Change Programme, Financial issues, Governance

Carpetbaggers and their customers

David Pilgrim posts…

BPS bullshit has features that illustrate the phenomenon more generally, but are also peculiar to it as a case study in collective deceit and inauthenticity (Christensen, et al, 2019; Frankfurt, 2005). The general features include an indifference to the truth and a concerted effort to massage reality in favour of those in power. The specific features include the recurring silence in the pages of The Psychologist about any news that might expose the grubby crisis in the Society, as well as video propaganda from the Board of Trustees about the President Elect, who they stitched up and spat out. Latterly this BPS bullshit has been joined by Pollyanna blandishments about a new dawn from the illegitimately elected new President Elect, which makes no allusion at all to the wreckage of the past.

Keeping the customers satisfied…..

Recently members (note notionally they are still members), received this in their inbox from ‘the BPS’:

Important information about our new Customer Relationship Management system

We’re getting in touch to let you know that our new Customer Relationship Management system will be launching on Monday 25 October.

This will allow you to manage your membership from one self-service portal on our website, and help us to provide you with a better customer service experience.

To make the change happen, we need to transfer data from our current database across to the new system.

To ensure that this process goes smoothly, from 4pm on Tuesday 12 October there will be some things that you’ll be unable to do within your account.

As you may have seen, we’ve been reaching out to members asking you to update your contact details ahead of the switchover. From 4pm on 12 October, you’ll be able to log in to your account and access the BPS website as normal, but you won’t be able to update details such as your email address, contact details and password.

We will also be unable to take any online subscription payments during this period, while we make sure that our finance infrastructure is integrated with the new system.

For our online communities, events platforms, BPS Learn and our online shop, you will be able to log in with your existing details and access their features as normal, but you won’t be able to update your details within them.

We’re sorry for the inconvenience of a restricted service over the coming days and the short notice about the freeze period. If you have any concerns about how this might affect your membership, or any urgent issues created by the limited functionality, please get in touch with our customer support team at 
info@bps.org.uk or by calling 0116 2549568.

We’ll be in touch again soon with details on how to register for the new portal – thank you for your continued support and understanding while we make this change.”

Fascinating and unnerving stuff

This is fascinating and unnerving stuff. Who are the ‘we’? Why are ‘we’ sort of apologising for an inconvenience? Does this imply members habitually understand and appreciate what ‘convenience’ means? Is membership democracy now defined merely by technical efficiency in a digital system? ‘We’ are ‘reaching out’ (Four Tops style) to members but is this for a hand of friendship or cooperation or opinion or compliance? Will democracy and the individual member’s quality of life be enhanced by their new opportunity to ‘manage’ their membership “…from one self-service portal on our website, and help us to provide you with a better customer service experience…”

Well that all sounds very considerate and ‘customer focused’. We are all now used to this stuff from our dealings with any company or utility in our lives.  ‘Is it OK if I call you David?’ from the phone operative you have never met and never will, in a brief encounter of the commercial kind. I am sure that the junior employees, unnamed in the team, just like underpaid phone operatives, are good people committed to their work. But what is the ideological function of creating this illusion of person-centredness, today, in the organisational car crash of the BPS run by a ruthless cabal? 

The latter have, in their wisdom, asserted their mandate to call members ‘customers’. This is politically disruptive because it turns the historical assumption of collective decision making, and the possibility of eventual membership democracy (still woefully unfulfilled), into a system of atomised consumers. That shift of organisational ideology seals off the membership from having a collective voice. It is one of many aspects now of the members being kept in the dark, reinforcing a tradition already established in a more amateurish way by the old oligarchy. The New Public Management model now puts the seal on that process and gives it a plausible gloss.

The tone of the citation above is a mixture of assured declaration (there is no alternative – this is the way things run nowadays in the BPS, take it or leave it) and ingratiation. It is also both informal in style and totally impersonal. No author is attached and no named source of the policy is identified.  

Whether members make complaints or try to actually engage with employees of the BPS about a serious matter, the typical experience is one of mystification. Communications are unsigned or the person (sometimes simply using their first name) replies on behalf of a ‘team’. The rationale for a reply and the policies or procedures governing them may have no transparent source. 

There is a semblance of friendliness above from the ‘team’ but no clear grounds for establishing actual personal trust, in an objective context, in which the trustworthiness of what is happening at the centre of the BPS is now under such strain. Do ordinary employees (just like ordinary members) really appreciate the trouble the Society is now in? Why are members and employees not talking about the crisis openly? Is that from genuine ignorance, whistling in the dark or fiddling while Rome burns? 

Atomised consumers, personal ‘journeys’ and nervous birds scattering

Some members may wonder why the strategic rhetoric of a ‘journey’ has been so close to the heart of the leadership of the BPS in recent years. One answer is that such a comforting narrative diverts our attention from the pressing need for deliberative membership democracy. Pollyanna vagueness ensures that critical reflection is not required. We all just need to get on board the management-inspired ‘member journey’ train. All happily chugging along in our personally booked seats, there will be no chatter about power, mismanagement and corruption. If this interpretation is in doubt simply read this: The BPS Member Journey. <br/>Co-creating a better future for Psychology — The Social Kinetic. On it we are told that this is “…an ambitious design thinking journey (sic) across the 4 Nations of the UK. Together with The British Psychological Society and its members we co-produced the future vision, plan and roadmap. From Cyber to clinical psychologists – students to influencers…”

The role of the paid consultancy, Social Kinetic, warrants a separate post but my focus here is on the ideology of atomised individualism of the ‘member journey’.  Note the singularity of the ‘member’ – not even a greengrocer’s apostrophe is present to raise a smile. Those individuals are offered a sunny uplands view from the BPS train driven by the cabal. A PhD in critical discourse analysis is waiting in the wings about this online piece. 

One ‘graduate’ tells us anonymously that the “…BPS now really feels so responsive, creative, inclusive and proactive that it’s starting to feel as if being a member is a necessity. And that’s the way it should be. It finally feels like this is really going to happen…” The heartfelt gushing enthusiasm of this statement is clear. However, reading and re-reading it, I have absolutely no idea about what it actually means, especially given the context of the serious BPS crisis. How is the statement at all feasible in reality, given the broken complaints system and policy capture we have demonstrated on this blog?

The (then) BPS Policy Director Katherine Scott (pictured but not named on the Social Kinetic online posting) explains, ‘Its such an important thing for us to bring together our members to co-create solutions and think about the future of the BPS’. Co-creation itself has an ambiguous legitimacy today. The good news is that it entails ‘customer’ involvement. The bad news is that the managers remain in charge and they can selectively attend to the interpretation of the outcome of that involvement (Alford, 2009).

In the context of the current crisis, we would be wise to take all of this management meringue about ‘customers’, ‘journeys’ and ‘co-creation’ with a large pinch of salt. Katherine Scott (The Psychologist, July 2020), in an interview with the editor Jon Sutton, gazed sagely into the future about the direction of the Society. Within months the CEO (just before he was suspended) was announcing that Scott was moving on to work for Lego, to build a different future there (co-created or not). 

Another key figure in the ‘Policy Unit’, Lisa Morrison Coulthard presently moved on to become Research Director for the National Federation for Educational Research. She was a central player in the production of the controversial law and memory report that defied a democratic revision in the Society. That was certainly not co-created with the legions of survivors of sexual abuse in our mental health system (Pilgrim, 2018). Instead the report and its dogged retention reflected the narrow interests of one academic group to exclude a wider voice from survivors and those working with them.

Scott and Morrison Coulthard were not the only senior managers in the BPS to bail out in the past two years. This mirrored the disappearance over just a two month period of three elected Presidents.  Also the Finance Director, Harnish Hadani (now in the same role in the National Lottery Community Fund), departed quickly in the heat of the crisis (December 2020). 

Hadani failed to prevent the large alleged fraud, which is still awaiting its court hearing but was conceded de facto in the accounts reported at the recent BPS AGM and not even noted as ‘alleged’. In part this may have been a function of his lack of experience of working in the charity sector and his weak appreciation of its notorious vulnerability for financial corruption. Ironically he was appointed in part to deal with the aftershock of a pre-existing fraud in the Society. How many members, I wonder, were aware of that past misdemeanour? (As a technical aside of relevance to public information and trust, the National Lottery, unlike the BPS, does not come within the regulatory scrutiny of the Charity Commission, but instead of the Gambling Commission.)  

Just how many other senior employees now might scatter, like nervous birds, will become evident in the coming months. Their culpability in the crisis might well be protected by the corporate liability of their ex-employer. However, that cover will not be offered to the Board of Trustees (BoT), who as non-employees, present or past, will retain a legacy liability for any misgovernance or corruption that took place under their watch. The clue is in the word ‘Trustee’.

