Access to a psychologist shouldn't be a luxury
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Lettre ouverte publiée dans la Gazette (22 oct. 2020).
Let’s hold this government accountable for providing timely access to appropriate psychological care in the public system.
Twenty-two per cent of adults living in Quebec experienced symptoms of a major depression or generalized anxiety during the first two weeks of September, according to a recent study. Some suffer alone; others reach out for help. Given that the public system is known for its long waitlists, all too many have given up and will not benefit from effective treatments for these serious conditions.
Speaking in the National Assembly on Oct. 8, Premier François Legault seemed to discount the importance of psychologists when he suggested that not every person in distress needs a psychologist, and others can sometimes offer help at lower cost.
Every mental health professional has an important role to play, but they are not interchangeable. Some can provide support, or give resources; others can provide psychotherapy. It should be recalled that there are laws reserved for certain professional acts, laws that protect the public.
While general mental health services might be sufficient for some, those who continue to feel psychologically unwell over time need a more specialized approach for lasting effects, and it is mostly psychologists who are qualified to offer psychotherapy (80 per cent of the people authorized to offer psychotherapy in Quebec are psychologists). This process takes both professional skill and a collaborative therapeutic relationship. Unlike some of the other professionals who are licensed to practise psychotherapy, psychologists are mandated to make psychological diagnoses and have the specialized skills to detect changes in the client’s psychological well-being and adapt treatment to tailor interventions specifically for the individual’s needs. Psychologists’ level of expertise requires approximately 10 years of university study, training and supervision to achieve.
All Quebecers who need the services of a psychologist should be able to see one. Unfortunately, there is a long wait time, partly because the public health care system is lacking psychologists in CLSCs, schools and hospitals. Estimates range from six months to 24 months.
Instead of waiting, those who have the financial means seek help in the private sector. Others desperately wait and witness their loved ones deteriorate. Some commit irreparable acts. How many family tragedies do we need to witness in the media before our government invests public funds in a manner that prioritizes psychological health?
Unfortunately, hundreds of Quebec psychologists leave the public sector to go to the private sector, where their professional autonomy and expertise are valued and better recognized. The wait for services in the public sector may even get longer if the government doesn’t take concrete action to attract and retain psychologists there. More psychologists are needed to address the psychological needs of Quebecers, especially during a pandemic crisis.
The Coalition des psychologues du réseau public québécois believes taking care of one’s psychological health should not be a luxury only accessible for some people. Children with anxiety, teenagers with eating disorders, adults who feel hopeless and our elderly who feel depressed should all get the help they need. Quebecers all pay taxes, therefore they should all have timely access to psychological services in the public sector in a way that addresses their needs rather than provides a cookie-cutter money-saving solution.
The Quebec government has resisted properly investing in the psychological health care of Quebecers. Let’s stand together and communicate the message loud and clear to the government and the politicians from all the political parties: a psychologist’s work is unique and having access to them in the public sector is imperative. Psychotherapy can be an effective way to heal psychological distress. Let’s hold this government accountable for providing access to psychological care in the system that’s meant to provide care to all. There is no quick fix, but waiting is no longer an option.
Connie Scuccimarri, PhD, and Catherine Serra-Poirier, PsyD, PhD, are psychologists writing on behalf of the Coalition des psychologues du réseau public québécois.This article is co-signed by psychologists Karine Gauthier, MPs, PhD; Marc-André Pinard, D Psy; and Béatrice Filion D Psy.