Sex Education and the Importance of Health Psychology

Sex Education and the Importance of Health Psychology
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WOW! Where did it all start and how have I got to where I am today? The question seems quite simple, but the answer is so much more complex. I will, however, try and give an explanation of my professional journey, especially in relation to my experience associated with the Stage 2 Qualification and the British Psychological Society. However, first of all I will start with an explanation stating what I do and how health psychology has impacted upon the career path I have chosen.

I currently work as a sex and relationship education (SRE) consultant giving expert sexual health advice to health professionals, using information technology to teach effective SRE and governing research that covers all aspects of sexual health, including sexuality. I firmly believe that people’s sexual health is as important as their general health, which is why I am dedicated to encouraging that children and young people are given quality SRE and the sexual health advice they need. However, my research has shown that it is essential that parents are involved in this education so they can support and provide the knowledge to their children in order for them to make informed choices over their sexual behaviour and personal relationships (Turnbull, 2011; Turnbull, van Schaik & van Wersch, 2011a, 2011b; Turnbull, van Wersch van Schaik, 2010a, 2010b, 2008, 2007a, 2007b). This is echoed by the Government who suggest that as well as parents being able to educate their children they are also beneficial in supporting the emotional and physical aspects of their children’s health and assist in preparing their children for adult life (DfEE, 2000). Although I have become recognised in my specialist area I cannot omit my significant academic experiences in psychology that have taken me down the path of SRE and sexual health.

In essence, my interest in SRE and sexual health started some 10 years ago when I studied the History of Sexual Behaviour for a public health-related module as part of my BSc (Hons) in Psychology. From there I undertook an MSc in Health Psychology studying Sexual Initiation and Peer Pressure for my dissertation and then in 2004 I started a PhD that used computers to explore the communication of SRE within British families. At this time I was encouraged by my PhD supervisor and mentor, Professor Anna van Wersch, to apply to the Society for enrolment on the Stage 2 Qualification in Health Psychology. Although I saw this as a natural progression in my career I also saw it as a great challenge at that time, worrying about how I could accomplish everything especially as was I already working as a part-time lecturer at the Teesside University, was undertaking a full-time PhD and worked full-time as the SRE Development Co-ordinator for the Middlesbrough area. However, on reflection taking the leap and pushing myself to the edge of reason was one of the best decisions I ever made because it allowed me to realise my own strengths and weaknesses, and what I needed to do to overcome these. For example, I knew I had the skills to multitask; I knew how to organise my time effectively; I knew I was not scared of hard work or that I was not going to be able to take every weekend off; but the one thing that daunted me from the outset (apart from the viva, of course!) was that I had to include a systematic review for the Stage 2 Qualification. I know this sounds totally ridiculous to some people, but I simply did not feel confident as the last (and only) systematic review I did was pretty poor and I would equate it to the worst academic piece of work I ever did. I had the challenge of overcoming this, which I did by reading almost every book and article with systematic review in the title and trying to mimic other people’s styles. I swear I did not plagiarise, but the success to this tale is that although it took me over a year on-and-off to write my systematic review I did eventually achieve it through learning from others, and it was re-formatted and published in the Health Education Journal (Turnbull, van Wersch & van Schaik, 2008).

Although I had fears whilst doing the Stage 2 Qualification I would like to share some of the things that helped make my journey easier. Firstly, I would recommend that every person doing the Stage 2 Qualification should use and treat the Candidate Handbook as though it is their prized possession. I thought that it was only useful for when I developed my supervision plan, especially the section which detailed the Accreditation for Existing Competence (AEC) because I could include some of the work I had undertaken previously from being an SRE Development Co-ordinator. However, whilst I was completing my Stage 2 Qualification I quickly realised that there was valuable information in the Candidate Handbook which often answered some of the silly questions I had. Beyond the stupid questions, Bethan Carley (Qualifications Officer for Health, Counselling and Clinical Neuropsychology) at the Society was always there to offer help, advice and steer me in the right direction. In my experience she is a good port-of-call especially as Bethan is able to assess whether the Chief Supervisor and Registrar, Dr Mark Forshaw, needs to be included in queries and then he can decide whether the advice of the Chief Assessor, Dr Martin Dempster, is needed. What I am trying to say is that there is a great Qualifications Team at the Society who are at your disposal. Use them – I did!

Although the learning materials given by the Society are helpful, as are the team itself, it is also essential for you to use your Stage 2 supervisor. I was fortunate that my Stage 2 supervisor was also my Principal Supervisor for my PhD and, therefore, I would take the opportunity to schedule PhD meetings and add time to it so I could get work signed off or ask for advice if needed. With hindsight this was a smart move on my part as it saved me a massive amount of time and I still got the invaluable wisdom and knowledge of my supervisor without having separate meetings. If candidates were able to arrange their own supervisor in this way then they would be in a win-win situation, but if not I would recommend that they keep to a schedule that is agreed in the contract with the supervisor. This way they get the help and advice that they need so don’t waste time fretting and worrying about problems that can easily be resolved with advice from the supervisor.

A final aspect to my Stage 2 Qualification that served me well was to be extremely well organised. I know I sound sad but my evidence files were colour-coded! When I say colour-coded I don’t just mean different coloured files, but each of the post-it tags were matching as they defined each unit of each competence – I told you I was sad! However, this served many purposes in that: (a) it was be easier to refer from one competence to another with most of them relating to SRE; (b) with some of my work being AEC it was easy to see the distinction between the AEC work and the work that had been carried out, which was detailed in the original supervision plan; and (c) it looked professional, even if I do say so myself. My perfectionist ways regarding presentation and organisation also made it easier to prepare for the viva voce once I had handed my work in to be marked by the assessors.

