The Government needs to tackle the backlog in access to mental health services by increasing funding and university places for psychologists, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Speaking in the Seanad, Senator Emer Currie said: “We’re currently facing backlogs in access to mental health services, yet there are significant barriers to getting psychologists on to the frontline.
“Psychologists study for 11 years in total, from completing undergrad and postgraduate degrees, to work experience and doctorates. This is a huge amount of time, money and debt for those committed to that path to undertake.
“Places in psychology courses across Irish universities are limited, which means it’s a very competitive process to come through. We’re asking far too much from people who we want and need on the frontline.
“As a result of the limited university places, we’re currently dealing with chronic staffing shortages in psychology. This in turn is impacting access to counselling and disability services, CAHMs and acute care.
“If we want to clear these backlogs, we must break down the barriers so that more people can become qualified psychologists. We need increased doctorate places in universities, as well as equal access to funding.
“At the moment, trainee clinical psychologists can get 60% of their fees paid and receive a student salary starting at €33,000 – which is only right.
“But counselling and educational trainee psychologists pay fees of between €12,000 and €15,000 per year and do between 300 – 450 hours of unpaid work throughout the duration of their study.
“This is the case although all three strands – clinical, counselling and educational – are eligible for the same posts once qualified
“I’m happy to support the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) and Union of Students of Ireland in their campaign to seek funding equity. While the PSI set the educational and professional standards, it’s the Department of Health that make the decisions relating to funding and pay.
“A Report of a HSE Community Operations Project Team was set up in 2019 to consider a workforce plan for psychological services. This is to include an examination of the current framework for trainee psychologists in the health service, which the Minister advises me is likely to include a review of the current funding model.
“But why waste time on something that can be actioned easily and quickly? The model is already there for clinical psychologists – it just needs to be duplicated for counselling and education psychologists sooner rather than later,” concluded Senator Currie.