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British Psychology: Where Are We Now?

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A year ago, I wrote a letter to the governing body of the British Psychology (BPS), raising concerns about the direction the organisation, and the discipline was taking. Specifically, I was concerned about the organisation’s promotion of the overtly political critical social justice ideology, which I believed threatened the scientific integrity of the discipline, prevented open-minded enquiry, and was potentially damaging to the quality of care and teaching provided to our patients and students.

This letter was published online by the Society’s representative magazine and was quickly branded unacceptable by a number of readers; some of whom were apparently incredulous that it had been published to begin with. I faced online attacks from a number of psychologists – both representatives of the organisation and members – and after a number of addendums to the webpage where the original letter was published (where representatives distanced themselves from my ‘problematic views’, apologised for distress, and branded me a ‘racist’ and ‘bigot’), the letter was removed from the page. Even though my words are no longer there for context, the aforementioned accusations and labelling of myself and my views still remain (I would like to reassure readers that nothing in my letter was racist or bigoted).

The main thing to note from the affair however, was that the reaction of the members, and the society itself vindicated the concerns that had led to me writing the letter to begin with. My views which had challenged the status quo had been ‘cancelled’ as a result of the outrage mob who branded them ‘unacceptable’ without legitimate explanation of why they were unacceptable. As noted by onlookers, not only was the response from what should be caring ‘professionals’ fairly beyond belief, it also raised questions about how patients would be treated should they express any thoughts that were considered ‘unacceptable’ to their psychologist. It also signalled a backward step for a discipline that still claims to be based on science and evidence, thus raising very real concerns about the future of psychological research and teaching.

While I don’t want to overstate the importance of my letter, the response to it was noteworthy; and to many of us (including even those who disagreed vehemently with what I said), it signalled that the BPS was no longer fit for purpose. The unprofessional behaviour of key representatives, and the organisation’s response itself spoke of an organisation that had been left unregulated and unchecked for far too long. It also showed an organisation that seemed to be suffering from an extreme identity crisis – one that simultaneously lectured about ethics while breaching its own codes, one that claimed to be science-based while promoting scientifically dubious ideas, and one that preached about the importance of evidence while promoting ideology-based, evidence-light frameworks. To a number of onlookers, both within and outwith psychology, the BPS was on its way out.

So one year on, where are we now? What is the current state of British psychology? The BPS is currently being investigated by the Charity Commission, and at least one member of staff is being investigated by the police for fraud. The organisation has lost key staff, and recently removed the President Elect for whistleblowing to the Charity Commission. Despite this, they are still governing British psychology and blithely continuing on in the same way with (what has now come to be) the characteristic lack of self-awareness demonstrated by those closely aligned with the Society. 

Indeed, the BPS is still promoting frameworks and concepts that either have little evidence base to support them (for example the Power Threat Meaning Framework) or indeed, have been largely challenged or discredited (such as the notions of implicit bias, microaggressions, etc). While preaching about the importance of robust, high-quality evidence, they have also doubled-down on the notion of ‘institutional racism’ (against non-White people). They have done so despite the lack of legitimate evidence to support these claims, and in direct opposition to the Government’s report claiming that there is no evidence of such in the UK. Indeed, based on the evidence-light claims of institutional racism, they have and are continuing to push for a number of initiatives to address this, including a worrying drive to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum, thus potentially further weakening the integrity of the discipline.

Perhaps most concerning however, is that they are still openly discriminating against a number of groups, thus breaching the 2010 British Equality Act, and ethical guidelines as set by healthcare governing bodies. Not only this, but they have pledged alliance to BLM, a move that is far from ‘neutral’ and breaches Charity Commission rules against political activity. The irony is that despite their desperation to be seen to be addressing the nebulous ‘institutional racism’, they are happily engaging in very real, explicit, and unapologetic racism and sexism against White people and men – behaviour that they seem to think is legitimate and acceptable for a governing body of health professionals tasked with serving the health of the country (In the UK, clinical psychologists [those who treat patients] either work privately or for the National Health Service [NHS]. To be able to work as either, trainees must have completed BPS-accredited courses, and be eligible for accreditation with the BPS. The majority of trainees go on to work for the NHS.)

