FAQS about Psychologist Regulation and Practice

These FAQs are intended to be useful in understanding the College’s mandate, policies, and procedures. Readers are advised that policies and procedures change. The College endeavours to update its FAQs and the website as efficiently as possible. The application of some procedures may depend upon the circumstances of a matter and therefore, may not occur the same way in every instance. The FAQs are for information purposes only and may not be relied upon as legal advice. To the extent that there are any inconsistencies between these FAQs and the provisions of the Health Professions Act or Part 4 of the College’s bylaws, the provisions of the Act and bylaws take precedence.

SELF REGULATION FAQS

Despite the more common use of the name, it isn’t a type of school. Established under provincial law, College’s exist to regulate professions in the public interest and to ensure that services provided by those professionals are done so in a safe, ethical, and knowledgeable manner. In BC, there are  26 regulated health professions, of which, 25 are self-regulating professions governed by 23 regulatory colleges under the Health Professions Act.
Colleges are responsible for setting and enforcing the standards, or rules, of their professions. Under BC law, our mandate is to serve and protect the public. Each college has a board which includes members elected by its peers and at least two public members appointed by government. Members of the profession and the public are also involved in college complaints, discipline processes and other committees. The board regulates the profession and oversees the college’s activities. This is known as self-regulation. Self-regulation is a privilege granted by government. Government recognizes that the profession is best positioned to know what education or practice standards are needed to ensure public safety.
Self-regulation means that the government has delegated its regulatory functions to those who have the specialized knowledge necessary to do the job. The granting of self-regulation acknowledges a profession’s members are capable of governing themselves. This is done so on condition that the profession’s college regulates in the interests of the public. Colleges are distinct from organizations that represent their members. These organizations come in the form of associations or unions that advocate for the economic, employment, professional, and political interests of their members.
The job of regulatory bodies, such as the College of Psychologists of BC, is to protect the public by ensuring that its registrants have met a high standard of training and are fully able to provide a professional service. Without registration or licensing from a College, you have no way of ensuring that the person providing health services has had appropriate training, education, or subject to standards that ensure safe care. While members of the public can bring concerns about a regulated health professional directly to their College, complaints about unregulated care providers are harder to deal with and sometimes may only be dealt with by an employer or through the courts. If you have any concern about the conduct of a regulated practitioner, you can contact the provincial or territorial regulatory body that licenses his or her practice.
If a practitioner is a Registered Psychologist, they will be listed with the College of Psychologists. You can verify a practitioner’s credentials yourself by using our directory or by calling the College. Ask if the practitioner is registered and if there are any limitations on his or her practice. You can also find information about a psychologist’s registration status on our website.
There are many self-identified therapists, counselors, and others who offer services in the area of mental health. This can be confusing to the public. Some of these individuals are regulated practitioners in psychology and professions other than psychology (e.g., social work). Others may not be regulated. They may belong to any of several societal bodies or membership organizations. Ask the person if they are regulated by a College or if they are affiliated with a professional association.
Registrants of the College are identified by their registration number, the title “Registered Psychologist” (R.Psych.) and a certificate of registration which is required to be posted in their professional office(s). The British Columbia Health Professions Act makes it an offence for anyone, other than a registrant of the College of Psychologists of British Columbia, to use a title, description, or abbreviation that expresses or implies that he or she is a registrant of the College. The Psychologists Regulation, made pursuant to the Health Professions Act, also prohibits anyone, other than a registrant, from using the titles “registered psychologist” and “psychologist”. The regulation presently allows for exemptions for persons working in certain contexts, but would not include persons working in a private setting. Please inform the College immediately if you have any information regarding the unlawful use of the protected title “psychologist”.

ACCESS TO PSYCHOLOGICAL SERVICES FAQS

Making a decision to see a psychologist or other mental health practitioner can be difficult. Many people feel uncomfortable about the prospect of talking about things that are distressing or embarrassing. Talking to friends and loved ones can be very supportive but sometimes it is difficult for people we know well to be objective and honest because of their feelings for us and due to their roles in our lives. In addition, our family and friends may not recognize the nature or seriousness of a psychological problem or the expertise to help us cope with it.
Once you make a decision to seek help, you need to decide who to choose. Many people claim to treat mental health problems. Not all of them are well-trained professionals in the mental health field. Regardless of who you consult, it is important to ask if they are regulated – in other words, do they have a license to practice and are they accountable to a regulatory body?
People often access psychologists through local clinics and hospitals, on referral from their family physicians, or through the recommendation of friends, family members, religious leaders or teachers. The BC Psychological Association offers a referral service in BC [(604) 730-0522, 1 (800) 730-0522)], and some psychologists choose to belong to this service. You are also able to locate psychologists in telephone directories.  The Canadian Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology (CRHSPP) also has a referral list.  You can obtain these and other psychology links on our related sites page by clicking here.

It is very important that you have a trusting, positive and constructive relationship with any psychologist you choose to work with. As is the case with any other kind of professional, one practitioner might be a good fit for one person, but not a good fit for someone else. Once you have established the practitioner’s credentials, the best way to determine if he or she is right for you is to rely on your feelings: Does this person appear kind, understanding and non-judgmental? Do you feel listened to? If not, perhaps you need to try someone else who might be a better fit.

