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Q&A with Susan Llewelyn and David Murphy

With the British Psychological Society Annual Conference underway, we checked in with Susan Llewelyn, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford, and David Murphy, Joint Course Director for Oxford Doctoral Course in Clinical Psychology. We spoke to the co-editors of What is Clinical Psychology? about psychosis, provision of care, and careers in clinical psychology.

When did you first become interested in clinical psychology?

Sue: When I was an undergraduate studying psychology, I realised clinical psychology was by far the most interesting aspect of psychology. I was particularly interested in psychosis and what “madness” was.

David: Although I covered aspects of mental health in my undergraduate degree, I don’t think I really decided to pursue clinical psychology as a career option until I began working as an assistant psychologist and saw the range of different roles for clinical psychologists in the NHS. I worked for a while in a residential centre for people with epilepsy and became fascinated with the relationship between the brain and behaviour.

What do you think has been the most important development in clinical psychology in the past 100 years?

Sue: Probably the articulation of the cognitive, or information processing model of human behaviour and emotion, to balance the biological or the psychodynamic.

David: Clinical psychology is still such a young discipline that almost all the developments were within the last 100 years and most within the last 50 years. I think the pioneering work in behaviour therapy by Vic Meyer and others, helped open up the notion that psychological therapy could be effective in severe and intractable psychiatric problems like OCD and really changed the role of the clinical psychologist.

doctor patient mental health

What is the most pressing or controversial issue in clinical psychology right now?

Sue: How we can deliver high quality clinical psychology services to meet all the so far unmet need.

David: I agree with Sue, we know from epidemiological surveys that there are large numbers of people with mental health problems who don’t or cant access services. We need to be better at using the resources to provide the most effective and responsive services we can; this often means trying to intervene early.

How might your current research have an impact on the wider world?

Sue: I am not sure I can be that grandiose! But our work tries to show how psychologically grounded ideas can make a big difference in people’s lives, and how taking the psychological realm seriously can improve the nature of the health care that can be offered to people in distress.

David: I agree with Sue; hopefully reading about the applications of psychology in practice across a diverse range of settings might inspire the next generation of clinical psychologists to pursue what is quite a long and challenging path into the profession.

Which famous psychologist has been most influential to you?

Sue: My friend and colleague Professor Glenys Parry in Sheffield has helped me to understand two important areas of psychological functioning: first how broad social and political influences shape the psychological (particularly how social and political gender issues become internalised and intimately lived by individuals), and second, how both the insights of psychodynamic, interpersonal therapies and CBT therapies can be effective combined to maximise how much we can help people.

David: That’s a really tough one! I’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of really inspirational psychologists through my career to date and, of course, many psychologists I haven’t met have influenced me through their work. One person who stands out on a personal level to me is Padmal De Silva who was my clinical tutor during training in London. Padmal was an internationally renowned expert in an array of areas; obsessive compulsive disorder, sexual and marital therapy, post-traumatic stress and Buddhist psychology. One of the most intelligent people I have ever met, he was also one of the most kind and humble. He always seemed to have time for people, even us trainees, and was genuinely interested in what they had to say. I feel very privileged that now in Oxford I have responsibility for training the clinical psychologists of the future and I am fortunate to have Padmal and others as role-models to aspire to.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to specialize in your field?

Sue: Try to be open minded about ideas: you can gain insights about the human condition from so many places including the newspapers, politics, art and literature, and conversations with friends, as well as psychology textbooks.

David: Read my OUPblog post “Five top tips to getting into Clinical Psychology” tomorrow!

What do you see as being the future of research in your field in the next decade?

Sue: We may be able to track more carefully what are the important components of our interventions, so that we can tailor what we offer more precisely to our clients

David: Wow, there are no easy questions, are there! I think research in psychological therapies, at least, will need to be not only carried out with larger sample sizes with longer follow ups but also with very detailed analysis of individual factors and therapy process factors to really enable us to answer the question “what works for whom”.

If you weren’t teaching clinical psychology, what would you be doing?

Sue: Reading really beautifully written literature, and also walking with friends and family in the mountains

David: Learning about clinical psychology! I’ve always found teaching to be just a natural extension of learning and practicing, if I can pass on what I’ve learned to trainees then hopefully I will hopefully have contributed in some way to them going out and generating more knowledge and innovative practice. I do have a life outside Psychology though, and in that life I enjoy playing football (even though I’m still not very good at it) and travelling to new places with my family.

Susan Llewelyn is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, and Senior Research Fellow, Harris Manchester College, Oxford.  David Murphy is the Joint Course Director of the University of Oxford Clinical Psychology Doctoral Training Programme. They are co-editors of the new edition of What is Clinical Psychology?

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Image credit: Teenage Girl Visits Female Doctor’s Office Suffering With Depression. © monkeybusinessimages via iStockphoto.

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