Deconstructing Personal-Professional Development in UK Clinical Psychology: Disciplining the Interdisciplinarity of Lived Experience

By Louise Goodbody and Jan Burns.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Personal-professional development (PPD) is central to clinical psychology in the UK. A qualitative research study of the disciplining role of psychological discourses about PPD and their contribution to perpetuating social power inequalities was conducted. Interviews with ten clinical psychologists from minority and majority groups in the profession were subjected to a critical analysis that theoretically interrogated power relations and identities in their PPD stories.

Wider societal power relations were reproduced in the psychologists’ narratives. For participants from Black and minority ethnic (BME) and working class backgrounds, there were tensions between personal and professional identities arising from experiences of discrimination. They drew on social discourses outside mainstream psychology to create meaning and coherence. Contrastingly, men, a small minority in the profession, constructed majority narratives resourced largely by individualised models of PPD. Greatest congruence occurred for White women, the professional majority, whose subjectivities and PPD discourses closely mirrored each other.

The research findings are discussed from a Foucauldian perspective on the disciplining role of professional knowledge using two case examples to illustrate individuals' idiographic management of power relations. PPD can be seen as on of psychology's technologies for regulation of unequal social relations via practices of the self. BME psychologists challenged the dominant discourses of PPD whilst the paradox of individualism (that its diversity generates innovative contestations of power) was evident in some White psychologists’ narratives. In spite of PPD being a conservative epistemic process, there are possibilities for new knowledge creation when psychological practitioners generate alternative discursive affordances derived from their own experiences. However, a significant distinction remains in the positioning of the disciplinary power of psychology: BME psychologists often took a transformational position to resist psychology’s role in minimising their experiences of social inequality, whereas majority psychologists were concerned with psychology assimilating a greater diversity of knowledges, but without second order change.

Keywords: Clinical Psychology, Professional Development, Foucault, Narrative, Minorities, Critical

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 9, pp.295-310. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 651.663KB).

Dr. Louise Goodbody

Year Director, Doctoral Programme in Clinical Psychology, Department of Applied Psychology, Canterbury Christ Church University, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK

My main interests are in the social psychology of social inequalities and diversity, professional development and learning, service user and carer involvement in higher education, and critical community psychology. My first degree in English and Psychology from Keele Unversity also included a wide range of other subjects (eg. Astronomy) and only involved specialising in the final year. I trained as a clinical psychologist at Exeter University, distinctive for its community, systemic and critical perspectives on psychological problems. This multiperspectived and cross-disciplinary grounding has shaped my commitments to learning, knowledge and practice throughout my career as a clinical psychologist working with adults and manager in the National Health Service, and as an educator on a professional doctorate programme.

Prof. Jan Burns

Joint Programme Director, Department of Applied Psychology, Canterbury Christ Church University, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK

Professor Jan Burns is a clinical psychologist by background, specialising in working with people with learning disabilities. She is currently co-director of the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Head of the Department of Applied Psychology, at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her other research interests include professional training and education, forensic, gender and sports and disabilities.


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