Thursday, June 07, 2018

The roots of medical psychology

I’ve mentioned before (eg. see previous post) that I am doing a PhD in psychology at Cambridge University. It’s probably just as well that I’m in the psychology department rather than psychiatry, considering how critical I’ve been of some of the emphasis within the psychiatry department (eg. see previous post).

What may be of interest is that it was actually the psychology department that first started psychiatric training at Cambridge University with the setting up of a Diploma in Psychological Medicine (DPM) course in 1912. It only lasted until 1927 (although no students had enrolled on the course for two years before it was abolished - the lack of popularity due maybe partly to being able to avoid being examined in psychology and neurology by going elsewhere). But the intention had been to make Cambridge the “national centre for the education of psychiatrists” (Forrester & Cameron, 2017: 248).

One of the main driving forces was Charles Myers, who set up the Psychological Laboratory at Cambridge. After the war, he wanted to develop the medical, educational and industrial aspects of psychology. He left Cambridge in 1922, at least partly because of the lack of support for psychology within medicine, physiology and philosophy.

Cambridge psychology needs to be reminded of this root in medical psychology. The British Psychological Society closed the British Journal of Medical Psychology in 2001 and continued it as Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice the following year. The first editorial of the newly titled journal said that “the term ‘medical psychology’ is itself becoming anachronistic”. I’m not convinced psychology should be quite so dismissive of this aspect of its history.

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