A change of heart not millions misspent

The BPS does not need a multi-million pound ‘Change Programme’, with its ersatz trappings of commercial efficiency, but a genuine change of heart. Such an exercise in truth and reconciliation would be materially inexpensive but personally painful for the recent cabal and the oligarchs of the past. By contrast, ordinary employees and ordinary members have nothing to lose but their current illusion of shared friendliness. At the end of the process, they may find ways of really trusting one another.

Informality is often a tactical part of the con trick of bullshit; ingratiation is a common disarming component of impression management (Goffman, 1959). When mixed with anonymity and other forms of vagueness, the trick is complete. The current offer of a ‘better customer service experience’ is part of a bigger neoliberal cliché, which is pulling the wool over our eyes to disguise profits in big business and the hidden self-serving abuse of managerial power in both the public and charity sectors. In the case of the BPS, we have been turning this topic over in various posts, but this one allows me to revisit briefly the character of the cabal.

The mystifying shenanigans at the centre of the BPS in the past few decades have intensified since the current Senior Management Team (SMT) joined the system in 2018. Because they have refused at all costs to wash their dirty linen in public, any historian of the Society may need to wait a while for the facts to come out. We are doing our best to tell the story that the SMT, the BoT and the editor of The Psychologist do not want the ‘customers’ to hear or see. However, we, like others, have been kept in the dark, despite our amateur sleuthing with a torch. Journalists and litigants hereafter will open up the can for the worms to slither out, but that full slimy technicolour spectacle is to yet come.

What we can say about the cabal, with its habitual secrecy and ‘damage limitation’ modus operandi, is that it is not a monolith. The key BoT meeting in November 2020, with its heavily redacted minutes illustrates this cultural complexity. The CEO was suspended but this was not a unanimous decision. Some Trustees complained about the process of the meeting. So, the older oligarchs were factionalised, with some supporting the power of the SMT and the £6 million ‘Change Programme’, with its hollow rationale and mysterious or absent performance indicators. We are left wondering what differentiated the ‘pro’ from the ‘anti’ Trustee sub-groups. We wait to hear in our perplexed darkness. 

Postmodern carpetbaggers and their allies

I mentioned the here today gone tomorrow senior managers. They are today’s version of carpetbaggers. Most are not psychologists, so they have no respect or affection for, or understanding of, the discipline. Most have passed quite quickly through management roles elsewhere. For example, although the current Deputy CEO, Diane Ashby, is noted on the BPS website for working at Marks & Spencer and the Body Shop, there is a coyness about her role in other ‘change programmes’, when working for Southern Water and West Sussex County Council. 

A further sub-plot in the recent shenanigans relates to HR processes and their failure to head off incompetence or corruption. Were they applied properly and transparently, when the SMT (and, note, their administrative support staff) were all appointed? Were Trustees properly involved with these appointments? Again the future historian may well have something to tell us when the courts, employment tribunals and curious journalists have elicited the answers to these questions.

And although some in the cabal have actually been psychology graduates, this has not guaranteed their loyalty to the long-term integrity of the discipline, as they have got sucked in to political short-termism. It has certainly not ensured their commitment to academic freedom or transparency, or a prioritisation of accountability for their fellow BPS members. They have just become incorporated, wittingly or unwittingly, into the BPS bullshit generator.  

From NHS CEOs and over-paid University Vice-Chancellors to footballers kissing their shirt badge when scoring a goal, knowing their agent has just fixed a more lucrative deal with another club, money and power today encourage short term faux-loyalty and hypocrisy. Non-disclosure agreements with pay-offs are part of the picture; again the history of the BPS told in the future may have something on this topic. Carpetbaggers now come in so many postmodern guises, with their own particular tricky rhetorical skills. Their ‘customers’ are not well served by their antics.

Alford, J. (2009) Engaging Public Sector Clients: From Service Delivery to Coproduction. London: Palgrave.

Christensen LT, Kärreman D, Rasche A. (2019) Bullshit and organization studies. Organization Studies. 40(10):1587-1600. 

Frankfurt, H. (2005) On Bullshit Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life New York: Overlook Press. 

Pilgrim, D. (2018) Child Sexual Abuse: Moral Panic or State of Denial? London: Routledge.

Board of Trustees, Change Programme, Financial issues, Governance

15 questions about the Change Programme

BPSWatch received the following letter from a counselling psychologist and BPS member. The letter is signed but published anonymously.

Dear BPSWatch,

I am no expert in Change programmes, but I have some common sense observations and questions.  Does anyone outside the BPS SMT know the answers to any of the questions?

1.      So … “The objective of the Change Programme is to deliver the scope agreed by the Board of Trustees at their meeting in June 2019, on time and within budget.”  This is a completely useless response when what the Board of Trustees decided in that meeting is kept secret.  It is highly disrespectful to members.

2.      Have the consultants being used for the change programme changed?  If so when did that happen?  For what reason? And who made the decision to use the first and then switch to the second?

3.      There is a rumour that someone on the BPS SMT has a social relationship with the CEO of Social Kinetic. Is that true?  If so, was this considered as a potential conflict of interest in the appointment?

4.      Did the BPS seek advice from their own expert Occupational Psychologists on the Change Programme?

5.      What was the procurement process?

6.      What is the vision for the change programme?

7.      What are the specific objectives?

8.      What are the outcome measures for each objective?

9.      How were the objectives going to be achieved?

10.   What is the oversight management plan?

11.   How would progress be communicated to the SMT, Trustees and Members?

12.   How were those involved assessed for their competence to deliver the programme?

13.   What was the plan to monitor change communication effectiveness?

14.   Is progress so far considered good value?

15.   Why is there not a document available for members explaining all this?

The best change that I can think of right now would be to have transparency, and open, clear communication from the BPS.

Yours sincerely.

"The Psychologist", Financial issues, Governance

Faux-accountability from the cabal

David Pilgrim posts….

Recently we have been exploring BPS bullshit [see here]. Peter Harvey’s recent post is a good example. He describes a simple request to The Psychologist to have pertinent questions answered in a public space, where the members of the BPS might have his shared curiosity. The letter was not published but passed on to the editor’s employer. A relevant reminder here is that The Psychologist is ‘...the magazine of the British Psychological Society…’. It is not refereed and all decisions about letters and articles rest in the sole hands of the editor.

Critical commentary from David Pilgrim

What can we glean from this exchange? Well, the letter was clearly too hot to handle for the editor of The Psychologist, Jon Sutton, even though its content was relevant for the BPS members who are its readership. Indeed, it raises the question about what – if anything – he might publish in a letter that pertains to the Society (rather than a response to material he has already sanctioned in previous editions). Bullshit is as much about what is not said as what is said (for the philosophically minded this invites an ‘omissive critique’). The past two years have provided those in power with the convenient shared boat experience of the pandemic. However, our collective plight has been used at times as a cover story for evasions that would probably have been there in any case. 

By blocking the publication of the letter in The Psychologist and deliberately opting to hive off the exchange to a personal response to Peter Harvey, this ensured that the whole readership was then kept in the dark about crucial matters. Jon Sutton and Diane Ashby between them yet again limited what was being explored publicly and in the public interest about an organization in crisis. From Ashby the vague descriptions we have become used to are also present in this individualized response. For example, we are offered these two desultory sentence about a grave matter that merits a full discussion for, and with, the BPS membership:

“Once the fraud was discovered an independent investigation was immediately commissioned by the Board of Trustees and actions have been taken based on its findings. You will be aware that the Chief Executive is currently on extended leave from the society.”

Here are some relevant questions that ordinary members might be interested in:

Why did many months elapse between the police investigating the fraud and the CEO being suspended? Why, initially did the Board opt to make the CEO the liaison link with the police? Why was the CEO suspended and not simply sacked? What grounds were discussed in the Board for the suspension option? Did some Board members resist any action being taken against the CEO? What actions have been taken as a result of the investigation? Ashby’s failure to provide routine bulletins to BPS members is part of a strategy from the cabal: remember the vacuous phrases about the Society being at a ‘…crossroads…’ after a ‘…challenging year…’ from Carol McGuinness in her infamous and now removed Youtube video? This vagueness signals that those in power are ‘in the know’ but are not prepared to tell ordinary mortals what they know. 

I suspect that this concerted silence about the material facts of what is happening at the centre of the BPS would have been broken had the Board been dominated by truly independent Trustees, rather than an acculturated cabal with inherent conflicts of interest. Pompous rhetoric about confidentiality was soon their cover story for secrecy. As we do not have an organization with independent Trustees, this is my guess about a path not taken since 1988.

It is important to note that Ashby was primarily appointed to lead the ‘Change Programme’ and at times she has adopted that title in correspondence, rather than ‘Deputy Chief Executive’.   But within the latter role, which she has been in now for nigh on a year, why has she not kept the members informed at all times of the crisis at the centre of the organization? Surely, that would be a primary expectation of the Charity Commission of good management practice. Those absent bulletins from Ashby might have mentioned a few facts that will be of relevance to the history of the Society in years to come. 

