As a semi-retired clinical psychologist, I find it depressing that Dr Sanah Ahsan’s article (I’m a psychologist – and I believe we’ve been told devastating lies about mental health, 6 September) should sound so revolutionary. When I trained in the early 1980s, a module entitled “community psychology” was part of the curriculum and addressed the very issues she raises. Like Ahsan, some of us were inspired to challenge the system alongside treating our patients’ mental distress. Unsurprisingly, the module didn’t survive the rise of individualism characterised by the Thatcher years.
When, 20 years later, I became a trainer of clinical psychologists, I was surprised and disappointed by how few of my younger colleagues engaged with the impact that structural, socio-economic issues had on our patients’ mental health. The role of clinical psychology had become one of picking up the pieces. Thus we inadvertently reinforced the idea that mental disturbance was the individual’s responsibility. Constraints in our role, with an increasing emphasis on therapeutic work, made it almost impossible to address how structural issues could be ameliorated – for example, by bringing a psychological perspective to community efforts aimed at effecting change.
I am pleased to see young psychologists re-engaging with these issues. My fear is that, in acknowledging that there are limitations to what therapy can achieve, a cynical government might use it as an excuse to cut the already inadequate provision of help for psychological problems.
Dr Susan Howard
• Have an opinion on anything you’ve read in the Guardian today? Please email us your letter and it will be considered for publication.