Applied psychology – salad, not soup

A letter from our April edition.

I read the themed issue of Child & Family Clinical Psychology Review ‘What good looks like in psychological services for children, young people and their families’ (2015) with great interest. I had high hopes that the publication would outline a comprehensive and integrated view of psychological support for this population. Having worked in local authority, NHS and private sector psychological services for children, and having experienced the value of applied psychologists from different fields working together, I hoped that this diversity would be reflected in ‘What good looks like…’.

In fact, I think that the report is an excellent overview of the variety of ways in which clinical psychologists can be involved in supporting children, young people and families. It emphasises the application of clinical knowledge and skills in different settings and at different levels, making a good case for direct clinical work with clients and for psychologically informed practice and environments.

However, I think that it falls short of setting out guidance for psychological services more broadly. While the authors make a point of defining ‘applied psychologists’ to include qualified psychologists from all fields, the review is clearly about clinical psychologists. The editorial states that ‘this publication lays out the roles that only clinical psychologists can play in service provision’. The document was written by a faculty of the DCP and published in a DCP periodical. Although the Division of Neuropsychology and the Division of Educational Psychology are acknowledged for providing support, the only psychologists acknowledged for writing and reviewing the document are clinical psychologists. Every case study in the document is of clinical psychologists’ work; there are no examples of ‘what good looks like’ in the work of educational, forensic, counselling, health, occupational, sport or neuropsychologists with children.

I have the utmost respect for my clinical colleagues and agree wholeheartedly with the idea of promoting their skills in working with children, young people and families across different settings. However, this report should really have been called ‘What good looks like in clinical psychology services for children, young people and their families’, since that is what it covers.

Applied psychology is not a soup, where all our skills merge together with one dominant flavour, but a crunchy salad where each ingredient is distinct and contributes to the overall merit of the dish (Jones et al., 2013; Turner & Stringer, 2004). I would welcome further publications to celebrate (a) the work of different applied psychologists with this population and (b) to set out guidance with examples of how we could make best use of both our common skills as psychologists and unique skills within each field. Let’s not pretend that clinical psychologists are the only psychologists providing services for children, or that the DCP speaks on behalf of all applied psychologists.

Rebecca Ashton
Educational psychologist

Jones, R., Bhanbhro, S.M., Grant, R. & Hood, R. (2013). The definition and deployment of differential core professional competencies and characteristics in multiprofessional health and social care teams. Health & Social Care in the Community, 21(1), 47–58.
Turner, C. & Stringer, P. (2004). Green salad or green puree? DECP Debate, Issue 110, pp.3–4.

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