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Profile: Psychology in Cyprus

Even though psychology is considered to be a relatively young field around the world, in Cyprus psychology is in its infancy.

By Marios N. Adonis

by Marios N. Adonis, PhD; Maria Karekla, PhD; Marios Constantinou, PhD
University of Nicosia

Even though psychology is considered to be a relatively young field around the world, in Cyprus psychology is in its infancy.  It was not until the early 1970s that the first individuals who studied psychology abroad returned and introduced this field to the island of Cyprus (Tziongouros, 2007). The first psychologists in Cyprus were people who specialized in other mental health professions (e.g. psychiatry) and had received further education in the field of psychology.

The history of Cyprus, as well as that of psychology in Cyprus, were marked by the 1974 Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation of approximately one third of the island. These events left Cyprus a divided country where almost half the population became refugees and where every family lost a loved one or had family members missing. Feelings of insecurity and the loss of lives no doubt led to an increased interest in the field of psychology in the years following and to an increase in the number of people who became interested in the study of psychology.

It is important to note, that until very recently (1991), there was no post-secondary education in Cyprus. Individuals interested in studying beyond the high-school level had to go abroad. Consequently, in the 1970s and 1980s there were many individuals studying psychology abroad in countries such as Greece, England, the USA, the USSR, and others. Most of these individuals received a Bachelors degree, or the equivalent, and returned to Cyprus to practice. 

With the return of these psychologists to Cyprus, there began to be a need for an organization among them. Psychologists needed to make their specialization known to the public and they wanted the government to acknowledge what they had to contribute to mental health by offering positions for psychologists (Tziongouros, 2007). In 1980, 21 psychologists formed the Cyprus Psychologists Association (CYPSA), a professional body designed to help the field of psychology move forward. According to Tziongouros (2007), from its early conception CYPSA’s goal was to promote the field of psychology by: (a) Establishing the legal parameters of psychology as a mental health profession and promoting the interests of psychologists; (b) Educating the public about the role, expertise, ethics, and methods used by psychologists and promoting the services provided by psychologists by establishing high standards of professional education and practice within its members; (c) Developing, promoting, using, and applying the science of psychology; (d) Contributing and participating in political planning and the development of public policy in issues relevant to the field of psychology; (e) Providing expert advice to individuals interested in the field of psychology and providing valid information to its members regarding their professional roles and responsibilities; (f) Developing and enhancing communication between members of the association and colleagues abroad; and (g) Contributing to the safe guarding of the public’s interests as consumers of mental health services.

CYPSA, as well as psychology in Cyprus, have had a bumpy road in their development. One of the challenges that arose and still continues is that, because of a lack of undergraduate and graduate education opportunities in Cyprus, most psychologists in Cyprus have studied abroad within a variety of different “school cultures”. Although this might appear as a positive facet that would enrich the field of psychology, such variability has proved a challenge to a coherent psychology in Cyprus. For one, there is no uniform philosophy of teaching psychology across the world nor is there an internationally agreed upon curriculum of study to become a practicing psychologist. This has meant that Cypriot psychologists who have studied all over the world (e.g. Australia, USA, numerous countries in Europe, ex-Soviet countries etc) have very different approaches to psychology and its practicing ethics and specialization, which can lead to confusion debate about procedures in Cyprus. For example, in the United States, an Educational psychologist is defined as someone with expertise in a theory-based subfield of psychology that is concerned with “the theory, methodology, and application to a broad spectrum of teaching, training, and learning issues” (APA, 2007a). In contrast, in the United Kingdom educational psychology is defined as a more applied field in which educational psychologists “tackle the problems encountered by young people in education, which may involve learning difficulties and social or emotional problems. They carry out a wide range of tasks with the aim of enhancing children's learning and enabling teachers to become more aware of the social factors affecting teaching and learning” (BPS, 2007). The equivalent of the UK educational psychologist is a school psychologist in the US, where “School Psychology is composed of scientific-practitioner psychologists whose major professional interests lie with children, families, and the schooling process and psychologists engage in the delivery of comprehensive psychological services to children, adolescents, and families in schools and other applied settings” (APA, 2007b).

A second issue is that there are no internationally agreed upon criteria for the licensing of practicing psychologists. In some countries individuals may become practicing psychologists with a Bachelors degree, in others with a Masters degree in applied areas, and in yet other counties a PhD in an applied field and licensing are required. In Europe there is currently an effort to form common criteria and standards for the training and education of applied psychologists under the EuroPsy program, which will recognize qualified individuals as “Registered psychologists” (EFPA, 2007).  The EuroPsy criteria are currently being piloted in several European countries with the goal of developing European Union legislation that will serve as a set of minimum educational requirements for psychology practitioners across all the EU member states.  The current consensus is formulated around a three phase model in which phase one is the Bachelor’s degree with a minimum duration of three years, phase two is a Master’s degree with a minimum duration of two years, and phase three is at least one year (1500 hours) of supervised practice.

From its inception, one of the priorities of CYPSA was to set legal standards for the practice of psychology and establish the provision of high quality services to the public.  CYPSA’s hard work seemed to pay off in 1995, when the first law establishing the minimum qualifications for practicing psychology was voted by the Cyprus parliament. This law stated that in order to practice psychology, one needed a minimum of a two-year Masters degree in an applied field of psychology and nine months of practicum experience.  There were some ambiguities in the law - it did not explicitly state how much experience should be included in the nine months of practicum (presumably one could become licensed with 100 hours in nine months or 1000 hours); additionally, it did not explicitly specify how to “count” practical training of foreign degrees, and it allowed for “grandfathering” of individuals who did not meet the criteria but had been practicing psychology until 1995.   