Apart from the silence about a major fraud and a fire at the Leicester office, other points for the imagined bulletin board would have been her comments on matters of broken governance. Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, to lose one President was unfortunate, but to lose two was careless, and to lose three (note over just a two month period) was a governance catastrophe.  Ashby prefers instead to keep up appearances of probity and a ‘problem what problem?’ stance to what is being said in public. 

Other absent items from her bulletins relate to the NCVO commenting on the psychologically unsafe culture in the BPS (reported in Third Sector). No news either from her about the considerable amount of money paid to fancy lawyers, to set in train the removal a radically reforming President Elect, who was both intent on cleaning up the longstanding misgovernance and a whistle blower in waiting. Some members might have a view on whether this vindictive use of lawyers was a good use of their fees. They may have to wait some time for the facts to emerge to make that judgment but those payments were made and, to my mind, their ethics remain in considerable doubt.

Moving from the silences to what Ashby does say above, a first impression is that it seems like a lengthy exercise in transparency, especially compared to the norm from the SMT in the past year of evasions. Demands for accountability from us have been either ignored or, if they have been too persistent, elicited charges of us bullying or harassing BPS employees. Prior to that we were issued with a cease and desist notice for simply mentioning that the CEO was suspended in November 2020. 

At that point the cabal could not discern the difference between material facts (he was and remains on extended leave following his suspension) from matters of confidentiality. Maybe since then their legal advice about that distinction has now prompted Ms. Ashby’s willingness to discuss that material fact in her mail. Maybe members might also be interested in how the resolution to the hiatus in his employment will now be resolved. Such a process itself is a material fact that is known to the cabal but is not being revealed to ordinary BPS members. 

The pressure from the Charity Commission might now be a factor in this seeming change of style from the ‘Deputy Chief Executive’. Although the Commission should have done more to date, they are still ‘engaged’ in relation to changes about the lack of independence of the Board of Trustees and the broken complaints system.

In light of the above silences, why this sort of letter now and what is it actually telling us beyond waffle about everything in the garden being rosy? The answer is that it is the picture Ashby wants us to believe about the purported organisational panacea of the Change Programme. The development of the latter was an early trigger point for the removal of the President Elect. He was demanding, on behalf of the membership, a coherent rationale with credible details attached transparently about the benefits being claimed. The SMT failed to provide the Board of Trustees with that needed information; he stood firm in his demands and he paid a high price. 

This exercise in faux-accountability reveals the political relationship between The Psychologist and those who ultimately control its content. By taking control of the discourse about the current and unresolved crisis, Ashby is doing her best to pretend that the crisis does not exist. But if it does exist then her control of the discourse will eventually become threadbare. The Society will disintegrate and its legitimacy will crumble, whatever we, or Ashby, say or do not say. 

A delusion now common in politics, large and small, is that discourse is everything; that if we can develop the right ‘narrative’ then reality will be what we want it to be. This postmodern Alice-In- Wonderland madness has not just created the implausible contortions of identity politics (another instrumentally embraced convenience for the BPS cabal), it has also led to extra-discursive causal powers being ignored at our peril. Donald Trump said that global warming was not a problem and we should just sweep up leaves differently to stop forest fires. Diane Ashby says everything is under control and no problems of probity exist in the BPS. They are both wrong and this letter to Peter Harvey is a recent illustration of this point.

"The Psychologist", Change Programme, Financial issues, Governance

Where does your money go?

Peter Harvey posts….

For those of you who are not “BPS junkies”, the desire to read the Trustees Annual Report, particularly the 30 pages of accounts, may be low on your list of things to do before you die. So, more out of a sense of duty than for pleasure, I trawled through them in an (admittedly, accountancy-lite) attempt to see how members’ money was being spent. I was particularly struck by some significant sums spent on the Change Programme, high salaries and a £2m loan, so I felt that a more public debate might be of help to the membership, and a letter was sent on 17 August to the editor of The Psychologist, asking him to consider publication. 

Dear Editor,

The constraints in place around this year’s AGM mean that opportunities to ask questions were much reduced. However, in the interests of openness and transparency, I would ask that the membership has answers to the following (and, please, can we have a named, senior office-holder to respond, not an anonymous “The BPS” statement ).

1 The Change Programme has cost each member about £22 this year. Where are the objective, measurable outcomes for what amounts to about 16% of their subscription?

2 The BPS took out a £2 million loan to cover Coronavirus interruption. This is a considerable sum (subject to base rate + 1.69% interest after 12 months) for an organisation that clearly is in a very different financial situation to those businesses which depended on day-to-day income (such as the hospitality sector). The BPS also has over £21 million worth of assets. Why does the BPS add to its debt burden in what looks like an unnecessary fashion?

3 There has been a doubling of staff being paid over £60 000 (from five in 2019 to 10 in 2020). This is likely to have cost around £500 000. Is this good value for money and how is their performance measured in terms of real member benefits?

4 The total cost of these 10 relatively high earners is probably (as an estimate) around £1 000 000. This accounts for about 15% of the BPS’s total salary bill and costs each member (paying full subs)  around £10 p.a. These are the same people who, along with the Trustees, were in post whilst an alleged significant financial fraud took place. What actions has the BPS taken to hold to account any or all of any of these people, paid or otherwise, who are ultimately responsible to the membership for ensuring that there are proper financial controls not only in place but closely and effectively monitored?

You will note that I asked him to “…consider…” publishing, to which I got the reply (by return), “Will do.” (clearly a man of few words). Being a simple soul I wrote back “Not quite clear as to whether the ‘will do’ applies as in ‘will consider’ or as in ‘will publish’?”, to which I got the reply “Will consider.” (clearly no lover of verbosity). So when the October issue appeared – minus my letter  – I contacted the editor:

Dear Jon,

 I see that my letter did not appear in the month’s Psychologist. Does this mean that you are still considering it or that you have chosen not to publish. If the latter, please could you let me know why.

 Many thanks,

 Peter

who replied

Dear Peter,

I’m afraid we didn’t select it for publication. I did encourage senior management to get back to you with a reply; I can chase that if it hasn’t been forthcoming.

Best wishes

Jon

My reply to this was

Dear Jon,

No, I have heard absolutely nothing from senior management. And my question about the reasons for non-appearance remains unanswered.

Best wishes,

Peter

All these were dated 23 September and the next day I got the following email

Dear Peter

I am writing in response to your letter to the Editor of the Psychologist regarding some questions following the AGM on 26 July. As you are aware, AGMs held in 2020 and 2021 were virtual events due to the government guidelines requiring us not to meet in person due to Coronavirus. For both meetings, we asked for questions before the meeting and responded to those as part of the presentations during the event. We also asked for follow up questions to be emailed to our Governance team and we have responded to those via email. I am therefore answering your questions using that approach.

1.      The Change Programme has cost each member about £22 this year. Where are the objective, measurable outcomes for what amounts to about 16% of their subscription?

The objective of the Change Programme is to deliver the scope agreed by the Board of Trustees at their meeting in June 2019, on time and within budget. This is an investment programme so outcomes include:

·      better support for our members to take active roles in the society

·      increased connectivity between member groups

·      updated ways of working which are co-created with our members and reflect changes in the profession

·      modern, up to date IT systems which meet members expectations of a digital world

2.      The BPS took out a £2 million loan to cover Coronavirus interruption. This is a considerable sum (subject to base rate + 1.69% interest after 12 months) for an organisation that clearly is in a very different financial situation to those businesses which depended on day-to-day income (such as the hospitality sector). The BPS also has over £21 million worth of assets. Why does the BPS add to its debt burden in what looks like an unnecessary fashion?

The Board of Trustees agreed to the £2m loan in October 2020 when the implications of Coronavirus were still relatively unknown for the society. It was a way of hedging against any unknown impacts. As you will have seen in the annual report and accounts, the loan can be repaid from the reserves of the society when necessary.

3.      There has been a doubling of staff being paid over £60 000 (from five in 2019 to 10 in 2020). This is likely to have cost around £500 000. Is this good value for money and how is their performance measured in terms of real member benefits?

A new senior management team structure was designed and implemented in 2019 to ensure the strategic plans of the society could be implemented. Some of these roles were more senior than before but all roles were independently evaluated before implementation. Performance is measured against personal objectives which reflect the strategic aims of the society, including member benefits.

4.      The total cost of these 10 relatively high earners is probably (as an estimate) around £1 000 000. This accounts for about 15% of the BPS’s total salary bill and costs each member (paying full subs) around £10 p.a. These are the same people who, along with the Trustees, were in post whilst an alleged significant financial fraud took place. What actions has the BPS taken to hold to account any or all of any of these people, paid or otherwise, who are ultimately responsible to the membership for ensuring that there are proper financial controls not only in place but closely and effectively monitored?

