James McCartney Executive Director

The  bridge between educational research on learning and therapy needs further expansion.  Learning is a life-long discovery. We are born to learn. Yet for some people adjustment to an ever-changing environment can become a difficult reality.  The earliest approaches to psychology were philosophical. That focus on introspection now deemed reflection in adulthood education is also a pivotal component of therapy. There is no doubt that a key therapeutic objective is to help people adapt and change their behaviour patterns in a transformational way. Honesty and environment play an important part in the behavioural paradigm shift of change. However, the immediate reaction to change can often be met with copious amounts of negative emotions, such as anger, denial, desperation, and particularly a sense of confusion that triggers, in psychological terms, a state of cognitive dissonance.  Or in other words a conflict of beliefs and ideas, creating contradiction and a state of cognitive disequilibrium. Moreover a cognitive equilibrium is needed in the transitional states of change. There is no doubt that environmental triggers can debilitate the cognitive process. Hence you can see why a residential setting can be useful in giving people the space for intuitive evaluation of self and past behaviours, equally, providing a socio dynamic of reinforcement in the change process with elements of reward and consequence for progression and deviation.  However, reinforcement learning outside the rehab can be weakened over time as the brain adjusts again to a rehab free environment.

Within drug and alcohol treatment throughout the UK there is an increase in day PSI’s utilising a comprehensive and impressive framework of psychological theories. Yet we often work with cohorts of people who struggle with the cognitive process and the ability to adapt to change. Adapting and changing your mind according to the situation is tricky and needs a lot of conscious effort. Over the years I have watched how levels of stress can increase as people progress within recovery as   they have to navigate the brain’s executive functioning in new situations. More research is needed within educational psychology on the learning dynamic within the adult domain. Educational psychology needs to bypass its protective walls and provide a greater contribution in the therapeutic domain. Prolific histories of substance abuse in adolescence have created turbulence in the transitional stage into adulthood.

This can create problems in rehabilitating some people into the workforce. Hence we need to expand that bridge between educational psychology and therapy to facilitate a deeper learning in occupational psychology. The challenge we face with our recovery models is how to provide employment opportunities for adults with sporadic work histories at best and non-existent work histories at worst? Our clients remain central to our learning with our determination to provide greater opportunities for those who have limited work experience as prolific histories of substance addiction has excluded them from the labour market.

I am amazed at the limited research in occupational psychology on implicit learning and memory. The workplace requires a broad range of motor, perceptual and cognitive skills. There is a need for longitudinal research in occupational psychology that can provide a greater understanding of people adapting to the work environment with protracted former histories of substance misuse from adolescence onwards. Conversely this necessitates that bridge expansion in a holistic paradigm of   education, supervision and  a therapeutic model influencing  organisational/ occupational psychology research.

In recent years there has been an increased focus on undiagnosed ADHD in adults.  Many I know also have been addicts. Often you see atypical behaviours with comorbidity   in our client group. The result of hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive symptoms can provide a problematic challenge in the post rehab stage as people search for work. Conversely this is a great opportunity for occupational psychology to broaden its research horizon.