THE hype in society at large regarding medical graduates being underpaid and unrecognised seems an overstatement as there are many graduates in other fields suffering more than the medical graduates. MBBS graduates are fortunate enough as they do get ‘paid’ internships — house jobs, as they are called — even when they are only graduates and do not have specialisation.

On the contrary, psychologists even after specialisation do not get due recognition and require ‘references’ for internships which are all unpaid.

Being a student of MS Clinical Psychology, I was recently looking for an internship to gain hands-on experience. To my dismay, I came to know that internships not only require references, but now we also have to pay the organisation to allow us to do an internship. The Fauji Foundation

Hospital in Rawalpindi, for instance, charges Rs5,000 per month to let psychology students have practical exposure.

The level of unemployment faced by psychologists is serious and reflects the lack of concern among government agencies.

First the psychologists pay heavily to study at the university level and then they have to pay from their own pockets to get hands-on exposure in order to pursue higher studies and become qualified professionals.

In the last fiscal year, the unemployment rate nationwide was about 4.45 per cent. The Ehsaas Education Stipend Programme, launched by the government on Sept 1, entails an allowance to students, with higher stipend meant for girls to encourage them to get education.

The field of psychology is dominated by women, but after specialisation, one does not find a job which means the government initiative is only about studies; not employment.

There exists a mental health authority that advises the government on mental health policies and legislation, but it does not seem to pay much attention to the concerns of psychologists in the overall scheme of things.

For every 100,000 people in Pakistan, there are currently 0.28 psychologists, 61.15 paraprofessional psychosocial counsellors and 0.20 psychiatrists. The numbers indicate the need for more — actually, many more — professionals in the field, and yet there are no openings for the professionals.

The total healthcare expenditure by government health departments devoted to mental health happens to be 0.4pc. Moreover, social insurance schemes do not cover mental health disorders, and much has been written about the lack of psychotherapists within the national healthcare system.

The only use of applied psychology is in the selection process conducted by defence forces and in Central Superior Services by the Federal Public Service Commission. This is basically a continuation of the British practice.

There are so many accredited psychologists who are well qualified and yet unemployed. I wonder why universities produce so many psychologists when there is a lack of demand in society.

The statistics available on the national mental health sector are more than a decade old, which in itself shows the negligence on the part of the officialdom.

I am a former employee of an NGO where the entire staff used to work seven days a week and were paid as little as Rs5,000 a month. None of my batchmates got any job in the field other than those ‘lucky’ ones who could join the said NGO.

Adding to the problems are consultant psychiatrists who get due professional recognition, but find it proper to degrade the psychologists.

If they are true professionals, the psychiatrists need to join hands with the psychologists to reduce patients’ dependence on medication. But they don’t. I wonder why.

It is unfortunate that professional psychologists are marginalised and do not have the same opportunities as other degree holders have.

The psychologists are on the verge of themselves needing some psychological counselling. Things are that bad.

Shahzadi Siddiqa Kayani
Rawalpindi

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2021

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