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Psychology or sport science? The international dilemma.

Increasingly I am beginning to appreciate that the discussions in the UK about whether sport psychologists should emerge from a psychology or sport science tradition reflect an international debate. In the UK the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the British Association for Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) have been engaged in this debate. The UK government inadvertently got involved in the mid 2000s when looking to protect the title ‘psychologist’ but this has not really resolved the issue.


Indeed, in the UK to call yourself a sport and exercise psychologist you need to be on the UK government Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) practitioner register. The only way that you can now get on this register is through completing the BPS Qualification in sport and exercise psychology. All of which seems pretty clear cut, you have to be a psychologist! Except that is not the case. HCPC regulation was much trumpeted when it was brought in as the way to save the public and to ensure the ‘quality’ of the consultants. The only problem here is that the public don’t appear to care about this regulation. They apparently don’t care what they call their consultant as long as they are impactful. Indeed the media don’t even know who we are. I have listened to Sport Psychiatrist Steve Peters regularly referred to as a sport psychologist. Clients are keep on recommendation rather than qualification.


So it appears that, just as much as before, sport and exercise scientists (sport science) and sport and exercise psychologists (psychology) are providing the solutions to the sport world’s psychological problems. Indeed, the only outcome from this process appears to be a less effective development system. Sport and Exercise Scientists now do not now have enough psychology in their training (which never used to be the case). BPS trainees (as psychologists) do not spend enough time understanding the sporting world and importantly the role and remit of other sport science disciplines.

Increasingly to me it appears that the best solution would be to look at how we can most effectively combine these two training programmes. Currently, in my opinion, the best solution in terms of developing a well-rounded practitioner is for them to be both BPS chartered (and HCPC registered), and BASES accredited. Surely we can develop a system where both routes work, depending on where you have come from at undergraduate level (sport science or psychology). This client and trainee-focused approach could then require BPS candidates to take a ‘module’ delivered by BASES on sport and exercise science, and BASES candidates taking a module in psychology delivered by the BPS.


As clients don’t care about qualifications or accreditation/registration we can at least move to a position where we have a greater number of well-rounded practitioners which ever developmental route they have followed. As mentioned at the start though this is not just a UK issue. The same debates are currently raging in a number of countries across the world.

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