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‘The EuroPsy enables us to have a common language’

We hear from Rosaleen McElvaney (Dublin City University) – Chair of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations EuroPsy European Awarding Committee.

12 June 2023

How has EuroPsy changed psychologists’ training?

The EuroPsy has made a significant impact on psychology training over the past 13 years, and this will be the focus of my keynote at the European Congress of Psychology in Brighton in July.

We reviewed the annual reports that are submitted each year as well as minutes of the annual Chairs’ meetings, both of which are requirements for Member Associations who have established National Awarding Committees for implementing the EuroPsy certificate. We also spoke to some of the people who have led this initiative, either in their own country or at a European level.

What we found was that there were three key areas where the EuroPsy has impacted on psychology education and training: curriculum development, supervised practice, and changes in national policy or legislation governing either the title of psychologist or the practice of psychology. The existence of a benchmark or standards for education in professional psychology has helped universities to bring their programmes in line with these agreed standards. Member Associations of EFPA have been key in promoting this initiative. Secondly, the requirement of one year's supervised practice has helped Member Associations and Psychological Associations to promote the incorporation of supervised practice into training programmes or to engage with agencies or practice settings to provide such experience after graduates leave the university setting. Finally, the first two – curriculum development and supervised practice – have helped to frame legislative change in many countries. Member Associations were able to lobby their respective government ministries, using the EuroPsy criteria, to promote this standard as minimum entry criteria for the profession.

How many EuroPsy certificates have been issued in that time?

Over 15,500. But we learned early on that the number of certificates issues was not a good metric for evaluating the impact of the EuroPsy certificate. It isn't a licence to practice. National legislation or policy will always supercede the EuroPsy certificate in terms of accessing employment. So, while it facilitates mobility across European countries, it does not provide any guarantee that for instance, if I wish to work in France, holding a EuroPsy certificate will open the door for me.

However, if I did choose to move to France, holding the EuroPsy certificate will help the National Awarding Committee in France understand whether I meet this basic criteria. As the same criteria are used in all participating countries, this will remove the necessity for the National Awarding Committee in France to examine my university transcript – by virtue of holding the EuroPsy in my own country, they will know whether the university programmes I undertook and the supervised practice I engaged in, meet the EuroPsy standard. In some countries this may be sufficient for me to be able to practice, in others it may not, as the local national standard may require higher level training (such as a doctorate) or a longer training period.

If EuroPsy isn’t a licence to practise, isn’t required by law, and doesn’t allow psychologists to practise in another country, what’s in it for the individual?

This is a question that Member Associations raise on a regular basis. Those individuals who value the EuroPsy speak of it as a quality benchmark and many use the affiliation in the signature, business cards, or website to highlight their sense of belonging to this European initiative and promote themselves as a European Psychologist. This offers them credibility. It can facilitate mobility and make it easier for National Awarding Committees in the reception country to evaluate one's credentials but it doesn't guarantee that the receiving country will allow an individual to work in that country.

The added benefit very much relates to the European affiliation. In several countries, it is offered as a member benefit to all members who are eligible. It can thus serve as an additional offering for Member Associations to provide for their members. The specialist certificates may also be attractive to individuals. In Spain, when the specialist certificate for psychologists specialising in psychotherapy was established, the Specialist National Awarding Committee in Spain had over 2,000 applicants for this certificate. This enabled psychologists in Spain to be recognised as psychologists specialising in psychotherapy from a European psychology body. A similar specialist certificate is available from EFPA in work and organisational psychology and EFPA has recently completed a pilot project for psychologists who have advanced training in sport psychology, while a new pilot has started in the last year in clinical neuropsychology. Such specialist certificates may be available from national associations, in which case individuals may be attracted to the European component of the certificate, while in other countries, individuals may not have access to recognition for their more advanced education and training in this specialism within their own national association. 

A recent initiative in Poland has enjoyed some success. The Polish National Awarding Committee has reviewed university programmes and issued a 'Certificate of Consistency' to those programmes that meet the EuroPsy standards. Universities can use this to promote their programmes as suitable for the EuroPsy training route but individuals may also use it to promote the quality of their training, that they have completed a university programme that meets the EuroPsy standards.