You are in error in asserting that the same people were in post on the SMT and on the Board of Trustees for the entire time the fraud was being committed.

Once the fraud was discovered an independent investigation was immediately commissioned by the Board of Trustees and actions have been taken based on its findings. You will be aware that the Chief Executive is currently on extended leave from the society.

At the AGM in July I said:

I understand that, as members, you will have real concerns about how we protect the money that ultimately comes from your membership fees.

I want to assure you that we’ve learned a great deal from the incident, and have reviewed and significantly strengthened our internal process around expenses and the use of credit cards.

Over the last year, the society has had to navigate a number of highly sensitive and confidential processes, including those directed by the police, legal specialists and our own Member Conduct process.

Some of these process are still ongoing and must remain confidential at this time, but when we are able to, we will provide a fuller explanation. I want to thank you for bearing with us on this.

Yours sincerely

Diane Ashby

Deputy Chief Executive

My initial reaction is that this leaves a number of questionable statements which I will be following-up with Diane Ashby shortly. But I present the story here so far as my initial impetus was to open a public debate (hence a letter to our house journal which proudly proclaims its function as a “…forum for communication, discussion and controversy…”), so please feel free to comment, post and discuss.  A critical commentary from David Pilgrim follows in the next post.

Oh, and the editor still hasn’t told me why he didn’t publish.

"The Psychologist", 'False Memory Syndrome', Academic freedom and censorship, Expulsion of President-Elect, Governance, IAPT, Memory and the Law Group, Prescribing Rights

The British Psychological Society: Failing the Public

Pat Harvey posts….

Because of their acknowledged expertise, Psychologists enjoy professional autonomy; responsibility is an essential element of autonomy. Psychologists must accept appropriate responsibility for what is within their power, control or management. Awareness of responsibility ensures that the trust of others is not abused, the power of influence is properly managed and that duty towards others is always paramount.

Statement of values: Psychologists value their responsibilities to persons and peoples, to the general public, and to the profession and science of Psychology, including the avoidance of harm and the prevention of misuse or abuse of their contribution to society.

BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct, 2018.

A dysfunctional Society

The British Psychological Society’s serious governance dysfunction, the central concern of BPSWatch (1) has important consequences, not only for the way it behaves towards its own membership, but ultimately in how it functions in relation to its responsibilities to the wider community. A Royal Chartered Charity, (2) its formal Objects may not explicitly state that it has that latter duty and responsibility to wider society, but the second Object requires it to have a Code of Ethics and Conduct (3). That Code includes the statement shown above and only a legal weasel or a BPS bureaucrat might, if pushed into a corner, attempt to deny that the Charter does not require a duty to the public at large. 

The growing awareness of the organisational dysfunction and the wilful withholding of information about this brought us together to form BPSWatch and the associated Twitter account @psychsocwatchuk. Whilst we and others have as yet failed to create sufficient pressure to see the ongoing involvement of the Charity Commission with the BPS over its governance problems escalate into a full Statutory Inquiry, we have helped to get information out into the mainstream and other media: The Times, The Telegraph and Third Sector. They will no doubt renew and sharpen their interest as anticipated legal cases become public. Meanwhile the individual concerns initially brought to us about specific policy topics which have been mishandled remain unresolved. It is our contention, and that of the complainants who have contacted us, that each of these is a matter of public concern and public protection.

 Unbalanced Views and Member Complaints

Psychology is, and should always be, alive and comfortable with controversy and debate. Members have a right to expect an open facilitative climate, where the best of psychological research, practice and policy formation would be supported and discussion promoted.  We, and others, think the BPS is failing to do this and efforts to complain about such failures have led to our focus on the actual suppression of viewpoints and the active censorship of controversies including  

Gender

Memory-Based Evidence

Prescribing Rights

IAPT

These impact directly on practitioners and the people and services they work with, but they also impact upon discussion in public life. They are matters of concern to the mental well-being of individuals who are vulnerable and finding themselves in threatening situations in their communities, in a clinic or in court. They are psychological matters still open to alignments of differing viewpoints.  We believe the BPS has a duty to address these, elucidate their conflictual aspects, review and weigh the evidence base and its adequacy, and specify remaining questions. 

Since this has not happened, members have tried to complain. They have often been ignored or met resistance.  A network of disparate, dissatisfied complainants discovered each other by word of mouth and email chains, and we were encouraged by this to set up BPSWatch.  The writer came into this originally due to what I believed to be grossly inadequate and incomplete BPS guidelines on gender for practitioners (4) which I had discovered in connection with a high profile childcare case which went to court.  I considered the guidelines totally unfit for purpose and was minded to complain. I then came across a statement made by a key player in their construction. This person’s formal presentation as an expert psychologist was recorded at an academic forum which was posted in an online video. They made a categoric statement that, based on what they held to be definitive research findings, the question of psychological outcomes of gender reassignment surgery was closed, stating “…the debate is shut. There is not a debate about that anymore…”. This is not a statement that any Chartered Psychologist should be making either in form or in content. It constitutes what will be taken by audience and viewer as authoritative summation of the current evidence base on outcomes of surgery. It misrepresents how psychologists should talk about scientific enquiry, and is actually untrue. It is, therefore, unethical. Furthermore, as a ‘take-away message’ in that forum and online, with the implied weight of the British Psychological Society behind that person’s position and reputation, it is seriously irresponsible. That message had the potential to impact directly, if heard, upon people making life-changing choices.

The BPS complaints team batted the complaint about the statement away. The first response (stage 1), was a blithe and ironic “…we are a broad church…”. I persisted, with references, and this aspect of my complaint, whilst taken more seriously and addressed in more detail, was rejected. They stated “…Although there will always be some dissenting voices, the idea that this represents a real schism in the scientific community [note, this misrepresents my precise concern] … is incorrect…”. In fact, subsequent reputable research publications (5) have strongly supported my contention that the jury was still out on this, and the debate is, and should, remain open. Uncertainty about those outcomes remains, and needs to be the subject of much more adequate data collection, follow-up and methodologically sound research. The psychologist I complained about was peddling certainties, taking a protagonist/activist position in the guise of the science, and the BPS was wrong to continue to support that. Vulnerable people, their families and their rights are ill-served by false certainties coming from supposedly highly authoritative sources, backed by the BPS

Conflict Avoidance

I have cited the above to illustrate not only the tortuous experience of trying to make a complaint to the BPS but also to illustrate how poor is the quality of the Society response. In the case of another of the topics listed above, Memory-Based Evidence, the BPS took a different tack – they dumped the challenge half-way through. The BPS’s previous out-dated guidance on this area was deemed to have been skewed at the time (2008, 2010) by the impact of the false memory/recovered memory lobby (6). The BPS had seemed, over the years and in the pages of The Psychologist, to have had stars in its eyes around a famous and foremost proponent, Elizabeth Loftus (7). She had been made an Honorary Fellow of the Society and lauded for her subsequent awards. Not all members were happy about this (8). For the interest of the reader, an admirable and informative account of the journalistically styled ‘Memory Wars’ can be found outside the pages of academic journals and The Psychologist in the link below (9). Such informed coverage puts the BPS house journal to shame. During the of writing this article, a US jury have shown limited sympathy with the defence case for which Loftus gave her usual form of evidence (10) and Robert Durst has been found guilty of a murder committed 20 years ago.

 A BPS-appointed Task and Finish group was set up to revise their outdated guidance. There was a good deal of demand for this from practitioners who appear in court in connection with many kinds of trauma, particularly in the context of historical child abuse allegations.  Well into its work, the working group was unexpectedly closed down (11). The Psychologist published a statement from the Chair of the Research Board suggesting this was an amicable and consensual decision – we have been directly informed by participants it was not.  As one comment amongst the many to The Psychologist stated “…I am a member of the Memory Based Evidence Group and I would like the right of reply to respond about some of what has happened in this Group, which was tasked on writing a document on Memory and the Law. I am unhappy about the Research Board’s decision to disband the group, and I do not think that there has been a satisfactory answer to why such a decision was made; this decision was made without consultation with the group members, nor with the wider Society….“(11). The announcement in The Psychologist was made with this statement “Unfortunately, the standards of evidence for the report and the need for consensus and a convergence of evidence from experimental work and clinical practice, [my emphasis] as defined within the Terms of Reference for the group, could not be met.”. (11)

Contained within this statement, one which might immediately raise the questions: “Who set those terms of reference?” and “Isn’t the contentiousness the very reason for these guidelines?” is a clue to where some of the underlying and poorly managed tensions may originate. Academic/practitioner conflicts have dogged other psychological associations; for example the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science in the USA (12). As someone from a practitioner background, my view would be that there are serious drawbacks to research which sets out to answer questions arising from the clinical environment using crudely artificial analogues. Memory based evidence is one topic illustrating the drawbacks in using research set up in staged non-personal settings to discredit the opinions (in the legal sense) of practitioners working in non-analogous trauma related circumstances.  If you have any doubts about the dire need for an authoritative dispassionate view on this particular controversy to protect individuals on both sides in an adversarial court environment, consider what the absence of that psychological balance does – it leaves courts wide open to the machinations of the British False Memory Society. How it actually goes about doing its work is described in detail in this video (13).  A balanced view from the BPS could surely weigh the concerns about false positives and false negatives within the context of BFMS strategies, the applicability of academic research to traumatic memory, and social context of the serious underreporting of child sexual abuse (14). This would greatly assist in the court setting which itself attempts, as does a practitioner, a case-by-case assessment of veracity. The BPS Research Board have in effect kicked the revision of the guidelines into the long grass, the old guidelines having been archived.  These, however, are still available to be cited and used on the uninformed if you know where to look online. 

