Expert opinions, LAW

New draft law on psychological help to improve its accessibility

The State Duma is working on a draft law which will make psychologists undergo recertification every five years. The need to reach a common understanding of the standards of psychological services on the Russian market has long been overdue.

All that relates to the market of private psychological services can be called a chaos, without exaggeration. Internet users see offers from an entire range of various pseudo-scientific fields: from astrology and numerology to chakra and energy healing services. Psychics, past life regressors, tarologists and emotional healers present themselves as psychological helpers while the scientific community rightfully considers it fraud. Not many people would want to be treated by an uncertified doctor, but they still use the services of various types of psychology “experts.”

In a way, this can be explained by people’s undying belief in miracles.

So far, it has been impossible to regulate the activity of this pseudoscientific segment of psychological assistance without legislative changes.

However, it would not be that difficult, especially given that the standards of providing medical help have long been implemented. Psychologists who work in private of public clinics are experts with relevant degrees who underwent additional professional training. In addition, the leadership of medical facilities usually takes up the responsibility for hiring competent professionals.

I believe that making psychologists go through a recertification exam every five years is a good idea. Psychotherapy originates in medicine, when in the late 19th century it became obvious that not all diseases can be cured by treating the body. Then, the practice of “healing through conversation” began.

Since then, after almost one and a half century, psychology and psychotherapy have gone a long way due to extensive scientific research that showed that psychic processes affect the body, and the other way around. For instance, stress, anxiety, depression, job burnout, PTSD and many other conditions can be cured by a team of experts. Depending on the severity of the case, it might by a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a neurologist or other medical expert. At the same time, doctors have the system of regular additional training, while psychologists do not. Naturally, psychologists, just as any other medical professionals, should operate within unified legislative requirements. Psychologist is as much of a profession as a lawyer or doctor – and obviously, it requires certain professional standards as well as efforts to introduce programs for supporting specialists, systematic training, and state certification.

Hopefully, amendments in the law will serve to regulate another important aspect in the mechanism for professional development of psychologists. So far, professional psychologists undergo training at their own expense; the process is ongoing and requires significant investments in their own education.

Introducing a certification mechanism will most likely provide opportunities for psychologists to undergo advanced training programs similar to those implemented under compulsory health insurance. Psychologists address people’s issues and disturbances on a daily basis; this is hard work that requires regular intervision, supervision and training, including professional and environmental ethics. And it should be reasonable that before holding these specialists accountable every five years, the government has to at least create conditions for advanced professional training. Therefore, for professional psychologists, new requirements for advanced training may come with new opportunities.

This should become the point of growth for the entire industry. Those who lack specialized education but are willing to become a qualified psychologist will be able to undergo necessary training programs and receive an official compliance certificate. I believe that the list of disciplines for a psychologist to master under the proposed training program is very up-to-date and relevant, offering an essential amount of knowledge. These are the disciplines taught at major state universities during five or six years.

The new draft law will hopefully make the market more transparent and improve service quality. A person seeking help for a depressive disorder could expect to receive an advanced interdisciplinary plan for treatment.

That said, every person will have a choice as to whether to approach a psychologist or, say, a psychic – but the latter may not legally call themselves a psychologist or refer to their activity as psychological help thus misleading patients about the nature of the therapy provided.

By Olesya Tolstukhina, psychologist at the Doktor Ryadom (Doctor At Hand) telemedicine company

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