Prof Sumaya Laher

President: Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA)

Dear PsySSA Members

It feels like just yesterday that I wrote my first President’s corner. It is difficult to believe that we are already a quarter of the way into 2017. I guess time passes really quickly when you are busy and PsySSA has been extremely busy. As you are aware the Society acquired new premises and since December the PsySSA Office has been operating from Parktown. The year started amidst a flurry of activity with submissions for both the INS and PAPU conferences coming in apace. Given the Society’s prominent roles in both conferences, the office has been busy organizing the logistics and ensuring the scientific merits of both conferences. You will no doubt recognize prominent local and international personalities who are attending the Congresses (visit INS page; visit PAPU page). INS will have workshops by Petrus de Vries, Michael McCrea, Margaret O’Connor and Yana Suchy whilst Micheal Kopelman, Donald Stuss, Vicky Anderson, Jonathan Evans, Jennifer Manly, Andrew Mayes and Michael Saling will be delivering keynote addresses. Professors Hussein Bulhan, Oscar Barbarin, Wade Nobles, Andrew Zamani, Carol Falender, Linda Richter, Therese Tchombe, Frank Worrell, Everett Worthington, Regis Chireshare are amongst the list of keynote speakers at the PAPU Congress. Workshops will be presented by the International Test Commission, and several other prominent scholars. Early bird registration and abstract submission for PAPU closes on 31 March 2017. Paid-up PsySSA members will receive an additional 5% discount on INS and PAPU Congress. Other PsySSA membership benefits include an opportunity negotiated with Datamax Panacea Practice Management System as well as the very affordable, comprehensive and popular PsySSA indemnity insurance package. Members can view the PsySSA indemnity insurance package at here.  PsySSA will also be supporting the 5th Southern African Psychology Students Conference in Harare.

Amidst this, PsySSA held the official opening of the new premises on its 23rd birthday. This day was indeed momentous. PsySSA has for the first time in its 23 years of existence secured its own premises. Members who have been with PsySSA from 1994 will remember Lynnwood Ridge, then Bruma and then for many years Killarney – the various ‘homes’ for PsySSA. In the last five or so years particularly from when PsySSA started with ICP it was becoming evident that the growth of the Society was exceeding the physical space. The new premises provides a physical reflection of where PsySSA is at this moment.

The new premises include a training facility thus affording opportunities for CPD activities and other events. The facility has already hosted a few workshops with many more booked for the coming months. PsySSA members can contact the office to enquire about booking the venue for training and/or meetings. The venue may also be booked online.

The official opening on the 23 January was also an auspicious occasion as the new premises also serve as a symbol of the success of the Psychology profession. For those who may not know, PsySSA officially came into existence on the 21 January 1994. Up to that point there were various bodies representing the profession most notably the apartheid-era Psychological Association of South Africa (PASA), the Psychology and Apartheid Committee (PAC) and the Organization for Appropriate Social Services in South Africa (OASSA). The coming together of these organisations marked the birth (pre-democracy let me add) of PsySSA. PsySSA was structured as a transformed entity to deal with the fast-changing dispensation and to speak authoritatively on behalf of the discipline on matters concerning the mental health and psychosocial well being of all South Africans.

All these years later PsySSA strives to do this. The year began with the shocking news of the Life Esidemeni crisis. PsySSA was amongst the organisations who objected to the move of patients before it happened but like the other organisations PsySSA was ignored. In the last three months PsySSA representatives have been involved in the ministerial task teams visiting all the NGO’s across Gauteng and making recommendations re: the transfer and care of patients. PsySSA also consulted with the Department of Health re: mental health awareness, and is in the process of making further recommendations to the DoH on the care and housing of patients with chronic mental illness. Our thanks to Ms Nishola Rawatlal, executive member of the clinical division who willingly gave of her time to be involved in these activities. Also recently on the news was the story of the pastor of ‘Doom.’ This and other stories such as these have sparked national debate leading to a discussion on the ‘State of the Nation’s Psyche’ and how it affects the Religious Sector by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (the CRL Rights Commission). PsySSA was invited to contribute to this discussion and Prof Kobus Maree ably represented PsySSA at the CRL Rights Commission.

PsySSA also responded firmly to the Eastleigh Primary school matter in which children of foreign nationals without updated immigration documents were threatened to be handed over to the police. We also expressed our objection to the Gauteng Department of Education’s (GDE) reported alternative of keeping those children out of school until the immigration issues were sorted out. We alerted the GDE to the importance of all children attending school regardless of national origin. Born out of a divisive past, PsySSA has always stood against all forms of marginalization, xenophobia and discrimination.

In another facet of our social responsiveness, PsySSA’s role as amicus curiae in the hate speech matter involving the homophobic comments of Jon Qwelane is back in court. PsySSA is represented in the case by Professor Juan Nel who is an internationally renowned expert in the field of hate crimes.

PsySSA has been actively communicating with the medical aids re: the non-reimbursement of educational psychologists. Specifically PsySSA chose to inform all medical aids concerned of the recently released guidelines for the scope of practice for educational psychologists highlighting the points that state clearly that educational psychologists may diagnose and treat psychopathology as per the ICD-10 and DSM-5 criteria. The medical aids have remained resolute in their decision of non-payment but PsySSA continues advocating for its members in this regard. At the time of writing this piece, PsySSA was also in communication with the Council of Medical Schemes pointing yet again to the discriminatory practices of certain medical aids.

As noted previously, the NHI also poses challenges for Psychology. Overall the NHI makes little mention of mental health care as a significant aspect of health services. PsySSA responded in detail to this when the draft document was released and continues to follow up on developments with the NHI.

PsySSA also continues to engage on issues of test review and classification as well as scope of practice issues for all psychology professionals. PsySSA received communication from the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) re: the courtcase between the Minister of Labour with regard to the Clause 8.d in the Employment Equity Act. We have once again requested from the Professional Board for Psychology (PBP) for the release of the revised test review and classification guidelines.

The challenges that have been plaguing the profession re: Scope of Practice have continued. The PBP released its statement on the judgement handed down by the Western Cape High Court earlier this month. PsySSA had also communicated with the PBP immediately after the ruling to request a meeting to discuss the way forward. The Society stressed the urgency of this given the declaration of the invalidity of the current SOP and the 24 month period within which the PBP has to rectify the SOP. In response PsySSA received a letter from the PBP detailing the proposed activities to be undertaken in developing the SOP. Given the urgency of responding to SOP, PsySSA embarked on its own process to determine from all stakeholders – psychology professionals, and psychology students – the preferences regarding SOP. A stakeholder engagement was held in Gauteng on 18 February. Various models were proposed for a reimagined SOP. PsySSA will continue with stakeholder engagement over the next few weeks in various parts of the country so look out for the regional meeting dates. Further the Society will send out a survey to all members to get a better sense of professional and student inputs on SOP. PsySSA has also requested from the Board that PsySSA be included as a stakeholder on the task force considering the SOP.

Let us work together to find a solution that can be presented to the Professional Board as the proposed way forward by all of Psychology in South Africa. We can and will find the best solutions TOGETHER. In so doing let us take inspiration from Madiba who said, ‘Human beings regard their mental capacity as the most defining feature of themselves as a species. To respond in a caring manner to the impairment of those capacities in others is to really know ourselves as human beings and to live out our humanness.’ As Psychology we have a responsibility to Society and we should keep this in mind as we move forward on this new journey.

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