The BPS Working for the BPS?

Further discussion of these topics, and also of the implications of the BPS failings on Prescribing Rights and IAPT, can be found in specific articles on the blog (15, 16, 17). They illustrate a systematic failure to conduct proper consultation over key concerns in service provision models and health service professional practice. Why and how is this happening? 

The BPS, it seems, has an opaque system and uses equally opaque criteria for choosing its preferred advisors and for what policies are to be discussed with government departments and the NHSE. Feedback to members is minimal or non-existent. We have been reliably informed that a BPS CEO felt quite free to negotiate with NHSE without the presence of any psychologist. This leaves the room for a Society with an ever more rapacious in-house business agenda to be sucked into any government ideology where a shared vested interest may appear. The wider views of members working in the field may well be sidelined or completely ignored. The alleged current government agenda on privatising health care/moving to insurance models is open to facilitation by the self-interest of particular voices who manage to gain favour. In that context, note the latest BPS attempts to convince the NHSE and PSA that the Society can regulate an influx of less qualified younger members who will bring in fees and subscriptions to swell the coffers. There is little reason to think this will go well. In contrast to welcoming ever wider groups for membership, senior members seem to be regarded as a nuisance – maybe more trouble than they are literally worth, unless they are securely corralled within the system’s tent and staying ‘on script’ with the assistance of the Society’s Comms team – being one of the ‘cronies’.

Cronyism and Its Ills

We arrived at the term ‘serial office holder’ to describe how some psychologists have made a parallel career from being a BPS ‘apparatchik’. These psychologists move from one office to another over years (sometimes decades), sometimes elected, sometimes appointed. They make a virtue of their extended contributions. They are able to use the BPS logo on their websites and list the many impressive offices they have held on their CVs. Thus their BPS career is likely to enhance their professional reputation. They like to give each other honorary lifetime memberships and even when that is done in an AGM on Zoom in 2021, you may be expected to stamp your feet under your desk in approval.

 It would seem highly likely that a regime where cronyism is a norm will lead to complacency, lack of critical reflection, closing ranks, and resistance to newcomers taking important roles. An extreme example of this was the opposition to, and the action taken against, the President Elect 2020-21, Dr Nigel MacLennan. He was elected on a reforming mandate and then expelled. The expulsion was heralded in a vilifying YouTube video for all to see even before he had chance to appeal. We know many members thought that horrible and immoral, and one can only shudder at the extent to which living in the BPS bubble has distorted the judgement and the personal morality of those implicated in, and complicit with, show trial tactics. The person chosen to conduct his ‘appeal’, far from being independent of the previous proceedings and personnel involved, described himself in an interview with The Psychologist, on assuming his own presidential office, as “…a BPS Junkie since 1984…”. He has been around the corridors, real and virtual, of the BPS for more than 30 years, the BPS and he being ‘in each others’ DNA’ so to speak. 

Not all serial office holders are treated well in the BPS, however, particularly if they start to question how things are being done. They too may be attacked and threatened like MacLennan. We have heard how some become very distressed, visibly so in meetings, but then increasingly conform; others resist but remain peculiarly defensive of some idealised notion of the organisation and its capacity for change despite all evidence of its malign dysfunction. These patterns are reminiscent of what has been called Stockholm Syndrome. It is pertinent to consider how an unhealthy organisational environment where the main focus is self-perpetuation might allow for another form of organisational capture, by activism. Any would-be activist moles would be well-advised to get their feet under the table by not rocking the organisational boat and to volunteer for taking on work others don’t want. Then they just need to wait for their policy agenda to float into view and haul it in.

Psychologists, Psychology and Activism

The writer has been a lifelong political activist and vigorously supports, in her personal life, action on climate change, poverty, inclusivity and world peace. I took to the streets in the 1970s when my town elected National Front/National Party councillors. I was part of the making of a World In Action TV programme on that racist environment. Those passionate views had to be put on mute in my clinical work. I currently hold strong views about many of the contentious topics in psychology, but our focus at BPSWatch is to ensure that no partisan view – including my own – within an area of ongoing scientist/practitioner debate captures the BPS. Some activists had assumed because we criticised BPS bias that we supported their ‘side’ of a particular argument, hence we have revisited and set out our agenda (19) – good governance, not certain ‘causes’.

We argue in BPSWatch that gender, memory-based evidence, prescribing rights and IAPT are amongst the topics that have been captured by a particular viewpoint and its activists. What follows capture is that debate is shut down, information restricted. Certain topics are being precluded from teaching and some psychologists are being maligned. Deeply unfair accusations of transphobia, sexism, racism, classism (the list grows daily) are never challenged by the BPS. This is aided and abetted by The Psychologist which actively fails to give balanced coverage to all legitimate views. Members have told us how their contributions have summarily been spiked in the in-house publications. It is not for the BPS to enter party politics and campaign, for example, on specifics such as Universal Credit. Rather, it should be making available the best research on poverty in relation to child development, adult mental health, crime and suchlike, and vigorously bringing this to the attention of politicians and decision makers. The same applies, as with the topics covered above and numerous others, to public awareness of the best evidenced range of views within which individual people are making the kinds of choices that many face and which will often change the course of their lives. This does not include rushing to be a signatory to a range of worthy campaigns (and how is the decision to sign – or not – made?). These psychological matters are serious.

The Results of Misgovernance are Failing the Public

The well-staffed, wealthy but seriously misgoverned charity that is the current British Psychological Society continues to fail its members and the public on the most crucial of standards, and for this we will continue to hold it to account.  We have hoped to see moves for radical change which would enable open communications with the large membership, bottom-up consultations and an inflow of new actively welcomed volunteers.  We hope to see new healthy structures at the top of the organisation, independent lay people as trustees. We believe it is only then that the BPS will serve the membership and the public as it should. Sadly, it just is not happening and there are no signs, despite the recent talk of ‘crossroads’, change programmes and tinkering with governance, that the change will come from genuine reflection within. Perhaps, therefore, it must come from without.

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Notes and Links

  1. Why the blog and why now? Charity Commission to Blog Author: “We are currently engaging with the society over a number of issues and have found deficiencies in some areas of operation” https://bpswatch.com/2020/11/20/why-the-blog-and-why-now/ 
  2. https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/How%20we%20work/BPS%20Royal%20Charter%20and%20Statues.pdf
  3. https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/Policy/Policy%20-%20Files/BPS%20Code%20of%20Ethics%20and%20Conduct%20%28Updated%20July%202018%29.pdf
  4. https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/guidelines-psychologists-working-gender-sexuality-and-relationship-diversity 
  5. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.1778correction 

“The results demonstrated no advantage of surgery in relation to subsequent mood or anxiety disorder-related health care visits or prescriptions or hospitalizations following suicide attempts in that comparison. Given that the study used neither a prospective cohort design nor a randomized controlled trial design, the conclusion that “the longitudinal association between gender-affirming surgery and lower use of mental health treatment lends support to the decision to provide gender-affirming surgeries to transgender individuals who seek them” is too strong”.

  1. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-30/august-2017/positives-negatives-and-empirical-reasoning 
  2. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-26/edition-5/news
  3. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-30/february-2017/no-congratulations-here
  4. https://www.thecut.com/article/false-memory-syndrome-controversy.html 
  5. https://www.courttv.com/title/8-4-21-the-jinx-murder-trial-intense-cross-examination-of-memory-expert/
  6. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-34/april-2021/not-good-look 
  7. https://behavioralscientist.org/long-winding-road-125-years-american-psychological-association/ 
  8. See Dr. Kevin Felstead, Communications Director, British False Memory Society reveal their strategy at I hour 4 minutes in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WsY-AqM4Y8 
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/sep/02/millions-children-religious-groups-vulnerable-abuse-england-and-wales
  10. https://bpswatch.com/category/false-memory-syndrome/
  11. https://bpswatch.com/category/prescribing-rights/
  12. https://bpswatch.com/category/iapt/
  13. https://bpswatch.com/2021/09/07/bps-bullshit/ 
  14. https://bpswatch.com/2021/09/14/what-this-blog-is-about-a-re-statement/ 
Governance

What this blog is about – a re-statement

Since starting this blog, in November 2020, we have had contact with a variety of people who have expressed their serious concerns about the state of the BPS. For some this has resulted in their resignation, for others it has left them hurt, damaged and vowing never to have anything more to do with the organisation they have been part of, and given their time freely to, over the years. Some have told us of their immense frustration with an organisation that frequently ignores communications or fails to respond acceptably to their queries and concerns.

