My letter to the BPS Clinical Psychology Forum

(Published in the British Psychological Society Division of Clinical Psychology, Clinical Psychology Forum 258, June 2014)

I read Dr Weatherhead’s media column (CPF:257) on ‘The media-based stigmatisation of people who access benefits’, and whilst I understand that it was offered as a personal contribution, I would like to make a few comments. I’m currently an undergraduate student of psychology, and although I have related voluntary experience and have worked in the field of social work and education, my views are very much that of an outsider from the profession. However very much hope to work hard and gain entry into the Doctorate of Clinical Psychology at some future point.

1. I am concerned about a number of unreferenced claims made by Dr Weatherhead, an example being that “the vast majority of people on benefits have little alternative open to them, and many have mental health difficulties which require support”.

2. Whilst I understand the importance of personal testimony in realising the issues faced by many in the profession, I am also aware of the need for rigorous evidence to back-up claims if the profession is to be taken seriously by policy-makers. What, if not the profession’s academic and clinical rigour, differentiates it from a range of non-specialist campaign groups?

3. The question of whether or not a particular government policy is affecting the mental well-being of individuals (an empirical question), is a separate, but of course related, question to the moral question of whether or not the Government is right to pursue it.

4. It seems to me that, as scientist-practitioners, clinical psychologists are some of the best placed to offer a thoughtful commentary on the principle of punitive sanctions and monetary rewards associated with the Government’s welfare programme, based on empirical research. Therefore I urge caution in making a moral argument.

5. I agree strongly with Dr Weatherhead’s general call for the BPS and the clinical psychology profession to have a much more active engagement with policy makers.

In conclusion, I urge the DCP to adopt a more academic evidence-based approach. The academic research networks and data available from the Government’s own ministries should allow for the development of thorough research showing the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms. Of course, as an organisation representing a range of clinicians from all over the country, the DCP could not claim to speak from a moral or political point. If the DCP were able to provide clear evidence-based criticisms of the nature and function of the Government’s welfare reform programme, it would surely be to the benefit of clients and wider society in general. As an undergraduate student of psychology, I am required to aspire to the highest standards of empiricism and ensure that all claims I make are sufficiently borne-out by the evidence. I believe I should have the right to demand the same from senior colleagues to whom I look for support and guidance.

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