As it turned out, the law was never put into effect as a result of a variety of problems created by lobbyists. The efforts of CYPSA to establishing minimum standards continued and finally in 2004, changes to the 1995 law were passed along with a new effort to put the law into effect. The 2004 law now explicitly states that for an individual to practice the profession of psychology and to become licensed, he/she needs to obtain a Bachelor’s, or equivalent, degree in Psychology and a graduate degree (consisting of a minimum of three year training, which includes a minimum of 1500 hours of supervised practice) in an applied field of psychology.  A number of grandfathering provisions allowed for individuals already practicing psychology for certain amount of years, prior to the date to which the law came into effect, to become licensed. The grandfathering allowed for the licensing of individuals provided that they had a Masters’ degree in Psychology (any specialty) or had a Bachelors degree and were practicing psychology for five years prior to 1996, the date when the first law of 1995 was supposed to enter into effect (reference: The (amending) law for the registration of professional psychologists, 2004).

In January 2005 the Council for Registration of Professional Psychologists (CRPP) was formed and given the mandate by the Council of Ministers to evaluate applications of psychologists who wished to obtain a practitioner’s license. For the first time there was a feeling that the practice of psychology would be regulated and the public would be protected from unqualified individuals. Since the formation of the CRPP in 2005 until April 2007, 149 applications were submitted, 81 psychologists (54%) were licensed, 12 (8.5%) were licensed under supervision, 21 applications (14%) were rejected and 35 applications (23%) were still pending (Georgiadis, 2007).

However, even though there were numerous “grandfathering” provisions to the 2004 Law a significant number of individuals who wished to become practitioners were not eligible under the new law. Individuals holding Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and/or graduate degrees in non-applied fields of psychology were precluded from practicing psychology. The new law raised a number of objections among those who were not qualified to practice psychology that culminated in the formation of a second psychological association in Cyprus that is lobbying for the reduction of the standards. the new organization has a significant number of members (given that psychology is one of the most popular subjects studied at the undergraduate level and individuals holding Bachelor’s degrees have found a niche) and has been successful in convincing the former Minister of Health, certain political parties, and numerous Members of Parliament to be in favor of an amendment to the current law. The aim of this group is to lower the criteria for obtaining a practicing license to the bachelor’s level.

One unfortunate consequence of the actions of this group is that many psychology students are beginning to question whether it is worth pursuing graduate education. Students have seen individuals who have completed years of graduate training and espoused highest ethical standards being “punished” and presented in the media in Cyprus as elitists and interested only in becoming rich by keeping the competition low. They have also seen qualified individuals by-passed for jobs, especially well-paying government jobs at hospitals in favor of persons with lower qualifications. The public has also become quite confused by the situation and there is concern that mistrust in psychologists will develop as a result.

The battles within psychology are especially unfortunate because they keep the profession from attending to other issues that threaten it. For example, standards for school counseling are low (school teachers of various disciplines may offer counseling services after a month-long seminar) and psychology teachers do not need to be trained in psychology (for example psychology classes are taught by Greek Literature teachers). Clearly, a need for well qualified school psychologists and teachers of psychology is not obvious.

Because psychology does not have a strong coherent organization, opportunities for the discipline are weakening. Psychology positions are scarce within the social services department of the Cyprus government because only social workers and sociologists are hired. Currently, the Ministry of Health is planning to create the first inpatient childhood psychiatric clinic and proposes that the clinic should be staffed by numerous psychiatrists and only one child psychologist. Additionally, in no hospital in Cyprus is a psychologist hired as part of the interdisciplinary team or primary care. It is unfortunate that these legitimate battles for Cyprus psychologists are overshadowed by conflict about levels of qualifications. The strength of any discipline rests in its ability to forge a set of values, expectations and training that reflect its shared knowledge base and expertise. The concern now in Cyprus is that political forces will allow acceptance of standards that do not sufficiently protect the public and develop the discipline. Ψ


References

American Psychological Association, Division 15 (2007a). Retrieved October 25, 2007, from http://www.apa.org/about/division/div15.html.

American Psychological Association, Division 16 (2007b). Retrieved October 25, 2007, from http://www.apa.org/about/division/div16.html.

British Psychological Society (2007). Retrieved October 25, 2007, from http://www.bps.org.uk/careers/areas/educational.cfm#what.

European Federation of Psychologist Associations, EuroPsy (2007). October 25, 2007, from http://www.efpa.be.

Georgiadis, S. (2007). Retrieved October 25, 2007, from http://www.cypsa.org.cy/Default_files/page0010.htm.

Ο Περί Εγγραφής Επαγγελματιών Ψυχολόγων Νομός [The law for the registration of professional psychologists, 104 (I), The House of Representatives, Republic of Cyprus (1995).

ΟΠερί Εγγραφής Επαγγελματιών Ψυχολόγων (Τροποποιητικός) Νομός. [The (amending) law for the registration of professional psychologists , 234 (I), The House of Representatives, Republic of Cyprus. (2004).

Tziongouros, C., (2007). Retrieved October 25, 2007, from http://www.cypsa.org.cy.