Those leading the organisation (both elected and paid) have failed to manage its day-to-day running adequately, and have been, in the main, unable – or unwilling – to deal openly and properly with current and past mismanagement except by deceit and silence. There has been a clear and conscious rejection of any attempt to govern the Society’s business in a professional and open way as is required by the Charity Commission.  Financial irregularities have occurred, latterly the subject of police investigation. Staffing numbers and costs have spiralled, lines of accountability are ambiguous or absent, and the overall governing body, the Board of Trustees, has no membership which is in any sense independent, disregarding Charity Common requirements. This is patently a failing organisation. The leadership over many years has failed its members, failed the public and failed psychology as a discipline. The BPS has moved irrevocably to a state of unprecedented crisis.

Our primary aim is simple: to pressurise the Society to change and to be open about the dangerous consequences of its own history of misgovernance. We have no other agenda. A dossier was sent to the Charity Commission containing examples in relation to  censorship, various forms of policy capture and a totally broken complaints system. These case studies focused on malfunctioning organisational processes.  We are asking for honesty from its current leaders about its past, not simply bland assurances and blithe rhetoric about a potential future.

We wish to see a radically reformed and thriving society but we have no aspirations at all to acquire leadership roles in the future.  We do not align ourselves with any particular pressure groups. Contrary to a recent malicious tweet (unsupported by actual evidence or any attempt to check with us) we are in nobody’s pocket or in thrall to any specific group. Ironically, this is exactly the situation which we believe applies to some elements of the BPS itself – institutional capture by activists.  Whether other pressure groups like us or not is of no significance to us (unless this refers to the misgovernance question at the centre of our concern). Certain groups may view our existence as a chance to further their aims, but all we may share with them is a concern about misgovernance of the BPS and its consequences.

The fact that we address serious and controversial topics is because we wish to encourage their democratic discussion and a full and open debate. The BPS is routinely failing in this regard. Debate has been suppressed and biased policy formation has then accrued across a wide range of topics. We believe that current and previous BPS leaders have a duty to reject secrecy and reveal honestly where things have gone wrong so that discussion can take place. We are happy to post new examples of these types of failure. but our prime focus is on the malfunctioning organisational processes we have noted above. We are not in the business of “firing bullets” or promoting a particular stance on an issue.

Sadly, we do not believe that real change is imminent within the BPS. Familiar names of serial office holders still move into post or arrive on the Board of Trustees and people are still appointed to working groups by an opaque process from the Society coterie.  Despite many expressions of support and agreement with our views, many people feel unable to take their dissatisfaction further. We acknowledge that this is not easy or straightforward. Members have been threatened and intimidated, for example by themselves being accused of intimidation and bullying. Unless the serious and damaging dysfunctionality of the BPS is brought into the spotlight, however,  nothing substantial will change. Millions of pounds of members’ money will continue be spent on a so-called Change Programme that fixes nothing whatsoever of the root of dysfunction. So even if you do not feel able to write something for our blog (even with our offer of anonymity), please contact us and we would be happy to advise on what other channels may be open to you. 

We have all served the BPS to the best of abilities over the years and care deeply about both its future and the state of psychology in the UK. We will continue to be a critical friend for as long as it is necessary. 

BPSWatch Editorial Collective.

Board of Trustees, Expulsion of President-Elect, Governance

BPS Bullshit?

David Pilgrim writes…..

The failure of the BPS to establish a Board of truly independent Trustees in 1988 has had a profoundly adverse impact on its culture of governance. This missed opportunity to ensure transparency and accountability triggered an oligarchy of recycled names.  Their dominance was then disrupted by the incoming professional managers, with their variable understanding of, and commitment to, academic values aligned with a purported learned Society. Between them the oligarchy and the managers created a cabal, and one of its key requirements to retain power and credibility was a norm of concealment. Divided internally, they did agree on a policy of keeping outsiders in the dark, leaving blogs like this, or investigative journalists, to expose the inner workings of the BPS.

Philosophical concerns with concealment

As we are elaborate language-using social animals, reliant on mutual trust, personal credibility is an ongoing requirement for us all. For this reason, deception has been a recurring topic in Western philosophy. Pre-Socratic thinkers described the problem of concealment (of facts and intentions) as ‘lethe’. This referred to deception and forgetting or oblivion. A counter to it, in order to ensure human flourishing, was the pursuit of ‘alethic truth’.

Interest in the topic was re-animated in the 20th century. This was a period of unrelenting war, elaborated political and theocratic propaganda and new mass communication technologies. It prompted particular interest in concealment from key political novelists (e.g., Orwell, 1949; Zamyatin, 1924). ‘Doublethink’ and other Orwellian terms, such as ‘thoughtcrime’, are now a part of a lexicon of critique and cynicism in our recent post-truth culture, dominated by identity politics. Orwell no doubt is spinning in his grave.

This was an ‘age of extremes’ and ‘century of blood’ (Hobsbawm, 1992) and reflective thought about its consequences for honesty and decency abounded. From existential philosophers of the right (Heidegger, 1927) and the left (Sartre, 1943) we find an obsessive concern for authenticity. Sartre’s notion of ‘bad faith’ reminded us that deceit and self-deceit were joined at the hip in us all. To use the Sartrean-influenced phrase of Laing (1968), when discussing experience and communication, ‘we are all murderers and prostitutes’. 

Away from Continental reflection, Anglo-American philosophers also had similar concerns. Williams (2002) argued that the truth has two defining features: accuracy and sincerity. Bhaskar (1993) was more elaborate. For him alethic truth had three aspects: the ontological (objective facticity), the epistemological (knowledge claims) and the axiological (value judgments). To illustrate these three aspects of alethic truth, consider the ‘Burt affair’.

1 Is it true empirically that Burt falsified some of his data and invented names of authors in papers under his own editorial control?

 2 What theories or arguments were put forward to justify these accusations or defend or excuse his conduct?

3 Did the scandal undermine or support the credibility of British psychology and the political project of eugenics and why should these considerations matter to British society and its citizens?

Concealment in the vernacular

Another Anglo-American analytical philosopher of importance for our purposes was Frankfurt (1986/1988) who mapped ‘bullshit’ and its history in the 20th century. With alternative common descriptions (‘bull’ in military contexts and ‘bollocks’ in the British pub) bullshit grew in popularity as a dismissal from below of the rhetoric of those in power. While we are all capable of bullshit, elites (political, theocratic or managerial) have a vested interest in using it routinely to sustain their preferred version of reality, with a disregard for the truth. 

For clarity, bullshit does not refer narrowly to lying (Hardy, 2021). The liar, inveterate or occasional, like the truly honest person, is part of the same game. They both know what the truth is, but for a range of contingent personal or social reasons they opt to adopt a different approach to veracity. In particular, the liar will risk shame or guilt and censure and punishment if exposed, and these may be emotional considerations for them in the act of lying (and ambivalence about it).

By contrast, bullshit is both a personal and social process, whereby those dissimulating or evading the truth are indifferent to it. Their concerns are elsewhere, such as careerism, financial gain or personal survival and acceptance. The truth or otherwise, about this or that matter, is not a primary consideration for them, only egotistical gain. Their verbal or written statements might be truthful sometimes and not at others; this is merely a matter of instrumentality about which works, when. If they are caught out, they will rationalise or be evasive (i.e., they will bullshit more). ‘Damage limitation’ is a key tactic in the game of bullshit. No swords are fallen on or shame expressed; survival is what matters for the individual and homeostasis for their supporting culture.

Bullshitting individuals and bullshitting cultures

At times bullshit becomes a group process, as people with common interests opt to cover one another’s backs or conspire to evade a shared threat from without.  Organizational theorists now recognise it as being quite common (so the BPS cabal is in usual, if not in good, company), as Spicer (2020) outlines here:

Why is bullshit so common in some organizations? Existing explanations focus on the characteristics of bullshitters, the nature of the audience, and social structural factors which encourage bullshitting….I offer an alternative explanation: bullshitting is a social practice that organizational members engage with to become part of a speech community, to get things done in that community, and to reinforce their identity. When the practice of bullshitting works, it can gradually expand from a small group to take over an entire organization and industry. When bullshitting backfires, previously sacred concepts can become seen as empty and misleading talk.

