Clinical psychologists should refuse to detain patients, academic urges

Clinical psychologists should refuse to take on new powers to detain psychiatric patients, an academic has urged

New government mental health law means clinical psychologists will be required to implement “social control”, argues Dr David Harper, a clinical psychologist and senior lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of East London.

A mental health bill currently going through parliament will enable clinical psychologists, after training, to become “clinical supervisors”. This means that they will have powers to compulsory detain and treat patients. Presently they do not have such powers.

But writing in last month’s Clinical Psychology Forum magazine, Dr Harper argues that by taking up such powers it would mean clinical psychologists being further implicated in a “discriminatory” and “unjust” mental health system.

He warns that because the new law would be flawed and “coercive” clinical psychologists will end up having to detain patients “because there are no alternatives”

He also says planned community treatment orders, which clinical psychologists would have to powers to implement, would place “unprecedented” control over patients.

Dr Harper wrote: “Rather than accept these proposals [the mental health bill] as they are, I would argue that we should refuse to take on compulsory powers until these flaws have been addressed.”

The government argues its mental health bill, which will extend compulsory powers of detention over the mentally ill even if they have decision-making capacity, will both provide a better service to patients while better protecting the public,

But Dr Harper argues that allegedly dangerous patients who have committed no crime but who have decision-making capacity should be handled under criminal, not mental health, law.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) supports proposals for clinical psychologists to become clinical supervisors, arguing it would enable patients to benefit more from psychological interventions.

Earlier this month when debating the bill, peers in the House of Lords voted by a majority of 106 that psychiatric patients should have an impairment of decision-making ability before being compulsory treated. The bill does not include such a condition.

The bill is to next go before MPs in the House of Commons who will vote on the planned law.

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