Before I start…
Before I begin I want to say that there will be numerous people that disagree with me and that’s totally ok. I love psychology, obviously, but there are numerous issues in the field today overall that I have felt are prevalent in psychology and that I think need discussing.
The first thing that I feel is important to highlight is the emphasis and focus given only to empirical literature in psychology.
No, we need empirical lit, don’t get me wrong. We need research backing in everything we do. As a psychologist, you are also a scientist and must use empirically backed information. Furthermore, this isn’t an attempt by me to say that we should stop the process of empirical literature, not by any means.
I want to ensure I am being clear and that my point is not misconstrued here.
My question is though, do we focus on empirical literature too much in psychology, to the detriment of other mediums of communicating psychological information and findings?
I am a great believer in psychologists and those working in the mental health profession being more in the public awareness and in public domains. One of the main questions I ask here is, are psychologists not focusing enough on where the public is?
I’ve spoken about this a lot recently, and it was actually one of the things that led me to create GetPsyched in the first place.
We as psychologists, trainees and mental health practitioners, need to be in the mainstream where the people are.
The public doesn’t read empirical literature often. Yes, they feel the impact of it when psychologists utilise empirical principles, but they don’t absorb the content directly. We need psychologists to be on social media, on YouTube, on blogs, in the mainstream where people actually absorb content on a regular basis.
For example, name one publically recognisable psychologist. Name a recent study in psychology that grabbed the public attention. It’s difficult, nearly impossible, to see where psychology is branching from vital empirical literature and communicating it to the masses, where it needs to be absorbed and understood. We need psychologists to be in mediums where their work and what they do is recognised and appreciated.
Processes of getting published, and the value this has for professionals
This kind of leads me to my next point
The actual process of getting published is very challenging, again rightly so. This means that we get the most robust literature into the field of psychology, we need to be scrupulous and challenging of the literature we accept.
There is something to be said about the difficulty that students and new researchers have in getting published as a result though, but this isn’t necessarily something I would directly change.
What I do think is an issue is how psychology researchers are given value based on the number of publications they have to their name.
Now, you might not think this is such an issue, but I do.
Researchers based at universities are often ranked based on the number of publications they get.
This can at times have consequences where researchers break up pieces of research in order to publish multiple articles and not just one big one…again you might not think it’s a big deal.
However, the fact that this goes on speaks to the motives behind this valuable empirical literature.
It’s often not a case of getting their best work out there, sometimes it is of course, but other times its to boost the name and the credibility of the individual and that doesn’t sit well with me.
What’s more, is that the pull to publish more work can at times lead to shoddy results. Now, this is in part why it’s so important to have a critical eye in psychology, but I do not think we address this enough.
It’s not uncommon for researchers to manipulate data to their favour and in ways that give outputs that they want. It might be to get more funding, it might be to boost their position as a researcher, either way, it’s not ok.
I don’t want you leaving thinking I hate empirical literature, I in no way do. In truth, I believe in developing more empirical literature. The research backing I have as counselling psychology is based in empirically backed considerations. This is something I would never change. I believe in the scrupulous nature of publishing research also. However, the points I have discussed here are ones I feel need addressed.
Unequal appreciation of different branches
For me, this is a big one.
In the UK we have a disparity between different branches of psychology.
Let me make this clear from the beginning.
No one branch of psychology is more important or valuable than another!
If you are a doctor in applied psychology then you are equal to all other applied psychologists, clinical, educational, counselling, health, sports and exercise. We don’t fully appreciate that often in this country.
I’m going to try and take bias out of this as much as I can as I am a counselling psychologist in training. However, the way we look at clinical psychology and its hierarchical nature isn’t ok. Every now again on twitter ill voice this…it often doesn’t go down well.
People still see clinical as superior…it’s not.
In the UK we think it is, often because the training is fully funded, with a £26,000 a year salary attached.
Again, I’ve had some Twitter discussions about how this isn’t ok also.
However, the NHS and here in the UK have given clinical this hierarchical nature. I work with some people who are counselling psychologists and counselling psychologists in training that are not allowed to work with borderline personality disorders, it’s left to the clinical psychologists.
This isn’t right, it has no research backing, and it is against the egalitarian nature of all applied psychologies.
Counselling psychologists can work with a client diagnosed with BPD just as well as any other. One of the only ways this is going to change is with the funding situation.
Challenges with the direct route for undergrads
My next issue with psychology right now is the route and options for undergraduate psychology students. A very small percentage of undergraduates in psychology pursue a career in the field.
In large I think much of this has to do with not enough information or development of direct routes into careers in psychology.
If psychology is going to see developments in people coming through the ranks then I really think initiatives like apprenticeships, internship and opportunities for experience need to be provided by universities.
Non-accredited counsellors and therapists
This is an area that might not be directly attributed to psychology itself, but it is something psychology can stand up for and that will help it in its development I feel.
There are so many non-accredited ‘therapists’ and ‘counsellors’ out there. I have spoken to many and even worked with some in the past. The fact that an individual can legally call themselves counsellor or a therapist is discrediting to the therapeutic industry, and psychology as a whole.
Legally no one can call themselves a psychologist if they do not have a doctorate. However, literally, anyone can call themselves a therapist, counsellor or psychotherapist.
A lot of the time counselling psychologists actually call themselves therapists and this can blur the lines even further.
In part, this is a job for governing bodies here in the UK such as the BACP to develop guidelines of accreditation.
Challenges in developing clinical experience for students
When I did a bit of market research for this topic, the challenges for developing clinical experience for psychology student came out as a big concern.
Students seem more and more frustrated in psychology with the difficulties in gaining clinical experience
Now, I’ll be honest, I was very lucky and didn’t really have this issue.
However, I can empathise with the challenges and frustrations experienced by undergraduates. In part, I feel that the view that psychology is often seen as a route to multiple careers not a career in psychology is a major contributing factor.
In many ways, this connects to one of my previous points. Psychology must do better in informing undergraduate students about the opportunities that are available in psychology.
We must do more to encourage students to pursue careers in psychology!