The college sector offers a rich and diverse practice says Andrée-Anne Provençal, psychologist at the CEGEP de Baie-Comeau for the past seven years. “We play an instrumental role in our students’ educational success. There is nothing as gratifying as helping a young adult feel better and stay in school,” adds Andrée-Anne Provençal.

While this endeavour is incredibly rewarding, there are many obstacles to overcome, obstacles—like the salary—that limit the profession’s appeal. “Staff turnover is high. Many psychologists leave the public sector and opt for a private practice where salaries are higher,” she explains.

A 2020 survey carried out by the Association des psychologues du Québec (APQ) and the Coalition des psychologues du réseau public québécois (CPRPQ) determined that there is a salary gap of at least 27.3% between public sector psychologists versus those in the private sector.

And what’s more, college psychologists aren’t even on equal footing with their colleagues in the public sector. In fact, they are the only ones not entitled to the 9% attraction and retention premium for people working in elementary and high schools or in the health network.

“And the starting salary isn’t all that interesting either for doctoral graduates,” states the psychologist. According to the CPRPQ, the salary scale for a public sector psychologist ranged from $26.43 to $49.82 in 2020, well behind other professions with similar educational requirements.

Moving things forward

The Fédération des professionnelles et professionnels des collèges (FPPC-CSQ) has long advocated for greater recognition of the work done by psychologists in the college network. This has resulted in the government putting in place an inter-round committee to see psychologists who are members of the Federation have access to this 9% premium.

Andrée-Anne Provençal, committed to doing her part and seeing things move forward, is a member of this committee; one of their first goals is to take stock of the psychologist shortage in our CEGEPs. At the moment, there is insufficient information to take proper stock of the situation. She believes that the premium would be a very good start to help attract more psychologists.

Break in services

Given how scarce resources are, psychology services differ from one college to the next. It is not uncommon for a person to hold two jobs at once.

When she started out at CEGEP de Baie-Comeau, Andrée-Anne Provençal divided her time between special-needs services—serving the needs of students with diagnosed limitations such as learning disabilities or a physical impairment—and her work as a psychologist.

In other CEGEPs, professionals might be able to rely on the support of another psychologist but on a part-time basis only. This situation is far from ideal and undermines the team. There are also other CEGEPs, farther from major centres, without any psychologists. “Student services are provided by other specialists, including social workers.”

The fact remains that only psychologists (and doctors) can undertake the assessment of a mental disorder and provide psychotherapy treatments, as they are reserved acts. Given that the waiting time to see a psychologist ranges from six to twenty-four months on average, many young adults do not have access to the services they need. This is especially true in the current pandemic, with needs increasing tenfold.

Skyrocketing needs

“We’ve never been confronted with so many requests for a consult than in the last fall semester,” says Andrée-Anne Provençal. “Eighty requests were submitted, instead of the fifty or so we usually have. And this is for a population of 600 students. We’ve had to set up a waiting list, a first for us, which is less than ideal.”

Depression, anxiety, personality disorders… Mental health issues have not only increased but are more significant. To support their psychologist, the Baie-Comeau CEGEP recently decided to hire an additional resource. “We’ve received a number of applications from psychotherapists and social workers, but none from psychologists,” she added with regret. “So we will be hiring someone from another profession.”

Nonetheless, this help will be more than welcome even though certain responsibilities will remain the prerogative of Andrée-Anne Provençal.