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UEL psychologists contribute to new British Psychological Society policy document

Education On The Edge

Academics call for a rethink on mental health diagnoses

By Lee Pinkerton

Academics and associates from the University of East London’s (UEL) School of Psychology have contributed to a new policy document from the British Psychology Society (BPS).

Professor John Read, Professor Nimisha Patel, Dr David Harper, Dr Maria Castro Romero, and emeritus professor Mary Boyle, as well as honorary doctorate holder Jacqui Dillion, participated in producing 'The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Beyond Diagnosis to Meaning-based Patterns in Emotional Distress'.

Dr David Harper, Reader in Clinical Psychology at UEL, said, “It is a major attempt to develop a non-medicalised way of thinking about psychological distress, based on a review of a wide range of research. 

“It is based on the idea that people’s experiences of distress can be understood as responses to a range of threats to human needs caused by adversities in life, adversities which are related to social inequalities (and thus power relations in society).”

'The Power Threat Meaning Framework' synthesises evidence about the causal roles of power, evolved threat responses, social discourses, and personal meanings and narratives. It is the culmination of a project to construct a conceptual alternative to the medical and diagnostic model of mental health difficulties and distress. 

It is intended to provide the basis for an ongoing series of developments in clinical practice, service design and commissioning, training, research, service user/carer/survivor work, and public education. 

'The Power Threat Meaning Framework' was launched at an event at The Friends Meeting House in central London in January. 

At the event, psychologist argued that doctors and psychiatrists should be asking their patients not ‘what is wrong with you?’ but rather ‘what has happened to you?’

John Read, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at UEL said, “Research has long demonstrated that psychiatric diagnoses, like ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘personality disorder’ are extremely subjective and have little or no scientific basis. Many of them are also extremely stigmatising and the reactions of other people to these labels can be a significant barrier to recovery for many people.”

“We are proud that UEL has played a significant role in such an important development and hope that it will make a real difference in people’s lives by helping to create mental health services that actually respond to what is going on in people’s lives.”

The full document can be accessed online.

Pictured from left to right - back row  = Dr David Harper, Ms Jacqui Dillion, and Professor John Read. Front row = Professor Mary Boyle, service user consultancy group member Sam Shakes, Dr Maria Castro Romero, and Professor Nimisha Patel,  ,