Warning on shortage of psychologists

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 September, 2004, 12:00am

Not enough qualified professionals to treat mental problems

China has an acute shortage of trained psychologists to deal with the millions of people suffering from mental problems, according to participants at a national psychologists convention in Shanghai.

Xinhua also reported that the lack of a standardised assessment system was hampering the quality of the profession.

'Some people who have only three months of training will claim themselves to be psychologists and offer their services to patients,' it said.

Quoting information provided by the convention, Xinhua said there were about 100 psychologists in Shanghai, but the city's mental health centre was receiving more than 200 patients a day.

About 20 per cent of the 1.3 billion people on the mainland have psychological problems, with the figure expected to rise to 25 per cent by 2020.

Wu Heming , a doctor affiliated with Zhongde Psychological Counselling Hospital in Wuhan , said the incidence of problems worldwide was just 5 to 10 per cent.

Dr Wu said there were only a few hundred professional psychologists on the mainland to meet that demand and very few had international qualifications.

'In western countries, there is one counsellor for every 20,000 people, but in Shanghai there would not be more than 100 therapists [for the whole city],' he said.

Some analysts estimate that in Shanghai alone, 10,000 counsellors will be needed within a few years. Dr Wu said the population was suffering from increased psychological pressure due to uncertainty about the future.

'China is at a special social turning point,' he said.

'People are facing high social pressure because a sound social security system is not in place yet.'

Dr Wu said labour unions at state-owned enterprises previously acted as counselling centres, but economic reforms had shattered the system.

The Cultural Revolution was another factor behind the high rate of mental problems. 'The generation which experienced the Cultural Revolution has psychological problems, and we have discovered that these issues also affect their children,' he said.

Other factors included pressure on children to perform well at school, rising demands on workers and the one-child policy.

Dr Wu said authorities needed to standardise the licensing of psychologists. Two years ago, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security launched a licensing system for psychologists, while the Ministry of Health introduced its own.

Shenzhen therapist Dai Yingpin said the two systems should be combined. Ms Dai said some counsellors were employed after a few months of training, while others had no training at all.

'Although the percentage of people with psychological problems is very high, there is not much optimism about employment conditions for therapists,' she said.

'Maybe in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, job conditions for counsellors are improving because people there understand the importance of mental health.

'But in small cities, therapists can hardly make ends meet.'