My opinions about representing Clinical Psychology and the future of the British Psychological Society

I’ve probably been a member of the BPS for 20 years now, and with it the Division of Clinical Psychology and the Faculty for Children, Young People and their Families, and within that the network for Clinical Psychologists working with Looked After and Adopted Children (CPLAAC). I’ve been to the annual Faculty conference every year since I qualified, except for the one early in my maternity leave. I read some of the publications and I follow some of the social media. Over the last decade, I’ve done a long stint on the Faculty committee, and I’ve spent 5 years as chair of the CPLAAC network. I’ve responded to policy documents, represented them on committees, written papers and edited a periodical. So you’d think with all the energy and time I have put in that I am a great fan of the organisation.

Unfortunately, whilst I am hugely admiring of many of the individuals involved with the DCP and Faculty, and some of the recent Presidents of the Society, I’m pretty ambivalent about it as a whole. I think their website and social media suck. I spent ages looking at how to help them with that through the faculty, only to find out the scope for change was minimal and was within their user-unfriendly structure. Most of it was hard to navigate, and key documents were hard to find, the documents and information on the site were often out of date and much of the content was hidden behind walls for members and separated into silos by the Society structure that were impenetrable by topic. I was censored and then locked out of the BPS twitter account whilst live tweeting talks from a conference on behalf of the faculty because I quoted a speaker who was critical of the BPS’s communication with the media and public.

My experience of running clinpsy.org.uk is that we make everything accessible, searchable and google indexed (apart from the qualified peer consultation forum that is a closed group, and the archive of livechats and other member content that can only be seen when logged in). We are also able to respond to things immediately, and often talk about current affairs. So it is quite a contrast. The view of the BPS on the forum is fairly negative, despite myself and several other qualified members trying to put the advantages of having a professional body.

One theme comes up across both spaces – that lots of people like to moan, but very few are prepared to take the actions that help to change things for the better. So, when a document is put out to consultation, or members are canvassed for views by BPS Divisions or Faculties it may be that no clinical psychologists respond at all, or perhaps just one or two nominated by the committee, someone with a vested interest, or the same old voices who feel a greater sense of responsibility for the group. I’m sure the same would be true on the forum, as lots of people like to read the content, some like to ask questions but few actually write up content for the wiki, or help with the maintenance tasks like checking and updating links. However, people pay quite a lot for their BPS memberships, whilst the forum is entirely free and run by volunteers, so it is perhaps fair to have different expectations of service. The difficulty being that the BPS expect the few members who do contribute to do so for free, in their own time, over and over again. I worked out that one eighth of my working time as a self-employed person was being spent on unpaid committee and policy work, and I don’t think that this was unusual. Certainly the chairs of networks and faculties give up a large amount of their own time, and although higher up the tree some days are paid, these are not paid sufficiently to reflect the amount of time that is spent on the job.

So when the DCP sent me a link to a survey recently, I had to reflect my views and tell them that I don’t think that the BPS works for clinical psychologists in the UK, and this is predominantly because of the nature of the larger organisation.

I have witnessed time and time again that clinical psychologists, including those on faculty committees and in the DCP committees, are inhibited rather than facilitated in responding to topical issues, speaking to the media, expressing opinions or taking action by the slow, conservative and censorial wider organisation of the BPS. Even sending representatives to sit on government fora, guidance or policy making organisations involves an overly bureaucratic process of formal invitations and nominations that often means the window has closed to have our voice heard. Likewise the process for agreeing documents for publication is onerous and slow and means months of delay. The Royal Colleges and bodies for other health professions make responses to news items in a timely way, but we don’t. We are constantly told not to be political by expressing any opinion, when, as I understand them, the charity rules are not to be party political rather than not to express opinions that affect political policy at all. I would argue that our role as powerful professionals, effective clinicians, supporters for our clients and compassionate human beings requires that we are political in the wider sense, because we should be advocating for the psychological wellbeing of the population and putting the case for provision of adequate mental health services. I would consider that this includes an obligation to argue against policies that cause hardship and emotional distress, and to put forward a psychological understanding of events and individuals in the news.

Whilst there are great people involved in the committees and a lot of good will and energy, the BPS itself makes contributors impotent. It inhibits rather than amplifies the messages we should be sending outwards and it fails also to represent us as a professional group. It is not effective at representing our interests in government policy, national or regional workforce issues, professional negotiations, disputes about funding or other professional matters.

The structure of the BPS also drowns out the fact that the majority of practitioner members are clinical psychologists by giving equal weight to tiny factions and much too much weight to academics and students – the focus on the latter two groups means that the BPS failed to address issues of regulation properly and has left us with a legacy of problems with the remit and standards of the HCPC (including who is included and excluded in the scope of regulation and the criteria for equivalence of international psychologists, which I will no doubt blog about another time). In these areas it has not only failed to promote the profession, but also to protect the public.

