Scotsman Obituaries: Prof Frank McPherson, Scottish clinical psychologist

Professor Frank Murdoch McPherson, clinical psychologist. Born: 2 September 1938 in Aberdeen. Died: 2 May 2022 in Larbert, Stirlingshire, aged 83

Professor Frank McPherson, who has died after a brief illness, was the first Director of NHS Tayside’s Area Clinical Psychology Department whose career spanned research, publications, teaching and management, in addition to his pioneering clinical work in the field.

Twice elected President of the European Federation of Professional Psychologists’ Associations (now the European Federations of Psychologists’ Associations), an adviser to the World Health Organisation, an elected Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Chair of both the Society’s Professional Affairs Board and Division of Clinical, he was one of the first clinical psychologists to be trained in Scotland, qualifying in 1962.

Born in Aberdeen to Frank, a grocer, and Ethel, a seamstress, McPherson spent much of the war years as an evacuee with his mother in north Wales whilst his father was away on active duty with the RAF. McPherson won a scholarship to Aberdeen Grammar School, but his dreams of becoming a fighter pilot were dashed on medical grounds and he instead studied psychology at Aberdeen University, graduating in 1960.

Frank McPherson, pictured in 1991, had a particular interest in eating disorders

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He studied under Rex Knight, the first professor of psychology at the University who, along with his wife and fellow eminent psychologist Margaret Horsey – joint authors of An Introduction to Modern Psychology, first edition 1948 – was a huge and positive influence on McPherson’s views of the potential of psychology to improve lives.

McPherson worked as a lecturer at Edinburgh University from 1960 until 1971, when he left to set up what became Tayside Area Clinical Psychology Department, the first such area-wide service in the UK.

Developed from a single member of staff in 1971, it became the largest clinical psychology department in Scotland, with services in adult mental health, primary care, child and adolescent services, learning disabilities, older adults, clinical health, neuropsychology, addictions, forensics and HIV. The latter two services were, respectively, the first prison-based clinical forensic psychology service in Scotland and the country’s first clinical psychology service for HIV/Aids patients.

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McPherson’s work at Tayside influenced recommendations of the 1977 Trethowan Sub-Committee Report on the role of psychologists in the health services, and he was instrumental in the delivery of psychology and mental health services which dealt with victims of the Piper Alpha and Ibrox stadium disasters, the Dunblane massacre and the anticipated arrival of service casualties from the first Gulf War in 1990.

During his 28 years at Tayside, McPherson maintained his clinical practice in adult mental health services and forensic work and developed a particular interest and expertise in eating disorders and his vision for a primary care-based and focused psychology services, advocating for, and facilitating service provision to, a number of client groups.

In the 1960s, while at Edinburgh University, McPherson had established the first psychology course for undergraduate medical students that was examined and was a fully integrated part of the medical curriculum. He went on to set up the first Royal College of Nursing-approved training for nurses in psychological therapies, in Tayside in 1975.

He maintained a keen interest in training, teaching on both professional issues and clinical topics, and was active in facilitating developments within course structures that ensured closer partnership working between the NHS and universities. McPherson also taught at the University of Abertay in Dundee and was appointed Professor of Clinical Psychology in 1990

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As president of the European Federation of Professional Psychologists’ Associations (1982-1990), McPherson advised the clinical psychology associations of Spain and Portugal on the development of professional psychology as they emerged from years of repression under dictatorship, and the EU on the implementation of the directive on the free movement of psychologists across the European Economic Area.

Over the course of McPherson’s career, he was the senior grant-holder on seven major research programmes and published over 70 research articles and more than 50 other publications (book chapters and articles in peer-reviewed journals) about psychology practice.

On retiring from NHS Tayside in 1999, McPherson worked as a clinician in the area of occupational health, developing expertise in dealing with industrial accidents and, as psychology adviser to Scottish Coal, mining accidents. In 2009, when the Crown Office Sexual Crimes Prosecution Unit was set up by the Scottish Government – the first such unit in Europe – McPherson was invited to be their main psychologist expert witness, dealing with victims of sexual crime. During his eight-year involvement with the unit, he prepared legal reports and advised on the prosecution in more than 500 cases, giving evidence in court on many of them.

McPherson was a keen rugby player in his youth and continued to enjoy hobbies such as hillwalking, reading, politics, aviation and supporting Aberdeen FC, whom he had first watched at Pittodrie at the age of four.

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He is survived by his second wife, Dr Frances Baty – NHS director of psychology in Fife – as well as son Colin and daughter Katrina, from his first marriage to Karin Langenheim, and five granddaughters.

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