Sigmund Freud's sofa at the London Freud museum. Photo: Konstantin Binder, Wikipedia

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It took 121 years to agree what psychologists really do

When Sigmund Freud treated his first patient in 1889 little did he know that 121 years later there would be 77,250 psychiatrists and 250,000 psychologists in Europe. That is also how long it has taken to agree on a common European standard of qualifications.

Mar 02, 2010 | 24.02.2010 | Text: Björn Lindahl

"The common certificate Europsy will make it easier for psychologists to have their skills recognised in other European countries," says Per A Straumsheim. He has been working with Europsy at the Norwegian Psychological Association. 

Norway will be the seventh country to implement Europsy - The European Certificate of Psychology. Finland is the other Nordic country to implement it so far. Psychiatry is an example of how new occupations emerge, specialise, join forces in various occupational associations before finally demanding a protected title for the occupations concerned. 

There are more than 30,000 people in the Nordic countries working within some branch of psychology. Sigmund Freud also had no idea he was starting something which would end up creating three new occupations - psychologist, psychiatrist and psychotherapist. 

Sweden has:

  • 8,000 psychologists - with a university degree in behavioural science. They can not write prescriptions. They can also work within other areas of psychiatry. 
  • 1,600 psychiatrists, who are medical doctors who have specialised in psychiatry. 
  • 3,000 psychotherapists, trained within one of the many existing types of psychotherapy. A psychotherapists working within psychiatry often has a basic education as psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse, sociologist or mental health nurse.

There is still space for more workers within psychiatry in Sweden. Switzerland tops the statistics with the most psychiatrists; 30 per 100,000 people. Finland is the Nordic country with the most psychiatrists - 26 per 100,000, while in Albania there are only three per 100,000 people.

Few psychiatrists in Africa

The average number of psychiatrists in the 41 European countries covered by WHO statistics is nine psychiatrists per 100,000 people. For Africa that number is only 0.05 per 100,000. 

"The Europsy certificate does more than provide information about your six year education plus vocational training. It also functions as an assessment of your competence. We already see that Norwegian universities are taking Europsy seriously when they are planning their master courses and other vocational courses," says Per A. Straumsheim.

If you are granted the certificate, you'll end up in one of four profiles depending on your area of work: health service, education or organisations. Anyone who doesn't fit any of those will be placed in a fourth group.

So far Europsy is a voluntary scheme for European psychology organisations and universities. But Per A Straumsheim believes it will eventually form the basis for an EU directive drawing up definite educational and qualification standards.

Occupation card

Despite the EU's free labour market only four percent of people have lived and worked in a different member state. Only two percent are living and working in a different member country at this very moment. 

The EU aims to introduce a professional card for service providers similar to Europsy, which could improve the efficiency and mobility of the service and the labour market. The occupation card will list university or other education as well as comptences. It would simplify the administrative processes involved for persons wanting to work in another Member State and to reduce the costs incurred by professionals.