that wanted to set up a hub in the North East and welcome proposals via [email protected]

West Midlands
The West Midlands Branch currently does not have a hub network, however, this is something the committee wants to change! The Branch covers a large area from Stoke-on-Trent to Swindon, so the committee is passionate about developing hubs, which it sees as focal points for talks, networking and CPD events and much more. They are currently exploring the potential for hubs in the region: if you would like to get involved with hub-building please contact us at [email protected].

Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Branch (NIBPS) is launched its first hub in the North West of Ireland in September and is delighted with the enthusiasm of the academics and researchers at University of Ulster who have worked with the Branch to produce a calendar of events hosted at University of Ulster campuses in Coleraine and Derry. Discussions are ongoing about the setting up of a hub in the South West of Ireland to endeavour to engage more closely and effectively with BPS members who live there. Members interested in becoming involved in hub activity in either area should in the first instance e-mail [email protected]

Finally, in celebrating the work of the existing Branches and their hub networks it is important to remind members in the East Midlands and East of England geographical areas that the Society would be delighted to support Branch networks in your areas. East Midlands members who have not yet shown their support for a Branch should visit – 10 per cent of the membership in the area need to respond in order for the Branch to be formed.

To form a Branch in the East of England the Society requires 20 members from that geographical area to put forward an initial expression of interest to the Trustees. Interested members should contact me (see below).

If you would like to get involved in hub activities in your area please contact me and I will put you in touch with your local branch committee. 

Anne Kerr, Branch Advisor
on behalf of the Branches Forum
[email protected]


Understanding psychosis

Next month a new report on understanding psychosis and schizophrenia will be launched by the Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology in London. The Division’s report gives an overview of the current state of knowledge about why some people hear voices, experience paranoia, believe things that others find strange, or appear out of touch with reality. It also explains what can help.

The report’s editor, Anne Cooke from Canterbury Christ Church University, said the project has been 15 years in the making. Her active involvement with the Division of Clinical Psychology began in 1997 when, motivated by despair about the widespread misinformation and unhelpful stereotypes that were dominating media coverage of mental health, she became Press Officer. 

Anne said that she felt her profession had a responsibility to challenge these stereotypes. She added: ‘I also felt that as psychologists we had something unique to contribute. That was the time when research into the psychology of psychosis was beginning to burgeon, and so many of our findings challenged the stereotypes. 

‘For example, we were finding how common “psychotic” experiences are – thousands of people have unusual beliefs or hear voices, but live successful lives and never come into contact with mental health services. Evidence was also emerging that rather than being some scary mystery brain disease, psychosis can often be a reaction to the things that happen to us – for example abuse and trauma – and the way we make sense of those events.’

In 2000 the Division published its first public information report Recent Advances in Understanding Mental Illness and Psychotic Experiences, which Anne edited with Peter Kinderman. This report is still widely downloaded and cited. The Department of Health later supported the Division and Anne’s employer, Canterbury Christ Church University, to produce a training pack based on the report, Psychosis Revisited, which became a bestseller.

In 2010 the Division published a second public information report about bipolar disorder, edited by Steven Jones, Fiona Lobban and Anne Cooke. It later commissioned Anne to produce a new, updated report on psychosis, summarising the huge progress that has been made in this area since the first report. 

The document describes a psychological understanding of psychosis and has two main aims. Firstly, it is intended as a resource for people who experience psychosis and their families. Secondly, the hope is that it will help change not only mental health services, but also our whole approach as a society to this issue. The report has involved contributions from 24 people, among them many of the leading researchers in the field. They include many of those who were involved with the first report, together with younger researchers who have come to prominence since, for example Tony Morrison and Daniel Freeman. About a quarter of the contributors have themselves experienced psychosis.

Anne added: ‘I hope that the report demonstrates, rather than merely stating, the value of psychology in developing useful theory and interventions in this area. More importantly, my dream is that our document will contribute to a sea change in attitudes so that rather than being “othered” and stigmatised, people who experience psychosis will find those around them accepting, open-minded and willing to help. Perhaps one day, too, the default approach in psychosis services will be a psychological one, with a psychological formulation driving every decision and the content of every conversation.’