Unlike other professional bodies, the BPS does not offer much by way of professional advice and representation for its members (eg about workforce and pay issues, disputes with employers). It doesn’t act like a union to defend individual members or the interests of the profession, or provide us with insurance or collective bargaining. It doesn’t show our value to the public or those in power through media statements, responses to news and current events and policies, representation on government and policy bodies. It is ineffective in building the status and public awareness of the profession. I believe our professional body should constantly articulate the need for proper mental health services and highlight the useful role the profession can play in meeting those needs. Likewise it should constantly express opinions about government policy and other issues that may be harmful to the psychological health of the population, and highlight what we think would help and the role we as a profession can play in systemic changes and in planning strategies at the population level that prevent or reduce distress.

So I think radical change is needed. If that isn’t possible as a program of reform from within, and Jamie Hacker Hughes’ Presidency suggests it wasn’t, then we need to split the DCP away from the BPS and/or build something new that is fit for purpose.

If you also have an opinion about the BPS and/or DCP, whether or not you are a member, please answer their survey here. Feel free to cut and paste any part of this blog into your response if you wish to do so. Likewise feel free to share a link to this page, and if you are an aspiring or practising clinical psychologist you are welcome to join in the discussion about the BPS on the clinpsy forum.

8 thoughts on “My opinions about representing Clinical Psychology and the future of the British Psychological Society

  1. Crow says:

    I also feel that a radical overhaul of the BPS is necessary if it is to survive, let alone play its part in a compassionate society.

    I get a distinct impression that the core belief of the BPS is “knowledge is power” and it has no intention of sharing any, either with members or with the public, for fear that someone might gain some power over their circumstances and fail to significantly depend on current knowledge holders.

    If we are to strengthen the biopsychosocial model, as a replacement for the ineffective medical model, for emotional distress then we have to get our act together. If we cannot adequately manage the difficulties in our professional body then how can we be trusted to manage the difficulties in our society’s psychological well-being? If psychologists are supposed to understand how people think, and what motivates us, then why can we not resolve our issues amicably and maturely? How can we expect people to trust us, that we know what we are doing?

    While we are busy keeping ourselves professionally isolated, arguing amongst ourselves about ourselves, failing to comment on the harmful effects of societies policies that impact the mental health of everyone then we are effectively “doing harm” and not good. Wile this may benefit us, in that we will have many clients on waiting lists for decades to come, it is a shameful reflection on a profession built on the ideal of mental well-being and compassionate care. Not only are we betraying our clients, as clinical psychologists, but we may be re-traumatising them with this betrayal.

    Clients often have no voice, given societies stigmatising of those with mental health related issues. If we cannot give them that voice, by using our education, experience, and influence, to challenge toxic policies, and by sharing our considerable knowledge freely and openly with the public, then we condemn our clients to ongoing stigmatisation & abuse. We also become an ignorable profession, of little worth to our society and to ourselves.

    Challenging psychiatry, and the medical model, will be difficult enough. It will be impossible if we do not get our own house in order.

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  2. I agree that the society and division at present fail to provide much value for money compared to other “royal colleges”. I completed the survey but most of my responses were “I don’t know” simply because I have very little knowledge of what happens beyond my direct debit going out. I don’t find the magazine useful at all and have recently requested to go paperless so I can just scan through the articles on an app now and save on paper. The website is the most impenetrable and pointless thing ever. So yes something needs to change.

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  3. As an undergraduate student I can honestly say the BPS site is the most useless tool I have come across. Yet I still have to pay every year in order to obtain my GBC. I hope to continue on to clinical, but the complete lack of professional support compared to other associations like the royal colleges leaves me wondering. I feel they are not advocating the needs of psychologists or the public. I completely support an overhaul!
    It seems very strange to me that a professional body that claims to put mental health at the forefront, is actually hindering the process by ostracising its professionals.

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  4. Akib says:

    Hi ClinPsyEye,

    As a patient/client I sadly have to agree with many of the points you have raised,

    I find the terminology and the science from BPS more confusing than some medicine practice, though that is the nature of the subject, but I do *expect* the BPS to work like the Royal Colleges and try to explain new developments from the different psych disciplines in much more accessible manner than they sadly currently do.

    Redesigning the BPS website is one thing but it has to go on par with better support for psychologists who I dare say are the ‘meat of the (BPS) caucus’.

    I am also very dismayed with the BPS not taking a greater (though party politically sensitive) approach to government/parliamentary actions.

    If BPS is too scared to do this head on then perhaps splitting to become a non-profit company to represent the academic rigour of psychology, another for your trade union organisation and another for engaging with the public. But I am sure the BPS can take much leaps from the BMA or RCGPs on these issues and try to come to reach some common ground.

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