Thoughts on the CPF Social Materialist Manifesto Special

A group of course-mates and I recently wrote a letter to the Clinical Psychology Forum in response to issue 256, which was itself a response to the Draft Manifesto for a Social Materialist Psychology of Distress, written by the Midlands Psychology Group. The letter was published in CPF 262. Continue reading for the letter.

Some thoughts on the Social Materialist Manifesto

We are a group of trainee clinical psychologists writing in response to CPF 256 – a thought-provoking special issue which opened the way to exploring some of the complexities of what can often become a polarised debate.  It was heartening to hear the voices of service users, assistant psychologists and trainees: groups whose perspectives are often underrepresented in relation to more expert ones.

Some of our thoughts about the Manifesto and the published responses:

  • It could be viewed as brave to be so challenging to what is seen by many within and outside the profession of clinical psychology as its primary function: delivery of psychological therapies.  The approach of The Manifesto very much holds clinical psychologists to account.  We still think what we do is really valuable but we welcome challenges to our certainty in relation to this.
  • It would appear that the writers have formed a somewhat polarised model of social-materialist psychology. They have a huge task to take on the established, unequal systems that we exist in, but we agree with some of the responding authors’ points that their model is somewhat uni-dimensional. They criticise the concept of ‘resilience’ by saying it’s not a ‘mysterious’ thing but you can measure it in social/material advantages: could there be more exploration and formulation of concepts like resilience, as an interaction of both processes internal to the person and social/material ones?
  • There is also some evidence of hypocrisy in that the Manifesto authors criticise the “Psy-” professions for positioning themselves as powerful experts, then write their ideas in purely academic journals in language that a lot of people might find inaccessible.
  • We think the Manifesto ignores the fact that psychological therapists are trained as reflective practitioners with their own diverse experiences of distress, who may personally and professionally feel that distress is not necessarily located in the individual. We are trained to think holistically and agree with what Jan Burns said in her response: from our experience, we do not have the impression that the psychologists we have worked with – or most psychiatrists – ignore social and material factors in people’s distress, although they may not directly engage in work on these areas. We agree that the paper makes some sweeping generalisations that do not reflect the way we work or experience life.
  • Perhaps our profession’s (often useful) tendency to think about things from as many angles as possible, coupled with its practitioners’ often perfectionistic tendencies, contributes to a degree of paralysis in relation to actually taking action. If we can overcome this, we can play more of a part in helping hard-to-reach, marginalised communities to have agency in changes for the better, and to be better prepared for a future in which work is increasingly likely to be delivered via systems beyond of the NHS.  We would welcome and want to be involved in further action around this.

Charlie Tyack, Rachel Gilbert, Carla Lane, Jo Johnson, Rachel Deboys and Laura Taylor-Roberts
Trainee Clinical Psychologists
Canterbury Christ Church University

Shoreditch Street Art Photo Copyright Charlie Tyack 2014