Yukon's psychology society wants territorial government to regulate profession

The Psychology Society of Yukon says regulation is needed to ensure standards of care and practice are being met in the territory, and to ensure patient safety. The Yukon is Canada's sole jurisdiction that doesn't have a regulatory framework for psychologists.

Regulation needed to maintain standards and ensure patient safety, says society president

Psychology Society of Yukon president Charlene Bradford, right, and vice-president Reagan Gale pose for a picture in Whitehorse on Nov. 22. The society is calling for the territorial government to regulate psychologists in the territory, arguing that it's a matter of safety and standards. (Jackie Hong/CBC)

The Psychology Society of Yukon is renewing calls for the territorial government to regulate the profession, citing patient safety as a key concern. 

The Yukon is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn't have a regulatory framework for psychologists, society vice-president Reagan Gale told CBC News. 

That means, in theory, anyone can practice psychology in the territory regardless of education or experience.

"Everybody else in the country can know that they are receiving high quality, evidence-informed services from a regulated health professional," said Gale.  "In Yukon, there's no way to do that."

Although Commissioner Angélique Bernard promised in her May throne speech that the government was aiming to improve and expand regulation to health professionals including psychologists, Gale said the society wants to see more action, and faster. 

Regulation is particularly crucial, society president Charlene Bradford said, because the impacts of someone receiving poor mental health care may not be immediately or obviously apparent. Although she declined to provide names, Bradford said she knew of "professionals operating within our territory" who list themselves as psychologists but don't have the qualifications they'd be required to show in other jurisdictions. 

She described the situation as "exceptionally concerning," particularly because in the absence of regulation, there's no professional body someone concerned about a psychologist's conduct could lodge a complaint with. 

"If someone is injured from [medical] malpractice … you can often tell and there is a physical injury to see," Brandford said. 

"In psychology, we're working in mental health and you might not see the mental injuries come up until much later … And so we want that accountability, for being held to a high standard for care and for services." 

Government in 'very early stages' of regulation process

Stephanie Connelly, the Yukon government's director of professional licensing and regulatory affairs, said she's been in touch with the Psychology Society of Yukon and that the government is in the "very early stages" of research.

"I do want to emphasize that this government recognizes that gap and has committed to regulating psychology," she said. "We believe that it's really important to realize that initiative as well as improving the regulation of health professionals more broadly." 

However, Connelly described the process of regulating a new profession as a "really big endeavour" that requires heavy research and engagement, noting that it took four years of "sustained work" for the government to successfully regulate midwifery. 

In the meantime, Connelly said "many" psychologists working in the Yukon are licenced in other jurisdictions, meaning Yukon residents with concerns can lodge complaints with the regulatory bodies in other provinces or territories where their psychologist practices. 

"It really is important for everyone as we go through this process of developing regulations to ask their psychologist if they are regulated elsewhere and to work with their psychologist to make sure that they're meeting their expectations," she said.

"This is a real opportunity for us to assess our gaps and to create a system that's going to be efficient and effective for the Yukon environment."