In essence, after handing in my portfolio and evidence files to the Society I went through each unit of each competence with a fine-toothed comb. I marked my work as critically as I would as a lecturer marking someone else’s work. In fact, on reflection Health Psychology Update, Volume 20, Issue 3, 2011 21 Sex education and the importance of health psychology I was far more critical of myself than I have ever been of any student. However, I found numerous spelling mistakes, realised that some sentences just did not make any sense whatsoever and I forgot to include the teaching diary that I had prepared. I know that to some these were not grave mistakes, but they were still errors all the same. I did not want to look incompetent and I had spent an enormous amount of time on my Stage 2 Qualification to make it perfect because I simply did not want to fail. To help in not failing I also went back through my work again and thought about, for each unit of each competence, the types of questions that could be asked at the viva. Obviously I am not an assessor so I would not know the questions that were going to be asked. However, I felt that I was just preparing myself as possible for the viva – that was up until the time when I got the letter stating the date and time at when I need to be at the Society’s office in Leicester.
There is almost an element of excitement, but then pure anguish when you open the envelope. At the time I felt more of the latter, so off I went again going through my file thinking of other questions that could be asked, ‘re-marking’ my work. I found a few more spelling mistakes and generated another 28 questions in preparation for the viva. After this I felt as ready as I could be so all that was left was the viva. On the day of the viva I felt nervous as would be expected. I had convinced myself that the day was going to be a good one and that what was meant to be was meant to be. Pass or fail, I had done everything I could. In addition, there were a few things that I saw as positive signs in that on my journey from the north-east of England to Leicester – it was sunny, everyone was smiling (except me!) and the M1 was quiet, which is quite a novel concept. With this I remember thinking, just go in there and do your best, you know your stuff – just do it! Being mentally prepared I arrived at the Society’s office in Leicester. After being sat in the reception for a short while I was asked to go to a meeting room on the first floor. When I arrived I was greeted by two men who were both really pleasant. They informed me that they were going to ask some questions and that the viva was going to be recorded. The latter would normally have made me feel uncomfortable, but it did not seem to matter. I was just in auto-pilot knowing that all I had to do was answer the questions the best I could. Although I can hardly recollect verbatim the questions that were asked I seemed to be able to answer them all okay. However, I do put this down to the organisation and the revision of my work prior to viva. Although the viva itself went okay I was not expecting the assessors to be so nice. I suppose we all have this image that the viva will be gruelling and unpleasant, but it was nothing like that, quite the opposite.

On reflection, the Stage 2 Qualification was not easy to acquire. At times I had to make difficult decisions to fulfil what was expected of me. It was also hard to juggle the workload, but at no one time did I ever wish I was not doing the qualification. I just kept thinking of something that my husband and late father have always said to me and that is… ‘If it was easy, everybody would do it.’ I am proud to be a member of the DHP especially as since passing the Stage 2 Qualification I have progressed and become a Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Scientist and Associated Fellow of the British Psychological Society. I have also become a registrant of the Health Professions Council and I am looking forward in time to being a Stage 2 Supervisor so I can pay forward all the help, support and success that I have achieved.


I would like to send special thanks to Professor Anna van Wersch for all her wisdom and encouragement throughout the Stage 2 Qualification. I would also like to send my sincere thanks to the Society’s Qualifications Team for their guidance and support, plus all my family and friends who have supported me on this journey.

Dr Triece Turnbull


Department for Education and Employment (2000). Sex and relationship education guidance (0116/ 2000). London: HMSO.

Turnbull. T. (2011). Sex and relationship education in British families: How do we move forward? Education and Health, 29(2), 35–38.

Turnbull. T., van Schaik. P. & van Wersch, A. (2011a). Sex and relationship education in England: What do parents and children want? British Psychological Society: North East England Branch, 4(5). In press.

Turnbull. T., van Schaik. P. & van Wersch, A. (2011b). Parents as educators of sex and relationship education: The role for effective communication in British families. Health Education Journal. In press.

Turnbull. T., van Wersch, A. & van Schaik, P. (2010a). A grounded theory approach to sex and relationship education in British families. Qualitative Methods in Psychology. In press.

Turnbull. T., van Wersch, A. & van Schaik, P. (2010b). Evaluation of sex and relationship education in the family context using an interactive CD-ROM: A grounded theory approach. European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care. 15(1), 95–96.

Turnbull. T., van Wersch, A. & van Schaik, P. (2008). Adolescents’ preferences regarding sex and relationship education. Health Education Journal, 69(3), 277–286.

Turnbull, T., van Wersch, A. & van Schaik, P. (2007a). Sex education in the British family context: Grounded theory approach. Health Psychology Review, 1(1), 20-21. Also available at:

Turnbull, T., van Wersch, A. & van Schaik, P. (2007b). Sex education in the family context. Health Education Journal, 67(3), 182–195.

Health Psychology Update, Sex education and the importance of health psychology, 25(10), 748-751.

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About the author

Dr Triece is Founder and MD of A website that is devoted to improving sex and relationship education and the sexual health of young people by working with parents, schools, health care professionals and different organisations.