Monday, November 7, 2016

(Brief) Speech to BPS Military Psychology Conference

Last week, in my role as BPS President, I gave some opening remarks to the 5th Annual Military Psychology Conference. I've posted my notes (the exact words used may have differed, of course) below.

5th Military Psychology Conference: BPS President Opening Remarks

Thank you. I am absolutely delighted to have been invited today, to open this year’s BPS Wessex Branch Military Psychology Conference. Now in its fifth year.

The previous conferences have focussed on themes around the psychological wellbeing of serving and veteran military personnel and military families. Essentially, healthcare psychology, with the military community.

This year’s conference is focussing on a broader theme, Peacekeeping and Stabilisation, and this has further expanded the range of psychology and related disciplines involved in today’s event. You will also note that this year’s conference title includes the words ‘Defence and Security’. This reflects the establishment of a new BPS Defence and Security section – an important step for the Society. 

The Strategic Aims of the British Psychological Society are: “to promote the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied”. As psychologists, we’re interested in prenatal care, in child and maternal mental health, in education, in criminal justice, in care for people – like me – entering what the Japanese beautifully refer to as ‘silvering’ years.

That speaks to the breadth of psychology – we are interested and engaged in everything that matters to human welfare. And that includes our collective security. Every member of our community is affected by the many ongoing security challenges, including economic, environmental, social-justice, terrorism, cyber-crime, as well as fragile states overseas.

As a result of some of the work I’ve done in the field of mental health is that, a few years ago, I was named by the Fundamental Rights Agency, in Vienna, as a “Defender of Human Rights”.  I even got a paperweight.

As a psychologist, I’ve argued that we collectively bring science, professional skills and values to our work.

That triad has failed in the past. We, collectively, failed with Guatanamo Bay and waterboarding. We have failed with Eugenics, where certainly within the lifetime of my parents, psychologists have actively supported policies that I repudiate. In my opinion, we continue to fail with labelling, diagnosis and pathologising language in the field of mental health.

But it doesn’t need to fail with respect to our collective security

In my world, the proponents of CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy – praise the philosopher Epictetus – 'there is nothing good or evil save in the will' – or ... As Shakespeare’s Hamlet puts it: 'there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so'.

I’d extend this: There’s nothing good or evil except in how we use it…

The UN says: “Military personnel are the backbone and the most visible component of a peacekeeping operation.” I agree. So… once again… psychology is at the heart of the issue:
-       the psychology of conflict
-       the psychology of trauma
o   to civilians
o   to members of the armed forces
-       and of course, the psychology of decision-making under extraordinary pressure

Military personnel are the backbone of peacekeeping operations. I’m glad the warriors are out there, protecting my children and grandson from harm… and I’m glad we’re here as psychologists helping them in their work.

My only final words are to quote – and mis-quote – Epictetus and Shakespeare: There’s nothing good or evil except in how we employ it…

I am aware of the fragility of the society in which I hope to see my children flourish. I am aware of the role played by the military in defending my safety. I would urge you as psychologists, and our colleagues in the military – to remember our primary duty to uphold and defend – to defend – fundamental human rights.

Which brings me round full circle. As psychologists, we are interested and engaged in everything that matters to human welfare. This of course includes our collective security. The new Defence and Security Section of the BPS will aim to further the understanding of the psychological issues in defence and security; to promote appropriate research; to provide a forum for discussing scientific, practical and ethical issues; and bring together researchers and practitioners inside, and outside the Society.

If you’re interested – and I hope you are - please visit the website and then spread the word!

This conference, the new Section, and the work of colleagues in the military and security services that you’re discussing here, are valuable and important. I thank you for it, and I hope you have a great conference

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