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What do we need from psychologists in Canada?

UofGH Program Head brings ideas from the field to first-of-its-kind CPA summit

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Last week, the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) held its first ever summit on the need, supply and demand of psychologists in Canada.

“We have a lot of psychologists – but we still don’t have enough to meet the needs,” says Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Director, Science Directorate of the CPA, Dr. Lisa Votta-Bleeker. “We have a lot of work to do. What do we need from psychologists in Canada?”

Dr. David Danto, UofGH program head and chair of the Aboriginal section of the CPA, took that question forward to those who would answer it best.

He put the question to all members of the CPA’s Aboriginal section; he put the question to those working in psychology in Aboriginal communities; he put the question to those working outside of psychology – in areas such as education and probation and parole. What he found was more validating than surprising.

“I wasn’t sure how many people had come to the same conclusions as I had. But many people had similar concerns. I didn’t find very much conflicting information.”

What he did find included everything from organizational and structural challenges, accessibility problems, training gaps, and challenges related to social justice and education of the general population.

But perhaps the biggest problem is what he calls a lack of recognition of the need to better understand the needs of Aboriginal psychology. At the heart of this, gaps in research itself.

“The dominant framework for psychology research in Canada right now involves concepts like constructs, with pre-determined definitions. And this is problematic,” Dr. Danto explains.

“What seems to be a better fit with the Aboriginal world view is one that is more holistic – one that takes experience as fundamental, rather than abstract concepts. Research must benefit the population that’s being studied. And it’s difficult to argue the benefit when neither the method nor the findings resonate with the community being studied.”

“There are many long-term issues that require long-term solutions. But there are also issues that can be addressed in the short-term,” he adds.

Dr. Votta-Bleeker agrees. “We’re not going to be able to address every aspect of this issue at once. But we will be looking at the perspectives [Dr. Danto] brought forth from the community [in order to] find some bite sized pieces we’ll be able to follow through on in the short-term.”

Dr. Danto suggests part of a short-term solution could address accessibility and fragmented service: “People are falling through the cracks. You don’t have to be involved in the area of Aboriginal psychology for very long before you experience what’s going on – and I feel this is a strength. I feel like it is going to have to receive attention in the very near future. Many of us are seeing the same thing.”