School psychologists — the only clinicians in K-12 buildings exempt from registering as members of their profession’s regulatory college — do not want to get left behind as Manitoba considers a new governance model for their teacher peers.

School psychologists — the only clinicians in K-12 buildings exempt from registering as members of their profession’s regulatory college — do not want to get left behind as Manitoba considers a new governance model for their teacher peers.

Since the 1980s, the Manitoba Association of School Psychologists (MASP) has been lobbying the province to require school-based practitioners to be regulated under the college that oversees, certifies and monitors their profession at-large: the Psychological Association of Manitoba (PAM).

<p>SUPPLIED Since the 1980s, Vern Kebernik, a school psychologist who works in Thompson, has been calling on Manitoba to terminate an exemption that allows he and his colleagues to practice in K-12 buildings without being licensed under a professional college. Winnipeg Free Press 2021</p>

SUPPLIED Since the 1980s, Vern Kebernik, a school psychologist who works in Thompson, has been calling on Manitoba to terminate an exemption that allows he and his colleagues to practice in K-12 buildings without being licensed under a professional college. Winnipeg Free Press 2021

"Our mantra has been: ‘A psychologist is a psychologist is a psychologist,’" said Eric Alper, a school psychologist based in Winnipeg, who is in charge of the MASP issues committee.

Unlike social workers, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists, school psychologists do not need to be licensed under an independent college to work with students.

These professionals, all of whom need a master’s degree in school psychology at minimum, only need to obtain a clinician certificate from Manitoba Education to practise because of an exemption in the Psychologists Registration Act.

Meantime, other clinicians employed by school divisions need to be licensed by both the education department and a professional college.

It took Alper two years, during which he had to be supervised by a registered psychologist for a total of 25 hours, to obtain a permanent school clinician certificate.

In contrast, PAM requires members who have a master’s level of education to complete 400 hours of supervision over four years to become a licensed psychological associate. The college strictly certifies PhD-trained professionals as full psychologists.

The group that represents school psychologists has long-standing concerns about the setup, including the gatekeeping of the psychologist title.

School psychologists are not currently mandated to follow the regulatory body’s code of ethics or disciplined through PAM. Instead, the education system details their scope of practice and deals with complaints.

"It’s not at all accountable and it’s not at all transparent," said Alper.

Alper said he and his colleagues want both to be seen as autonomous providers like their peers who work outside the school system and for their profession to have integrity and be inclusive.

Given it is currently optional for school practitioners to register with PAM, the vast majority of them do not, for reasons ranging from membership fees to an unwillingness to run a private practice to the fact they may not be able to call themselves a psychologist (most of them only have a master’s degree) if they do so.

There are fewer than 10 school psychologists, of which there upwards of 100 in the province, registered with PAM.

PAM registrar Harold Wallbridge said the college’s supervision requirements, national exams, annual continuing competence requirements, public directory and complaint system provide patients with a high level of trust in psychological services.

While Wallbridge noted school divisions have in-house processes, he said they lack the rigour and autonomy that are built into a self-regulated professional college.

Debate around who is deemed a full psychologist has long caused tension between MASP and PAM. The former also claims the college has historically been reluctant to mandate the universal registration of school psychologists because there are worries doing so would affect the competitiveness of private practitioners.

Wallbridge, who is fairly new to the role of registrar, however, sees value in universal registration and suggests there is "almost an infinite need" for psychologists in Manitoba.

Even still, Wallbridge said he suspects the province will continue to exempt school psychologists from registration when it updates current legislation to include psychologists under the Regulated Health Professions Act.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Manitoba Education said the province is "actively" facilitating discussions between MASP and the education sector to address the group’s request.

"As employees of school divisions, school psychologists receive ongoing supervision, professional development, and oversight which meets established academic and supervision requirements in order to be certified with Manitoba Education," wrote the spokesperson, who noted MASP membership is optional for school psychologists.

Clinicians are often responsible for seeking out their own up-to-date training and professional development sessions are few and far between, said Vern Kebernik, a school psychologist who works in Thompson.

"Certification does not provide the level of public protection, accountability and required ongoing professional development that is required in this day and age," he said.

Kebernik said he was perplexed to learn Manitoba is looking into a college of teachers when it is reluctant to make such regulation mandatory for all school clinicians — what he suspects is a product of employer concerns about the cost of ramping up supervision requirements.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.