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Psychologist found guilty of unprofessional conduct

14 September 2016

± minute read

    Psychologist found guilty of unprofessional conduct
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There have been quite a number of references made in the media to a psychologist who has been found guilty of "unprofessional conduct" and subsequently struck from the HPCSA roll (eNews Channel Africa and Times Live). This is an exceptional case given that most psychologists or psychometrists, if found guilty of some misconduct, have to pay a fine. To be struck from the roll is very serious.

According to the information provided, it seems that the psychologist worked with an assessment services provider who does not have their own psychologists on staff. The psychologist provided subject choice and career choice reports based on a learning receptiveness skills test.

It seems that the psychologist delegated the task of test administration to an administrative person not registered with the HPCSA. According to the media reports the psychologist wrote about 14 000 career reports per year culminating in about 130 000 reports over a 9-year period. Some of these scholars came from disadvantaged backgrounds. It would seem that these career reports served as a way to market additional products and services to the parents of the children.

The media refers to "lives ruined" because of inappropriate subject choice or children choosing the wrong careers. When referring to this advocate Meshack Mapolisa is quoted as saying that the psychologist "failed this noble profession by allowing others to disregard rules and regulations guarding it" (Source).

As it happens - the complaint against the psychologist did not come from the parents or the scholars, or the teachers from the schools that contracted the psychologist. The complaint was lodged by a disgruntled colleague who reported the fact that he had witnessed the use of poor assessment procedures over an extended period of time.

Although it is really difficult to verify the facts mentioned in the media, a first impression is that the psychologist overstepped boundaries and seemingly ignored basic psychological principles as formulated in the policies, Acts and guidelines available from the HPCSA

This case however also raises at least two very important questions.

Firstly, what is the role of psychologists and psychometrists in career choice and development work?

Secondly, what rights do psychologists and psychometrists have in delegating tasks?

Psychologists in the career development field:

There is new legislation to be implemented by the Department of Higher Education (DHEd) regarding career development services. They plan to have different tiers of career practitioners who may or may not be registered psychology professionals. The research done in preparation for this legislation indicates that questionnaires and tests supporting subject choice and career choice programmes are already being applied, scored, and interpreted by non-psychologists in the public and private sector every day.

The DHEd also makes the statement that there are not enough psychologists and psychometrists to provide career services to all the young and often unemployed people in the country. The suggestion is to establish a profession of career practitioners who will be able to provide young and unemployed people with an opportunity to learn more about themselves and the world of work. We have not seen or heard any feedback from the HPCSA’s Professional Board for Psychology with regard to this legislation, which overtly acknowledges that there are both HPCSA-registered and non-registered people working in the career field every day.

The right of the Psychologist/Psychometrist to delegate:

Thousands of test administrators have been trained with the knowledge and even the permission of the HPCSA over many years. We know that this was also done by the National Institute for Personnel Research (NIPR) and later the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). More recently, permission was provided by the Professional Board for Psychology allowing certain test publishers to train test administrators. Even the documentation of the Board itself, for many years, allowed for the fact that psychologists could delegate tasks. Most registered psychology professionals would not even know that their right to delegate professional tasks was removed from the HPCSA documentation a few years ago, when the new professional guidelines were published. Many people would also not remember that this was part of a very interesting court case between the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) and the HPCSA.

As a profession, we should seriously debate whether test administration is really a Psychological Act. Is test administration of highly structured group tests not an administrative task that people can be trained to do very responsibly and very well? After all, teachers administer and invigilate examinations in much the same way on a regular basis. Given the need for psychological expertise in the country and the limited number of registered psychology professionals available to offer these services, does it not make absolute sense to train test administrators? In line with the objectives of the proposed new DHEd legislation, we would be creating jobs for those interested in the subject without the means or the opportunity to study for 4 to 10 years.

In conclusion:

The psychologist, slammed by the media, may have showed poor judgement and a lack of knowledge of the HPCSA policies and principles. There are, however, serious additional questions we should ask about being found guilty at a time where other legislation is “opening up” the field of career development to be able to support the vast numbers of disadvantaged and unemployed people who need career direction. We do not know whether the psychologist was actually appointed as supervising psychologist to the test administrator, but if he was, we could criticise him for not training the person better. We do not know whether the quality of the assessments was acceptable and we do not know whether the sales of additional services were unethical, forced or inappropriate. We do know that we will stop developing as a profession and a discipline if we do not do personal reflection on the appropriateness of our actions.

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