• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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“Celebrity Psychologist” Draws Fire Over “Manipulative Meghan” Article

From Mail Online:

Manipulative Meghan knew Harry needed a strong woman in his life after Diana’s death and exerted control by capitalising on events that hit his self-esteem, writes psychologist JO HEMMINGS

…He always seemed vulnerable, but rarely weak, but she has convinced him over a relatively short period of time, to relinquish his close relationships, his family ties and take a leap of faith into a new life with her.

Not exactly coercive behaviour, but on the surface seemingly quite manipulative.

…We also have to remember that other than her mother, Meghan has no family members she is close to – quite the reverse in fact – which would suggest that she is very driven by fulfilling her own needs and may be quite narcissistic in nature.

The article has not been well-received on social media by those who sympathise with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and the question has been raised as to whether it was ethical for someone who claims professional credentials as a psychologist to have offered an assessment that appears to psychopathologise both their relationship and Meghan’s personality. What struck me, though, was the banality of the bog-standard punditry. Among many others, the likes of Piers Morgan (a spurned and bitter would-be confidant) and Eamonn Holmes have already opined along tediously similar and predictable lines; psychological expertise here supposedly makes Hemmings’s article value added, but the theorising and speculation are parlour-game stuff that anyone can engage in.

On the ethical question, Hemmings is associated with the British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) and with the British Psychological Society (BPS). Her day-to-day work also involves what she calls “coaching”. However, she does not claim medical expertise, and “narcissistic” in her article should be understood as a descriptor rather than a diagnosis – although it’s doubtful that general readers will understand such nuances. Professional peers are not impressed: a joint complaint is being made by two special interest groups within the BABCP (Women and Gender Minorities Equality, and Equality & Culture), and a comment from a clinical psychologist named Eleanor Johnston is representative:

Whatever you think about Meghan and Harry, any ‘Psychologist’ who claims they understand how another person’s mind works without ever even meeting them is being dishonest. Ofc there are hypotheses, based on research, e.g. Meghan may feel x,y,z BUT these are hypotheses, not fact!

It has also been pointed out (by me, among others) that Hemmings has only graduate membership of the BPS, which is open to anyone with a 2:2 or above in psychology. She does not have charter membership, which the BPS describes as “reflect[ing] the highest standard of psychological knowledge and expertise” and as “our gold standard”, and which entitles members to use the legally protected term “Chartered Psychologist”. The Mail Online article bills Hemmings as a “celebrity psychologist”; recent articles have introduced her as a “behavioural psychologist” (The Times and the Guardian); a “body language expert” (the Sun); a “relationship expert” (Metro) and a “consultant psychologist” (the Telegraph). This is based on a psychology degree from Warwick and then “further training” at an unspecified college of the University of London. She has also produced some popular works, including a sex manual.

Hemmings has responded to criticisms on Twitter by liberal use of the “block” function; she has also clarified that “I didn’t write that dreadful headline”, although when the article went online she quoted it to advertise her piece without any misgivings (Tweet later deleted, but noted by others and screengrabbed). She has also expressed the view that “Part of my work is to explain behaviours on a daily basis. No ethical code broken. My views were considered and far less unkind than certain ‘professionals’ now trolling me”. As well as this, she has RTed supportive comments from journalist associates, so in all likelihood we can look forward to future articles framed along the lines of “expert commentator abused by vile trolls” or similar.

Last month she lent her name to Hive, a “smart home provider”, with comments about the benefits of “restoring order in your home” for a press release that found its way into the Sun via a “survey” hook (a lame but regularly successful PR strategy).

UPDATE: A forensic psychologist named Kerry Daynes, who has also has a media profile, says that “I’ve been asked by various media to write/contribute to articles accusing Meghan Markle of manipulation, coercive control, exploiting Harry’s mental health struggles etc. I say no to this🐴$&!£. Shame others don’t.”

3 Responses

  1. “seemed… Not exactly… on the surface seemingly… suggest… may be…”

    “the question has been raised as to whether it was ethical for someone who claims professional credentials as a psychologist to have offered an assessment…”

    “What struck me, though, was the banality of the bog-standard punditry. Among many others, the likes of Piers Morgan (a spurned and bitter would-be confidant…”

    Phew, good job you’re not someone “who claims professional credentials as a psychologist to have offered an assessment that appears to psychopathologise both their relationship and Morgan’s personality”!

    “Professional peers are not impressed: a joint complaint is being made by two special interest groups within the BABCP (Women and Gender Minorities Equality, and Equality & Culture)”!

    Woke me up when they’ve got a point to make!

    “and a comment from a clinical psychologist named Eleanor Johnston is representative:”

    “Whatever you think about Meghan and Harry, any ‘Psychologist’ who claims they understand how another person’s mind works without ever even meeting them is being dishonest. Ofc there are hypotheses, based on research, e.g. Meghan may feel x,y,z BUT these are hypotheses, not fact!”

    You mean like:

    “seemed… Not exactly… on the surface seemingly… suggest… may be…”!

  2. I only read the extracts here but Hemmings’s points seem pretty good to me. In other words, I would have similar views myself. As many must have guessed it did not take Markle long to cause trouble.

    The reaction to the article is of course both absurd and alarming. If Hemmings comments as a psychologist she is wrong. And you can bet that if she comments not as a psychologist she is also wrong (“She has no right as an amateur to say this!”) Only in an insane world could such a ‘controversy’ arise.

    Thanks again to RB for the information.

  3. For myself I’m worried that ‘experts’ or some of them may have become ‘guns for hire’. Now I have no idea what the Duchess of Sussex’s character is like but to me it seems she has been set up as an Aunt Sally. Even a sensible person I know said “…and she’s separated him from his family”. Now if I can get Skype on my secondhand not very powerful laptop I’m sure it’s available to the occupiers of Buckingham Palace.

    Is not the point of the article by BarthsNotes whether or not it was ethically proper for Jo Hemmings to write such a piece? The focus of BN’s article is not whether the article is accurate or not. It does seem that the Duchess to use a slang expression ‘rubs some people up the wrong way’. I don’t think Jo Hemmings should be forbidden to write articles in future though her professional body could perhaps warn her to be more careful henceforward. I think the Duchess is probably like all of us – neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Don’t all of us have ‘feet of clay’ sometimes? I certainly don’t feel qualified to speculate upon her character.

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