The profession of clinical psychology: looking backwards and looking forwards

This term our Psychology Cultures Seminar was a celebration of the career of previous Course Director, Mike Wang. The topic of the seminar was the future of clinical psychology as a profession, and Jamie Hacker Hughes, one of the speakers and a colleague of Mike’s from the British Psychological Society, has sent in this post.

A tribute to Professor Mike Wang, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology at Leicester University

Before it is possible to look forwards into a crystal ball to attempt to ascertain what lies in store for us in our chosen discipline of clinical psychology, it is, first of all, important to look backwards to reacquaint ourselves with our roots and to remind ourselves of where we came from.

In 1967 the Division of Clinical Psychology had just been formed. (When the Society was initially founded in 1901 there was no such specialism and the three main sections were those of academic, educational and occupational psychology). It was only ten years later, however, that, May Davidson, later a Society President, played a key role in the historic Trethowan Report, which established clinical psychology as an independent profession, allowing clinical psychologists to receive direct referrals from GPs.

The profession continued to expand and 10 years later, in 1977, there were large District Psychology Departments headed by District Psychologists. But then, as change continued, by 1987 a number of psychiatric hospitals had been closed and Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs) formed. Clinical Psychology remained powerful and influential and this continued over the next ten years, as the Purchaser/Provider split was implemented and a number of the new Mental Health Trusts had Directors of Psychology Services on their boards.

But what is happening today? Roles are being cut, posts are being cut and funding is being cut. The picture is not good and the number of clinical psychologists in Agenda for Change grades above 8B is dwindling.

So what does that mean that we, as a profession, need ten years hence?

We need an organisation that promotes clinical psychology as a profession. We need ensured funding so that we are able to train and develop a suitably sized cohort of clinical psychologists to meet the need. We need an organisation that will represent us to employers, to commissioners, to fellow professional organisations, to the media and to Government?

We are nearing the end of the first phase of a root and branch Structural Review of our Society, the British Psychological Society, and within that review is the proposal to establish just such an organisation, a College of Psychologists (possibly, even, to become a Royal College of Psychologists as I had first envisaged) which will fulfil all of the above functions for us and for all our fellow Applied Psychologists.

So – the past looks inspiring, the present is challenging, but the future is promising.


Jamie Hacker Hughes, March 2017

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes CPsychol FBPsS is a clinical psychologist and clinical neuropsychologist and psychotherapist and was the 81st BPS President (2015-2016)




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