Why do we need psychology? And what does psychology need?
We’re always listening out for ‘Voices in Psychology’. People who can take often complex ideas and communicate them in a way that will engage and inform our large and diverse audience. Writers with real impact, who are learning to avoid some of the traps of academic writing. They’re the future of our science, of our Society, of our magazine.
But perhaps you need help to find that voice. Perhaps you’ve got that certain something but you need practice, nurturing. We think we’ve made a real effort with this in recent years, providing opportunities and guidance to many first-time authors. Now we’ve started to develop a more formal structure to this process.
For 2018, we set a question which ran until the end of the year: Why do we need psychology? And what does psychology need? People were asked to address either or both of those questions, in any way they saw fit. While we were not exclusively aiming at students, we were mostly interested in identifying high potential amongst those starting their journey in psychology.
Now the fun begins… we are in discussions with some of these authors about playing a role in developing their ‘Voice in Psychology’, through the provision of advice and opportunities to write more in various contexts.
As this is a trial, we can’t be more specific at this stage. This will be about co-creating a Programme for the future. But we hope this will grow.
For 2019, the question we’re asking is ‘What makes a psychologist?’
Address this question, in any way you see fit. We recognise it’s a real challenge: the total word limit is just 1000, and it’s absolutely vital you write with our publication and audience in mind.
Deadline 20 September. Please submit by email to [email protected] and include a bit about yourself – your aspirations, and how you’re looking to engage with the communication of psychology. While we are not exclusively aiming this at students, we are mostly interested in identifying high potential amongst those starting out in their journey in psychology. One submission per person please, and unfortunately we cannot respond to everyone.
Around the end of 2019, we will publish a selection of the best responses online and in print too. Some of the winning entrants will be offered support in developing their ‘Voice in Psychology’, through the provision of advice and opportunities to write more in various contexts.
Get writing – and don’t be shy! If you’ve got a head bubbling with questions, original ideas about psychology beyond the lecture theatre, and a desire to make a difference, then that’s a good place to start. You don’t have to be the finished article to be Very Important to us!
Dr Jon Sutton (Managing Editor)
Madeleine Pownall (Associate Editor, VIP Programme)
Now for the winning entries from our 2018 scheme… remember, the question was: Why do we need psychology? And what does psychology need?
A critical revolution at work
In work psychology, we aim to study human behaviour in organisations and apply the knowledge we gain for beneficial ends. But what are these ends? Whose interests do our efforts serve? What assumptions lie beneath the knowledge we use and create? What better ways of doing research in work psychology could there be?
Questions like these invite us to consider the fundamental nature of what we do, perhaps leading us towards more ‘critical’ ways of thinking and being. In this context, ‘critical’ does not necessarily mean destructive or negative. Critical approaches – which are many and varied – highlight the limitations of how we usually do work psychology research, seeking to create alternatives that could generate a different future for our field.
The pursuit of social justice and individual freedoms lies at the heart of most critical perspectives, and this often involves examining the patterns of power in which individuals are embedded, in and beyond their workplaces. These ways of thinking also prompt us to consider how we personally relate to our research, promoting self-awareness of the concepts and paradigms we use, and the assumptions they rest upon. Qualitative methodologies and diverse epistemologies are valued alongside quantitative approaches in critical work. In mainstream academic work psychology, the desirability of some goals – such as the promotion of employee productivity and managerial authority – are often viewed as normal, universal, or even natural. Critical work identifies and challenges the assumptions that lie beneath these imperatives. We must look inwards at our own values and beliefs, outwards at the impact our research creates, and sideways at the diverse paradigms on hand in our field.
In a more critical future for work psychology, we would expand what gets researched, and how. Which questions get to the top of our research agendas, and how we address them, are values-laden issues. When we research, we take sides in debates, frame ideas, privilege certain kinds of data, shape possibilities for practice, and benefit or disadvantage groups of people. Creating knowledge is a powerful act that has considerable downstream impacts over which we have some control. If we undertake research that ultimately seeks to enhance employee productivity, we could reasonably foresee that this may be detrimental to certain groups of workers. A more critical research agenda might explore the challenges that the ‘productivity discourse’ poses to disabled workers or those with major non-work responsibilities. We might formulate a more inclusive conceptualisation of productivity itself. We could draw inspiration from post-structuralist, feminist, or post-modern scholarship in neighbouring academic fields. Expanding the repertoire of ‘legitimate’ work psychology research questions and approaches in this way would enable us to make different kinds of knowledge that eventually could benefit more people in the workplace.