Spicer lays out alternative explanations, with a favoured one, but of course in their own way they might all causally inflect different bullshitting organisations, case by case. Spicer distinguishes between bullshitting and lying (see above) and also emphasises that it is characterised by vacuous and misleading forms of communication. Deception is not necessarily a primary intention, but it is a frequent outcome. The primary intention is to maintain a version of reality that suits the bullshitter as an individual or as part of a group norm. As noted above, if the truth does that job, then that is fine. In the amoral pragmatic mindset of the bullshitter, either truth or lies might come in handy. 

The relevance of Spicer’s point about bullshit as a permeating organisational process, to the crisis in the BPS, is obvious. If a management culture, which wants to take control of the organization (it could be any organization for careerist managers) without reference to its espoused and traditional values, as a putative learned Society, then its credibility will be lost. When those values are discarded and the rhetorical gap, between claims of openness and actual secrecy, or academic freedom and actual censorship, becomes a chasm, then a serious credibility problem emerges. This is now the case in the BPS.

Bullshit of its very own

If the concept is overarching but also now commonplace, then what particular form has it taken in the BPS? What has been in its very own version of ‘empty and misleading talk’? BPS bullshit is generated on an ongoing basis to maintain the following mystifying version of organisational reality. Those inside the cabal probably really believe this bullshit, but increasingly the rest of us do not. Here are some examples of this point.

1 The complaints system is used selectively. Its existence provides a cover story for justice in the BPS. Members or the public are given the impression that it is an orderly and fair opportunity to establish the truth or otherwise of a grievance from the complainant. This is not true. It is a rabbit hole. Some complaints are ignored and those processed rarely lead to the complainant considering that they have been treated fairly. The complaints process is full of bullshit.

2 Unresolved concerns to the cabal, which the complainant keeps pursuing because they are unresolved, are turned into an accusation of them harassing staff. This evasion of accountability is an example of bullshit.

3 The BPS does, and it does not, process complaints against individual members. It all depends on what suits the interests of the cabal. This convenient selective attention is a form of bullshit.

4 The BPS Board is a charade, as it has not contained independent trustees since 1988. Its decisions and strategies are therefore all of dubious legitimacy. They constantly produce bullshit to justify their false and untenable position.

5 The oligarchy this has created over decades has generated a rhetoric of virtuous long service from a slow-moving elite group of psychologists. This has been a cover for their CV building, occasional financial sinecures and pursuit of their particular cognitive or political interests. This is more bullshit.

6 Policy capture, in light of points 4 and 5, has been rife but unacknowledged. Bullshit is used to cover up this process.

7 The Psychologist is not peer reviewed and, when called upon, it acts as a propaganda wing for the BPS Board. It has the semblance of an academically governed magazine, shop fronting the best of British psychology, but this is a charade.  This functions to ward off criticism of the organisational status quo and offers us more bullshit.

8 Financial misgovernance in the BPS has been present for the past 20 years but it has been covered up from the membership and the general public. In the past two years the bullshit generator in the BPS has been in overdrive.

9 The dysfunctional culture of the BPS was observed by consultants from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who were so anxious about its character that they rejected any further engagement. The membership was not made aware of this scenario, which required exposure by an investigative journalist. The silence of the cabal and a preference of a ‘problem what problem?’ approach to the matter of its toxic culture is form of bullshit (the latter can include what is not said as well as what is said).

10 Anyone attempting to rectify all of this mystification and misgovernance is vilified and scapegoated (see the treatment of the radically reforming and now expelled President Elect).

This is a cue for the next and final section.

Presidential smoothers and shakers

Given the culture of bullshit that has accrued in the BPS since 1988, how have those with Presidential aspirations responded? This seems to have been on a continuum from total complicity to one of explicit challenge. In the middle have been those who have tinkered and left in despair or perplexity, while trying to retain some personal dignity and credibility. Most recently this might be a description that fits David Murphy and Hazel McLaughlin, who bailed out. Others have pushed a little harder while in post and were punished by their peers on the Board. This was the case with Peter Kinderman and James Hacker-Hughes. The sticker on the windscreen of their particular stalled Presidencies still reads, ‘Charity Commission Aware’. We might all benefit from a fuller public account of their experience at some point. Eventually we might all be interested to find out what the Charity Commission rules on misgovernance and legal non-compliance in the BPS. This has been a long time coming, which for now favours the survival of the cabal.

The extreme anchors on the spectrum of complicity have been prominent very recently. Ray Miller was president of the Society in 2006. Apart from this role he has also at various points been Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology and Chair of the Professional Practice Board. He was Honorary Treasurer of the BPS between 2013-2019 and was a Trustee for thirteen (sic) years. In conversation with the then CEO Tim Cornford in 2006 he described himself very honestly and fairly as being a ‘BPS junkie’ since 1984 (The Psychologist, 2006). He was called upon to Chair the rigged ‘appeal’ by the President-Elect Nigel MacLennan, after his expulsion. 

Note well, this was in the wake of trumped-up charges about MacLennan allegedly bullying a person who he had never named, accused, had any communication with or knowingly met. The truth of this scandal will eventually be heard, but for now we have had to suffer the scurrilous video on YouTube, fronted on behalf of the cabal by Carol McGuinness. This disparaged MacLennan and closed down his professional career. Moreover, it oozed bullshit. It was broadcast very publicly and very deliberately before the appeal against the decision was even heard. It contained the vacuous phrases about it being a ‘challenging year’ (for whom and about what?) and the Society being ‘at a crossroads’ (the direction signs saying what – ‘heaven this way, hell that’ or maybe ‘new honesty in that direction versus more bullshit in the other’)?

Thus, Ray Miller, a stalwart and beneficiary of the BPS culture for over thirty years, was asked to be part of this charade offering the face validity of his ‘independence’. He graciously accepted the role, and the stitch up of MacLennan was completed. In what possible sense (logical or empirical) was he independent of the cabal and the long-standing culture of misgovernance it continued to defend?  Only the wilfully blind could believe that this personal juxtaposition was anything but a stark contrast between one President who was, to use his own words a ‘BPS junkie’, and another who wanted to challenge openly the malfunctioning culture that was so addictive to a self-interested oligarchy. This whole scenario reflected bullshit not justice.  

The coda to this story is that we have a replacement for Nigel MacLennan, Katherine Carpenter. She has a reputation of decency from those who know and like her. However, the early signs are not encouraging. She has issued a Pollyanna statement about the future (pinning our political confidence on the ‘New Strategic Framework’). 

Any politician who wants to ‘draw a line under the past’ (another common bullshit cliché, like ‘wanting to make a difference’) and only look to the future should be held in suspicion. This is particularly the case given that the legacy of cultural failure since 1988 has undermined both public confidence and membership democracy. Given the gravity of the current crisis in the BPS, we have to go back honestly before we can go forwards confidently.  Carpenter’s very existence in the Presidential position emerged because of a clear past cultural failure and its imperviousness to legitimate challenge. Systemic resistance has tended to outwit individual Presidents, who have bothered to tinker and challenge. Why should Carpenter be any different?  

Readers may recall that the cabal decided to restrict who could stand in the Presidential election. From their control-freakery perspective this was a smart move. It pre-empted the risk of another radical reformer being elected.  The tactic worked by declaring that only candidates who had already proven their active or passive complicity could stand (i.e., members of Senate and Trustees). Senate members had self-evidently and consistently failed to challenge or address the misgovernance that MacLennan, as a lone voice, was describing.  Accordingly, anyone ‘elected’ from Senate (notably no Trustee put themselves forward) would already be a safe pair of hands for the cabal. The ‘election’ was not open to nominations from the general membership and the potential risk this might pose to the cabal: so much for democracy.

I will submit a longer version of this piece for consideration by the editor of History and Philosophy of Psychology. If it is accepted, it will probably be spiked by an anonymous apparatchik in the censorship department of the BPS. I have been there before and, as they say, ‘got the T-shirt’. 

Bhaskar, R. (1993) Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom London: Routledge.

Frankfurt, H. (1986) On Bullshit Raritan Quarterly Review. 6, 2, 81–100.

Frankfurt, H. (1988) On Bullshit: The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1988. 

Hardy, N. (2021) Catcher in the lie: resisting bovine ordure in social epistemology Journal of Critical Realism 20, 2, 125-145

Heidegger, M. (1927) Sein und Zeit (trans J. Stanbaugh 1962 as Being and Time) New York: State University of New York Press.

Hobsbawm, E. (1992) The Age of Extremes London: Michael Joseph

Laing, R.D. (1968) The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Orwell, G. (1949) Nineteen Eighty Four London: Secker and Warburg.

Sartre, J-P. (1943) L’Être et le Néant (trans. H. Barnes 1956 as Being and Nothingness)London: Routledge. 

Spicer, A. (2020) Playing the bullshit game: how empty and misleading communication takes over organizations Organization Theory 1, 1-26.

The Psychologist (2006) Double top – Ray Miller in discussion with Tim Cornford: The Society’s new President in discussion with the Chief Executive. How do their roles work together, and where do they see the Society going? April, 19, 20-21.

