[A proposal for reforming psychologists' training in France and in the European Union]

Encephale. 2009 Feb;35(1):18-24. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2007.11.008. Epub 2008 Apr 2.
[Article in French]


Background: In France, as in the European Union, the number of psychologists continues to increase and constitutes by far the most important source of professionals in this field. The requests for services of psychologists in many various domains have also increased in an unprecedented way over a number of years. In spite of this development, which should continue to increase considerably, the initial training of psychologists remains uneven and disparate and often remote from, even unsuitable to, the legitimate expectations of users. It is therefore important to reform this training by extending, updating, homogenising and adapting it to current knowledge and needs, and by marking it by a single and specific degree: that of a doctorate. This new eight-year doctoral curriculum would be at the same time more complete and simpler than the European Diploma in Psychology model (EuroPsy), for instance. This latter is a very complicated and insufficient subject and would not completely resolve the great problems of psychologists' training and the competences they need to gain in order to access professional practise, research and teaching. This extension of the psychologists' training would make it possible to integrate new data concerning traditional fields of psychology and data concerning new fields of application of psychology and should obviously include the essential training for psychotherapies referred to the great theoretical and practical models, since their interest is clinically acknowledged (psychoanalysis and psychoanalytical therapies, cognitive and behavioural therapies, systemic therapies, therapies for individuals, couples, families, groups...). This polyreferred training would make it possible to go from a culture still too often axed on orientation and deficiencies of the therapist, to a culture of indication, opening and competence, focused on the patient's interest. Teaching of psychophysiology and neurosciences should be updated and harmonised by taking into account the great current and future stakes of public health. It should be supplemented by psychopharmacology lectures. This reform of psychologists' training would ensure a common pedestal of increased knowledge coupled with theoretical/practical competence. The positive consequences of such a reform would relate to many fields. Here are six examples.

Tracks of work: Education: prevention, tracking, treatment of personal problems or of instruction from nursery school to university; orientation; council, assistance with managing difficulties of teaching staff, etc. Health: tracking, prevention, diagnosis, treatment of psychic and behavioural disorders, of addictive attitudes, of psychological problems related to somatic pathologies (cancer, HIV, etc.), of problems related to ageing of population; training and supervision of medical staff, etc. Justice: caring of victims, of offenders in prison or out of prison, fight against repetition, expertise, staff training (magistrates, lawyers, penitentiary staff, social workers...). Work context: (companies, public and private organisations): recruitment, management of staff problems, human resources management, coaching, competence assessment, orientation, etc. Sport: assessment, management and improvement of performances, management of stress, success, failures, and career; fight against doping; help for retraining after suspension of activity, etc.

Research: development of many useful research axes in relation to ground needs in all application fields of psychology. Such a reform, which would make it possible to shift towards a training more adapted to reality, more homogeneous and aiming at excellence, would ensure better guarantees of service to psychologist users and to their possible employers. Beyond a deep improvement of their initial training and their offer of competence, it would also enable psychologists to witness a very clear improvement of their professional status as well as their level of remuneration. The number of trained psychologists could be adapted to the needs of our society by organizing a numerus clausus for access in a Master 1. This regulation would leave at least three years to students to show their motivations and competence. It would also give a valuable licence level (clearly recognized on the European scene) to students who do not continue the university course in psychology and want to reorientate themselves (entrance exams, studies or professions requiring good prerequisite in social studies and nature studies, etc.).

Some suggestions: Those already authorised to hold the title of psychologist when this doctorate is created would not be obliged to validate it, but would profit from the progress generated by this important improvement in the initial training (status, remuneration, etc). If some of these people wished to validate it, they could do so within a defined time and according to defined methods (additional training, validation of experience assets, thesis, etc.). To help students to materially take up the extension of the curriculum, systems of financial assistance for the last three years of studies should be set up either in the form of study allowances, or in the form of internship with remunerated professional implication in the great sectors of exercise of psychology (education, legal and paralegal sectors, industry and work sectors, health, etc.) in parallel and in addition to university training. Internship should be privileged because it would permit the achievement of four objectives: immersion of very advanced students in professional exercise while maintaining training them under supervision, to offer them various and crucial grounds of exercise and research that are adapted to reality, to remunerate them and hence also, offer an important professional service to users (individuals or institutions). The most important and essential improvement added to the initial training of psychologists by the creation of this new doctoral course would not exclude continuous training when necessary in career course. This reform aiming at excellence, which is socially and humanly highly necessary, must obviously also be accompanied by an indispensable and important revision of the criteria in the selection and competence of those who will dispense this renewed training (the current criteria used to recruit psychology teachers have been widely contested and deemed to be, justly so, the main cause of shortcomings of the initial training of psychologists and of their professional segmentation). An aggregative or postdoctoral route should thus be created to recruit future psychology teachers in the higher education (public and private). This recruitment should take into account candidates' theoretical knowledge, but also their knowledge of the profession and their qualities in its exercise. Thus the following criteria are essential when recruiting psychology teachers: validation of the reformed doctorate in psychology (and possibly validation of trainings complementing this doctorate); practice in the field of the psychologist's job (during at least 10 years full-time, followed by the possibility of becoming practitioner-teacher-researcher in psychology, in the sector of experiments and acquired competences, if the candidate is selected at aggregation); ability to teach and capacity to train the future psychologists for the professional acts they will be susceptible to conduct; capacity to conceive, initiate, carry out, direct and communicate useful research. Recruiting all psychology teachers in the stock of professional psychologists who are experienced, talented, skilled and who perform in all the application fields of the discipline as practitioner-teacher-researcher, is vital to implement these essential improvements in psychologists' training, exercise and research. It is therefore a priority for the future of French and European psychologists to set up as fast as possible a reformed doctorate and an aggregation (or, with regard to the aggregation, an equivalent formalised cursus); it is the common interest of psychology professionals, of their trainers and even more so of their users (people or institutions). This reform, based on the excellence of training and services offered, would also make it possible to preserve the essential unity of discipline and profession beyond the multiplicity of their sectors of application and intervention. It would also facilitate possibilities for insertion, for change of sector in career course and for professional geographical mobility. It would finally clarify the "psy" nebula for users, which is very important and necessary.

Conclusion: It is more than ever essential to develop and update in excellence the high level "psy" generalist profession, the profession of psychologist, which users need in many fields of their private, professional or social life. We should guarantee that European Union countries, eager for development and modernity, will rapidly be able to initiate this type of good sense reform, which, by improving care for people and collective balance, would be a new and important step in their humanistic traditions (according to the World Health Organization, one person out of four is in psychological distress). Since psychism and human behaviour are complex and central in all fields of life, the existence of highly qualified psychologists to help them is imperative. Reaching this high level of updated qualification is technically possible and humanly impossible to avoid. Fast reforms must make this requirement achievable. It is in the interest of all the European Union, and all its member states must become a reference and an example in the world for teaching and professional practise of what has become a key discipline: psychology.

Publication types

  • English Abstract

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum / standards
  • Education, Graduate / standards*
  • Europe
  • European Union*
  • France
  • Humans
  • Professional Competence / standards
  • Psychology / education*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / standards