Trainee psychologists who struggle in real-world external placements pose an ongoing headache for training in the profession, a new study has shown.
Clinical psychology training courses in Australia and New Zealand reported “a small but significant number” of trainees with psychological, behavioural and/or developmental competency problems. Among the issues reported were an inability to take on supervisor feedback, low resilience in the face of high workload and common psychological disorders, such as depression.
The study also revealed a wide range of strategies used when trainees fall short, ranging from the creation of a culture of self-care, extended training in ethical practice and a requirement for the completion of internal highly supervised placements before a student can embark on an external placement.
Researcher Alice Shires, psychology clinic director in the UTS Graduate School of Health, said that due to the high academic standards needed to gain a place on a clinical psychology course and a rigorous selection process, the number of trainees with competency problems is low.
“However, it is still a big concern for trainers who have a duty of care to the public in ensuring that clinical psychology trainees are fit to practice.
“The experience of clinical psychology training is an intense one that combines the acquisition of knowledge and theory with developing the ability to apply that theory in a skilful way, both in training clinics and, eventually, in the real world of external placements.”
Shires said historically there has been little agreement about the most effective ways of identifying and managing these competency problems in clinical psychology development and training.
The study, conducted by UTS, the Australian College of Applied Psychology, University of Wollongong and Macquarie University, aimed to identify the extent of the problem and potential for improvement.
“Identifying and managing trainees with competency problems is critical in ensuring that clinical psychology trainees are of a high standard when they leave training and carry on the path to registration as psychologists and endorsement as clinical psychologists.”
A psychometrically based tool called the Clinical Psychology Practicum Competencies Rating Scale (CYPRS) is widely used in the evaluation of trainees’ competencies during clinical psychology placements and has helped to capture a more accurate picture of the problem.
“Other improvements might be for universities to develop more consistent approaches to assessment of competencies and the development of inherent requirements for managing those trainees with problematic professional competencies,” Shires said.
Shires and her colleagues in clinical psychology are continuing to examine how problems with competencies are identified and addressed so the profession can maintain high standards on which the public can rely.
The study “Addressing professional competency problems in clinical psychology trainees” is published in a special issue of Australian Psychologist focusing on clinical supervision.