Our science in Scotland

Dr Sue Northrop, Vice Chair of BPS Scotland, reports from the BPS Scotland Annual Scientific Meeting 2016.

Professor Peter Kinderman, President Elect of the British Psychological Society, opened BPS Scotland’s 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting in February. He outlined three key ways that the Society makes a difference: through theory, science and knowledge; professional practice; and our value base. Professor Kinderman said that whilst the Society has an important role in supporting the membership, it also has a contribution to make in promoting the voice and impact of psychology to tackle the issues of our time. It was important that members actively set the Society’s agenda and he urged members in Scotland to speak out about the issues that mattered to them.

The first speaker was Professor Rosalind Searle, sponsored by the Division of Occupational Psychology Scotland. Her talk – ‘Trust matters – strategic choice to preserve or break and repair trust’ –  highlighted the impact of trust and its violation in organisations. Using data from two distinct studies, Professor Searle outlined the impact of austerity, downsizing and major change on a range of public and private organisations. She examined the need to focus on the choice made by leaders – whether to try and preserve employee trust, or breach it and try to subsequently repair.  Professor Searle showed how a choice to work in ways that build trust enabled one organisation to manage a downsizing process in a positive way. Line managers actively supported for people to talk about change, making it their priority. The emotional and relational aspects of change were recognised and supported. Despite major change, this organisation went on to increased employee trust levels.  

Managing trust is critical to recruitment, retention and performance and is affected by various factors including the size of organisation, status in the hierarchy and sector. System factors such as procedural fairness and how things are done can have a major impact on trust, as can working with change as a collective as well as an individual process. Managing trust is a strategic choice that leaders make and one that has a significant impact on all organisations, their staff and their efficiency.

The second speaker, Dr Anne Douglas, was sponsored by the Division of Counselling Psychology Scotland, and she spoke about the role of clinical psychology as a discipline in designing, managing and evaluating an NHS Mental Health whole-system response for asylum seekers and refugees of all ages in Glasgow. The service was developed following the 1999 Immigration Act when Glasgow becoming a dispersal city for asylum seekers and refugees. She developed an integrated service model, focusing on liaising with a wide range of services, removing barriers to accessing mainstream services and providing expertise to deliver therapy for those with problems related to complex trauma and also culturally complicated presentations. People using the service were dealing with a range of issues including displacement, one aspect of which Dr Douglas described as ‘cultural bereavement’ – mourning the loss of all aspects of their home environment and culture. Many people had experienced major past trauma and were now also having to cope with the stress of the asylum process.

The new service, now called COMPASS, offers a culturally relevant model of therapy for asylum seekers and refugees. It also provides training and capacity building for other professionals and voluntary organisations. The direct service it delivers has included group work on establishing safety, groups for mother and babies, groups for parents and children in schools and also for unaccompanied young people. There is also a ‘User Group’, which gives asylum seekers and refugees the potential to influence the things that matter to them. Compass also has a dedicated Art Therapy and Occupational Therapy Service. Regular training placements are also offered to postgraduate trainees.

Developing the service has drawn on a wide range of psychological skills such as research, consultation, creating system change, dealing with conflict, legal report writing and advocacy so it is not solely therapy. The work demonstrates the role that psychology can play in creating new services and supporting wider system change.

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