To be or not to be a psychologist

Question marks with quote "Question of the week"

That is the question, isn’t it? Especially at this time of year when my registration fees are due. Do I sock more funds into that failing business of mine or call it a day? I wish there were an easy answer.

Although my health was fairly stable this past year, I have not actively sought clients for some time. My psychologist friends know I am working and send the occasional client my way, but my phone isn’t ringing off the hook. This past year, I didn’t even earn enough to warrant a call to my disability insurer to plead compassion for exceeding my earnings limit.

What does this mean? It means that it’s costing me money to keep my office door open. It means that, in order to make myself available on the off chance a client calls, I am investing in remaining accredited. It means that, despite my efforts to trim my expenses to the bare minimum, my expenses have exceeded my income this past year.

Believe it or not, pride is not the driving force for wanting to remain a psychologist. I, like any other schmo, could call myself a counsellor instead, even though I have a psychologist’s skills and training. As a counsellor, I could do exactly the same work with the same expertise; I just wouldn’t be able to call myself a psychologist. I’d also save the cost of psychology registration and malpractice insurance. But I don’t want to be a counsellor.

Falling under a regulating body means that I’m held to certain ethical standards, and my behaviour is monitored. There is comfort and familiarity in our ethical guidelines, which are in place to protect clients first and foremost, but also to protect me if I am falsely accused of behaving inappropriately as a psychologist.

Many of the rules will be familiar to you, and are common sense: don’t have sex with your clients; don’t see your best friend or your hair stylist in therapy (no dual relationships); don’t barter your fees for your client’s services, such as car repair; don’t blab to your neighbours about your clients. There’s an abbreviated ethics summary.

Sure, I could uphold these standards even as a counsellor, but I’d have no one watching over me if I blew it, which leaves my client at risk. How does a client report an ethical infraction if no governing body is holding that counsellor accountable?

Then there’s the money issue. If I’m a counsellor, clients will need to pay for my services themselves. (No extended health care plan would cover an unregulated counsellor.) That cost would be prohibitive for many clients. Even those who don’t have extended health care coverage can claim a psychologist’s fees on their taxes at year end. Without accreditation, my fees are no longer considered a medical expense.

For all these reasons, I’m going to throw away more money again this year, in case my office telephone rings. Why, just this morning, the dentist’s office called to schedule a cleaning.

I had to shut down my office unexpectedly for months when I was first diagnosed with leukemia. I had no choice then; I was too sick to work. But now I can choose to keep my office open, so I will. What have I got to lose, except perhaps more money?

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