The new issue of *British Medical Journal* includes an article: “The rise of the pop psychologists.” The author is Margaret McCartney. Here are some excerpts from the article:

[begin excerpts]

Soundbites, opinion, and statements from experts are integral to many newspaper stories and magazine television programmes. Psychological and psychiatric comment are often sought, be it for a morning television programme featuring the motivations of celebrities or whether Anders Breivik, the Norwegian on trial for mass murder, is sane. Informed debate and information sharing necessitates that healthcare expertise should be used. But what is appropriate for healthcare professionals to comment on, and who is best qualified to take the call? So called celebrity psychology—used to explain or discuss behaviour—is burgeoning in the entertainment industry, and central to many reality TV shows. Emma Kenny, who has a psychology degree and is a member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, says on her website that she has been “resident psychologist” on many television shows. On ITV’s This Morning she appeared with Samantha Brick, who had written an article stating that she is disliked by many women because she is attractive. In the discussion Kenny said, “If, as a person, everywhere I go, I am met with a certain reaction from people … I have to embrace the fact that actually it might be me that needs to change and not the society around me. The very fact that you are entertaining these relationships with people—you instantly have a paranoia.”1

Kenny runs a service called Exclusive Ethics, which helps programme makers to work within the 2009 Ofcom broadcasting code (the code contains provisions designed to ensure the emotional welfare of television participants), and offers to compile psychological profiles of contestants. One of Kenny’s other media appearances was in a webchat, sponsored by a disposable nappy company, for the parenting advice website Netmums (www.netmums.com) as a “potty training expert child psychologist.”2 Another commentator with extensive media appearances, Jo Hemmings, has a degree in psychology and is a member of the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies. Her website is called Celebrity Psychologist (http://celebritypsychologist.co.uk), and its homepage reads, “If a Celeb, sports or reality TV star is having a personal or professional crisis or meltdown, or simply behaving in an uncharacteristic or newsworthy way, Jo can provide immediate, expert and informed psychological comment.”3 When I asked Hemmings by email for a list of her qualifications she replied, “It would appear … that you are questioning in some way whether certain media psychologists/psychiatrists actually have the necessary qualifications for what they do?  Personally, I don’t feel the need to verify my credentials for a feature that appears to want to discredit a growing area of psychology and one that reaches out to a large audience.” Hemmings and Kenny are yet to register with the regulatory body the Health Professions Council. Is this the best way to engage the public with comment on mental health? Petra Boynton has a doctoral degree in applied human psychology, and, although a frequent media commentator, she makes it clear to journalists on her website that “I can’t help with discussing celebrities … endorsing story ideas, products or services that are not based in evidence.”4 She is frustrated about the way some media psychologists operate. “One of the ethical guidelines for all health professionals is that you are supposed to speak only within your area.  Some practitioners seem to run outside that.” Another problem is how up to date a commentator might be, or if they are having, as is common to psychologists, ongoing supervision. She says, “The British Psychological Society say that there shouldn’t be direct psychological comment on the behaviour of celebrities, but they don’t enforce it.” Indeed, the society says in its ethics and media guidance that “members who work with the media or participate in media productions are encouraged to uphold professional standards [including] … refraining from public comment on the behaviour or psychology of identifiable individuals where there is any risk of offence, distress or other harms.”5 Since “any risk” could never be excluded, this surely means that comment on celebrities is off limits. The other problem Boynton notes is that journalists often push her to go beyond her expertise. Meantime, fair and accurate press coverage was generated after Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine at King’s College Londowww.netmums.com) as a “potty training expert child psychologist.”2 Another commentator with extensive media appearances, Jo Hemmings, has a degree in psychology and is a member of the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies. Her website is called Celebrity Psychologist (http://celebritypsychologist.co.uk), and its homepage reads, “If a Celeb, sports or reality TV star is having a personal or professional crisis or meltdown, or simply behaving in an uncharacteristic or newsworthy way, Jo can provide immediate, expert and informed psychological comment.”3 When I asked Hemmings by email for a list of her qualifications she replied, “It would appear … that you are questioning in some way whether certain media psychologists/psychiatrists actually have the necessary qualifications for what they do?  Personally, I don’t feel the need to verify my credentials for a feature that appears to want to discredit a growing area of psychology and one that reaches out to a large audience.” Hemmings and Kenny are yet to register with the regulatory body the Health Professions Council. Is this the best way to engage the public with comment on mental health? Petra Boynton has a doctoral degree in applied human psychology, and, although a frequent media commentator, she makes it clear to journalists on her website that “I can’t help with discussing celebrities … endorsing story ideas, products or services that are not based in evidence.”4 She is frustrated about the way some media psychologists operate. “One of the ethical guidelines for all health professionals is that you are supposed to speak only within your area.  Some practitioners seem to run outside that.” Another problem is how up to date a commentator might be, or if they are having, as is common to psychologists, ongoing supervision. She says, “The British Psychological Society say that there shouldn’t be direct psychological comment on the behaviour of celebrities, but they don’t enforce it.” Indeed, the society says in its ethics and media guidance that “members who work with the media or participate in media productions are encouraged to uphold professional standards [including] … refraining from public comment on the behaviour or psychology of identifiable individuals where there is any risk of offence, distress or other harms.”5 Since “any risk” could never be excluded, this surely means that comment on celebrities is off limits. The other problem Boynton notes is that journalists often push her to go beyond her expertise. Meantime, fair and accurate press coverage was generated after Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine at King’s College London, wrote an editorial in the Lancet entitled “Anders Breivik, the public, and psychiatry.”6 This allowed for a clear, evidence based, and reasonably lengthy explanation of the issues surrounding capacity, mental illness, and mass murder. However, much of the comment on mental health in the media operates in quite a different way.

[end excerpts]

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