The report launch event in London on 27 November will include talks from Norman Lamb (Minister of State for Care and Support) and Geraldine Strathdee (National Director of Mental Health) together with report contributors including Anne Cooke, Peter Kinderman, Jacqui Dillon, Philippa Garety, Richard Bentall, Rufus May, Elizabeth Kuipers and Tony Lavender. It will take place at Friends Meeting House, Euston Road and is open to all, subject to booking (see The document will be accessible on from the same date.
- Ella Rhodes

Is autism a get-out-of-jail-free card?
Jon Sutton reports from a one-day conference on autism and the criminal justice, funded by the Society’s Public Engagement Grant scheme

‘I had my favourite hoody on, I wore it all the time. I used it to block out peripheral vision, and I liked the sensation on my cranium’. So said Alex Evans, from Optimism in Autism. So when the burly security guard in the Job Centre barked ‘Take down your hood!’ repeatedly, grabbing Alex’s shoulder, he ‘went into meltdown’. ‘The word “subtlety” doesn’t come into our vocabulary very often.’ The situation went from bad to worse, and Alex found himself in a confusing and stressful police interview.

Could autism awareness training have helped the professionals involved to deal with the situation differently? Alex thinks so, pointing to numerous aspects of such encounters which don’t suit a person with autism: flashing lights and a big police presence lead to sensory overload, fast talking and the autistic tendency towards literal interpretations can lead to serious misunderstandings. Alex admitted that his own failure to disclose his autism meant he ‘lost all rights as a vulnerable adult’, but he said that as an 18-year-old it was not the easiest thing to admit: he was still ‘in denial’ about his diagnosis. The use of an ‘Autism Alert Card’, produced by the National Autistic Society, could help. ‘One of my friends calls it “the get-out-of-jail card”,’ said Alex wryly.

The victim perspective came from Robyn Steward (autism consultant, author and broadcaster), with a deeply affecting account of her own experiences. The ‘black and white’ view of the world, which Alex had also mentioned, made it extremely difficult for Robyn to come to terms with what had happened to her. ‘I found the whole thing really confusing,’ she said. ‘Putting the pieces together and seeing the bigger picture.’ Robyn said that people with autism can struggle to understand the justice system: ‘I eventually came to realise that just because a person does not get prosecuted does not mean the crime didn’t happen.’

Turning to the research, Professor Glynnis Murphy (Tizard Centre, University of Kent) described the difficulties in finding unbiased samples and good-quality diagnoses. However, through systematic review Professor Murphy found that if anything – certainly when it came to young people – fewer with autism spectrum disorder commit crimes than those without. According to Dr Juli Crocombe (St Andrews Healthcare), the ‘issue of the internet is more and more prevalent’ in those who do. Outlining the case of Gary McKinnon, saved from extradition to the US on hacking charges after a decade-long fight, Crocombe considered the ‘promising but immature science’ of cybercrime offender profiling. There’s a need for early recognition and diagnosis of autism (in McKinnon’s case in came part way through), and preventative education around the use of IT. But how do you risk assess, monitor and manage? ‘They’re four steps ahead of me in the IT world,’ admitted Crocombe.

People with autism are not in such an advantageous position when it comes to understanding the police caution, with its complex conditional double negatives. Inspector Huw Griffiths (Hampshire Police) described an alternative, based on ‘Widgit’ symbols and pictures. Failure to understand rights may lead to miscarriages of justice, so it was good to hear that implementation of the new system in two Hampshire custody centres was yielding promising results. But for DS Mick Confrey (Greater Manchester Police) much more is needed. He suggested that autism advocate groups should look at the transgendered community to see how they got an appendix to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and that the police should be less wary of using powers under the Mental Health Act: ‘It’s there for a reason but we keep shying away from it.’ Sue Mulcahy (University of Liverpool) wrapped up before lunch with a call for more training of police, barristers and prosecutors: ‘Those attending training can be surprised by the prevalence of autism and the hidden nature of many difficulties.’