In Canada, the services provided by a psychologist are covered by provincial health insurance only if the psychologist is employed by, for example, a hospital, correctional facility, community clinic, social agency or school. The services provided by a psychologist in private practice are not covered by provincial health insurance plans and the psychologist bills the patient directly. Many people have extended health benefits through their employers that cover some amount of psychological service annually, and in some cases the psychologist will bill the extended health plan directly.
The College is not involved in setting fees or rates for services.   The Code of Conduct does include specific standards related to fees.  See Section 12 of the Code of Conduct.

PRACTICE OF PSYCHOLOGY FAQS

The current, general entry standard for registration or licensure as a psychologist, both in British Columbia and with the majority of North American licensing boards, is a doctoral degree (e.g., Ph.D.) in psychology as well as extensive supervised practice experience in the form of practica and a full time 12-month internship.  Following their bachelor’s degree, psychologists complete, on average, 6 years of graduate level education in order to obtain a doctoral degree in psychology.

As part of their graduate study, psychologists complete extensive coursework and supervision in the areas of psychological assessment, treatment and ethics.  They must also study a broad range of other content areas including physiological psychology, learning, cognition, motivation, social psychology, group processes, personality theory, human development and abnormal psychopathology.  Because a Ph.D. in psychology is also a research degree, individuals with a Ph.D. have also completed coursework in research design and statistics and are required to complete research projects in the form of a master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation. In recent years, a professional degree, a Doctorate of Psychology Degree (Psy.D.) has become increasingly prevalent.  Typically this doctorate is offered by privately funded educational institutions called “professional schools”.  Someone with a Psy.D. has completed similar coursework to the Ph.D., but with less emphasis on research skills.

Most registered psychologists in British Columbia have completed doctoral level study and supervised practice experience, as described above, or the equivalent.  There are, however, some master’s trained practitioners who have been “grandparented”, or who have been granted registration in British Columbia in accordance with Canadian labour mobility requirements as required by the BC government.

In British Columbia, all registered psychologists may use the titles “registered psychologist” or “psychologist” and the abbreviation “R.Psych.”  Registered psychologists with doctoral level training may also indicate their degree (“Ph.D.” or “Psy.D.”), or, alternatively, they may use the academic title “Dr.” before their name.  In British Columbia, registered psychologists without doctoral level training are not permitted to use the title “Dr.” in connection with their psychology practice.

Registered psychologists provide services to manage and enhance the cognitive, behavioural, emotional, interpersonal and physical functioning of individuals or groups of individuals, primarily by applying and using psychological assessment and intervention strategies, including psychometric testing and psychotherapy.  As part of this work, psychologists also assess and diagnose behavioural, emotional, cognitive and mental disorders.

The practice of psychology is quite broad and registered psychologists can be found working in a variety of settings and with clients of all ages and issues.  Psychology services are provided in schools, private practices, businesses, health clinics, hospitals, jails, courts, social welfare agencies, rehabilitation centres and private practice offices.

Psychologists typically focus their practice in specific areas such as clinical, counseling, forensic, health, rehabilitation or school psychology.  Across these practice areas psychologists engage in a broad range of activities including:

  • assessing and treating mental health problems such as anxiety and depression;
  • assessing and working with neurological conditions such as brain injury or dementia;
  • helping people to address psychological factors and problems associated with physical conditions and disease (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, stroke);
  • assessing cognitive functions such as learning, memory, problem solving, intellectual ability and performance;
  • providing court consultations addressing the impact and role of psychological and cognitive factors in accidents and injury, parental capacity, and competence to manage one’s personal affairs;
  • assisting people struggling with stress, anger and other aspects of lifestyle management;
  • treating marital and family relationships and problems; and
  • helping people to address addictions and substance use and abuse (e.g. smoking, alcohol).

Under the College’s Code of Conduct, all psychologists are expected to only provide those services “to those areas of competence in which the registrant has gained proficiency through education, training and experience…”

A psychologist typically holds a doctoral degree in psychology and has a total of ten or more years of university study into how people think, feel, and behave. Psychologists typically will have completed their graduate university training in clinical psychology, counselling psychology, clinical neuropsychology, or educational/school psychology and those with a doctorate degree may use the title “Dr.”.

A practicing psychologist is trained to assess and diagnose problems in thinking, feeling, and behaviour as well as to help people overcome or manage these problems. A psychologist is uniquely trained to use psychological tests to help with assessment and diagnosis. Psychologists help people to overcome or manage their problems using a variety of treatments or psychotherapies.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who go on to specialize in mental health and mental illness. Psychiatrists often use medication to help their clients manage their mental illness. There are some mental illnesses for which medications are necessary (such as schizophrenia, and some depressions, for example). Some psychiatrists also do psychotherapy much like psychologists do.

Sometimes a client might consult his or her family physician about medication while seeing a psychologist for psychotherapy. Some family physicians have an interest and some training in treating psychological problems. In some cases, an individual might be followed by a psychiatrist for his or her medications, while seeing a psychologist for therapy.

