Prof Charles Abraham

Prof Charles Abraham was recently named one of the top 100 practicing scientists in the UK by the Science Council. He was especially noted for his contribution to training and supervision in health psychology.

Prof Abraham is a Professor of Psychology Applied to Health at the University of Exeter Medical School, and in the late 1990s helped establish professional accreditation for professional training in health psychology in the UK.

He spoke to us about the list and his place on it.

What are your thoughts on being named one of the top 100 practicing scientists in the UK?

I was very pleased and surprised. I had no idea anybody had nominated me.

I really like the idea of this list and what they’re trying to do with it. I think David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, made a good point in responding to it. He noted that science careers are quite varied and that’s an important thing to communicate to the public.

I’m a research scientist, but also a practicing psychologist involved in the development of my sub discipline and the application of its findings and I think it’s that combination that put me on the list.

I became the founding the Chair of the Division of Health Psychology within the British Psychological Society in 1997. In that role I led the establishment of accredited professional training in health psychology in the UK, beginning with accrediting masters courses.

You’re in Australia at the moment – what are you working on?

I was involved in discussions with colleagues in Melbourne in 2010 about whether health psychology was going to be recognised the way it was in the UK.

In the UK you can be qualified in a range of psychological professions including, for example, a health psychologist, a clinical psychologist, an educational psychologist. After campaigns and debates in 2010/2011 the Australian government recognised health psychology as a profession in Australia in much the same was as in the UK.

I’m working at Deakin University at the moment; with some of the colleagues I had discussions with in 2010 and others too. Deakin is one of the universities in Australia that has a professional training course for health psychologists.

How does this work tie in with your research?

I’m head of the Psychology Applied to Health group in the Medical School. We have a number of areas of expertise, but a key area is the design, implementation and evaluation of behavioural change interventions.

Colleagues here at Deakin share research interests with me and the Psychology Applied to Health group in Exeter Medical School, including on-going ground-breaking research into diabetes prevention and young people’s health.

One important role the Psychology Applied to Health group plays at Exeter Medical School is to ensure behaviour change interventions are developed by applying state of the art in terms of behavioural science. So it’s very useful for me to see how colleagues in Australia are developing and evaluating similar interventions.

Are there any specific University of Exeter Medical School projects that stand out?

I’ve worked on the HeLP project, led by Katrina Wyatt and Jenny Lloyd, which is about preventing weight gain in primary and secondary school children.

The REACH project, led by Hasnain Dalal and Rod Taylor,  is about developing materials for patients with heart failure. Colin Greaves is working with me and others on developing a manual for heart failure careers and patients.

Colin also developed the Waste the Waist project, which involved our Melbourne colleagues. It was very successful – it showed that his intervention led to weight loss over one year and further work is looking at the maintenance of this.

What benefits do you think your status as a top 100 scientists will bring?

I hope it will help clarify that applied psychology in University of Exeter Medical School is state of the art. We’re doing some very good work in multidisciplinary teams. We worked with expert health economists, statisticians and clinicians – as well as patients.

The model we have here, which is part of PenCLAHRC [the Peninsula Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care], is very good at collaborative work and hopefully my award will help spread recognition of the work.