President’s column

From Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes.

As you will know, one new thing that I am trying to do, as part of my primary goal of raising the visibility of psychology, is to have regular themed output, not only in our own press and publications (such as our, widely acknowledged as excellent, Psychologist magazine), but also in externally facing news releases and web content. The aim of this is to increase our impact through informing people (not just our membership, but also all of our professional colleagues, constituents, the media, decision makers and the general public) about what our psychologists have been involved with in a planned, proactive manner, and by coming up with informed and timely psychological comment, opinion and reaction to news and other events.

In terms of the latter, we have been very busy with releases on a wide range of topics since the beginning of my term as our Society’s President, including: Mental Health Awareness Week, the Nepal earthquake, the Germanwings disaster, and the publication by the new government of Improving England’s Mental Health: The First 100 Days. All of these releases are available at www.bps.org.uk/news.

May’s theme was government and politics, and it was symbolic that Dr Lisa Cameron, consultant clinical psychologist, was elected as the Scottish National Party MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow. I was pleased to be able to congratulate Lisa on her election on behalf of the Society, and we have already met with Lisa in the Houses of Parliament to discuss how we can increase the visibility of psychology in the UK and to increase its impact on both policy and practice.

June’s themes were work and industry, employment and unemployment and homelessness and social justice, and we had an excellent article in last month’s issue by Sheffield University’s Angela Carter on youth unemployment; the Chair of the Division of Occupational Psychology, Roxane Gervais, had a guest blog on the ‘Work Wise’ website; the Society issued a Call to Action, after some hard work by a specially convened working party and supported by our Policy Team, on Work Capability Assessments, and there was coverage of June’s issues of unemployment, social justice and homelessness on our website to tie in with Men’s Health Week and ‘Walk the Talk’ that some of our psychologists will be participating in in August to raise awareness of, and highlight psychology’s concern of with and for, these issues. In all of this we have been supported by our Communication Team and we welcome the appointment of the Society’s new Director of Policy and Communication, Claire Herbert, who joins us from the General Dental Council. It is very good indeed to have Claire on board and in post with us.

This month’s themes, are sport, exercise, and their links with psychological and physical health. As President, I get to represent the Society at many of our Branch conferences and other events and have already been to the South West, Wessex, London and Home Counties, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as sitting on several of our Boards and visiting our staff at our Leicester office. At the NIBPS conference, I had the great pleasure of meeting Britain’s 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympic Games Women’s Super G gold medallist, Kelly Gallagher. Kelly is visually impaired, so skis down an extremely steep and tight slalom course at speeds of over 70 mph together with her guide, Charlotte Evans. Kelly spoke to the NIBPS conference with her psychologist, Kelley Fay, of Northern Ireland Sports Institute. She said:

If I hadn’t been able to have an efficient and sustainable relationship with Charlotte then I don’t feel we would have been able to produce a winning partnership. Our psychologist helped develop this… We needed to be able to communicate effectively and clearly, Charlotte needed to be able to lead and encourage me and I needed to be able to trust and believe in her in order for us to be able to spend as much time together training and competing. Understanding each other’s behaviours and language, and having role clarity was an important first step – this set the foundations so we could build and push on, especially when we were in more challenging situations and environments. If we didn’t believe in the work which our psychologist was encouraging us to do, if we didn’t allow her full access to our thoughts… the impact would not have been as positive.

Developing our own coping strategies was also a major part of our work – having time on our own, communicating methods on/off snow, anxiety control techniques, and stress management tools were adopted individually by us. Overcoming injuries, serious accidents, personal tragedies were all areas where we used these coping strategies and received support from Kelley. There were times when I felt I may not be able to continue to ski such was the emotion I experienced, but with the right support around me I was able to make the decision to remain.

One of the major disappointments from the actual games was not having our psychologist with us due to accreditation and funding issues – but despite this though she made herself available to us using the gems of modern technology. We particularly needed this support after our very disappointing first race, and once she encouraged us to let our emotions out and acknowledge them, etc., we received a ‘gentle’ push to move on and refocus. Charlotte and I were able to take more control at this point and set our target for the next day’s race where we won our gold.

Did sport psychology help us achieve our gold? I can honestly say yes – without having an effective relationship with my guide or getting the personal support during some very tough times and having the coping strategies to deal with issues, I don’t feel we would have been able to train as hard or as well or cope with the disappointment of the first day at Sochi – all which contributed towards our ability to claim that gold medal that we are so proud of.

In addition to developing links with our membership – and I remind everybody that the review which our Society is conducting of its member networks closes on 6 July, see www.bps.org.uk/membernetworkreview – the President represents the Society in our work with sister organisations, both in the UK (Mental Health Awareness Week saw me supporting the Mental Health Foundation’s launch, and I also spoke at events run by the Royal Society of Medicine, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Academy of Engineering’s launch of the excellent Implicit Bias Training) and in dealings with our sister organisations abroad. At the beginning of May I represented us at the Presidents’ Council of the European Federation of Psychology Associations (EFPA) in Brussels, and I shall be chairing their General Assembly in Milan at the end of this month. At the end of May, though, I was in Russia preparing the way for a new Memorandum of Association that we are entering into with the Russian Psychological Society, which we shall be signing at the EFPA Congress HQ, witnessed by all our international colleagues, in July. It was very special, on a visit to a rehabilitation and treatment centre for Russian veterans of the Afghan war with a group of British veterans and professionals working with them, to be shown, and allowed to carry, the Winter Paralympic Torch that the Russian Veterans carried for the Sochi Winter Olympics.

I wish you all a healthy July, hopefully with some sport and leisure. It is good to have had the opportunity of learning more about the links between physical and psychological health, and of what psychology has to offer in this area.

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