‘We’re not heard’: Psychologists, students sound alarm on lack of professionals in public sector

“I'm very worried,” says Carlos Sanchez, a psychology student at UQAM. With more psychologist heading into the private sector in the province, those most vulnerable may be left without care. Felisha Adam reports.

As more and more psychologists in Quebec leave the public sector and head to the private sector, students and professionals alike are sounding the alarm, asking Quebec officials to aid the situation before it’s too late.

“Psychologists really need to be heard right now, and they are not,” says Carlos Sanchez, a 31-year-old doctorate student, studying at l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). He adds, if nothing is done now, the problems could be detrimental, “the cases of mental health problems are going to accelerate… it’s going to increase, and I’m very worried about that,”

Sanchez makes clear, there is no lack of psychologists in the province that is elevating the issue. Quebec, unlike most other provinces in Canada, has the highest ratio of psychologists per capita, the issue lies in the large gap between those that go into the private sector than public.

Reasons he says stems from two main problems – the lack of professional autonomy and salary recognition.

“There is a significant gap between the salaries of the psychologists in the private versus the public sector, and that includes the entrance, the benefits, the social benefits and also the pension plans,”

The salaries for public sector psychologists have not improved since 2015. Dr. Karine Gauthier a psychologist and the president of the Coalition of Quebec Public Network Psychologists, says this only pushes professionals away from the public sector.

“What’s going to happen is that there’s still going to be a lot of psychologists in Quebec. It’s just that they’re not going to be nearly anymore in Hospitals, in the DYPs, in Schools, in CLSCs,” Gauthier says.

Adding, “it’s a huge problem. We’ve been talking about that for more than ten years now.”

For Gauthier, the future does not look positive when it comes to the amount of psychologist in the public sector.

“The students are not coming. Only a little proportion of them are coming to work in the public system, and psychologists with experience also are leaving the public sector to go work in the private sector,” she says.

Sanchez adds it’s not a choice most students would like to make, “that’s the first reason why I want to become a psychologist is to help people, but right now, the tools are not there for me to help those people,” he says.

According to the Coalition of public psychologists, 85 per cent of doctoral students want to work in the public network after graduation, but in a report done by the Interuniversity Federation of Doctoral Students in Psychology (FIDEP) only 25 per cent will do so.

To further the concern, 40.5 per cent of psychologists working in the health network leave during their 5 first years of practice.

Statistics, Sanchez, finds worrisome for those most vulnerable.

“People who have the greater needs and who are generally more vulnerable, won’t go to the
public sector because there won’t be any services offered to them,” he continues, those individuals will be forced to go to the private sector, “but the thing is that they don’t have any money to pay for it. So we have a real great problem because those persons won’t be taken care of.”

Gauthier says, most individuals that rely on psychologists in the public sector, have much more complex problems than those who rely on the private.

“These services does not exist in the private sector, so it really concerns everyone,” She adds, to give those individuals a chance, there needs to be access to professionals in public spaces, “there should be psychologists in hospitals, in the DYP, in schools, in rehab centres.”

CityNews reached out to the office of Lionel Carmant the Minister in charge of Health and Social Services on three separate occasions on this issue, to which we did not get a response back.

Current situation in the public sector

“There’s a lot of discouragement,” say Gauthier, “there’s a lot of people who are close to burnout because we’re not heard…we’re less and less in numbers, and it’s really difficult to see your colleagues leaving and leaving one after the other.”

Gauthier who has been practicing for 15 years says, while it’s hard to see her colleagues leave, professionals in the field are also tasked with training those new to the field. Many of that training is very complex, she says, sometimes dealing with trauma. “It’s an expertise that we work with in the public sector, and we’re training people, but it’s not used when they leave for the private sector.”

To better the situation, the Coalition of Quebec Public Network Psychologists, have pushed for unionization for the past 4 years, to better working conditions and improve salary.

“Right now, we don’t have this representation because we’re in a big group of more than 100 different professionals and technicians. So we’re not heard, and we don’t have a voice,” says Gauthier, adding, it is a solution 95 per cent of psychologists agree on.

Impact on doctorate students

Sanchez says an improvement in the current system needs to happen, so students like him and professionals already in the field the chance to practice in the public sector.

“Few things have been had been done by Minister Carmant, unfortunately, and we are asking to sit with him and when I say we, I include myself because I’m a doctoral student, and it’s a reality I am confronted to live.”

For many studying, an internship with a specific amount of hours is needed to complete their study, but for those wanting to go into the public sector, that task is becoming harder and harder.

“This situation of compromising their internships is very worrying…because they would be forced probably to extend their studies, which are very long, and come into more debt.”

Because the few psychologists in the public sector are increasingly over worked, there is very little possibility to take on a student.

“They’re already very overwhelmed by the work they have to do, so taking an intern is a work is adding to the pile of work you have to do,” says Sanchez, repeating the situation will only get worse in the coming years if nothing changes in the working conditions and compensation for public sector psychologists.

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