This is not a new idea. Since at least the 1970s, critical psychologists have resisted individualist perspectives, pointed out the impact of the status quo on disadvantaged groups, and held other psychologists accountable for their role in perpetuating these impacts. Many social science disciplines have established critical traditions, several of which overlap with our focus on people in organisations. In our own field, pioneering thinkers have championed radical ideas that challenge the status quo. For example, Wendy Holloway’s 1991 history of work psychology and organizational behaviour dispelled the illusion of objective scientific enquiry by documenting how specific people, problems, and contexts have produced mainstream knowledge in our field. Gazi Islam and Michael Zyphur explored how the core subjects of work psychology such as job analysis, leadership, and motivation might be differently imagined in their chapter in 2009’s Critical Psychology: An Introduction. A few months ago, the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology published an article by Matthijs Bal and Edina Dóci on neo-liberal ideology in work psychology, alongside several responses. Unfortunately, these ideas and debates remain the exception rather than the norm.
This revolution is beginning to gather pace: researchers across the continent are voicing their desire for more critical work psychology. I’m working with European colleagues to plan an event on the future of work psychology that will allow us to explore together how our discipline can become more critical, healthy, equal, and relevant (www.futureofwop.com). This initiative mirrors the development of a Manifesto on the Future of Work and Organizational Psychology which encompasses critical aspirations. A substantial list of work psychology researchers from across Europe will sign the Manifesto, including me. Change is happening, and here in the UK we need to keep up.
This isn’t just an exercise in intellectual gymnastics. Many of us enter the field of work psychology with the intent to do good. In a more critical future, we could bring more of our values and beliefs to our work – provided we do so conscientiously, explicitly, and judiciously, as the proponents of evidence-based practice wisely advise. We would generate more (and more diverse) evidence on issues that concern the people who do not hold most power in organisations, and reappraise the extent to which the building blocks that form the edifice of today’s work psychology are still fit for our purposes. Critical approaches could offer a new sense of why our work matters in a society that is increasingly concerned with values-based issues of equality, sustainability, and freedom.
Work psychology won’t save the world, but we can individually make changes that accumulate to create a better impact in the future than we’ve made in the past. Our discipline is overdue for a critical revolution: will we make it happen?
‘I’m a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol. I use qualitative methods to explore the psychological responses of employees towards organisational values. I’ve studied several social sciences and political philosophy, developed policy for public bodies, and run third-sector organisations. I’m an activist and a scholar, and curious about how we can make the future better than the present and the past. I bring all those identities to my work. I’m on Twitter or email [email protected].'
It’s the part that makes us all human
I work as a junior doctor in a hospital, and I am constantly aware of the need for psychology. When a young person walks into A&E with self-harm cuts down their arm, there is a clear psychological need. It is more difficult to appreciate the emotional side and even more so to offer psychological support when someone comes to hospital for a physical problem; a heart attack that has torn apart a person’s self-confidence or a twenty-year battle with Diabetes filled with constant anxiety and the dread of being perceived as a outsider. We as medical doctors are all too ready to treat the pathophysiology. We stack our offices with the British National Formulary and research papers citing the latest pharmacological breakthroughs.
What we leave to one side are the aspects of a person’s suffering that we feel we have no part to play in; the part that makes us all human.
There is a greater need to appreciate the psychological aspects of physical health. While this is already done in certain areas of healthcare such as chronic illness and palliative care, it is not part of our day-to-day role as physicians. There are barriers – the time available on a quick ward round being just one of them – but holistic care is the cornerstone of modern medicine.
Medicine is becoming more technological with every passing minute. We wrap our patients in wires, inserting needles into every pore in an attempt to nourish a body ravaged by disease. Everyday we note the minute changes in heart rate and blood pressure, staring at the X-rays as we view the interior of our patients’ bodies. Yet it is the interior of their minds that we are yet to fully appreciate. Our ten-minute ward rounds offer little incentive to sit down and listen to our patients’ fears and anxieties. Our prescriptive proformas offer little opportunity to appreciate the decades of isolation and bereavement, the fear of a loss of one’s identity and independence.
