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Statement on the Future of Clinical Psychology

Jamie's comments on the future of clinical psychology, made in advance of the DCP SGM on 5th July 2017, are here:

Alone or with others? How clinical psychology might best position itself for the future

Jamie Hacker Hughes BPS President 2015-2016

"Our profession of clinical psychology has a long and proud tradition and history in this country. Developing as a by-product of the Second World War, there are now well over 10,000 clinical psychology members of the British Psychological Society and, no doubt, many clinical psychologist non-members beside.

Much of this history was captured in the book, Clinical Psychology in Britain: Historical Perspectives, launched at the DCP conference in December 2015, and I was pleased and privileged, as the Society’s President, to be invited to review the book and to write a few words on the back cover. However, and as acknowledged at the same conference, the book did not capture the full breadth and essence of what clinical psychology today is all about and plans were then hatched to produce an alternative history, embracing such topics as community clinical psychology, clinical psychology race and culture, clinical psychology and diversity and many other topics not covered in the initial book. I haven't heard anything of that project for some time now and so do not know whether the project is still alive or not.

Nonetheless the Division of Clinical Psychology was formed within the BPS over 50 years ago and we celebrated this, very appropriately, in the Houses of Parliament with our clinical psychologist MP, Lisa Cameron, also announcing the formation of a new All Party Parliamentary Group on Psychology in May last year. So we’ve definitely grown up and I am proud to have been a member of the Division for half of its life.

But - have we grown up sufficiently to go it alone?

Not quite yet, I would argue.

As we all know, clinical psychology is a relative newcomer on the block compared to our academic, educational and occupational psychology colleagues, all whom have been around from the very beginning of the Society and throughout most of the last century.

Nor does the world of healthcare psychology revolve around us either, much as we might sometimes think that it does on the basis of the places where we work and the people who we work with. Indeed, there are many, many other psychologists working in healthcare. Most of these work somewhere within the NHS but there are many more, like me, who do not (although I now still work with and alongside other colleagues in the NHS for at least part of most weeks).

As many of you know I stood for election as our BPS President to shake things up, most of all to increase our impact as psychologists but also to make the BPS itself more open, accountable, democratic and responsible.

You will have seen the final consultation on the first part of this process, on Society governance, reforming the Society’s Trustee and Board structures and functions and introducing a new priority setting, decision making Senate. The most important bit of the consultation, on the BPS’ many hundreds of member networks is, of course, the most complicated. This has yet to finish but will have done so by the end of this year after a summer and autumn’s worth of consultations (the first of which is in Belfast on 6th July), meetings and roadshows  on how psychologists might work together most effectively across disciplines and professions and across the whole country, including our four legislative assemblies. After all the work that I and others have put into this, I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to await the outcome of this restructuring and to monitor its progress, not only in setting up a function within the BPS which discharges the responsibility of the Society for its members, to act as our professional body but also the to deliver learned society function that the BPS has always traditionally carried out.

These will be major proposals, refined after a thorough consultation over the summer and the autumn, which will affect us as clinical psychologists in the way in which we work as a discipline and with other disciplines across the whole profession. One of the major problems of the BPS, as I have often said, is our tendency to hide ourselves in silos, minimising the opportunities to work with other psychologists across the profession for the benefit of humanity - which is why we all chose to become clinical psychologists in the first place!

I know that many clinical psychologists, especially those who have retired from work in the health service and those who have chosen to leave to work in other ways, have become disenchanted, disillusioned and disenfranchised with and by the BPS. That is a real issue, but is the solution to set up another body, exclusively for clinical psychologists (we are, after all, a significant minority amongst the number of psychologists in the UK as a whole) and go it alone ... ? I really don't think that it is and I say this for several reasons.

Organisations change and evolve and so it is natural that there is progress and that new organisations are formed through the process of evolution in a similar way that limbs and organs are during the process of embryonic maturation. A good example, which I think that my colleague and successor Professor Peter Kinderman may have referred to, is the way in which the RCOG (the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) eventually separated from the RCP (the Royal College of Physicians). Both are now highly respected organisations in their own right.

To establish a separate organisation  - uniquely for a relatively small number of clinical psychologists - would, I think, be a major mistake and a hugely missed opportunity. We would be able to do so, so much more if we worked in concert with all of the other psychologists working within healthcare, with Clinical Neuropsychologists, with Health Psychologists, with Clinical Forensic Psychologists, with Counselling Psychologists, with academics, researchers and teachers of psychology engaged in study, research and teaching in this area.

It is important not just to think about the short term but to think about the long term. To think about the next fifty years, the next hundred years and beyond. The expertise, reach and impact, through our common interests, of such a group would be phenomenal.

But, I would say - Don't do anything hastily. Don't do anything in one leap. Don't do anything alone.

What I would be encouraging us to do, if I was involved (and I'm not at the moment, for reasons which will become clear later) is to think about establishing a parallel body, absolutely not just for those working in clinical psychology but instead for the whole of body psychologists working in healthcare, and not to take any firm decision to do so until the next DCP conference, once the BPS consultations on member networks have been completed and recommendations made. Of course that does not negate the possibility of taking any initial preparatory decisions in York.

I would see any such body, if and when it were to be formed, working in parallel to the BPS for a period - perhaps three years – and monitoring its own success as a new body,  its ability to  attract and recruit, its ability to lobby and influence – all at the same time as the BPS develops its own own professional body and member network function - and then, perhaps in three years time - in 2020 – to make the decision as to whether this  newly formed and, by then, well-developed, body of ours, now constitutes the major representative body for psychologists working in healthcare and then, only then, to take the further decision as whether or not the time has come for an entirely separate body to support,  represent, advocate, work and lobby for all healthcare psychologists.

And what should we call our new body? Not a 'Society' and not an 'Association' either, I would argue, because neither of those two words are strong enough. I would, instead, suggest that the new body becomes the College of Healthcare Psychologists. Many of you will know my preoccupation with the Sapir Whorf hypothesis. The way that we think of something is influenced by the words we choose to describe it. This is why, before I had even thought of standing as BPS President in order to bring about significant and lasting internal change and increased impact, I had earlier, in 2010, founded what became a very successful Campaign for a Royal College of Psychologists I would see such a College, a College of Healthcare Psychologists, sitting at the same table as similar bodies representing professionals from all all walks of life and doing something that all those of us working in healthcare psychology would want to do as a psychologist, and that all psychologists working in healthcare would really want to belong to.

To go it alone, to try to think and act purely as clinical psychologists and only for clinical psychologists would, I contest, just result in the sort of arrangement that the AEP (Association of Educational Psychologists) and the ABP (Association of Business Psychologists) – much as I respect the individuals involved in both – have achieved and would be a hugely missed opportunity, not just for us, not just for clinical psychology, but for all psychologists working in healthcare throughout our four nations. If all healthcare psychologists acted together, we could achieve so much more.

I cannot be with you for your Special General Meeting in York on July 5th as I have taken over the leadership of a religious order within the Church of England for the next three years and shall be at the conference of religious communities in Devon. I wish you very well for the meeting and wish I could be with you so I shall be thinking of you, and praying about all of this as well.  Think big, think broad, think long term, and think carefully. Good luck!"

Prof Jamie Hacker Hughes CPsychol CSci FBPsS FRSM FAcSS

BPS President 2015-2016 

London, June 2017