From the Chief Executive, Summer 2020

Sarb Bajwa writes.

The theme for the Society’s 2020 Conference, which was to be held in Leeds at the beginning of July, was ‘Psychology of the future: Changing landscapes’. Due to the unforeseen ‘changing landscapes’ we have been living through, that event moved online for two days of webinars. And the theme also survived in this issue, with several contributions looking back as if from 2040.

It may seem like 2040 is a long way away now, and if the events of 2020 so far have shown us anything, it’s that the focus of our world can change seemingly overnight. Whatever the priorities we have in 20 years’ time, however, what won’t change is the need for psychology to take a leading role in facing up to them.

Coronavirus has shown that psychology, with the BPS taking its place at the forefront, is capable of responding to an unprecedented global crisis quickly with material to make a significant contribution. While very few people may have seen Coronavirus coming specifically, a pandemic has always been on the table as one of the major threats to our way of life. So, as much as it may be difficult to know exactly what challenges we’ll be facing up to in 20 years’ time, we’re all aware of the kinds of things that we might be looking at.

Global health has been brought right into focus, but that doesn’t diminish the challenges that are going to be posed by the growing climate emergency, the emergence of artificial intelligence and the disgracefully high levels of poverty that exist in our world.

One thing that never stops surprising me with psychology is the breadth of expertise that we have within the BPS. This can be seen in our Coronavirus response – health psychologists have been helping us to understand what needs to be done to stop the spread of an infectious disease, and behavioural and social psychologists have been advising on the steps we need to take to reach that goal.

These are just two examples. Psychologists from across the society have contributed to the production of our Covid-19 resources and been advising on the wider response to the pandemic. There hasn’t been a single focus of the news agenda – whether school closures, bereavement, or encouraging people to behave responsibly – where psychology hasn’t had a huge amount to say.

I want the BPS of the future to be better at harnessing and promoting this, not just during times of crisis but in planning and getting ahead of the game.

Our role should also be to connect psychology across borders, and allow psychologists in the United Kingdom to share their expertise with counterparts across the world.

Some of the challenges that we’re going to face over the coming decades are too big for any one nation or scientific discipline to face alone, and in 2040 I hope that psychology, and the BPS, are more visible, more influential, and even more central to the global response to adversity.

It’s now up to us to make our response to Covid-19 the catalyst for a lasting shift in how psychology is viewed by the public, politicians and decision makers.

Sarb Bajwa is Chief Executive of the British Psychological Society. Contact him at [email protected]

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