Williams, B. (2002) Truth and Truthfulness Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Zamyatin Y. (1924) We (trans. G. Zilboorg) New York: E.P. Dutton

IAPT

Following-up “Selling out?”

We have had some technical problems uploading this reply to a previous comment on the “Selling out?” post for which I apologise. Below is the response from Paul Salkovskis.

Peter Harvey,

Blog Administrator.

Thanks Dick.

To clarify; with respect to

“the BABCP would investigate a complaint against a PWP but only if no-one else could be given the job”,

this should, (!) in my view really read

“the BABCP would investigate a complaint against a PWP but only if no one else SHOULD be given the job”.

To explain; this preferment is normal practice where the registration or accreditation is secondary but not statutory, which it often is for example in CBT acccreditation. For example, if someone is registered with statutory bodies such as the GMC, HCPC or NMC as well as the BABCP, the statutory professional registering body should take pole position. The secondary registration body would accept their ruling (and it would be odd if they did not). I presume (but don’t know) that the BPS takes the same position with respect to Chartering, for example. This “hierarchy” prevents “double jeopardy”, inconsistencies and avoids confusion in terms of public access to fitness to practice information etc. There may be other ways of doing it, but I don’t know. Where the BABCP is the sole registering body (which will be true for most but not all PWPs, AMHPs, CYPs etc) then the BABCP procedures will be applied, and this according to the PSA rules. (I can’t speak for the BPS on this or any other matter, of course.)

What I can say is that being removed from either register as a PWP (and the subsequent other LI professions) disqualifies people from being on the other, and this is clearly specified. BPS and BABCP will both have their own complaints procedure in line with PSA requirements. The BABCP has a long established process for fitness to practice linked to the current accreditation of CBT therapists. 

In terms of the fuller details and its availability on the web etc, this is pending the final processing of the PSA applications. This is a lengthy and presumably thorough process which has yet to be concluded. Until that is in place, we are not in a position to put up the details as they may have to be changed if PSA require it.

As outgoing Vice President of the BABCP (posting here in a personal capacity of course), I am very pleased indeed that we have been able to begin the process of helping the development and oversight of the “Low Intensity” psychological professions and think they are a wonderful addition to the Psychological Professions in the NHS and beyond.

Of course all of this raises the not entirely unrelated issue of the extent of statutory regulation of psychological therapy, psychotherapy, counselling and so on, but that’s a discussion for another day!

Best wishes, Paul

IAPT

Selling out?

Richard Hallam posts…

The most recent 2021-22 BPS Strategic Framework announces that it has become a registering organisation, along with BABCP, “for the wellbeing practitioner workforce and beyond.” (It’s not clear what ‘beyond’ means here). The presence of this new workforce has major implications for existing practitioner psychologists in terms of competition (with a cheaper employee) and with being given the extra job, in most cases, of management/supervision. I am not aware of any consultation with BPS members over this new policy or any attempt to solicit views about it. Personally, I do not think that training a large number of these mental health workers (PWPs) is good policy-making but there are also serious questions over protection of the public. It is claimed by the BPS that they will work with the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), but the job of this organisation is to oversee actual professional regulators and, at present, there is no regulator for PWPs. The BABCP, which also registers them, devolves regulation on to a PWP’s professional body (e.g., the nursing code of conduct is applied if the PWP happens to be a nurse). However, a PWP does not necessarily belong to a professional association or, for that matter, have any academic qualification in psychology. The BABCP website states that they, along with the BPS, “have equivalent processes for addressing complaints or problems.” What are they? The BABCP refers complainants to other professional bodies when it is possible to do so or to the employer of the PWP complained about. Failing that, they have an investigative committee whose worst sanction is to terminate registration. They do not aim to provide redress to the complainant or offer to retrain PWPs who fall below required standards. In other words, there is no actual commitment to a cadre of workers, as might be obtained from Union membership. BABCP states that registered PWPs are not allowed to work in private practice (how is that monitored?) but they can work for private companies who provide mental health services (is there really much difference?). In 2009, the BPS surrendered any regulatory role to the HCPC, whose functions are confined to specified groups of practitioners (certainly not PWPs). Around 2009, other counselling and psychotherapy organisations lobbied Parliament and fought a successful battle not to come under HCPC regulation. This was wise in retrospect because the PSA, in its latest audit of the HCPC, gave it a rating of 1 out of 4 on its ‘fitness to practice’ work. The BPS has no role in investigating complaints and, like the BABCP, it can only de-register a PWP. It is not clear what the BPS gets out of this arrangement apart from a registration fee. Meanwhile, their loyal and un-consulted membership is loaded down with something they had no say over.

"The Psychologist", Governance, IAPT

The BPS and IAPT – another failure?

We publish below (in full) a post from another blog – CBT Watch (http://www.cbtwatch.com) – which reflects the very same sort of issues that we have been raising in this blog over the past few months. We are grateful to Mike Scott for this succinct critique of the BPS’s approach to a matter of significant public policy in respect of mental health service provision. We also thank him for allowing us to re-post this.

The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) Programme and the British Psychological Society (BPS)

The BPS has enthusiastically supported IAPT from its inception in 2008.  Improving access to psychological therapies is clearly a laudable goal, as most people with a mental health problem are not offered psychological therapy. The Society has led the course accreditation process for IAPT’s Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners (PWPs) low-intensity training since 2009. Features on individual PWP’s have featured periodically in the pages of The Psychologist. In 2009, The Psychologist published a letter from the then President of the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (BABCP) stating that BPS members on the IAPT Education and Training Project Group supported BABCP’s accreditation of high intensity training programmes and noted that there were BPS members on the Accreditation Oversight group.

But the enthusiasm of BPS to give away psychological therapy has not been matched by a concern to listen to the concerns of service users. Specifically:

  1. At no point has BPS suggested that it is inappropriate for IAPT to mark its own homework. The latter’s reliance entirely on self-report measures completed often in the presence of the IAPT therapist, should have had any self-respecting psychologist crying ‘foul’ and calling for independent assessment. 
  2. A concern for service users, should have led BPS to insist that a primary outcome measure must be clearly intelligible to the client. But there has been no specification of what a change in X as opposed to a change of Y would mean to a client on the chosen yardsticks of the PHQ-9 and GAD-7. 
  3. BPS has been strangely mute on the fact that two self-report measures have been pressed into service to validate IAPT’s approach, with no suggestion that such an approach needs to be complemented by independent clinician assessments that go beyond the confines of the 2 disorders (depression and generalised anxiety disorder) that the chosen measures address.
  4. If a drug company alone extolled the virtues of its psychotropic drug, BPS members would quite rightly cry ‘foul’ insisting on independent blind assessment using a standardised reliable diagnostic interview. But from the BPS  there has been a deafening silence on the need for methodological rigour when evaluating psychological therapy. This reached its zenith In the latest issue of The Psychologist, September 2021, when the Chief Executive of an Artificial Intelligence Company, was allowed to extol the virtues of its collaboration with four IAPT services. No countervailing view was sought by The Psychologist, despite it being obvious that the supposed gains were all in operational matters e.g. reduced time for assessment, with no evidence that the AI has made a clinically relevant difference to client’s lives.

In 2014 I raised these concerns in an article ‘IAPT – The Emperor Has No Clothes’ I submitted to the Editor of The Psychologist which was rejected and he wrote thus ‘I also think the topic of IAPT, at this time and in this form, is one that might struggle to truly engage and inform our large and diverse audience’. This response was breathtaking given that IAPT was/is the largest employer of psychologists. 

Fast forward to 2018 and I wrote and had published in 2018 a paper ‘IAPT – The Need for Radical Reform’ https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318755264 published in the Journal of Health Psychology, presenting data that of 90 IAPT clients I assessed independently using a standardised diagnostic interview only 10% recovered in the sense that they lost their diagnostic status, this contrasts with IAPT’s claimed 50% recovery rate. The Editor of the Journal devoted a whole issue to the IAPT debate complete with rebuttals and rejoinders. But no mention of this at all in the pages of The Psychologist.

It appears that BPS operates with a confirmation bias and is unwilling to consider data that contradicts their chosen position. If psychologists cannot pick out the log in their own eye how can they pick out the splinter in others. In 2021 I wrote a rebuttal of an IAPT inspired paper that was published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, ‘Ensuring IAPT Does What It says On The Tin’, https://doi.org/10.1111/bjc.12264 but again no mention of this debate in The Psychologist

In my view the BPS is guilty of a total dereliction of duty to mental health service users in failing to facilitate a critique of IAPT. It has an unholy alliance with BABCP who are similarly guilty. Both organisations act in a totalitarian manner.

Dr Mike Scott (CBT Watch)

Blog Administrator note: An additional two sentences which had been omitted in the editing process have been added to point 4 (24 August 2021).