Forgotten role of community psychology in the treatment of mental illness | Letter

As a semi-retired clinical psychologist, I find it depressing that the article by Dr. Sanah Ahsan (I’m a psychologist – and I believe we’ve been told devastating lies about mental health, September 6) seems so groundbreaking. During my training in the early 1980s, a module entitled “community psychology” was part of the curriculum and addressed the very issues it raises. Like Ahsan, some of us have been inspired to challenge the system while dealing with the mental distress of our patients. Unsurprisingly, the module did not survive the rise of individualism characterized by the Thatcher years.

When, 20 years later, I became a trainer of clinical psychologists, I was surprised and disappointed at how few of my young colleagues were interested in the impact of structural and socio-economic problems on the mental health of our patients. . The role of clinical psychology had become that of putting the pieces back together. Thus, we have unwittingly reinforced the idea that mental disorders are the responsibility of the individual. The constraints of our role, with an increasing focus on therapeutic work, made it almost impossible to address how structural issues could be improved – for example, by bringing a psychological perspective to community efforts to effect change.

I am happy to see young psychologists re-engage with these issues. My fear is that by recognizing that there are limits to what therapy can accomplish, a cynical government might use it as an excuse to cut off the already inadequate supply of help for psychological problems.
Dr Susan Howard
Guilford, Surrey

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