Working together

British Psychological Society President Katherine Carpenter writes alongside the two other candidates, Carl Harris and Peter Branney.

When I stood for election as President 2021-22 with Peter Branney and Carl Harris, we agreed to set up a WhatsApp group – I guess for mutual support and to compare notes. And we’ve stayed in touch since I was voted in. Peter has joined the Board of Trustees as a co-opted member and Carl is still very much involved, with Community Psychology and with the climate change agenda, which is a key issue for all of us.

When mentioned in passing, this seems to have slightly surprised some colleagues who perhaps assumed that we stood on different ‘platforms’ and wouldn’t have enough in common to sustain any contact. Of course, we have differences, from each other and from past Presidents, but we can celebrate those differences. We can find shared values, and the strength in our community.

I certainly value their support and input. I can’t do this alone. There seems to be a misapprehension that one person can come in as President with a magic wand and sort out everything that isn’t right, everything that could be better and different. But the President’s degree of influence is limited and their shelf life short. More importantly, when we speak about ‘the BPS’ or ‘the Society’, we often seem to forget that this is us, not some external body over there. With over 60,000 members in myriad areas of research and practice, there is no one ‘right way’ to be a psychologist, and we need to accept that not everyone sees things the same way. And if the Society is us, we can each make it better and stronger in how we interact and how we contribute.  

As Peter says below, that doesn’t fix everything, but as Lao Tzu said, ‘the journey of a thousand miles starts beneath one’s feet’.

- Katherine Carpenter is President of the British Psychological Society. [email protected]


Katherine’s description of the role of president is a really useful one. I have been a member of the BPS for decades but didn’t get ‘involved’ until the last couple of years. When I did, mainly through the Covid-19 Community Action and Resilience workstream, I found that there were psychologists from other divisions with whom I shared values and who brought different skills and abilities to the situation we were confronting. As a community psychologist I will always emphasise the importance of the social aspect of our existence and the role of power in our personal and professional lives. I also, however, recognise the importance of hearing all voices and finding a way for us to contribute to a common goal.  

As Katherine says, climate change is a key issue for us all and where we clearly feel that we have a focus in common. Katherine, Peter and I went through the election process as candidates and I was impressed with the humility, openness and friendliness that I experienced. I believe that we are all committed to some important common goals and hope that we can continue to support each other and the BPS to play our part in addressing the challenges our society faces.

- Carl Harris (pictured top right)


‘Thanks, it’s been fun, in an unusual kinda way, getting to know you both through this election’, was how I signed off the WhatsApp group with Katherine and Carl, 23 July, 2 hours and 10 minutes before the 2021 Presidential Candidate election closed. I wish I could tell you I was going to start a blog writing career, drip feeding screenshots from the group chat that showed how the system was corrupt to the core as the three of us careened down the proverbial aisle like an out-of-control shopping trolley. Alas, I can find little to shock in those messages over the 38 days of the group. We clarified information, agreed dates after the election, so that an event could be arranged with the 2021 President, and gave each other compliments about what we’d seen each other doing in the public domain. As difficult as it has been to connect and make new friendships during a pandemic, what I see looking back over those messages is goodwill and light-hearted rapport.

Retrospectively, it is easy for me to be unsurprised; I’ve seen, and felt, this camaraderie over the last ten years as the BPS advisory body has transformed from the Representative Council to a Senate that debates and agrees outward-facing policy priorities. Nevertheless, I’m also aware that it’s easy to romanticise these encounters and paper over the frustrations. Voting for a policy priority does not mean we have done enough to make it a reality; challenging bullying once, when so many organisations fail to, does not mean we have done enough to create an organisation where respect and dignity is the norm; fellowship between competing candidates in an election does not mean all members feel included. Indeed, in staking such claims about how the world should be, we risk finding out that psychology is not up to the task. Perhaps we will fail, but let’s try and do it together; it might be kinda fun, in an unusual sort of way.

- Peter Branney (pictured top left)

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