APPLIED PSYCHOLOGISTS: What do we need to add to the menu?

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When it comes to generic or specialist applied psychology practice, what works best for our clients? In part two of this article, former chair of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP) and vice chair of the British Psychological Society (BPS) Professional Practice Board, Kairen Cullen initiates a review of the newsletters of the seven Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) regulated divisions of applied psychology, and various general BPS publications.

Summary points

  • A search for references on collaboration between applied psychologists from different divisions yielded very little material.
  • Collaborations might be enabled via inter-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary, and multi-interdisciplinary practices.
  • Clinical psychologists engage more with other professionals than other psychologists in different fields.

In researching this article, I contacted the seven BPS divisional chairs, i.e. clinical, counselling, educational and child, forensic, health, sport and exercise, and neuropsychological, to ask about cross-divisional collaborations between applied psychologist members, such as working parties, joint applied practice or research projects. In reply, I received details on a collaboration between counselling and clinical psychology in the editorial boards of the Clinical psychology forum and the Counselling psychology review. I also learnt of the practice of inviting all divisional chairs to the Division of Counselling Psychology Annual Conference, but no further collaborations were revealed. This suggests a dearth of active cross-divisional collaborations in the UK field of psychology, but the written accounts of applied psychology practice paints a different picture.

Inter and cross-divisional collaboration

I turned to the most recent edition of each division’s newsletters, which chronicle divisional events such as annual conferences, awards to members, accounts of members’ practice and research projects, and committee business. I searched for evidence of inter-divisional or cross-divisional applied psychology collaborations and partnerships. My search yielded some interesting themes, including:

  • the quest for field-specific research and theory
  • selective borrowing of knowledge across the fields of psychology
  • little evidence of ‘on the ground’ collaborative practice between different types of applied psychology
  • systems-level differences in rhetoric and practice
  • the holy grail of collaborative practice; benefits to professional learning and development.

The quest for field-specific research and theory

The belief that the hallmark of good research is that it generates more questions, i.e. more research, was evident in all of the newsletter research accounts but was largely partisan in nature. For example, in their article on counselling psychologists’ practice, Maureen Campbell-Balcom and Tasim Martin-Berg write, ‘Further research is required to further validate and extend the study’s findings. Perhaps a mixed methodology approach, congruent with counselling psychology’s post-modern and pluralistic positioning … ’ (2019, p.13).

Selective borrowing of knowledge

I looked for any references, either within the main body of articles or the reference sections, from applied psychologists to psychologists from other fields and found interesting patterns in the batch of newsletters in ‘Table: Cross-divisional collaboration’.

Of the seven fields of application, four referred clinical psychology, three to counselling psychology, two to health, two to neuropsychology, one to forensic, one to sport and one to educational. Given the huge overlap in terms of complex human processes of wellbeing, development, learning, behaviour and achievement, it is a pity that levels of awareness of and recourse to the work of fellow applied psychologists is so uneven and limited.

Little evidence of ‘on the ground’ collaborative practice

My search for references to collaboration between applied psychologists from different divisions yielded very little material. Two examples of the use of collaborative work, one in relation to sport and exercise psychology and one in relation to counselling psychology, each referred to actual interventions, i.e. that which was taking place between client and psychologist. In addition, there were two references, one in the Health psychology forum and one in the Clinical psychology forum, to collaborations between applied psychologists and other non-psychologist colleagues.

Possibilities for collaboration between different applied psychologists

Interestingly, the case for collaborative practice was particularly strong in an article on collaborative practice in behavioural science ‘Collaboration in behavioural science: Insights from an Early Career Network event’, in Health psychology update. This paper, describing an early years networking event, goes into some detail about the benefits and challenges of ‘inter-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary, multi-interdisciplinary practice’. The authors suggest that inter-disciplinary practice can be likened to a sandwich, i.e. ‘everyone working on the same problem, but with overlap between disciplinary boundaries’, and trans-disciplinary as being like a cake, i.e. ‘everybody working on the same problem, but with transcendence between disciplinary boundaries’. They go on to suggest that creativity, flexibility and a common language, and resolve in relation to working together is required. They also offer practical tips, including the following:

  • Use the institutions and organisations that you are already a part of, especially open events, even informal and social ones, which bring different groups together.
  • Attend a conference away from your usual discipline in order to provide a new perspective and stimulate innovative thinking.
  • Develop the ability to explain your practice and, in so doing, dispel any misconceptions about your role in order to support shared project work.
  • When seeking a new post, find out about levels of collaboration.