I do not speak here of Psychiatry or of the medical diagnosis of mental disorders. I am talking about the psychological implications of being a patient and the lack of care we attribute to these. We must not forget that people are at their most vulnerable when they are unwell. Psychology is needed not just for medicine but for medics as a profession; it allows us to step out of our tunnel of physiology and pathology and step into the world of our patient.
One particular study, the ongoing ‘Diabetes 360’ survey, highlights this need very well. Nearly half of healthcare professionals reported that their ability to care for their patients lay in their ability to understand their patients’ perspectives and adequately manage their patients’ emotional issues alongside their physical ones. This is of particular importance when one compared with the results from the patients; 30 per cent of patients felt their Diabetes was taking up a significant amount of their mental and physical energy, with 32 per cent feeling overwhelmed as a result of their Diabetes.
We know that physical and psychological health are closely linked. This can be illustrated with something as simple as a cold. Think back to when you were tied up in bed with a dribbling nose, a barking cough and a stone-cold headache. It was not just the awful pains down your neck and fatigue of the muscles that felt so horrible; it was the fact that you felt useless as a partner, guilty for not being able to get to work, frustrated at the helplessness to which you were bound, the anxiety of whether you would still be able to submit that paper in time. Being ill is more than just an increase in white cells in our bloodstreams or an imbalance of our vital signs; it is something that happens to a person as a whole, and it is this entirety that physicians need to appreciate and manage.
Things are changing. More focus is being placed on the psychological sphere of healthcare in medical education. We are treating the medical doctor as one who covers the patient as a whole (see, for example, Cordingley and colleagues’ 2015 article ‘What Psychology do medical students need to know?’). But there is a long way to go. Ward rounds are not conducive to emotional support when the patient in the next bed can hear the entire conversation; ten-minute appointments do not always get to the heart of the problem. But an appreciation that patients present not only with physical symptoms but psychological burdens is a strong place to start.
‘I am a junior doctor working in Devon. I have an interest in writing and psychology, and have aspirations of combining both of these interests. My aim is to become a Psychiatrist and continue my interest in writing non-fiction about topics that interest me, such as global mental health, mental illness and the criminal justice system, and social injustice and mental health. I’m looking to stimulate a discussion and exchange ideas.’
Using psychology to think about psychology
All of I sudden I got it. I understood it all. The embarrassment. The shame. The stigma. That is, once I left my ivory tower of perceived knowledge and sat one-to-one in a therapist’s office, with the chairs placed ‘just so’. All that was missing was the box of tissues. I thought working in mental health would make me immune to mental health difficulties; boy, was I wrong. Working in mental health in no way makes me immune to anything.
Looking back, it was a terrifying experience that I now wouldn’t change for the world; I was in the shoes of a service user. I saw everything as a user of mental health services for the very first time and it changed my whole perspective. At first I did feel embarrassed and awkward, especially when the trainee CBT therapist asked if it was ok for the sessions to be recorded, ‘for clinical supervision and training purposes’. I couldn’t say no… I was in similar shoes myself, bringing every experience to my own supervision to aid my enhancement and learning. But I panicked: what if other students on her course were to watch these videos, and I later worked with these people in the very same services?
It took me a little while to understand that if I expect myself to one day become a clinical psychologist and help people who are experiencing mental health difficulties, I need to be able to reflect on myself and my own struggles. I feel grateful that I now have an insight into what it actually feels like when you are on the other side of the table, with a person asking you potentially intrusive questions and asking you to reflect upon your thoughts and feelings – a very difficult task! As I see it, this can only make me a better psychologist in the future. I no longer feel as removed as perhaps I once did. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ ideology, albeit most likely an unconscious power in our minds, has been obliterated.
Psychology needs a kick up the ‘you know what’ to end stigma, not just amongst society, but within the profession itself. What could be more destigmatising than therapists seeking their own therapy? I acknowledge the concerns brought up in Research Digest coverage surrounding compulsory therapy for psychotherapists: the author Christian Jarrett discusses the fact that personal therapy put a strain on some trainees, which consequently affected their personal relationships. However I can’t help but applaud the trainees who have made it through this process and who may now possess the self-knowledge and willingness to reflect on what they can bring to that relationship.
