In the early 1990s I was invited to join a working committee of the then NSW Psychologists Registration Board. The committee had been charged with the task of writing a Code of Ethics for the Board. My academic appointment at the University of Newcastle was in the field of philosophy and this ‘applied task’ allocated to the committee had an attraction to me as I had an interest in so-called ‘applied ethics’. Indeed, in 1992 I had published a paper sceptical of the notion of ‘applied’ ethics (“Back to Basics: Problems and Prospects in Applied Philosophy”, Journal of Applied Philosophy, 9). The committee successfully completed its job, despite my scepticism that what we were doing was not about ethics but about morals (in this I was ‘channelling’ the famous Scottish-Australian Professor of Philosophy at Sydney University 1927-1958, John Anderson!). However, the job was done, the Code (of ‘Ethics’) was adopted by the Board - and it survived for quite some time.
In 1998 I was invited to submit an Expression of Interest to be appointed to the Board, accepted that invitation and the Australian Psychological Society duly nominated me. I was appointed in the category of being ‘a psychologist who is practising in NSW and a member of a NSW Branch of the Society’. Except for periods of absence in connection with what was then called Sabbatical Leave, I participated in the work of the Board which combined a registration function and a disciplinary function. The latter serviced ‘high end’ matters deemed so by the Professional Standards Committees which sat more or less as Tribunals do today. They were formed from Board members and chaired by Board members who were working psychologists. When the so called ‘unified national system’ came into being in 2010 by the passing of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (NSW), I continued with an appointment to the NSW Board of the Psychology Board of Australia and later to the Psychology Council of NSW. I had various re-appointments as the new system bedded in, the last of which was as a nominee of the Australian Clinical Psychological Association for which body I served a period as Chair of the Ethics Committee. This latter appointment (i.e. the present one as I write), will have expired when you read this current article. I did not make an Expression of Interest to continue beyond my last three year appointment.
The work of the Boards and Councils is interesting, not overly onerous for someone with the time, but also not a ‘doddle’. One gets to work with very experienced psychologists and other people engaged in varied fields of work and professional life other than psychology. The focus of the work is on individual psychologists in what is essentially a complaint-drive process. However, there has been a recent and interesting if, at this stage, modest shift in Council’s need to address matters arising out of reality TV series in which psychologists have been employed. Another, has been the problem of psychologists getting their professional role mixed up with their religious beliefs and practices (of whatever persuasion). Where this may end up from the perspective of Council and its responsibilities is anybody’s guess! However, it would be helpful to the work of the Council and the profession of psychology if practitioners had a look at recent Council newsletters where these matters have been addressed, so as to avoid falling into these difficulties.
The ‘hands on’ administrative staff have all been excellent and have provided not only effective and timely support but, in many cases, wise advice and counsel. In the ‘old days’ the Board was serviced by a registrar and a small number of staff who almost always fitted the last description. This was a ‘team’ who embraced the role of putting into practical effect determinations of the Board and Council and had a strong allegiance and commitment to the Board, more recently the Council. The milieu was one of service, not control and bureaucracy-building.
I have enjoyed my association with both the Board and Council over many years, learned a great deal, and will hopefully be judged as having given, if not a ‘lot’, at least a reasonable amount. I have met and worked with some very talented individuals who, in my experience have worked as collaborative teams, despite their differences, and administrative staff who in many cases, in my perception, have gone beyond what was their ‘statement of duties’ as we called it when I was a Public Servant – in assisting us. I wish the new Council members the very best. It has been for me a most interesting journey and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have had it.