Although the authors are writing about behavioural science professionals, all of the points above could equally apply to different applied psychologists within the BPS.

Rhetoric and practice

In her editorial piece for the Counselling psychology review, Professor Christina Edwards draws attention to the BPS’ interesting adaptation to ‘the changing world’ through restructuring and ‘much more cross-divisional work’. She goes on to applaud this given the quantity of overlap within psychologists’ work and states:

‘We might say “colleagues in other fields”, but this would be vastly overstating our differences when we consider that counselling psychologists work in clinical settings, neurological settings, forensic settings, educational settings, health settings and so on.’

(June 2019, p.3)

She also cautions against navel-gazing and too much introspection within her division, advising the need for reading about the work of other types of applied psychology in shared contexts and, to this end, her publication’s decision to publish papers from a wider field of psychologist writers in the Counselling psychology review. I noticed that this particular issue did feature a clinical psychologist contributor and several academic psychologists. When I was a part of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology newsletter Debate editing team, the case was very similar. Writers from other practice settings were welcomed but, by and large, content was generated by academics, as opposed  to practitioner psychologists, and by educational psychologists.

The holy grail of collaborative practice

Other than the articles already mentioned I found only one more specific reference to the benefits of collaborative practice and this was in the Clinical psychology review (June 2019) in an article about clinical psychologists working with medical colleagues in a hospital paediatric service for complex conditions. In ‘Dancing together: Exploring medical consultant views on integrative care’ the authors write:

‘Medical colleagues said they had learned from the psychology team in their approaches to working with families, and the psychology team have also learned from them. There was an overarching appreciation of this mutual learning and an open attitude to continued collaboration’ … ‘this is when we shift things amazingly sometimes.’

It is interesting to consider that applied psychologists, so much defined by their fields of application, appear to be engaging more with other professionals that those much closer to home, i.e. within psychology.

Conclusions

In the latest edition of The psychologist, the official monthly publication of the BPS, Sara Bajwa, newly appointed Chief Executive Officer writes in his regular column:

‘I also want us to be much more aware of the changing landscape of our discipline. We will always be the home for psychologists in the UK, but it’s vital that we also react to changes in the psychological workforce and offer a space for the range of new roles that are starting to be developed.’

I fully applaud the sentiments he expresses but wonder if the BPS itself needs to reconsider its core structure, role and related language. The fact that applied psychologists with different legally protected titles are so divided, i.e. organised as ‘divisions’, if not by ideology but in practice, may not be helped by the BPS’ structures. Maybe the menu should be expanded and include more combinations rather than separations?

Further information

The following publications are published by the British Psychological Society.

  • The Psychologist, 33 (8), British Psychological Society, August 2019.
  • J. Crawshaw, M. Sekhon, E. Norris, C. Keyworth. ‘Collaboration in behavioural science: Insights from an Early Career Network event’, Health psychology update, 28 (2), Autumn 2019.
  • M. Campbell-Balcom, T. Martin-Berg, ‘Counselling psychologists’ anti-discriminatory awareness and practice in the UK’, Counselling psychology review, 34 (1), June 2019.
  • C. Valentino, X. Daniilidi, S. Watson, S. Parham, A. T. Gong. ‘Dancing together: Exploring medical consultant views on integrative care’, Clinical psychology forum, 320, August 2019.
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About Author

Dr Kairen Cullen

Dr Kairen Cullen CPsychol AFBPs has spent decades as an educational psychologist working in local authorities and her own practice to help children, young people and adults achieve educational and personal success. Kairen has written for a wide range of publications and produced two books. See her website at at http//:psychologistthinkingaloud.home.blog for more details.

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