Some clinical psychology courses provide trainees with funding for personal therapy, whilst many do not. Why is there such little consensus among the profession? Of course we need to acknowledge ethical considerations such as how to maintain professional boundaries. However, we also need to consider whether certain social defences may be at play. Take the humble psychology office, for example. In many inpatient settings they are separate from service users, sometimes in completely separate buildings. Who are these social defences really for? Do they perpetuate a stigmatising view of ‘them’ and ‘us’?
Even though I am ‘new to the game’ I have already witnessed some very difficult situations and unfortunately I have witnessed stigma within the profession. I was also guilty of this for feeling such ambivalence towards my own therapy. However if we state that we are in a non-stigmatising profession, this should not just be a label on the tin. Perhaps psychology needs a culture change, to allow itself to think of the uncomfortable. Instead of answering curiosities with ‘that’s just the way it’s always been’, let’s challenge that and ask why.
Why do we need psychology? Because psychology is for every single person, whether that’s people with enduring and complex mental health difficulties, people experiencing mild anxiety, the professional that is seemingly ok or the person you get the bus to work with every morning. Psychology is an incredible profession that listens to you and tries to understand with you. We use psychology every day to help understand the individual, so why not use psychology as a tool to think about psychology itself?
‘I graduated with a merit from the MSc Development, Disorders and Clinical Practice from the University of York in 2016 (I graduated with a First Class BSc in Psychology and Child Development in 2014) and I am currently working as an Assistant Psychologist within the NHS. I have learnt a lot from my early experiences of clinical psychology. Now that I believe I have developed my own identity in the world of clinical psychology, I am confident to share my reflections and ideas.
I am looking for opportunities to share my experiences as somebody who is quite new to the professional world of psychology, in order to perhaps encourage a new generation of psychologists to realise that this profession is not a static one and we can embrace change. A line from the 2015 ‘Words and sorcery’ article in The Psychologist comes to mind; ‘above all consider your audience and try to write in smaller words for bigger circles’. This really inspired me to take a leap and go for a submission in The Psychologist, as it’s a slightly bigger audience than who usually hears my moaning – my rabbit and my partner.’
Respected and ridiculed
What does Psychology need? And why do we need psychology?’ These questions have been on a loop in my mind ever since I saw the VIP programe advertised in The Psychologist. I felt compelled to write, but was stuck on how best to frame my answer. Then, as I read New Scientist over a cup of tea, it struck me.
A small entry in the magazine began: ‘To a curmudgeon, Psychology is the art – not science – of stating the bleeding obvious. Either that, or of jumping to false conclusions.’ Reading a little further in the magazine, I found psychological research being cited to help describe an issue and relevant treatments. A glance around the public sphere and it’s not hard to identify less than complimentary attitudes towards our field and yet there are calls for a better ‘psychological’ understanding of modern society with its terrorism, crime, mental health, autism, learning disabilities, politics, education and trauma. Somehow, as psychologists, we tend to polarise opinion and achieve what physicists consider impossible; being two states at once, both respected and ridiculed at the same time.
As a psychologist I can think of so many reasons why our field is vital to the world; we are an ever-evolving society and we need psychologists to help us understand the thoughts and feelings evoked by new technologies, social and political changes and new discoveries that impact all earth’s inhabitants, humans, plants and animals alike. We need psychology to develop new treatments and interventions to meet new needs and also to continue to validate current treatments; to influence policy and budgeting regarding treatments and interventions and to make the case for treatments such as talking therapies, driving this expansion so that people can access good quality support when they need it and not some six months or so down the line.
But, what does psychology need? It would be presumptuous of me to think that I have the answer, but I certainly have some questions.
We are not considered a science by some academics, so why aren’t we doing more to drive reform around replication: encouraging students to replicate, or pulling null findings out of the file drawer? Why, out of all the sciences, do we not have a general interest magazine that tells the public about the work taking place in our field? There are many interesting discoveries and theories and much work being done by universities, labs and services all over the country. Perhaps psychology needs to better publicise itself as a science.
While many students study psychology at A-level and University, relatively few complete their training to become Chartered or registered. Why? Psychology has taken huge strides foward over the years, so why are we still focusing A-level psychology on studies from over half a century ago, and not on current issues and more recent studies? Psychology needs to modernise.