After the break, Dr Katie Maras (University of Bath), Dr Laura Crane (City University) and Michelle Mattison (Lancaster University) considered how to obtain best evidence at police interview. Police need to manage sensory issues in the interview room, set boundaries to questions and give careful consideration to how to ‘reinstate context’ in recall. The traditional ‘cognitive interview’ appears not to work too well for those with autism, and the speakers advocated the use of a ‘sketch plan’ as an alternative. Drawing can help people to focus, retrieve more information and reduce anxiety. With appropriate preparation and support from an intermediary (also advocated by David Wurtzel of City University later in the day), people with autism can provide detailed and accurate evidence.

So is autism a ‘get-out-of-jail’ card? Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (University of Cambridge) recounted his experiences as an expert witness, considering whether the person is fit to plead and to participate effectively in the legal process. ‘Judges are actually very keen to get people with autism into court’, he said: ‘They want to give them the chance to present their defence.’ We need to make sure courts aren’t ‘off limits’ for people with autism: reducing some of the formality; avoiding ambiguity, metaphors and idioms in questioning; and being mindful of the extremely high levels of suicidal thoughts in adults with autism (a factor in the successful blocking of extradition for Gary McKinnon). But autism is not a get-out-of-jail card, Baron-Cohen concluded, citing the case of Simon Thompson (who received 20 years in prison after killing his daughter). Instead, autism should lead to reasonable adjustments to ensure access to a fair trial.Describing such reasonable adjustments, Helen Johnson (Emery Johnson Astills) spoke about her work in the trial of Michael Piggin, a teenager whose trial on terrorism charges collapsed earlier this year. Johnson described how she and her team would get Michael to sit in the witness box during breaks in proceedings, answering questions on his specialist interest (the war). ‘It was about enabling the defendant to communicate and participate,’ Johnson said. As Baron-Cohen had concluded before her, this was not about avoiding justice, it was about accessing basic human rights.

The Society’s Brain Injury and Criminal Justice Working Party is drafting a paper on Children and Young People with Neuro-disabilities in the Criminal Justice System. For more on the Society’s Public Engagement Grants, see


Testing in forensic contexts– new qualification standards

In January 2015 the Society will be launching its newly developed qualification standards in testing in forensic contexts. The qualifications have been developed by a working group directed by the Committee on Test Standards (CTS) and sponsored by the Division of Forensic Psychology (DFP). The working group’s terms of reference were defined by the Professional Practice Board (PPB). Those using testing in forensic contexts may be working in prisons, secure hospitals, courts or probation services or elsewhere in a justice context and may be assessing offenders’ risk of reoffending.

The qualifications are available at the following levels:
I    Assistant Test User (Test administration)
I    Test User (Forensic)

Chartered Members of the Society are invited to apply for the qualifications via two grandparenting routes:
Grandparenting Route 1

Open to Chartered Members with a current entry on the Register of Qualifications in Test Use (RQTU). Applicants will be required to sign a self-affirmation that they are competent in the forensic testing module sets and that they will apply these competencies in future when using tests in forensic contexts.

If you are not able to meet a few competencies, you can obtain the necessary training/experience during the two years that grandparenting will be open or supply portfolio evidence for just those competencies (please see the Route 2 process below).

No fee is required to receive these qualifications by this route.

Grandparenting Route 2
Open to BPS Chartered Members. Applicants will be required to provide portfolio evidence of how they have applied the standards in testing in forensic contexts. The portfolio will be assessed by members of the Forensic Testing Verifiers Group.
The following fees are payable in order to offset the cost of assessing portfolios:
I    Assistant Test User level only – £75
I    Assistant Test User and Test User levels combined – £125

An application form containing details of the forensic testing module sets, and a portfolio template can be downloaded from, or by e-mail from [email protected].

Last chance to visit Mind Maps
This month will be the last chance to visit the Society-sponsored Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology exhibition at the Science Museum in London. This free exhibition opened in December 2013 and has been widely praised for presenting a fascinating story and for its sensitive curation. If you haven’t been to see it yet, it’s certainly worth paying
a visit, but you only have until Sunday 19 October to do so. 

Lots more information about the exhibition at and you can see an introductory video at

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