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All change for psychologists

Educational psychologists are poised for a makeover and are being urged to see their role as "community psychology", linking home, school and community.

Anxious about their future as the drive towards integrated services continues apace, psychologists came together in Dundee last Friday to discuss their future. The rethink comes as they face inspection for the first time, an innovation now being piloted in Dundee and Renfrewshire.

Making the case for change, Tommy MacKay of Psychology Consultancy Services said psychologists had to respond to rising mental health problems among young people and the increasing social divisions in the country. The traditional one-to-one approach was no longer enough to combat "large-scale, socially based problems".

Pointing out that educational psychology is the only service to work at the three levels of child and family, school and education authority, Mr MacKay said it also had the strongest links with health, social work and other services.

"It is therefore unique and central to the integration of multi-agency working," Mr MacKay said. The expertise and research base of educational psychology had much to offer.

David Fryer, reader in psychology at Stirling University, took a similar view and commented: "It is an occupational hazard of psychologists to tend to default to individualism, psychologisation and victim blaming. Working with non-psychologists can be a useful preventative strategy."

Mr MacKay warned, however, that some forms of integrated services could narrow and marginalise the remit of psychologists. He cited the warning of a colleague in England: "The threat is that we will lose our premises, our principal, our area teams and much of psychology itself."

But the conference heard high-powered endorsement of what psychologists can offer in the brave new world of integrated services. Stella Perrott, head of the youth justice and children's hearings division in the Scottish Executive Education Department, said the status quo was not an option because "the present systems are not serving children and their families well".

There should be "a shared approach to resolving concerns - not passing a child on from one professional to another, but drawing professionals to that child".

Children were often "endlessly assessed", and too often this did not lead to plans being put in place to improve their situation. "The purpose of assessments should be to determine what help should be given, not whether the child should be given help," Ms Perrott commented.

Bernadette Malone, chief executive of Perth and Kinross Council, cautioned psychologists not to become hung up on structures. "It's the connections we make across our organisations that matter, not professional protectionism,"

Ms Malone declared.

Integration of services would open up new opportunities: supporting excluded youngsters, a more proactive role with a shift in focus to preventative work, and the chance to become more involved in evaluating what goes on in the classroom.

The latest figures show that, while there are more psychologists than ever before (some 400), there are also more vacancies: one in 10 posts is unfilled.

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