Ever-more frequently the letters pages of The Psychologist publish complaints about the treatment of trainees, and criticise students and assistants for having to work for low wages or take voluntary positions. Do we need to be more transparent about the time, effort and training the pathway to becoming a registered psychologist requires? Do we need to demonstrate the value of assistant psychologists and trainees and recognise the work they have completed to get to that stage? By improving their pay and conditions we might also encourage colleagues in other disciplines to recognise the rigorous training we complete and encourage them to better value our trainees and assistants. In this way our psychological expertise could be far more valued overall. Perhaps what psychology needs is for us to better value ourselves, our work and each other’s work.
Some think we state the obvious, regard us as ‘quacks’ and pseudo scientists. We clearly need to be more transparent about how we generate our theories and formulations. Psychology belongs to all humans, not just to a few after all. Perhaps we need to provide clearer demonstrations of how, in psychology, the obvious is not always the actual outcome. Perhaps we need to better present ourselves in the media to escape the usual ‘you’re not reading my mind are you?’ conversations with the uninformed. Perhaps we need to look at what research actually makes it into the media and how it is interpreted by the public, and distinguish the science from media-friendly pseudo-psychology. Perhaps psychology needs to better educate the world on what psychology actually is, what psychologists are and why what we do is as interesting and as valuable as the other sciences.
Psychology, perhaps uniquely among the sciences, is as much defined by the human mind as it attempts to define and understand the mind. It is only to be expected, then, that society needs psychology and psychology needs society to support it: the relationship is symbiotic. We need to come together as scientists to improve the rigour and validity of our research while respecting and valuing each other’s work and training. We should improve our public relations, communicate why psychology is important and get people on board by modernising how we teach psychology and how we train those who wish to follow in our footsteps. Together, we need to find a way to detach ourselves from our poor image and start a new phase of modern, relevant psychology, transparent and accessible to all.
‘I am a Chartered Forensic Psychologist, HCPC Registered, currently working for HMPPS and I am a Registered Scientist with the British Science Council. I am also an avid reader and budding writer and have recently finished my blog on my experiences of the Stage 2 Forensic Psychology Training. I am really interested in expanding my writing skill beyond research papers and making the outcomes of psychological research more accessible to the general public. Whilst I was qualifying, I was tutoring A-level Psychology and always wondered how all the intrigue and excitement about learning psychology from the start seemed to wither by the end of the A-levels. I was astounded that the syllabus seemed to have not changed in over 15 years since I had last done it! But I was able to talk to the students about new and exciting findings and research; things that were relevant to circumstances now. It is this communication that I wish to continue and improve upon through writing.’
‘We must maintain our own voice in everything we do’
Any project in psychology, regardless of field or allegiance, is underpinned by curiousity and passion; a question we want to answer, an event or phenomena that intrigues or touches us, or a part of ourselves that we can vicariously explore alongside others, so as to learn more about the world around us. Ultimately in doing psychology, we begin a journey towards engaging with the human psyche, whether we explore the function of the brain or the lived experience of others.
In beginning this journey psychology equips us with necessary skills to help us empathise, to improve our personal relationships, to cope with difficult circumstances and to guide us in the workplace. Psychology also holds us accountable to what we are doing in practice. It encourages and reminds us to be reflexive and consider what we represent when we call ourselves psychologists and how we impact others. We need psychology as a tool to help us better ourselves personally, professionally and in practice.
Similarly, psychology can be applied to help others, whether in adult mental health services, in academia, the classroom and beyond. The sheer breadth of ways in which psychology can be used to empower others is a demonstration of the value of psychology to society far beyond the confines of the discipline.
In beginning a career in psychology, criticism is regularly cited as one of the most difficult barriers to overcome. With the plethora of perspectives and approaches in the field, we can’t hide from criticism – it is pervasive and persistent. The beauty of exploring the discipline of psychology is that we must always engage with this, not only to be successful in our own careers, but to accurately and respectfully represent and empower the voices of others.
The material value in these brisk yet frequent encounters is that the very skills we learn and use to defend from criticism are used to then create critique, whether within psychology or wider society. We’re taught the value of debate, the importance of engaging with real social problems, and the necessity of always asking difficult questions.