Research indicates that medications most often manage, but do not cure, psychological problems or mental illness. This is also the case for some types of physical problems. For example, if you have diabetes, you may need to take insulin for the rest of your life. This is different from, for example, having an infection and taking an antibiotic, with the goal of curing the infection. Most medications for psychological problems or mental illness do not cure the illness but relieve it and make it easier for the person to manage, often with the help of psychotherapy. As noted above, there are some mental illnesses for which medications are very necessary. Research tells us that medication and psychotherapy together work better than either medication or psychotherapy alone in managing some types of psychological problems. Finally, some types of problems are better managed with psychotherapy alone.
Information disclosed to a psychologist is confidential and cannot be disclosed without the client’s consent except under certain specific conditions. These conditions are referred to as the “limits of confidentiality”. These limits typically involve situations where the client gives the psychologist information that leads him or her to suspect that harm might come to someone. If a psychologist suspects that a client is going to harm himself or someone else, that a child is being abused or neglected, or that another health care practitioner has sexually abused a patient in some way, then he or she has an obligation to report this information to the appropriate authority. The courts also have the power to subpoena a psychologist’s files.  Psychologists must retain records of their contacts with clients. These records typically include details about the clients presenting problem and history, psychological test data and any diagnoses made, as well as details about sessions attended. In BC, a psychologist’s records are kept for 7 years after the end of treatment and, if the client was a minor, for at least seven years after the client reaches the age of majority.
Once you have the name of a practitioner and make a first appointment, it is usual for him or her to ask you to describe your problem and to ask for details about your personal history. These questions will include such things as when did your problem start, what makes it better or worse, and how does the problem affect your work or social life. Questions about your personal history can include details about your experiences growing up, your education and work history, your marital status and interpersonal relationships, and whether you use medication, alcohol or drugs. This information-gathering phase can take one or more sessions and may be supplemented by the use of psychological tests.

Following the information-gathering phase which may or may not include psychological testing, it is important that the psychologist discuss with the client (and/or his or her parent or guardian if a child) what he or she thinks is wrong and what he or she can offer in the way of help. Reasonable questions to ask a psychologist are:

• Have you treated many people with this kind of problem?
• What kind of psychotherapeutic approach do you use and how does it work?
• What kind of success can I expect?

Treatments or psychotherapeutic approaches used by psychologists should be treatments that research has proven to be effective. Common types of treatments include cognitive-behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy, and systems therapy, among others. Treatment might be offered in an individual, group, couple or family format depending on the problem and who is affected.

PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTS: Psychological tests are used to gain a better understanding of the kind of problem in thinking, feeling or behaviour a person presents. If a psychologist plans to use a test, he or she should explain why it is being used and what it is used to assess. For example, some tests are used to assess and help diagnose mood, some are used to assess problems in memory or concentration, and some might be used to better understand personality characteristics. Some are pencil and paper tests that pose questions to which you must answer true or false, and others might require you to manipulate objects or remember numbers or phrases. Testing is used to help the psychologist arrive at a diagnosis of your particular problem.

TREATMENT PLANNING: Following the information-gathering phase which may or may not include psychological testing, it is important that the psychologist discuss with the client (and/or his or her parent or guardian if a child) what he or she thinks is wrong and what he or she can offer in the way of help. Reasonable questions to ask a psychologist are:

  • Have you treated many people with this kind of problem?
  • What kind of psychotherapeutic approach do you use and how does it work?
  • What kind of success can I expect?

Treatments or psychotherapeutic approaches used by psychologists should be treatments that research has proven to be effective. Common types of treatments include cognitive-behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy, and systems therapy, among others. Treatment might be offered in an individual, group, couple or family format depending on the problem and who is affected.

Early on in the treatment, the psychologist will help you make goals to work towards and identify the ways therapy will help you achieve them. Goals can include feeling less depressed, feeling more comfortable in social situations, improving pain management, changing your behaviour, or increasing self-esteem, for example. In addition, the psychologist will review your progress in meeting these goals at certain intervals and may have you fill out questionnaires designed to help monitor progress.  An important thing to remember about psychological treatments is that it can be hard work to change feelings, thoughts and behaviours – attending sessions regularly and following through on recommendations are important. One thing that cannot be changed is what happened in the past – but you can change how it affects you. It is also difficult to change the behaviour of other people. Psychological treatment is primarily focused on helping you make personal changes to improve your life.

You are entitled to be an informed consumer and active participant in the psychological treatment process – if you have questions or concerns, let the psychologist know!

When you deal with a regulated health professional, you are entitled to competent and ethical services. Usually, that is exactly what you get. There may be times, however, when you think that professional standards are not being met. The College of Psychologists of British Columbia is responsible for protecting the public interest by regulating psychologists. A significant aspect of protecting the public is investigating complaints related to a psychologist’s practice and conduct.  If you wish to speak with someone regarding a concern about the services provided by a psychologist, you can contact the College by telephone (604) 736-6164 and follow the prompts to the Complaints line.