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I Left the British Psychological Society – And This Is What Happened

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As a psychologist based in the UK, I used to be a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS) – the accrediting ‘representative’ psychological body in the country. I have been a member for a couple of decades on and off (with pauses when unemployed or working outside of psychology); I have contributed to their conferences and published in their journals.

However, in recent years, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the political direction the organisation was taking – neither agreeing with their political views, or feeling it was appropriate for a representative body to align itself with any ideological or political judgements

As a result, after a great deal of deliberation, I decided to cancel my membership. This was a huge decision because being unable to say I was a member of the BPS could potentially have implications for my career. But, as long as you have the qualifications to allow you to be a member of the BPS, in actuality it doesn’t matter (as job applications often ask only for ‘eligibility’ for BPS membership). However, this isn’t a fact that is necessarily known by the general public – or the media; something that is relevant for me in the work I do. 

The second reason that I deliberated about this decision was because something that I feel is very important is viewpoint diversity – and by leaving the organisation I was removing a dissenting view, further strengthening the lack of variation of opinion within the organisation. However, a number of announcements from the BPS (including some that I consider to be explicitly racist against White people) swung my decision.

In the current economic climate, I decided that I couldn’t justify paying to be a member of an organisation that judges members on skin colour and tells me what I should think and how I should behave.  

As a result, I wrote a (now-cancelled) letter to the editor of the organisation’s members’ magazine, The Psychologist, explaining why I felt I had to leave. I wrote this letter because I felt that those in charge of the organisation should know why members were being lost (and because the membership team kept contacting me asking me to re-join). The editor and I conversed, and I was told that my letter would be thought about. The next I heard around a month later was that the deadline had been missed and it might be considered for the next month. The following day I was told that it was live online and to expect the ‘Twitter pile-on’. 

The pile-on duly came – something I expected (one doesn’t write something controversial and expect to come out unscathed in this day of social media). An addendum was then added by the editor, and the following day (two days after publishing), the editor contacted me to tell me he’d removed my article and an explanation was online. Upon looking online, I read his justification, the main part of which seemed to be centred around a tweet I had posted commenting on the increase in hits to my personal website

My tweet had been intended as a rather wry reflection on the behaviour of people when outraged (being very familiar with ‘cancel culture’), fully expecting that upon reading my article people would have immediately searched for any organisations I was associated in order to attempt to get me fired. The editor presumably was trying to present this as a boast on my part, or an elaborate plot to increase traffic to my site by fuelling outrage. 

This was an interesting tactic and attempt at justification given I didn’t include my personal website in the letter, in any public communication, or on my Twitter bio. In fact, the only way that people had direct access to my website was because the editor had put my website up alongside my article, accompanied by a ‘snarky’ (as he himself put it) comment about my still stating on my website that I have the qualifications to be a member of the BPS. Just to be clear, I do not benefit financially or in any other way from the number of hits to my website, and indeed, given my knowledge of the aforementioned cancel culture, I certainly didn’t want to advertise ways for disgruntled ideologues to add me to the list of victims. 

I’m not surprised by the behaviour of the editor or the organisation – or indeed the members who responded to me with name-calling, character attacks and misrepresentations of my case. I was, however, fairly horrified that so many of these came from clinical psychologists – those who are employed to be professional, compassionate, understanding and able to understand different perspectives. A number of onlookers have also expressed shock at the behaviour of this specific group in particular.

We all know that Twitter can be a place filled with hate, but I don’t think any of us expected it to come from so-called those (often high up) in a ‘caring profession’. 

I expected backlash from my piece; I knew it was controversial and had seen many times what happens when people say anything against the prevailing ideology. Not only were apparently educated individuals unable to engage with my actual points without misrepresenting me; in the vast majority of cases, they didn’t even try to – as if calling me a bigot was sufficient argument. Ironically their behaviour supported everything that my letter highlighted regarding the dangers associated with social justice ideology – and indeed the dangers of allowing ideology into what should be a scientific organisation. 

This aside though, I have been heartened by the number of messages of support I have received (often privately, because understandably some people can’t afford to risk their careers for the sake of expressing a viewpoint). I am comforted that there are many who are willing to engage with different views in good faith, and who see why identity politics and social justice ideology is so dangerous.

There have also been numerous discussions about organisations and groups that aim to offer alternative options for clinicians, psychologists, and others who want to have a space for open-minded, thoughtful, non-ideological discussion about important issues.  This gives me hope that we might still be able to come off the other side of identity politics with the hope of making the world a better place.

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

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