What does it mean to be fully human?

We hear from Leslie Brissett and Dr Amra Rao ahead of a British Psychological Society workshop and conference, ‘Fully human: Soul, Psyche, Skin’, which looks to explore race in Psychology.

What will the workshop/conference cover? 

It’s organised following a number of engagement events and the two publications by the Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP) group on Racial and Social Inequalities in the times of Covid-19. From this work we’ve learnt there’s a need to open up the conversation on racism. Society often separates people on the basis of race, class, gender, ability, language and accent etc, and creates a system that places more value on some people over others. Dynamics of privilege and power are activated, compromising our capacity to think and relate with each other as human. 

And it seems you’re looking to create a different type of space to discuss such issues?

We’re all familiar with examples of intellectual conversations at conferences and workshops. It’s not that feelings don’t surface – but it is often hard to bring out our humanity, where we allow soul to find a place in the psyche. ‘Anatomy, which treats the Body, and Psychology, which treats of the Soul’ was attributed to Steven Blankaart in 1694. How many psychologists today would say that they are treating the Soul?

We also need to explore the experience of living in our bodies of different colour. During the pandemic and surrounding events such as Black Lives Matter, we have been exposed to race and skin as a boundary and how that impacts the way we take up roles, engage and meet with each other. We believe that we need to connect with what it means to be human to explore what has made change difficult on a number of levels. So the event is designed to give attendees a chance to encounter the lived experience of the dynamics of what it might mean to be fully human, and how this can help to explore racism with a different lens. 

Big questions!

Yes! These are questions of the mind, body and spirit – and yet we seem to live in a world that constantly asks us to break ourselves into pieces in order to function in it. And whilst the economic paradigm seems to be shifting, simultaneously, we seem to be under pressure to give even more of our fractured selves to the workplace, to family and to a host of other social roles.

This social demand and mental compartmentalisation is stressful – and people are feeling it and seeking help in unprecedented ways and numbers. Covid-19 and the resulting social isolation of lockdowns, redundancies and deaths have further compounded this stress. So again, in the face of the mounting stress, what does it mean to be fully human?

What we have seen around issues of race and social systems in the last couple of years is not new. But somehow it captured a wave, a chorus and unison that had not been seen since the Civil Rights movements of the 1960’s America. From Moscow to Bolivia, London and New York, people took to the streets to declare that systemic and structural racism should stop. So this triggers the question, how do all people find and share what it means to be fully human?

What might surprise attendees about this approach to a workshop / conference?

This is an active learning event that requires the full participation of members to bring their thoughts, feelings and experience to share in the contained learning space of the Group Relations Workshop Event as a temporary learning organisation. This is a bold, unique and creative innovation from the DCP in collaboration with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. It puts the BPS at the front and centre in thinking about this issue. There is no didactic teaching or lectures. The Group Relations Conference applies a systems psychodynamic lens to the study of social and organisational dynamics. Everyone comes with who they are, willing to have conversations and experiences together.

What main message do you hope delegates will take from the event?

That the dynamics of what it might mean to be fully human can help us to address racism in the way we take up roles and relate with each other. We all need to play our part, at individual and collective levels, to move towards change. So this is an open call to Psychologists of all hues and at all stages of their career, to come and study together, share feelings and thoughts, as we collaboratively learn from our own experience. Perhaps we can add to the conversation about what it means to be fully human…

- Dr Amra S Rao is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Organisational & Leadership Development Consultant. 

- Leslie B Brissett JP, PhD, Group Relations Programme Director, Company Secretary & Principal Consultant, The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations.

Register for the event, on 2-3 December. 

Further reading:

Racial and social equalities in action: What can possibly go right...

Racial and social inequalities: Taking the conversations forward

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

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