How has Brexit impacted EuroPsy?

It's not clear how or if Brexit will impact the EuroPsy. The British Psychological Society were quick off the mark to communicate their dedication and commitment to their membership of EFPA and their European colleagues immediately following the results of the Brexit referendum.

Psychologists from the UK have always been very active in EFPA and the EuroPsy. The 'mother' of the EuroPsy is a UK psychologist – Professor Ingrid Lunt – who led an international team through various European initiatives that eventually led to what we know today as the EuroPsy. Gary Squires, who chaired the National Awarding Committee in the UK from 2018 to 2022, was at the helm during the Brexit process and with his colleagues in the UK National Awarding Committee communicated the relevance of the EuroPsy beyond it being a EU qualification, but having wider meaning in terms of being part of the wider European network. The UK is well represented throughout EFPA in being involved in various task forces, working groups and both contributing to and learning from knowledge and practice in psychology across Europe – that hasn't changed with Brexit. A survey carried out in the UK highlighted that EuroPsy was of interest to a greater diversity of practitioners than had been expected. The BPS does not charge applicants for the EuroPsy; it is an example of a Member Association that offers this as a member benefit. However, given the membership numbers of BPS and the numbers eligible for the EuroPsy, interest has been low. 

Do you see a role for EuroPsy in ‘uniting communities for a sustainable world’?  

I think that the EuroPsy is a good example of how networking at a European level has achieved impressive results and that being able to collaborate among different countries with different education and training systems can benefit all. Sustainability is a challenge facing us all and psychologists have an important role to play in influencing changes in attitudes and behaviour and influencing policy and legislation. EFPA, and by extension, the EuroPsy community, offers a mechanism for bringing people together, sharing expertise and influencing EU policy. 

How does EuroPsy sit alongside the BPS and Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) systems?

Psychologists in the UK who are HCPC registered automatically meet the EuroPsy standards, thus all HCPC registered psychologists are eligible for the EuroPsy certificate. As I've mentioned, the attraction of the EuroPsy for those who have this certificate appears to focus more on the European affiliation – being part of a wider community of psychologists and communicating the idea of meeting a European standard. The education and training standards within individual countries in Europe is so diverse, the EuroPsy enables us to have a common language, one that communicates a common set of standards. If I meet someone from a different country and they tell me they hold the EuroPsy certificate, I don't need to know all about the particular training pathways in that country – I know what the EuroPsy standards are so this tells me a lot about their training.

I think whether someone should be chartered, HCPC registered, and EuroPsy registered depends on what the individual psychologist values. Chartered brings a sense of belonging at a national level to the British Psychological Society, which offers a set of member benefits that doesn't come with being HCPC registered. The latter is needed for employment and accountability. The EuroPsy brings the European dimension to one's credentials and a sense of belonging to a wider community of psychologists, as well as facilitating mobility where those opportunities arise. 

What’s the future of EuroPsy?

Education and training standards need to keep up with the changing nature of our work as psychologists and the dynamic needs of those we serve. A working group within EFPA has been working over the past two years to revise the EuroPsy standards; these will be presented to the General Assembly in Brighton in July.

I expect this will be an ongoing challenge; to continually revise and adapt the regulations to meet the needs of the profession and the public. There are still many countries where supervised practice requirements as part of the training period are not embedded in legislation; these national associations work hard to lobby their politicians and government ministries to support the EuroPsy standards as the minimum standard for entry to the profession but there is a lot more work to be done. Indications to date suggest that the EU will not impose a minimum standard for working as a psychologist but will leave this to individual countries to regulate.

The specialist certificates are more attractive in some countries than in others. As I mentioned, some national associations or competent authorities have their own mechanisms for recognising advanced training undertaken by their members beyond their basic training, while others rely on a European body such as EFPA to provide this recognition. It was always the vision that more specialist certificates would be developed – this will depend on demand. In the EuroPsy, we try to be as responsive as possible, listening to our Member Association representatives and tailoring our processes and procedures to support them in implementing the EuroPsy certification process in their country.

- Rosaleen McElvaney will be a keynote speaker at the European Congress of Psychology this July in Brighton. Find out more; and apply for the EuroPsy here.