What does psychology need? Psychology needs to work with the people it works for, to ensure that we always strive for real-world impact. Psychology needs to be mindful that there are spaces for impact beyond the Research Excellence Framework. We are skilled in our ability to engage with social inequality by applying what we learn, and to enact real change. Engaging with the lives and experiences of the people who take part in our research is equally as important as going away and writing our findings up for the lofty heights of academia. Amidst the rat race and prevailing sense of competition, it can be easy to lose sight of this.
We mustn’t get bogged down in ‘academese’: we should work with the media to disseminate our work to the people that matter. We must work with the political system and shout our findings from the rooftops from the platform of responsibility and experience it grants us. If it does not, then it is our responsibility to create these spaces for resistance.
We must always remember that what we say and do is not limited to the confines of academia, extravagant conference venues and the constant pursuit for publication in high-impact journals. It’s done for the good of others too. We must always maintain our own voice in everything we do, loaded with our thoughts, feelings and experiences, both positive and negative. It is this which humanises the work we produce and in turn communicates both empathy and integrity.
Yes, this is a bold endeavour for postgraduate and early career psychologists, who may not have the job security, profile or platform to begin shaping the lives of communities for the better. But there is always room for psychology to change, alongside the academy, so that what we do is always driven by our Impact on others.
‘I am currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Huddersfield exploring media representations of people with mental health difficulties who claim benefits. I also work with service user advocacy groups to explore how they make sense of assumptions about benefit claiming in politics and the media. Like any PhD, it comes with a lot of my own baggage, frustration with the way people are being oppressed, my own experiences of contesting disability and navigating the mental health system. I have always found academia a little odd and difficult to navigate – I still do. A career in academia is something I never anticipated but now aspire to. When I began my PhD I certainly didn’t think the musings of a straight-talking Northerner would be of interest to anyone, so I tried to be an academic instead and my ideas and insights became entangled and obscured. I have come to learn that maintaining our own voices may just be the thing that keeps us grounded.’ [email protected]
The magic of our insight
Beth Clare McManus
Psychology needs be more creative in how it builds its credibility as a science and a move away from the perception of psychologists as some less pantomime version of Mystic Meg haphazardly stating the obvious whilst gazing into a glowing crystal ball.
It’s easy to engage people with stories and colour and art and wonder. Unfortunately for psychology, these are not the traditional tools of the ‘people’ scientist, already far removed from the theatre of the lab with its bunsen burners and test tubes billowing with impossibly coloured smoke. People are fascinating and contradictory and perplexing – and here lies the power of the subject.
Psychologists need to reinvent the ways in which we engage others with our work, avoiding both the patronising tendency to ‘dumb down’ data for those outside our field and the false assumption that our fellow scientists will engage with pages of statistics. Proof of our work is essential to maintain credibility, but we can deliver that information through academic literature for those curious enough to seek it out. In our regular dialogue, it alienates and distances people from psychology and builds on the basic mistrust of anyone dealing in minds and brains.
It may feel contradictory to suggest that borrowing methodology and delivery ideas from areas like design thinking and the arts will lead to more credibility for psychology as a science. Yet I believe this is where we can really build the impact of the subject by connecting our audience – intended or accidental – with the magic of our insight.
Psychologists need to be accessible and inclusive to both our peers and the layperson. There’s a real danger that psychology itself becomes elusive and obscure to others even within our own community.
In my experience, psychologists can be their own worst enemies in terms of alienating people from their work. We compromise the perception of potential impact and value by remaining aloof, with complicated titles and accolades that the majority of people simply don’t understand. In my chosen field of Occupational Psychology there is disagreement over what we should call ourselves when we don’t have chartered status – a work psychologist? Business psychologist? If we can’t decide, how can we even begin to communicate our worth meaningfully to those who we wish to collaborate with?
I came to psychology through a fascination of people and behaviour, and found that I had to stumble my way through the same old provocative studies, a smokescreen across the real psychologist. I sought, clumsily, to express my understanding of the subject through academic writing. It felt creatively stunting, and needlessly, repetitively academic. I said the same thing five times: not very much.
