One of the challenges facing the field of sport and exercise psychology is the lack of clarity regarding why you should employ a qualified practitioner (other than the suggestion you really should). We spend a lot of time talking about qualification systems, but not enough time telling the public what a qualified practitioner gives you that other practitioners might not.
Illustration depicting a sign with a qualification concept.
The first (and potentially most important) reason relates to insurance. If you have a profession, you can get indemnity insurance – for many non-qualified ‘consultants’ out there without a profession insurance is problematic. It is important to check that insurance is in place, and it is for the domain of practice. Second, and potentially as important relates to conduct and ethics. Qualified practitioners have professional accountability through adherence to professional codes of conduct and confidentiality, non-qualified practitioners do not necessarily have this constraint to work ethically. This would be of particular concern for individuals working with under-age or vulnerable groups.
The training and supervision that comes with getting qualified is also important. This helps to develop the required knowledge, skills and expertise. Depth of knowledge is particularly important. The fundamental requirement to be a psychologist is, unsurprisingly, an in-depth knowledge of psychology (hence the name). Anyone who does not have this underpinning is not a sport and exercise psychologist – regardless of whether they refer to themselves as such. Part of the reason here is valueaddedness. Strength and conditioning is a good parallel example here. Sports employ S&C practitioners because of their advanced skills and knowledge. All coaches can do fitness but there is a recognition that the S&C expert goes beyond this. It should be true to sport and exercise psychologists. The coaches can do goal setting, mental skills, being mentally tough etc etc. As a result the psychologist should be doing more advanced psychology – that is kind of the point. The context information is important too – that’s why we are sport and exercise psychologists and not just psychologists. To become a HCPC registered Sport and Exercise Psychologist you need to complete at least 6 years of education and training. To become an NLP practitioner you need to complete a 20-day training programme. In the Sport and Exercise Psychology Review this quarter there is an interesting discussion of NLP use by qualified psychologists rather than as a stand alone qualification).
There is a very interesting study recently published by Toby Woolway and Chris Harwood (reference at the end) that explored attitudes towards profession titles. In the study they clarified to participants what the different ‘levels’ by being qualified meant. They had three categories: lifecoach, NLP practitioner, and Sport and Exercise Psychologist. Unsurprisingly, once participants understood the differences between all three categories professional title became an important factor in influencing client preferences for practitioners. It is no wonder that non-appropriately qualified individuals try to use the title. But, once the right information is communicated to the public their preference is for correctly qualified practitioners.
So, as a profession we need to do more to communicate this message. To further highlight the gulf between qualified practitioners and everyone else trying to work in the domain.
Woolway, T., & Harwood, C. (20015). Do titles matter in sport psychology? Performer attitudes toward professional titles and the effect of a brief intervention. The Sport Psychologist, 29, 171-182.