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RTÉ Investigates shows how anyone can call themselves a psychologist in Ireland

Brass plate on wooden door with inscription “Dr Barry O’Kelly Psychologist.”
“In the private sector in Ireland today, anyone can call themselves a psychologist.”

Across Ireland, children are on lengthy waiting lists for supports from the HSE for conditions such as autism and ADHD. Many are just waiting for a diagnosis so they can join a queue for the therapies they need.

The HSE is legally obliged to provide an Assessment of Needs within six months of an application. But it has confirmed to RTÉ Investigates that the average waiting time is 16 months.

This Monday night, an RTÉ Investigates documentary shows how vulnerable people get lost in the public system, unsure if they will get the appropriate interventions. Many turn to the private sector in the hope that a diagnosis there will help them get support. But a total lack of regulation means that you don’t need any qualifications to work as a psychologist working in the private sector.


In the private sector in Ireland today, anyone can call themselves a psychologist.

RTÉ Investigates Reporter Barry O'Kelly, sits at his office desk in front of computer, looking directly at camera.
RTÉ Investigates Reporter Barry O'Kelly.

RTÉ Investigates decided to put that to the test and in Monday night's RTE One documentary, viewers will see how reporter Barry O'Kelly managed to set himself up as a psychologist. With no background whatsoever in the profession, he created a website for Dr Barry O’Kelly, Psychologist, and joined some reputable-looking bodies to improve his credentials.

In the absence of regulations ‘Dr O’Kelly’ also decided to enroll at the Sheffield State University in America to get some qualifications on paper.

The level of qualification he could get depended on how much he wanted to pay. The options were extensive. An associate degree would cost $290, a Master's degree $399, and a doctorate PhD degree was priced at $449. For the full package, PhD degree with thesis, the cost was $849 and the date of graduation was completely up to him.

Barry decided it would look best to have lots of experience, so he backdated his graduation to 2014.

Just seven minutes after applying, he was given a receipt for a PhD and told he would receive confirmation within the next 24 hours by which time he would have a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

PhD Certificate awarded to RTE Reporter Barry O'Kelly.
PhD Certificate awarded to RTE Reporter Barry O'Kelly

24 hours later Sheffield State University told RTE Investigates reporter Barry O'Kelly:

"We are pleased to announce that on the basis of your resume (which he never actually sent) the 10-member evaluation committee at Sheffield State University has approved your application for a PhD."


Adam Harris, CEO, AsIAm tells the programme:

"It couldn't be any simpler because there's nobody to stop it. Buy a brass plate, put it up, say you're a psychologist, set yourself up a website, maybe find some interest groups that are related to psychology that sounds impressive, but are probably open to anybody sign up to those put their logos on your website, perhaps maybe offer a slightly cheaper rate for assessment than others do, perhaps target a community of people where there's a shortage of professionals working in the space."

Currently, there is no body in Ireland with a statutory role in checking the qualifications of private psychologists who do not seek to work for the HSE or join a professional body like the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI).

Mitchell Fleming, Consultant Clinical Psychologist:

"In the public sector, in order to gain employment, you have to have the employment requirements for a post, hold the appropriate qualifications and have gone through the proper training in order to obtain a post. No such standards apply in the private sector. The system, as it currently is, is a mess."

The state body CORU was tasked with regulating psychologists in 2007, but 15 years later there are no regulations and no registration system for psychologists in place.

CORU outlined the benefits of regulation in a statement to RTÉ Investigates. “Regulation provides greater protection for the public. Members of the public can have confidence in knowing that a professional's standing and qualifications have been independently verified. They also know that if there is a failure in the delivery of care from a CORU registered professional, CORU will investigate any complaint under our fitness to practise process.”

However, none of this protection is available to people who want to engage a psychologist in Ireland.

Mark Smyth, Chartered Clinical Psychologist:

"There are plenty of very reputable good qualified people working in the private sector. And it's also true to say that, there's also an element of the Wild West. There is no protection for the public. There's no protection of the term psychologist."

Rachel Martin, from campaign group FUSS:

"Parents won’t always know what to look for. They don’t know what qualifications someone should have. And nobody tells them, you should have this and this. You should have a multi-disciplinary team assessment; it should be this qualification and that qualification. Parents are forced into a situation where they are forced to go it alone. Then they are vulnerable."

Thousands of children are waiting for a variety of services, in particular an Assessment of Needs from the HSE for ADHD and Autism. This helps identify the underlying causes of the challenges children face and it puts them in the queue for a full HSE support team.

Kacper Hauptman who has traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder, sits on a sofa, staring blankly.
Kacper Hauptman who has traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder.


RTE Investigates spoke to a number of these children and their families for Monday’s programme.

Kacper Hauptman has traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder. His mum Gosia had to bring a court challenge just to get him a preliminary assessment of needs from the HSE.

Mother Gosia Gbiorczyk: “He doesn’t always understand what is happening around him. We have had a two year battle to get services, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, an assessment of needs.

“Once he started school he started facing more behavioural issues. We weren't aware that he would be so stressed. The whole pressure is on me and my partner Tom. We are never going to live forever. There is a worry, what might happen in the next 10-15 years.”

Mother, Gosia Gbiorczyk, pictured looking tired and forlorn.
Mother, Gosia Gbiorczyk.

Faced with these waiting lists, Kacper’s family and many others have had their child assessed privately by psychologists. Parents hope that an assessment from a private psychologist will help them access supports in the public system. But due to the lack of regulation, some of these private sector reports have caused serious concern among some HSE officials, according to internal documents seen by RTÉ Investigates.

Watch RTE Investigates: Ireland's Unregulated Psychologists this Monday night, 6thMarch at 9.35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player 


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