But they said they were a sport psychologist!

It continues to be a frustration of my’n that the profession (sport & exercise psychology) in the UK continues to lack any real clarity for the end user. In physiotherapy or medicine it is very straight-forward. Physiotherapist job adverts, for example, ask for membership of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and registration with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).  Doctor vacancies require certification by the the General Medical Council (GMC).


On the face of it, this really should not be a problem for sport & exercise psychology. Legally now it should relatively clear, if you are practising as a sport & exercise psychologist then you should be on the HCPC register. It would also be great if Chartership from the BPS (as the Society for Psychologists) was as recognised as membership of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is for physiotherapists. But that is not the case. While the BPS is well positioned regarding the world of academia its importance and recognition in the applied world of sport psychology is significantly less than it should be. It also doesn’t help that the presence of the British Association for Sport & Exercise Scientists (BASES) appears to confuse matters as well. There is still significant misunderstanding regarding what BASES accredited practitioners can do. The title ‘Sport & Exercise Scientist’ does not help as sport psychology is a core part of sport & exercise psychology degrees. There would be greater clarity accrediting biomechanics, physiologists and strength and conditioning practitioners instead.

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As the regulatory body the HCPC should be providing leadership on this issue. Instead there is still no real clarity regarding whether the register has ‘teeth’, and what will happen to practitioners who are not on the register. All of these issues lead to a real lack of clarity, and with each organisation looking to position itself in relation to the others there is little engagement with the real world of clients regarding what they should be looking for in a practitioner. Because of this potential clients are forced to rely on word of mouth and personal recommendation.


Ironically, the lack of clear leadership and clarity of message offered by BASES, HCPC, and the BPS is letting many pseudo-psychologists and charlatans loose on the public. The real worry is not the BASES accredited practitioners who were unlucky enough to be coming through the system at the wrong time, who while not psychologists have come through a well-structured programme of accreditation. The real worry is the non-qualified, non-registered individuals who are out there dragging a profession I love through the mud. They are ill-equipped to do the job that a properly qualified and trained practitioner can do, but are still offering ‘sport psychology services’ and as a result are diminishing the reputation of real practitioners in the field.


As a result I think it is about time the profession as a whole pulled together, and for once in the same direction to offer real clarity, and a real service to the clients out there who want access to high quality sport & exercise psychology support services.

2 thoughts on “But they said they were a sport psychologist!

  1. Not sure I entirely agree Stewart. Let’s be clear I do agree that there should be some regulation. However, I’ve been a professional sportsperson and been a professional coach (fully qualified) and I now do practice a reasonable amount of psychology in what I do as a performance manger of European and world level athletes.

    I have worked in football and in golf at the highest of levels. I have brought in HCPC and chartered psychologists and have attended courses run by them. Without wishing to name names I have found their knowledge and understanding of elite sportspeople embarrassingly short, have found their delivery manner woeful to say the least and have seen many athletes and coaches leave the psychologists in worse states than when they engaged with them.

    I myself am currently undergoing training for chartership via the research by PhD route (I have used and cited some of your papers, I don’t put you in the bracket above) and my motivation for this study was much of the woeful practice I have seen.

    Now don’t get me wrong I’ve also seen many pseudo psychs and gurus and motivational people etc brought into clubs and to work with sports people and they also are mainly poor and dangerous.

    I’ve researched and worked extensively over the past 5 years and have a lot of very interesting work with true elites and serial winners Manchester United , British Cycling, European Tour winning Golfers. All of this will be under submission. For publication in the near future and much still ongoing.

    What I feel and it’s a personal opinion is that “Psychology” still doesn’t really know what it is and certainly doesn’t know what it is in the guise of elite sport.

    I fully understand that many concepts transfer, re apply, compliment etc but the basis of delivery, intervention, expectation and effect is largely down to the practitioner as opposed to a rigid, grounded and reliable domain.

    Now this is less of a loose notion in a profession such as law, dentistry or being a GP as their underpinning evidence bases and operational modes are more rigidly solid and result generating.

    Food for thought but I think we are a few hundred years from saying a person with HCPC will do a reliable job in elite sport.

    Always open for healthy debate and educational discussion

    Kind regards

  2. I am currently following the BASES pathway. Whilst it irks me regarding the legal classification I find it has been very beneficial to date.

    I feel that the current difficulties are bureaucratically ridiculous. As within NI/Ireland the most known “sport Psychs” have progressed through their reputation and have not done any formal supervised experience.

    Organisations will adapt the job titles given to them to by pass the legality issues.

    Then I find HCPC, BASES and BPS accredited “sport psychs” offering NLP in G. Britain (a method lacking in academic underpinning). I ask my self why is this person allowed to offer this service and remain accredited? If a Medical Doctor offered faith healing he would be struck off, no similar practice exists for sport psychologists.

    When all of this grey area exists with toothless bodies not able to police malpractice I have to wonder what the point is… My BASES SE gives me direction and improvement in applied practice but is not going to give me an edge over reputation, but will hopefully assist me in building a better reputation through quality practice.

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