Although there are pockets of inclusive, supportive and easily-accessible information out there, you have to wade through the mire to find it. Don’t get me wrong, real life interaction seems no better. At events, information is shared through PowerPoint, post-its and posters. Conversations are a rushed addendum at the end of the event, whilst everyone necks a free glass of wine and dashes for the train home, promising to be in touch. So often, the focus is on the ‘how’ and the potential for kudos and not the ‘why’ when planning knowledge-sharing events and opportunities. We are missing connections and thought-provoking insights due to something as boring as an overstuffed agenda that doesn’t allow us time to breathe.
In terms of public perception of psychology’s impact, we may present ourselves as the ‘experts’ but we rely on people for our research and to generate our findings. How much more insight could be gleaned if people understood the why of our fascination in their behaviour, perhaps then feeling able to engage in dialogue which provides additional insight into their own ‘why’. Surely conversation and debate is how many psychologists establish what it is that piques their interest in the first place? It currently feels that psychologists all too often slip into top-down observation like a child with its first bug-catching kit. We appear rather bored with the predictability of our subject’s behaviour, despite the fact that our entire hypothesis often relies on that very same predictability.
If psychology is to thrive in this strange, new, increasingly digital world, we have to build a community that champions community as much as it values insight. Truly supporting each other to enable our contribution to have a wider reach goes way beyond a ‘like’ or a share – engaging not just psychologists but interested parties in conversations about the work they are doing, finding innovative ways to turn dialogue into action through collaboration or seeking out ways to swap skills and creativity.
There is space for us all out there. If we clasp our collective hands together to give someone a peg up over the wall rather than all struggling to climb our individual ropes, we can launch psychology further into the unknown, and that’s incredibly exciting. Creatives across Instagram brandish ‘community over competition’ banners and hashtags on a daily basis – perhaps they’re onto something.
Beth Clare McManus
‘I have recently graduated from Alliance Manchester Business School with an MSc Organisational Psychology following my BSc Psychology and Human Resource Management, marking a departure from my early career in retail management. Following a summer spent teaching strangers survival skills in an abandoned office building as part of a production called ‘Party Skills for the End of the World’, I have just spent the last year working in staff engagement and OD within the NHS. I am now coming to my terrifying but exciting first steps on my own path, in whatever format that might take.
I am really interested in emotion, wellbeing and creativity at work and I am currently working with illustration and storytelling to explore these themes. I hadn’t picked up a pencil since leaving school 16 years ago but I discovered illustration as a means of communication whilst procrastinating the night before my dissertation deadline. Something that started out for me as an individual reflective practice has resonated with friends and strangers alike. Through my work I have connected with so many individuals and opportunities and I believe that this is my tool to use in combination with my writing to communicate my passion for psychology and the difference it can make. I am particularly interested in the experience of young people at work and I am a member of the Division of Occupational Psychology’s ‘Youth Employment’ working group. I think that using storytelling and creativity provides an innovative way to engage young people with what can be viewed as an overly academic subject.
My recent work has included partnering with Manchester International Festival to document their creative community events and a project with The British Council designing interactive, illustrated placemats for a series of ‘Global Cities’ events exploring how people connect with their cities. I passionately believe that building up communities and establishing opportunities for collaboration is the future of psychology, to push the boundaries of traditional research but also as a way to diversify our impact as people scientists.'
Sustainable development – how do you contribute?
Imagine: You are ‘Aashi’, a 19-year-old Indian girl from a rural desert village called Kardala. Having been married with a dowry since the age of 8, you become pregnant with your first child at 19. However, there is currently no midwife in your village, and the hospital is two-hour drive away, if you get access to a vehicle to make the journey. A group of volunteers enter the village and help to campaign for a village midwife. After petitions are signed by the community, the local government assigns an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) to your village. You feel hopeful for a safe and healthy birth. However, after barely a month of the ANM being appointed, she is signed off on her own maternity leave. On paper, to the officials, there is a functioning ANM in the village, but realistically to you, your baby and your community a midwife is absent again. Who will deliver your child? Or, ironically, who will deliver the midwife’s baby?
I witnessed this scenario first hand when I was volunteering in India. As a mere MSc Health Psychologist, I recognised multiple ways psychology could positively impact the community including facilitating stakeholder meetings, engaging with the needs of village people, and capacity building. Within the placement we also reflected on how our experiences could link to the 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) set by the United Nations (2015), and I again recognised the role/duty that psychologists have in reaching these goals. It was through this experience (not my University education) that I linked Global issues in Low- and Middle-Income countries (LMIC) with Psychology.
