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What’s in a name? The HCPC’s role in sport and exercise psychology

There is still considerable confusion in the UK regarding the regulation of the use of protected titles and the role of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting with HCPC organised by the BPS Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology that provided the opportunity to ask specific questions and to clarify a range of issues. As such, I feel I have much greater clarity regarding the role of HCPC and the regulation of the protected title of Sport and Exercise Psychologist.

Qualified or unqualified.

I have heard a lot of complaints over the years about ‘why aren’t HCPC policing the profession’? The simple answer is that it is not their job. They are a regulatory body whose main role is to protect the public by enforcing a level of qualification and expertise for anyone who uses a protected title. Their function is about regulating the use of the title rather than a profession per se. The other aspect of their function is the breadth of their role. HCPC currently regulate use of the 9 protected titles across seven modalities of psychology, which is one of 16 professions that they regulate. As a result, it is simply unrealistic to expect HCPC to ‘police’ these professions. What they will do though is investigate (and prosecute if necessary) breaches of the regulations that are reported to them. These complaints can be made by anyone (members of the public or professionals). So, as a profession it is our responsibility to report individuals who we feel are practicing illegally, or deliberately misleading the public. If we don’t take responsibility for our profession no one else will. Also, HCPC are happy to ‘educate’ the media if cases of miscommunication or misuse of the title are reported to them.

The next question is then what constitutes a breach of the regulations? Well, broadly speaking it is one of two things. First, using a protected title (in this case sport and exercise psychologist) and not being on the HCPC register. Anyone who uses the full-protected title (sport and exercise psychologist) or a partial title (sport psychologist or exercise psychologist) is breaching the regulations if they are not on the register and as a result can be prosecuted. The second area is broadly seen as deliberately misleading the public. As far as HCPC are concerned if you say you provide sport psychology services and are not on the register you are implying appropriate qualification which can be misleading to the public, and as a result you can be prosecuted. The implications of this are pretty clear. If you are not on the register and either call yourself a sport psychologist, or say you provide sport psychology services you can be prosecuted – pretty clear so far!

problem and solution

problem and solution concept with yellow road sign

Now though it becomes a little ‘greyer’. The regulations relates to sport and exercise psychology specifically, and not psychology more broadly. This means that you can provide psychological services in the domain of sport (as long as you do not make reference to sport psychology) and that is fine as far as HCPC are concerned. This grey area has led to a proliferation of ‘performance psychologists’ in the field (which is going to be a whole separate blog). So, if you are BASES accredited and you include (sport psychology) at the end of your title that is beaching the regulations, using (psychology) – so a Sport and Exercise Scientist specialising in psychology – is acceptable. As is a BPS chartered psychologist who is not HCPC registered working in sport (but not claiming to be a sport psychologist). The final point I will make relates to the level of accountability. As far as HCPC are concerned accountability exists at the individual level. So an organisation can advertise for a sport psychologist (and not require HCPC registered status), and appoint an individual who is not legally allowed to use the title. Once the employee uses the protected title in their job they (not the organisation) is breaching the regulations.

If anyone has a specific question about their own circumstances or the process of reporting cases to HCPC please feel free to get in touch.

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