Despite all this however, the BPS is still the accrediting body for British psychology – all psychology jobs in the UK require ‘eligibility for BPS membership’. All students who want to be able to apply for psychology jobs in the UK also need to have studied a BPS accredited (and sanctioned) university course, and if they have not, they need to sit a conversion course. Ironically, the society also sets the ethical code for all British psychologists.

So, things within psychology are not good. The discipline is still controlled by an incompetent, corrupt and lost organisation – one that seems fairly impossible to get rid of, despite evidence of gross misconduct. Those coming into the discipline are increasingly being selected and schooled in the same manner as those that preceded them, leaving the next generation of psychologists even less able to cope with differing and ‘challenging’ perspectives. Given the mental health difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic, one has to wonder the extent to which new psychologists will be able to cope with the increased demand from a wide range of patients – some of whom will no doubt have opinions they find challenging, or even belong to groups that they find distasteful, such as men and White people.

However, the news outwith psychology is a little more positive: in the last year, a number of organisations and groups have been created with the aim of tackling the hypocrisy, lack of integrity, and political bias within our leading organisations. Within mental health, Critical Therapy Antidote is leading the charge against those who are breaching legal and ethical guidelines in the promotion of damaging critical social justice ideology. Furthermore, a number of groups are working to create alternative accrediting organisations based on integrity, truth, facts and patient care. Of particular note is The Society for Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences, which is an organisation ‘committed to free inquiry and truth seeking’ – values that are desperately needed to challenge the endemic censorship and misinformation within the field. While created by our American friends, these organisations are open to UK members, and will only be strengthened through the creation of a cross-Atlantic allegiance.

Within the UK, Counterweight is an organisation created by Helen Pluckrose (of Cynical Theories and ‘Sokal Squared‘ fame) to help those who have suffered at the hands of the type of ideology promoted by our governing bodies. In addition to this, organisations such as the Free Speech Union support those who have been challenged for raising unpopular opinions. There are number of groups to help those who are trying to engage with particularly sensitive topics. For example, Thoughtful Therapists provides resources for those who have been damaged by the trans movement; and The Equiano Project provides evidence-based uniting material to counter critical race theory. Finally, organisations such as Don’t Divide Us work with the aim of challenging divisive identity politics, and the inaccurate information that many critical social justice activists rely upon in their campaigns. For more detail regarding many of the issues discussed here, please visit Save Mental Health.

It is from these groups that I draw my hope. When we look at British Psychology a year after I raised my original concerns, there is little doubt that it is in a much worse state. Not only have the problems not been addressed, they have been exacerbated – on all fronts – and this is in no small part due to the governing body of British psychology. Each of the concerns I raised was not only vindicated, but the BPS seems to have become more extreme in promoting them. This is evidenced by its continued promotion of anti-scientific beliefs and ideologies, its discrimination against certain groups, and its unwillingness to listen to dissenting opinions. Despite this, as well as evidence of its corruption coming to light, the BPS has made it clear that it aims to continue unchecked in the same vein.

We are therefore facing an unprecedented crisis not only for psychology, but for the population in general. At a time when we need well-educated, open-minded and professional students and psychologists, the BPS is creating a discipline of closed-minded, fragile and immature sub-professionals who are not able to engage with, consider or capably challenge ideas that they don’t like. Thankfully however, in wider society, we are seeing organisations who are fighting for values of truth, unity, open-mindedness, and intelligence; values that we need in order to have a functioning, cohesive and successful society. We can only hope that in due course the BPS will destroy itself and that some of these values from outwith psychology will be absorbed into the discipline so it can return to being the field that it should be.

Kirsty Miller, PhD is a psychologist based in central Scotland.

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