Human rights

A British Psychological Society group has been exploring ways to bring human rights into psychological practice, education and public policy. Ella Rhodes spoke to Dr Derek Indoe, chair of the Ethics Committee Human Rights Steering Group, about some of this work and the group’s plans for the future.

Working in Brazil in the early 70s when the country was under a dictatorship, finding particular inspiration in the work of Paulo Freire, in part led to Indoe’s commitment to human rights and psychology’s role in protecting them. A consultant clinical forensic psychologist, educational and counselling psychologist, Indoe said he looks back on his time in Brazil as one which taught him a great deal about individual human rights and how the local community and state can nourish and protect, or destroy, those rights.

‘I’ve also worked with learning disabilities across the full age range for a period of time and, both in the courts and in daily psychological practice, there have been times when I have had to speak and act for those undergoing discrimination because of their race, their religion, their learning difficulties, or their mental health.

‘I have a special interest in the psychology of trauma and have worked with traumatised people in Brazil. I still work with friends in Brazil who work with landless and indigenous people. I work with refugees in Jordan, and I was invited to attend the Pathways to Recovery for Torture Victims in Flight conference in Athens in June 2019. Wherever there’s trauma, you can guarantee there’s been a breach of someone’s human rights.’

Given psychology is the study of human beings, Indoe feels psychology’s role in human rights is both general and specific – in supporting individuals whose human rights may have been breached, as well as raising awareness of human rights concerns – whether that be the ethics of AI or misinformation in the media and from politicians. Indoe said that human rights should also be embedded in the training and education of psychologists.

The Human Rights steering group – which began its work last year – also includes Dr Tony Wainwright (University of Exeter), Professor Peter Kinderman (University of Liverpool), Professor Nimisha Patel and Professor Rachel Tribe (both of the University of East London). They have already evaluated the current evidence base on the effectiveness of psychological theory and evidence on human rights, identified gaps in the evidence, and identified ways to address some of those gaps.

Indoe said he and his colleagues had identified four areas to focus on – professional practice, education and curriculum development, advocacy and public policy, and connections with human rights systems. Working alongside the strategy boards, the human rights steering group aims to establish task and finish groups to produce recommendations and guidance on how human rights can be embedded in each of those four areas. 

The human rights workstream will be recruiting members for its four task and finish groups in the near future. For more information see:

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber