‘Applying Critical Psychology: Or starting a support and advocacy group for people with dementia who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans’ by Professor Elizabeth Peel

Critical psychologies share two common concerns. One is a critical perspective on the theory and methods of mainstream psychology: ‘[critical psychology] believes that psychology has adopted a paradigm of inquiry that is ill-suited to understanding human behaviour and experience’ (Sampson, 2000: 1). The field is concerned to undermine the positivist-empiricism of mainstream psychology, which has been (and continues to be) used to deter social change and to buttress the status quo; it is argued that traditional liberal norms of research ‘provide ideological support to dominant institutions and channel psychologists’ work and resources in system-maintaining rather than system-challenging directions’ (Fox, 2000: 22).  The other key concern is with progressive politics in some form; aligning with oppressed groups and urging psychology to work towards social justice. Or as Prilleltensky (1999: 100) puts it, critical psychology ‘is critical of society as much as it is critical of psychology’. According to Prilleltensky (1999) critical psychology is premised on the view that the current societal status quo oppresses various social groups and that conventional psychology is a tool in maintaining the status quo, because of this critical research should be a more practical endeavour. Critical psychologists are also united in opposition to conventional psychology, because of mainstream psychology’s ‘history of racism, sexism, heterosexism…[and] with its modernist pretensions to scientific expertise, is not a platform from which we wish to speak’ (Condor, 1997: 112). The consensus within critical psychology is a tentative one, but psychologists claiming criticality do, according to Condor (1997: 111), share common interests which include: ‘an attack on universalistic assumptions of human nature; a critique of individualism; an interest in social context and a broad commitment to contructionism; and a concern with text and talk’. Therefore, the gaze of critical psychology is directed both inwards, towards the discipline of psychology aiming to undermine and critique its research questions, theory, and methods, and also outwards, to society with the goal of  ‘be[ing] used at the service of the oppressed’ (Prilleltensky, 1999: 103).

So in the service of the oppressed I am in the process of setting up a support and/or advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people with dementia, in partnership with the University of Worcester Association for Dementia Studies, Birmingham LGBT Centre for Health and Wellbeing and PACE Health London. We know that LGBT people with dementia are especially marginalised communities and that the issues impacting LGBT people with dementia are under represented (read: largely absent) in generic dementia groups and charities (Alzheimer’s Society, 2013). What haven’t been heard, to date, are the voices of LGBT people with dementia themselves. The nominally titled ‘Over the Rainbow’ project aims to offer:

1) an opportunity for LGBT people with dementia to come together in safe spaces;
2) facilitate intergenerational dialogue, support and advocacy;
3) allow the voices of LGBT people with dementia to be heard beyond the life-time of the project (via ongoing ‘dementia rainbow friends’ buddying, and online representation).

By working collaboratively with Birmingham LGBT Centre and PACE Health London my hope is that the ‘Over the Rainbow’ project will become embedded in the work of these third sector organizations and therefore sustainable over the longer-term.

The project is funded by DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project), in partnership with Innovations in Dementia, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Mental Health and Foundation and supported by Comic Relief.

With luck this project will create significant opportunities for LGBT people with dementia, and their carers, to self-advocate and raise the profile of this group of people with dementia both within generic dementia organizations and within LGBT communities. But first, there is the considerable challenge in reaching out to this hidden population. If you have any contacts or links, or would like to get involved do contact me on e.peel@worc.ac.uk Twitter: @ProfPeel

References

Condor, S. (1997) And So Say All of Us?:  Some thought on ‘experiential democratization’ as an aim for critical social psychologists. In T. Ibáñez & L. Íñiguez (Eds.) (1997) Critical Social Psychology. (pp. 111-146) London: Sage.

Fox, D. (2000). The Critical Psychology Project: Transforming society and transforming psychology. In T. Sloan (Ed.) Critical Psychology: Voices for change. (pp. 21-33). Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Prilleltensky, I. (1999) Critical Psychological Foundations for the Promotion of Mental Health. Annual Review of Critical Psychology: Foundations, 1, 100- 118.

Sampson, E. (2000) Of Rainbows and Differences. In T. Sloan (Ed.) Critical Psychology: Voices for change. (pp. 1-5). Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Biography
Elizabeth Peel is Professor of Psychology and Social Change in the Institute of Health and Society, University of Worcester, UK. Her research has explored diabetes self-management, same sex relationships and families, and diversity training. She holds a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship for the Dementia Talking: Care, conversation and communication project. She won the BPS Psychology of Sexualities Section outstanding academic writing award 2012, and book awards from the American Psychological Association’s Division 44 for the co-edited volume Out in Psychology (Wiley, 2007) and in 2013 from the British Psychology Society for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Psychology: An introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

 

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