Time to modernise our attitude towards driving?

Dr Ilona Singer writes.

As a Clinical Psychologist with a disability, who is involved in course selection for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, I write to express my disgust that most of the clearing house entries specify that prospective clinical psychologists must drive a car to be accepted onto the Doctorate.

I believe this is ridiculous, of dubious legality and a massive obstacle to diversity in my profession. It is very hard to justify in practical terms. Other career routes which require more travel (e.g. Social Work) do not use ability to drive a car as part of their selection due to diversity implications. This year’s trainee cohort have spent the bulk of their time working online, and some form of ‘blended’ learning is very likely for future cohorts, so the need for travel has greatly reduced. In any case, how someone travels should not be part of selection for a role as a Psychologist as it is not a key skill of our profession.

Some courses state there will be exceptions for candidates who can prove they don’t drive due to a diagnosed disability, but I don’t feel this is satisfactory. Diagnosis is a privilege that a lot of disabled people don’t have. It also forces someone to disclose a disability during a competitive selection process that may have no relevance whatsoever to the skills of a Psychologist and can expose the candidate to unconscious bias. Moreover, disability is not the only valid reason to not be a driver. There are also environmental and economic reasons someone may choose not to drive, and these are valid too. Surely we need all sorts of people in our profession, rather than the narrow identikit workforce we are often accused of having?

A candidate who doesn’t drive due to disability should not have to declare this at the selection stage. It is invasive and fraught with potential for discrimination. Once on the course, if there are issues with placement location, individuals can apply to Access to Work who will fund transport arrangements. My experience of this has been very straightforward.

There are obviously courses which will be easier for non-drivers than others due to location constraints. Courses need to be much more transparent and describe where placements are likely to be – it’s very hard to find out in advance which geographical areas are covered, even when accepted onto the course (due to an assumption everyone drives). People who choose not to drive could decide for themselves whether they can travel in a timely fashion across that area. This strategy, I feel, would be in line with the Mental Capacity Act (2005), which protects people’s right to make their own decisions (even if others may regard that decision as unwise). If someone wants to do a remote rural course whilst choosing not to drive, but they are prepared to fund a stay overnight or get up at early and cycle, that is surely their choice, and they should not be pre-emptively excluded.

To get a place on clinical training you have to be bright, resilient and a good problem solver. Realistically, no one is going to get that far if they can’t sort out their own travel arrangements when needed. What happens at present is the worst of all possibilities. Non-drivers (even those with a disability) wishing to train to be Clinical Psychologists often find themselves excluded.

Because of the prejudice and barriers around this issue, someone may well be the only non-driver in their cohort, on a course that doesn’t know how to deal with this and struggles to accommodate it. My own experience as a disabled Trainee was that there was a complete lack of clarity from courses about where the placements were likely to be, which compromised my ability to pick the right course for me. On the course I was pathologised and given excessively long commutes which affected my ability to qualify on time. We really need to modernise our attitude to this. The BPS, DCP and ACP-UK should take a firm line on this issue and have driving removed as a ‘requirement’ from all courses. It’s not a required skill of a Psychologist and its antithetical to diversity in our profession to insist that it is.

Dr Ilona Singer
Clinical Psychologist (writing in a personal capacity)

Editor’s note: We have sought comments from interested and informed parties, and hope to return to this topic. Send your comments on [email protected]

Illustration: Tim Sanders

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