Sunday, 24 January 2016

clinical psychology in academia: the lack of learning, level playing fields and therapeutic relationships

I spent 6 years trying to be meaningfully involved in the clinical psychology training groups for people with "lived experience" at Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, starting in 2009 when I turned up at the Mental Health and Wellbeing Unit or red brick building within the grounds of Gartnavel Hospital.  Late into the group because I couldn't find a parking place.  I never did get travel expenses for that meeting and was out of pocket.  That became a theme of my engagement with clinical psychology academics.  It cost me.

Then in 2011 there was a national event in Stirling University organised by the DClinPsy academics to encourage the involvement of experts by experience in their university training courses.  Or at least that's what I thought it was about.  Looking back it was probably a tick box exercise, recruiting folk for their research.  I put my name down for the Edinburgh group but eventually got letters inviting me to attend both.  So I went along to both, the only person to do so for about 3 years.  

In February 2012 my son was subject to psychiatric abuse in the locked seclusion room of the Stratheden Hospital IPCU and so began a long campaign for justice, whistleblowing about the dehumanising treatment and taking a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, upheld in September 2014.  But there was no justice.  NHS Fife got £4.4million to build a new locked ward and we got nothing, apart from a one line grudging apology from their interim CEO.  

Therefore as I was campaigning for justice, writing on Mad in America (  and on my own blogs about psychiatric abuse, I was also attending the DClinPsy user/carer groups at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities.  It wasn't easy for any of us.  And eventually I was bullied off the Glasgow group by other members after a discussion about children getting ECT.  It was time for me to go.  We weren't on the same page.  The group will function better without my involvement. Although more boring and uneventful.  Guid luck tae them.

The Edinburgh DClinPsy group was eventually dominated by the Autism contingent, parents speaking out.  There was an attempt made to involve me in a psychosis teaching session but the process wasn't inclusive.  I felt like a performing monkey, telling my story.  I wasn't an equal and didn't like the after-effects.  There were difficulties with getting financial reimbursement so I didn't bother trying to claim it, the process was difficult and I was out of pocket again.  Par for the course.  Being made to feel "less than". 

I just wasn't prepared to be a cog in their wheel or a guinea pig for their research.  And it felt like the clinical psychology academics did not know how to treat me as an equal.  There was a barrier which I was not able to break down.  I think it has to be something in their training which has caused the clinical gaze.  Them and us.  I never got to see their training materials or I might have discovered what the problem was.  Likely biological psychiatry.  The mantra of mental illness. Scapegoating a few to benefit the many. 

Clinical psychology has not learned how to play the game of psychiatry despite having doctorates and professors.  They either believe their own press and think they have insight when they don't or have given up trying to shift the paradigm and are coasting.  I'm not impressed with either.  It isn't helping. 

In Fife we have found engaging with clinical psychology, over 10 years, to be unproductive and on occasion damaging.  They did not demonstrate person-centred working or listening skills.  In 2012 we could not get CBT from the clinical psychologist who was based at Stratheden Hospital.  [I knew the man in other mental health settings over a number of yearsHe was determined to deliver mindfulness and therefore I had to do the work with my son, helping him through the flashbacks from the psychiatric abuse.  That CP is now retired.  

The Edinburgh DClinPsy academics kept saying to me at the meetings in the Medical Quad building that they could not influence what went on in the localities, in other words Fife.  But I didn't accept that apologetic.  Mindfulness in the face of psychiatric abuse is just not good enough, in my opinion.  It's like standing by and holding the coats.  Clinical psychology training has to meaningfully involve psychiatric survivors as well as mental health service users.  We should be given our place and paid appropriate wages according to our qualifications.  [are you listening NHS Education for Scotland?]

I want to see a transformation of clinical psychology practice and training so that they can stand on their own two feet as professionals and not be handmaidens to psychiatry.  Psychiatric survivors can help bring about the change.  People like me who have resisted the mental illness labels and recovered from coercive psychiatric drug treatment.  Who have proved the limitations of biological psychiatry and the biomedical model of mental illness.  Get us on board as equals.  Get some gumption.  Stop being so feart.  Why should I have to do your job for nothing? 

Further reading:

Mindfulness is all very well – but don’t give up your right to get angry' by Tracey Thorn, in New Statesman, 27 August 2015  

26 August 2015: stigma and scapegoating 


  1. Scotland's approach to mental health needs meaningful involvement of experts by experience starting from the ground up and not from the top down.

    Scotland's approach to mental health needs to include philosophy, medical humanities and ethics. Each one of us is more than our biology.

    Dr Peter J. Gordon
    Bridge of Allan

    1. Thanks for your comment Peter.

      I agree.

    2. Thanks for your comment Peter.

      I agree.