Getting to the core of the issue

Steve Flatt and Catherine Lido with a letter from our April issue.

On 11 February the British Psychological Society responded to an NHS White Paper with their own call for ‘psychology to be at the core of the nation’s Covid-19 recovery’. Although our work in the Political Psychology Section Committee of the BPS strongly advocates a larger role for psychology and expert psychologists in post-pandemic recovery, we also think there’s an interesting conversation to be had around what putting psychology at the core really means.

Even as expert practitioners we still do not understand what is meant by putting ‘psychology’ at the centre of recovery. Does it mean psychology as a general concept, or specific disciplines within psychology? Are we asking for more investment in applied psychologists, more accessible therapy, more theory and empirical research around best practice?

One concern is that such calls perpetuate a stereotype of psychology as largely clinical and physiological, rather than offering a diverse range of practitioners and expertise relevant to the pandemic. There is increasing evidence that community-based, social interventions are proving to be much more effective than individualistic, medicalised psychological approaches (for instance see Kearns & Lido 2020 Pascal International Observatory stimulus paper). What evidence truly supports exclusively individual interventions of a psychological nature during an economic crisis? We’ve been here before with the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies initiative, yet Michael Scott has independently assessed 90 IAPT clients and found a ‘recovery rate’ of less than 1 in 10.

So, what then does the evidence base mean for psychological interventions? Does it mean that ‘psychology’ should be a general backdrop to assisting the recovery? In which case the psychology of every human being in the nation is already engaged in one form or another. In such a context we must be wary of the egocentric view, with the BPS and psychologists (lumped into a singular category equated with clinical and physiological ‘nudge-type’ expertise) as the sole or even primary solution to health and wellbeing crises.  

Steve Flatt
Director, Psychological Therapies Unit, Liverpool
Catherine Lido
University of Glasgow

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