Seems simple? Unfortunately Psychology in Global health has barriers. As many of you may relate, Psychology is often anchored by the title of ‘soft science’, and this weighs heavier when working alongside clinical professionals within Global Health. I’ve heard from psychologists attending workshops in ub-Saharan Africa eluding that LMIC were not ready for Health Psychology as they still need to develop the basics such as infrastructure, medicines and skilled health workers. This concurs with commentary from Health Psychologists working in LMIC: Lucy Byrne-Davis and colleagues reported that health psychologists are not given opportunity to use their specific skills and knowledge when attempting to volunteer, consult and research internationally.
Another barrier those authors reported challenges the way psychologists measure and record impact. The traditional westernised psychology research methods, such as questionnaire Likert scales, are not functional in LMIC, leading to data lacking in reliability and validity. With conventional research methods irrelevant in LMIC, psychologists are inspired to think outside the box and adapt to more appropriate methods to measure and implement interventions. Research in LMIC has potential to evolve psychology research methods, and revamp the way we record and conduct behaviour change research, interventions, teaching and leadership. I believe that Psychologist have much to unlock and learn from LMIC. To rethink how we conduct research for global psychologists, let us learn from individuals like Aashi, and communities like Kardala.
Fortunately behaviour change is increasingly being recognised as crucial to global health development. In his Global Health Science and Practice paper from 2013, Jim Shelton recognised from the Global Burden of Disease report of sub-Saharan Africa that the top 20 high risk diseases are influenced by behaviour, and outlined six domains of behaviour change: Freestanding, personal or lifestyle behaviours; Care-seeking behaviour or demand; Client adherence and collaboration; Provider behaviour; Pro-social and anti-social behaviour; and Policy and priority setting. This was a great step for global health to recognise the role of behaviour change. Similarly, Joseph Daniels’ team, in their 2014 paper on ‘training tomorrow’s global health leaders’, showed how they successfully used the behaviour change model as a training block. Psychology has a crucial role in implementing behaviour change techniques as solution for the global issues, and addressing the 17 sustainable development goals by 2030 (United Nations, 2015).
Thinking towards the future of our discipline, climate change has been called the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, and LMIC will be affected the worst although they contribute the least. How do psychologists fit into this? The 2015 Lancet commission highlighted 10 recommendations to reduce the effect of climate change on health, such as: investing in research; strengthening healthcare systems in LMIC; promote healthy lifestyles; protect against health threats, and empowering health professionals. These recommendations seem to map onto psychologist’s remit of skills, knowledge and interests.
More recently, the UK Medical Research Council announced £2m funding towards global mental health stigma. It seems that funding bodies, official guidance and research councils are starting to look towards behavioural techniques and research for solutions to the global challenges. Psychologists have the skills to impact behaviour from an individual up to societal levels.
As a fresh voice – new to psychology, to global health, and especially the combination together – I would value the opportunity to hear from other psychologist experiences working in LMIC. I believe that Psychology is a discipline to look to for innovative solutions to meet the sustainable development goals, and in return the discipline of psychology itself can evolve through cross-cultural research. Even simple low-cost interventions and workshops from Psychologists could benefit communities like Kardala, allowing individuals like Aashi to increase their ‘good health and wellbeing’ (Sustainable Development Goal 3). How does your role in psychology contribute towards the sustainable development goals?
‘After completing MSc Health Psychology, I then volunteered as a Team Leader for VSO ICS in rural India, focusing on health, education and government schemes. Following this, I volunteered for humanitarian response work with the charity All Hands and Hearts, after the 2017 Caribbean hurricanes Maria and Irma. These experiences gave me my first insight into the variety of global successes and challenges. This has led me to pursue a PhD in Maternal and child nutrition health interventions in sub Saharan Africa, guided by each country’s community views, policies with an economic stance. Alongside the PhD, I am aiming to complete my Health Psychology stage 2 (independent route). My aspiration is to become a Global Health Psychologist, with the goal to give local people in LMIC a voice in health decisions, which are economically and politically realistic. In this process, I would like to learn from other psychologists from all disciplines, to share research, experiences and mainly learn how to communicate about Global Health Psychology.’
BPS Members can discuss this article
Already a member? Or Create an account
Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber